Visitors used to travel from across the world to see this model temple in Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 19:30 02 December 2019
Farmer and preacher Alec Garrard devoted the last 20 years of his life to building the recreation of Herod’s temple. The astonishing testament to his faith and skill once brought visitors from around the world to the Waveney Valley.
The original was destroyed 2,000 years ago, but at the bottom of a garden in the Waveney Valley, the temple King Herod built in Jerusalem lives on.
Soldiers parade, shoppers browse stalls, farmers hurry sheep into pens and officials and priests go about their business. More tiny figures shown stroll through shady colonnades or gather by the great gateways into the walled temple complex, visit the baths and crowd around a chariot accident.
Farmer Alec Garrard spent 20 years building this vast model of the temple complex. People came from around the world to see it, but in 2010 he died and ever since the huge model has been quietly gathering dust and cobwebs.
Alec, who was also a Methodist preacher, was determined to make his temple as accurate as possible and did a huge amount of research into biblical and Roman sources. He made and baked around 100,000 tiny bricks, and created more than 3,500 tiny hand-painted figures, just over a centimetre high - ranging from soldiers to priests and stall-holders to Jesus.
The model is surrounded by wall paintings so that walking into the big shed where it has been shut up for almost a decade is like stepping right into the Holy Land scenes, which once even included a flowing river.
"It just seems a shame that it's still here and no-one sees it," said his daughter, Linda Jane James. "What happens to it is not really up to me but ideally it needs someone to look after it."
Alec began building the enormous model while farming at Moat Farm, Fressingfield, near Eye. When he and his wife retired to Harleston, the temple came too, becoming the centrepiece of a charity shop Alec ran, in aid of the East Anglian Air Ambulance.
"The more you look the more you see," said Linda Jane. "Everything is significant."
Entire biblical stories are being played out across the complex. There are also sheep being brought to the temple for sacrifice, soldiers on parade, and, created as a mini-scenes outside the main model, jutting out from the shed wall, is the Crucifixion. Jesus is in 16 of the scenes.
"He always said his temple model was made to the glory of God," said Linda. "It was worship for him.
"His research was meticulous. He scoured the bible for as many references as possible and also read the works of Josephus, the Roman historian who was writing at the time the temple was built. He was insistent that his model be historically accurate, at times taking apart what he had made and rebuilding it to fit with the latest research findings of archaeologists in Israel."
Several archaeologists from Jerusalem came to see the model, as well as experts from the British Museum and Cambridge University, many Americans, and vicars, ministers and rabbis and their congregations from across Britain. There are also letters from Lord Rothschild, who came to visit him, and wanted to display the Temple," said Linda.
Alec gave many talks and wrote a book about his model, called The Splendour of the Temple. "He rigged up lights and cameras to photograph and film it and sold the videos to people who couldn't come and see it for themselves," said Linda Jane.
"He was totally obsessed with it. It was all he talked about. Now I wonder why I didn't listen more!"
Linda Jane, a retired teacher, is now writing a book about the temple.
Herod's Temple in East Anglia not only tells the story of her father's temple, but also the real temple, one of the most important buildings in the classical world, destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, just a few years after it was finished.
The temple also features in a book by celebrated writer WG Sebald, who came across the temple, and its creator, as he was writing his literary masterpiece The Rings of Saturn. He changed Alec's name to Thomas Abrams for the fictionalised travelogue, and a video of Alec, speaking Sebald's words, features in the exhibition Lines of Sight: WG Sebald's East Anglia at the Castle Museum, Norwich, until January 5.
Linda found the video disconcerting saying Alec 'Had the dialect of the environment he had lived in all his life, a strong Norfolk/Suffolk colloquial dialect. In the Castle Museum, you can't hear any of his words. He is a talking head, overshadowed by another voice."
She would love to see the model displayed in a museum.
"His achievement was not in words, or in books, but in the model of the temple itself," said Linda Jane. "He had worked all his life with his hands, making and mending, painting and model making, and the temple is a three dimensional manifestation of his reading and research.
"Towards the end he would just come and sit with it. He was a one-off, my father."
For more information about the forthcoming book, Herod's Temple in East Anglia by Linda Jane James, visit lindajanejamesauthor.com