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The Gothic Temple

Stowe: Hawkwell Field



The Survey reports that the Gothic Temple, initially called the Temple of Liberty and perhaps begun as a temple to Apollo, is a very early example of Gothic Revival architecture as it dates from 1741 based on a design by James Gibbs. Horace Walpole remarked of it, "in the heretical corner of my heart I adore the Gothic Building, which, by some unusual inspiration, Gibbs has made pure and beautiful and venerable." The building is triangular with a turret on each point, the tallest being the one on the east side, and Bevington suggests that its design "may have been inspired by the Triangular Lodge at Rushton and the interior of the Temple Church in London, both of which provide links to Lord Cobham's supposed ancestors."

The Gothic Temple
A view of the Gothic Temple as one climbs the hill from
the Palladian Bridge

The connection between the abstract concept of liberty and neo-gothic architecture may not be readily apparent, but the inscription over the door from Corneille's Horace, "Je rends graces aux Dieux de nestre pas Romain" ("I thank the gods that I am not a Roman") and the placement for a number of years of the statues of the Saxon Deities around the Temple provide some clues. Just as the darker ironstone of which the Gothic Temple is built contrasts with the lighter, honey-colored limestone of nearby buildings, its neo-gothic architecture contrasts with their classical designs. According to Robinson, "to the Whigs Saxon and Gothic were interchangeably associated with freedom and ancient English liberties: trial by jury (erroneously thought to have been founded by King Alfred at a moot on Salisbury Plain), Magna Carta, parliamentary representation, all the things which the Civil War and Glorious Revolution had protected from the wiles of Stuart would-be absolutism, and to the preservation of which Lord Cobham and his 'Patriots' were seriously devoted." English liberty thus stands in stark contrast to Roman tyranny.

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John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College, jtatter@bsc.edu