Friday 13 October, 1307, is a date that echoes across history, spawning a deep-seated superstition about any Friday 13th. On that day, Philip IV, King of France, arrested hundreds of Knights Templar in France. Philip had been out to get the Templars since 1302. This had nothing to do with the global mythology that has since grown up around the Knights Templar, and it especially had nothing to do with the Holy Grail: it was simply that, as one of the richest organisations in Europe, the Templars had turned down a demand from Philip for a loan he needed to further his military adventures.
His campaign against the Templars extended to kidnapping Pope Boniface VIII in September 1303, and possibly poisoning his successor, Benedict XI in July 1304. In 1305 Philip finally got a Pope who would see things his way, when a Frenchman who had been a childhood friend became Pope Clement V. By 13 October 1307 Philip felt his position was strong enough for him to move against the Templars in France, arresting their members and seizing their treasury and assets.
Confessions of heresy and a wide range of other invented crimes forced out of the arrested French Templars gave Philip IV the ammunition he needed to try to persuade Pope Clement V that the Order should be suppressed worldwide. Clement V finally succumbed to the pressure, and issued an Edict to dissolve the Templars after the Council of Vienna in 1312. Templar properties and assets in countries previously sympathetic to them were seized, in many cases being transferred to the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. At the same time, many Knights Templar who had not already gone to ground were put on trial and executed. It had taken ten years for Philip to get even with the Templars, but get even he certainly had.
In Scotland, King Robert the Bruce, himself under excommunication from the Church after his murder of the Red Comyn, was less inclined than most European monarchs to rigorously enforce all aspects of the Papal Edict dissolving the Templars. As elsewhere, their Scottish lands and properties, such as Temple itself and the church at Tullich, were transferred to the Knights of St John, but there was little persecution of individual members of the Order in Scotland, and many Knights Templar were allowed simply to become Knights of St John.
Since they had first been established in Scotland by David I in 1153, the main Scottish base of the Knights Templar had been 15 miles south of Edinburgh at a place called Balantradoch. Here they had a monastery on the east bank of the River South Esk. In 1312 ownership of the monastery was transferred to the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John, and became part of the property they administered from their Scottish headquarters at Torphichen Preceptory near Linlithgow.
During the 1500s Balantradoch came to be known as Temple, reflecting its earlier history. Today's Temple is a small residential village with little in the way of local services, but a great deal of charm. The village itself comprises a single street climbing out of the valley of the River South Esk. Most of what you see today dates back to the 1700s or since. The old historical and ecclesiastical core of the village now lies separated from it, below in the river valley. Here you find the ruin of the Old Parish Church. It's tempting to think of this as part of the Templar monastery from the 1100s, but it seems much more likely to have been built in the 1300s by the Knights of St John: though probably reusing elements of an earlier Templar church.
Opposite the Old Parish Church is Shillinghill, built in 1832 as a replacement for the old church, but in more recent times itself converted to residential use. To the east of the Old Parish Church is what looks like it might have once been a mill building, but in fact turns out to have been built as the manse for the 1832 church, on part of the original foundations of the cloister of the Templar monastery. The churchyard surrounding the Old Parish Church is home to a number of fascinating headstones, perhaps the most striking being that for John Craig, a local farmer who died in 1742. He is shown in his best clothing and with his children.
Given the fantastic legends that now surround everything to do with the Knights Templar, it is surprising that the place in Scotland with the strongest links to the Order is not better known. The Old Parish Church is certainly worth a visit, with a beautiful location and just enough of a sense of mystery to get the imagination going. But if you do visit, bear in mind that parking in the lower part of the village is virtually impossible: you should park in Temple's Main Street and walk down the hill to the church. Under a mile to the north east of Temple is Arniston House, a fine Palladian mansion and home to the Dundas family.
Visitor InformationView Location on Map