The Temple in Jerusalem

When the first crusaders conquered Jerusalem, they were eager to find and restore all the sites from the life of Jesus as well as places important in the Old Testament. The problem was, they weren’t sure where the places had been. By a process that was part tradition and part guesswork, they decided that the Dome of the Rock was the Holy Sepulcher or Temple of the Lord and the nearby mosque of al-Aqsa stood on the ruins of the Temple of Solomon, although it might have been Solomon’s palace. Something “Solomon” was close enough. In the thirteenth century, Jacques de Vitry guessed that it had been named the Temple of Solomon simply to distinguish it from the other building.1

King Baldwin I of Jerusalem was the first of the Latin kings to live in the mosque. He seems to have been a terrible tenant. The chronicler of the First Crusade, Fulcher of Chartres, was embarrassed by the neglect. “It is now a matter of serious regret that the fabric of the roof needs repairing, ever since it passed into the hands of King Baldwin and our people.”2 By 1119, when King Baldwin II invited the Templars to share the space, it was falling down and bits of the building had been used for other projects, like the rebuilding of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.3

The new rulers of Jerusalem were building everywhere. The canons


Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The gold dome at the rear is the Dome of the
Rock, and the smaller one against the wall in the front is the al-Aqsa
mosque, the site of the Templar headquarters. To the left is the space
where the stables would have been. (Albatross)

of the Holy Sepulcher built the Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives. Like many churches, both in the Holy Land and in the West, it was octagonal in imitation of the Dome of the Rock.4

The Templars started refurbishing their mosque as soon as they could afford to hire the workers and materials. They built a new cloister, a new church, and the buildings necessary for group living, such as storage sheds, granaries, and a bathhouse.5

They didn’t need to dig down to create the stables, though. That had been done during the Fatimid rule of Jerusalem. At least the Fatimids had cleared out the vaults of the ancient palace.6Whether the vaults had been built by Solomon or King Herod or someone else, they were ideal for the number of warhorses, packhorses, and camels that the Templars needed. In around 1170 Jewish pilgrim, Benjamin of Tudela, noted that three hundred knights lived in the Temple of Solomon. He also mentioned the stables, which he also thought were from the time of Solomon.7

Over the years the Templars were continually making repairs on the buildings. Nearby, they started building a new church. They also did work on the exterior walls of the Temple Mount and the Single Gate, leading to the stables, as well as the Hulda Gate, through which one could go into the underground rooms of the mosque.8

A thirteenth-century pilgrim described the Temple Mount: “On the right, as you came through the gates, was the Temple of Solomon, where the brothers of the Temple lived. Directly between the Precious Gates and the Golden Gates was the church of the Temple Domini. This was high up, above steep steps. Going up them, you came to another Pavement, . . . paved over its whole extent with marble and entirely surrounding the Temple church. The church was completely circular.”9

If the Templars spent time in digging down to what they thought would be the secret inner chambers of Solomon’s Temple as some people have suggested, they don’t appear to have left any evidence of it. If Solomon had left a treasure, the Fatimids would have found it during their excavations. In their first years in al-Aqsa mosque, the Templars probably had all they could do just to keep the place from falling down on their heads.

While many of the surviving Templar and Hospitaller churches in the West are round or octagonal, both military orders also constructed more traditional churches. The Templar castles at Tortosa and Chastel Blanc were rectangular, as were many in England and France.10

When Saladin conquered Jerusalem in 1187, one of the first things he did was to eradicate any trace of the Templars. This meant tearing down the church they had just finished building and clearing out the space around and within the al-Aqsa mosque so that it could be used again. “East of theqibla they had built a big house and another church. Saladin had the two structures removed and unveiled the bridal face of the mihrab. Then he had the wall in front of it taken down and the courtyards around it cleared so that the people coming in on Friday should have plenty of room.”11

I wonder if the people who think that the Templars found artifacts in Jerusalem have been confusing it with the building done at Chateau Pelerin (Athlit). When they were digging the foundations for the church there, they uncovered a number of Phoenician coins. The chronicler at the time was intrigued by these pieces of money with unknown markings on them.12 The chapel there was twelve-sided.13

The Knights of the Temple of Solomon only had the Temple for sixty-eight years. After the loss of Jerusalem, they moved their headquarters to Acre.


Jacques de Vitry, Histoire Orientale, tr. Marie-Genviève Grossel (Paris, 2005) p. 179.


Quoted in Adrian J. Boas, Jerusalem in the Time of the Crusades: Society, Landscape and Art in the Holy City under Frankish Rule (London: Routledge, 2001) p. 79.




Denys Pringle, “Architecture in the Latin East, 1095-1300,” in The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, ed. Jonathan Riley-Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) p. 167.


Boas, p. 91.


Ibid., p. 93.


Benjamin of Tudela, in Travels in the Middle Ages: The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, tr. A. Asher (Malibu: Panglos Press, 1987) reprint of 1840 edition, p. 83.


Boas, p. 48.


Crusader Syria in the Thirteenth Century: The Rothelin Continuation of the History of William of Tyre with part of the Eracles or Acre Text, tr. Janet Shirley (Ashgate, Aldershot, 1999) p. 17.


Pringle, p. 169.


Ibn al-Athir, in Arab Historians of the Crusades, ed. and tr. Francesco Gabrielli (Dorset, 1969) p. 164.


Oliver of Paderborn, The Capture of Damietta, tr. John J. Gavigan (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1948) chapter 5, p. 18.


Pringle, p. 169. There could be all sorts of mystical reasons for this or it could have something to do with the land the castle was built on, a promontory sticking into the sea.

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