The Villeneuve du Temple of Paris

Translation : David COBBOLD

Images 3d : © Jacques Martel - Editions Harnois

    Sommaire des pages sur ce thème :
  1. Site presentation (actual page)
  2. Pictures bank
France, City of Paris (75)

France, Department of the City of Paris (75), between the ‘Place de la République’ (Republic Square) and the ‘Place de la Bastille’ (Bastille Square).

The Knights Templar were located in Paris, near the ‘Place de Grève’, where they occupied a house given to them by King Louis VII in 1137. This house was located in a swamp area, north of Paris and outside the city walls.

Paris' map on XIIth century - Coll G.Bernage

Prior to developing the area for constructing the impressive square tower, the Knight Templars were forced to drain the marshland. When this task was accomplished, the square tower, later called the Tour de Cesar (caesar's tower), and the round chapel were erected. The tower was 10 meters (around 33 ft) wide, 3 floors high and it was topped by a crenellated flat roof. It was also strengthened at the corners with impressive buttresses. From 1194 the tower housed the royal treasure(1) although this was later transferred to the second dungeon.

The round chapel grew in stages to become an impressive gothic church. This growth was allowed by a papal bull enacted by Honorius III in 1217.
The church, consecrated to Holy Mary, was used as a burial place for Templar high dignitaries who died in Paris.
According to a reconstruction by Viollet le Duc, the church was aligned from west to east and it comprised of three parts.Church map, by Viollet le Duc The gothic nave, set just inside the entrance to the building, was characterised by a clerestory on the ground floor.
The round, built on two floors, was encompassed by a circular gallery. The round vault was the same height as the vessel and leant on six pillars set out in a circle.
The chancel comprised five ordinary bays with tall windows on each side. In the south wall of the first bay, a door allowed access to the bell tower.

preceptory map At the end of the 12th century and into the beginning of the 13th, the preceptory grew larger and other conventional buildings were erected. These buildings included the Province Master’s house, a second chapel, a cloister, a hospital, dormitories, kitchens, a refectory, a charnel, a chapter house and jails. Some farms, stables and houses for workers filled out the estate.

All the land occupied by the preceptory, which spread over 6 acres, was protected by an 8-10 metre high crenellated wall. The wall was equipped with several dozen buttresses and flanked by about fifteen turrets, or stone shelters.

© J. Martel, Editions Harnois

In the 13th century Templars began the construction of a new dungeon, best known as the “Tour du Temple”. This dungeon, built in the same fashion as “Caesar’s Tower”, had a square base and was four floors high.
Each corner was flanked by thick turrets 5 meters across and rising to the upper terrace level. A lookout post, covered by a pyramidal tiled roof, was installed on this level as a fifth floor.
The terrace itself was used as a rampart walk and it was protected by a crenellated wall.
© J. Martel, Editions HarnoisThe four main floors were formed by a great hall with a central pillar leaning on four ribbed casements. Access was gained through one of the flanking turrets where a spiral staircase served the four floors and the terrace.
The three other turrets accommodated small rooms adjoining the central halls. The first floor hall was used for chapter meetings and as a Justice Room(2). The other halls may have sheltered the Temple Treasures and the Royal Treasure.© J. Martel, Editions Harnois
The north side of “Tour du Temple” was flanked by another smaller building. This building had two turrets which formed the main entrance to the dungeon. The total height of Structure, including roofs, was approximately 55 metres.

The residence for the Master of France at the “Villeneuve du Temple” also became the residence for the Master of the Order after the fall of the city of Acre in 1291. It was called chieftain house.
In 1306, threatened by a riot, Phillip le Bel sought shelter in the templar preceptory. He was welcomed by Master Jacques de Molay, with pomp and ceremony. Despite the hospitality, in the early hours of Friday 13 October 1307, throughout the Kingdom of France, the Knights Templar were arrested. Guillaume de Nogaret led the arrests in the “Villeneuve du Temple”.
Ironically the day prior to his arrest Jacques de Molay was present at the funeral of Catherine de Courtenay, wife of Charles de Valois and sister-in-law of Philippe IV.
After the arrest, the temple dungeon was used to jail many Templars including the high dignitaries: Jacques de Molay, Geoffroy de Charnay, Hugues de Payraud and more.
Between 19 October and 24 November 1307 Inquisitor Guillaume de Paris interrogated 138 prisoners in the Paris Temple. In the few days before that they were detained and tortured by Officers of the King. Thirty-six of them died as a result.
The Papal Bull 'Vox In Excelso' (22nd March 1312), officially dissolved the Order of the Knights Templar. The Bull 'Ad Providam' (2nd May 1312), also issued by Clement V, ordered the assets and properties of the Knights to be turned over to the Hospitallers.

Over the following two centuries the Hospitallers somewhat modified the “Villeneuve du Temple”. They enlarged the Church of St. Mary, filled the ditch around the fortress and replaced the drawbridge with a regular stone bridge.

Paris' temple around 1450
During the 15th century the Hospitallers replaced the large dining halls, where Kings Henry III of England and Louis IX of France had been hosted, with a hotel for their Chapter meetings.
Hospitaller modifications continued and during the 17th century many of the older Templar buildings were destroyed (no details are available though).
By 1650 the Church of St. Mary, another chapel, the towers, the storeroom, the large entrance door and the hospital were the only Templar buildings left. Additionally, in 1667 the Templar Provincial Master’s house was transformed into a palace for the Great Prior in France. A lot of the empty space was filled by gardens.

In further modifications the 18th century saw a number of hotels erected in the vicinity providing meeting places for nobles, artists and writers.
Just prior to the French Revolution, only the two dungeons, the church, the chapel and the palace of the Great Prior of Hospitallers remained. There was practically nothing left of the surrounding wall, or other buildings, which were integrated as part of the urban development of Paris.
In June 1790, at the beginning of the French Revolution, the Order of Malta was finally suppressed and the area was invaded by a 4,000 strong population of merchants and craftsmen.

Throughout its history the “Tour du Temple” was very often used as a royal prison. Indeed in 1792 it even imprisoned the Royal couple (King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette), until their execution on 18th October 1793. The tower also imprisoned the Dauphin until his mysterious disappearance in 1795. In 1796 the “Tour du Temple” became a state prison, but the links with regal tragedy defined the tower as a place of pilgrimage for “unconstitutional” royalists.
In 1805 the Temple of Paris was actually bought by a royalist and the pilgrimages continued. Eventually one of Napoleon's ministers completely forbade them and ordered the demolition of the fortification walls. In an extension of this demolition Napoleon himself ordered the destruction of the “Tour du Temple” by a decree dated 16th March 1808. The destruction of the tower meant all the ancient templar remnants disappeared, except the Great Prior’s Palace.
Between 1805 and 1810 most of the remaining buildings (the church and the towers) disappeared.
In 1823 the Palace of the Grand Prior became the seat of the Benedictines of the Perpetual Adoration of the Holy Sacrament.
However halfway through the 19th century Napoleon III destroyed the Palace and the with it the last piece of a bygone era. The “Villeneuve du Temple”, was now nothing more than an architectural memory.
For those wishing to feel this memory, the square of the Temple and the Courthouse of the 3rd arrondissement now fill the space left by the Temple of Paris.

Notes :
(1)In 1194, during Freteval battle (not far from Vendôme), Philip II August suffered an important defeat before Richard Lion Heart. Philip II, like his ancestors, took the Crown archives and treasure with him during such campaigns. They were carried by 6 big wagons in his suite. The defeat of the French army meant these wagons fell into the hands of the Plantagenet Kings.
(2)Philip II granted the Paris Templars several privileges including rights of High, Medium and Low Justice for their domain.

pour une bibliographie plus complète... Bibliography
  1. "Sur les pas des Templiers à Paris et en Ile de France"
    Michel Dumontier; Editions Copernic 1979
  2. "Histoire Médiévale n°34"
    Editions Harnois
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