As I've mentioned in previous posts, one of our favourite places to walk locally, is the Enville Hall Estate. Enville offers everything you could wish for in a walk; lung busting hills, rewarded with incredible views, glimpses of pleasure gardens past (if you know where to look) and on the return, you have refuelling choices; village cafe or real ale pub.
Enville is mentioned in the Domesday Book compiled in 1086 for William the Conqueror. Overlooking the village of Enville, (previous designations, Evenfield, Enfeld, Envil or Enfeild) from a spur of land, is the Church of St Mary the Virgin dating back to the early 12th century. The current St Mary's has a Norman nave, 13th century chancel and a Victorian tower added in 1871. Today, the church prides itself as being "A 12th Century Church with a 21st Century Welcome."
As an atheist, my interest in churches is relatively superficial. I can appreciate the history and skills utilised to erect houses of worship and marvel at the details, but if I'm honest, I'm more interested in them on a human level, preferring to seek out old graves and learn more about the figures associated with them or entombed within, like the incredible alabaster chest tomb we spotted in the east end of the south side of the church, belonging to "Thomas Grey of Enveld esquire & Anne his wyfe, daughter to Sir Ralph Verney of Yeardley in ye Countie of Bucks..." Thomas passed on 31st December 1559 (see below).
So, the recent discovery of not one, but three graves belonging to the ancient order of The Knights Templar, demanded a visit. Impulsive as we are, we had a family chat about it and in spite of the darkness, driving rain and blustery wind, we headed out there and then.
We immediately sought shelter from the rain inside and took in the atmosphere and natural, rapidly fading light of this historic church.
The impressive organ came from St Leonard's church, Bridgnorth and was dismantled in Bridgnorth and rebuilt at Enville by Messrs Longstaff and Jones of Dudley and given to the church in the 1970s.
The church boasts a fine set of four misericords or mercy seats, which rival the famous sets found at Ripley and Ludlow, with scenes depicting bear baiting, a lute playing angel and Arthurian legend, Sir Yvain trapped by a portcullis when trying to get through the gate upon entering an enemy castle.
Whilst it's not known when they were installed, they could well be the ones recorded back in 1697 in the church records, in which case, it's conceivable that they came from a neighbouring abbey at the time of the Dissolution of the monasteries on Henry VIII's watch. To think these were around when Greensleeves was penned!
However, there was no denying our key mission, to find the Templar graves. Given their recent restoration, they weren't hard to locate, but I decided we needed to visit in daylight to capture the details.
The Knights Templar were a powerful military organisation of devout Christians in the medieval era, formed in 1119 and tasked with providing safety to pilgrims to Jerusalem.
They created a different model of knight, one in which members were monks, sworn to poverty, chastity and obedience and committed to fighting "infidels" in the Holy Land. Promising to serve the Christian cause, they received papal recognition at the council of Troyes in Champagne in 1129.
Highly disciplined, the knights were required to live austere lives. Chastity was a must, so no kissing, even their own mothers. Fur and fancy clothes were forbidden, as were pointed shoes and shoe laces, which were deemed pagan. They could have meat only 3 times a week (which doesn't strike me as particularly austere).
In reality, the knights being sworn to poverty meant very little. The Order as a whole became astonishingly wealthy. Pope Innocent II exempted them from paying any taxes. The Templars collected donations from all over Europe. Kings and Queens gave them huge estates. Even ordinary people would leave donations in their wills, leaving the Order small plots of land that added up.
The knights were highly trained and known as fierce fighters who refused to surrender. But they were also strategic thinkers and would not pick a fight they didn't think they could win.
Some scholars believe that the Knights helped import Muslim ideas that transformed Western legal and educational systems. For example, the Inns of Court in London, legal institutions formed in the medieval period with ties to the Templars, have some striking similarities to madrassas built around mosques, where Sunni scholars debate the law.
|Photo Edward Tenny|
Falsely charged with heresy, the order ultimately disbanded in 1308/9. To think that three of the knights ended up resting for eternity just a few miles away from us, forgotten and overlooked for so many years, just blows my mind. Here they are, captured on our daylight visit.
The three graves are believed to be around 800 years old, each bearing the Templar cross within double circles in a standard Templar design and one of the graves also includes a Crusader cross indicating the knight was a Templar and a Crusader of the ancient military order.
Templars were believed to attach themselves to churches dedicated to St Mary the Virgin and so, it is the belief of local researcher Edward Dyas, that Enville Church was a Templar Church.
Edward also believes that one of the graves is that of a Templar Chaplain of a Templar Preceptory - most likely in Staffordshire, whose Commanderie was at Onneley, near Leek, the other two being acolyte assistants. His research continues.
As to why the graves were not noticed before, according to Dyas they were, but back in 1588 in a local survey. For some unknown reason, the descriptions of the cemetery in the 18th and 19th centuries completely overlooked the graves. It's thanks to Dyas, who, with the permission of the vicar, cleared away the physical remnants of time; earth, moss and lichen, to reveal the three crusading Templars.