St. Mary's Church,

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St Bernard of Clairvaux, Templecombe, Somerset - South and West of England

Templecombe in Somerset, is one of the most well-known Templar locations in the World.

The Templecombe Preceptory enjoys the patronage of members from a wide area, including Dorset, Devon and around Bristol and Bath. Meeting every month, the Preceptory has a long established rapport with the village, and assists with many local events and charities.

Primarily amongst the Preceptory's beneficiaries are two children's hospices and the sponsorship of four children from Russia, India, South Africa and Peru. The Preceptory is a supporter of both the Little Bridge House Children's Hospice in Barnstable, Devon and continues to contribute to the new hospice at Charlton Farm, near Bristol. One of the Dorset members actively supports the new Julia's House Children's Hospice based in Corfe Mullen, near Wimborne in Dorset.

Within the village, the Preceptory regularly organises the village Winter Fair, where the local Scouts group raise money for their annual charities. Other support includes the local United Reformed Church that raises money for the homeless in Bristol, and donations to Comic Relief.

Templar History in the area

Templecombe was the only Preceptory of the Knights Templar in Somerset. In 1185, the manor was held by Serlo Fitz Odo, and was granted in that year to the Knights Templar. After the initial suppression of the Templars in 1307, the lands were turned over to the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem. An inventory from 1338 shows 368 acres belonging to the Manor, supporting cattle and sheep.

The Preceptor was responsible for managing the Templar estates in the West Country, admitting new members to the Order, and training men and horses for service in the Crusades. Poole (Dorset) was a port much used by the knights in medieval times.

Then, in 1539, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Manor was given by King Henry VIII to Wm. Sherrington, and later bought by Richard Duke, Esq. The major part of the Preceptory buildings were then taken down, and a substantial manor house built with the stone.

In 1700, it was the seat of Sir Wm. Wogan, who sold it to the owner of Stalbridge Park, Peter Walter. The property then passed to the Marquess of Anglesey in the early 19th century.

Sadly, very little now remains of the original Templar Preceptory, as is often the case with medieval sites. The major Templar-related site to see today at Templecombe is St. Mary's Church.

St. Mary's Church
The village of Templecombe was once two different parishes- Temple Combe and Abbas Combe - which are now one. At the time of the Domesday records, the Vill of Combe was shared by the Benedictine Nunnery of Shaftesbury, founded in 888AD by Alfred the Great, of which his second daughter, Ethelgeda, was the first Abbess. St. Mary's Church is believed to have been founded during this time; the parent house was the Abbey at Shaftesbury, the major convent in England at the time.

For many centuries, Shaftesbury Abbey had the right of appointing the clergy at Templecombe. In 1539, during the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII, it passed to Richard Duke, Esq., who held the manor.

In the existing church today, only the tower, the nave roof, and transept with piscina and font are old. The tower probably rests on a Saxon foundation and the nave has a 500 year old waggon roof. The Norman font in Purbeck Marble is one of the earliest features. In the church, there are six bells, the oldest of which is of pre-Reformation date, and bears the inscription 'Sancta Maria, Ora Pro Nobis'.

Unfortunately, during WWII, four bombs were dropped on the southern side of the church, which caused extensive damage to the roof, tower, organ, windows, and some arches in the nave.

But probably the most intriguing feature to be seen in the church today is the Panel Painting of Christ's Head. This painting, believed by many to be a portrayal of the head of Jesus Christ, was discovered in the outhouse of a cottage in West Court, off the High Street in Templecombe. The owner of the cottage was Mrs. A. Topp but it was her tenant, Mrs. M. Drew, who discovered the painting in 1945. She happened to look up at the ceiling when inside the shed collecting wood for her fire.

The outhouse, which has since been demolished, was an earth-floored 'lean-to' and the painting had been tied by wire into the roof and concealed by plaster. Some of the plaster had fallen away and had thus revealed a face looking down. The Rector at the time, Bishop Wright, then took the painting away for proper cleaning and restoration, and it was presented to St. Mary's church by Mrs. Topp in 1956. The painting has hung on the South Wall of the church since then, and can still be viewed today.

The key hole and hinge marks on the panel suggest that it may well have been used as a door at some time. This life-size painting, medieval in style, was carbon-dated at circa 1280 AD. The painting may have a possible connection with the Knights Templar, as it has been suggested that during the Crusades, they obtained the prized possession of the Holy Shroud, brought it back to Europe, and from it, copied their paintings. However, upon closer examination, this particular painting and its features do not match those of the Shroud of Turin, as the eyes and mouth are open. This has led some to believe that it is a portrayal of a man who was still alive and well, not crucified or deceased.

But, as others speculate, it may instead be a copy of the Mandylion of the Eastern Orthodox Church, also an important relic of Christendom. The Shroud of Turin is a 14-foot length of linen bearing the imprint of a full-bodied male who bears a striking likeness to a crucified man, obviously very similar to descriptions of Jesus Christ. The Mandylion is generally believed to be a (now) lost cloth that bore only the image of the face of Christ that was apparently made when he was alive and well, not deceased., like the Shroud of Turin. Similarly, the Templecombe painting also bears only the image of a head, and not a full-bodied man, as with the Shroud of Turin.

It is believed that this unique painting was originally one of several portraits in the possession of the Templars. Although the top portion of the panel is missing, the Templecombe painting does not appear to have included a halo.

During the suppression of the Order, the absence of a halo in their portraits, which the Templars maintained were paintings of Christ, appears to have been used by their inquisitors as evidence of 'idolatry'.

An interesting viewpoint is presented by Mr. George Tull, in 'Traces of the Templars': "It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the painting may have been imported into England, via Bristol, and thence brought to this remote Preceptory in Somerset- who knows?". Indeed, it very well could have been, as it is known that in England - unlike the case in France and other countries- there was very little evidence obtained by the inquisitors that the English Templars had actually venerated sacred heads as 'idols'. But, as others believe, perhaps this was largely because King Edward II did not initially allow torture to be used when the Templars were questioned.

This fascinating painting has stimulated much speculation and is clearly also an important painting in the history of religious art today.

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