French and Dutch Protestants and London’s “Temple of Jesus”
In London there is a medieval edifice known as the Strangers’ Church, or, as its 16th century worshipers would have referred to it, the “Temple of Jesus.” It was originally built in the 13th century by the Earl of Hereford and suffered air raid damage during World War II. Though a new church was constructed, much of the old structure has remained intact and is a quite beautiful historical relic. The story behind is stunning as well . . .
No one is exactly sure why French and Dutch Protestants referred to their churches as “temples.” The current opinion seems to be that they wanted to make sure they wouldn’t be mistaken for Catholic churches or cathedrals, and that makes sense, but the first instance in which that name was used will probably never be known. What is known is that Protestant temples were far from welcome in most of Europe.
In 1550, Protestantism was still fairly new, yet the Huguenots and their Dutch Calvinist cousins had already suffered persecution for several years. Germany was fairly flourishing under this new thought brought by Martin Luther and other reformers, but more strictly Catholic countries loathed the Calvinist ideals that had rapidly spread among people of all social classes. Feeling the burn of persecution --- figuratively and, in many cases, literally --- foreign Protestants desperately sought nations with similar religious ideals that would be willing to take them in. England volunteered.
That old and venerable nation was well-known for Protestant tendencies, first during the reign of Edward VI and later during the reign of his half-sister Elizabeth I (with the sorrowful “burning time” under Mary I in between). Such amity between English and French Protestants helped to bring about the “Temple of Jesus” which was given to Dutch and French Protestants by way of Polish native Jean a Lasco and his hearty band of petitioners. With both Dutch- and French-speaking pastors, it catered to London’s Huguenot refugee population as well.
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