Just over ten years ago the public imagination about Christianity’s secret past was fired, stoked up and resurrected with the publication of Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code.
Playing a pivotal role in this story and situated just a few miles south of Edinburgh is Rosslyn Chapel, one of the most ornately carved 15th century medieval stone buildings in all of Europe. There are many legends about Rosslyn which help to make it an ever-more-popular tourist attraction for it is thought to hold a number of long lost secrets.
Indeed, I am not surprised to learn that over the past decade archaeologists have been clamouring to undertake an excavation to put those legends to the test and to see what is contained in the labyrinth of underground vaults sealed off more than 350 years ago.
Before I continue…
… let’s just pause and take stock for a moment. If you are are now a savvy detectorist and one of your back-up machines from long ago just happens to be one of those old-fashioned ‘baloney detectors’ then it should be starting to make a series of high pitched screeching noises right now. History, myth and legend seem to be all intertwined when dealing with a subject as complex as Rosslyn. However if you are like me, you won’t be able to resist having a dig and checking out those dodgy signals just to make sure.
I suppose the feeling can be likened to going on that new field for the first time and not knowing quite what to expect, even though you have done the homework. Rosslyn is believed by many to be a repository for everything from the mummified head of Christ, the Ark of the Covenant, lost scrolls from the Temple of Jerusalem, the treasures of the Knight’s Templar and has long been the focus of legends connected with the Holy Grail.
Is there any truth in these stories and what interest might they have for the metal detectorist? Before I attempt to unravel this intricate web and answer that question, perhaps I should start with one of the known facts about Rosslyn and that is the existence of the Apprentice Pillar, the Chapel’s most elaborate work, stunning in its exquisitely carved beauty.
One of the legends attached to it is that this pillar was carved by an apprentice of the master mason who subsequently became jealous when he saw how good a job the apprentice had made. The master mason’s way of dealing with this was to kill the apprentice by striking him on the head with a mallet.
But was that the case? Some believe that the apprentice was sacrificed so that he could never tell what was buried deep inside that pillar – the Holy Grail perhaps, the cup that was supposedly used at the last supper before the death of Christ or/and the one supposed to have collected the blood when the Centurion put the spear through Christ’s side to see if he was dead?
It doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to assume that when the Knights Templar were forced out of the Holy Land in 1291 and fled, eventually ending up in Scotland, that they took their sacred relics with them. William St. Clair, founder of Rosslyn Chapel was allegedly a Templar Grandmaster, so it is possible that he was in possession of relics from Solomon’s Temple and that they were subsequently hidden away in some secret vault in the chapel.
For many years metal detectors have been seen as a way to prove – or disprove – the Holy Grail legend. Alas, to my knowledge no metal detector searches have ever been permitted, although a foray on the ubiquitous Google search engine says otherwise and brings up this unattributed quote from several sites.
“The most popular ‘Grail’ legend about the Apprentice Pillar insists that there is a ‘Grail’ hidden within the pillar, specifically a silver platter. However, scans have been done of the pillar in the past and nothing metal was detected, leading others to speculate that perhaps the ‘Grail’ hidden there is not made of metal”
I have determined that the custodians of the chapel discourage any attempts at private detective work and discount the story of the Holy Grail saying that they know of no grounds on which to base the story. And then, rather enigmatically they appear to fuel speculation and legend by saying, “We have never established beyond doubt that the Apprentice Pillar does not shield the Holy Grail.”
It would seem that it would be an easy matter to put this matter to rest by using a metal detector to determine whether anything is embedded in the pillar but apparently the Rosslyn Trust, the body charged with the upkeep of the church, won’t allow it.
Many theories abound about what may be hidden at Rosslyn, which has naturally led to great speculation. The sceptics point out that, amidst all the hype, there is nothing to be found. But one question remains: will the vaults of Rosslyn ever be excavated? The director of Rosslyn Chapel Trust, Mr Stuart Beattie, when asked about the possibility of excavation, said that as there are important burial sites located around the chapel and one couldn’t simply start ‘digging up graves.’
Scottish law on the “Right of Sepulchre (protecting graves and kirkyards so that they are not disturbed) would mean that a rather lengthy legal procedure would have to be followed in order to secure the necessary permission to dig on the church grounds. Meanwhile, the focus is on preservation of the building, and not on excavation – at least for the moment.”
In 2005 a Scottish group of Knights Templar began asking for permission to carry out non-invasive searches using thermal imaging technology in an attempt to find evidence but, like the archaeologists mentioned earlier they were also were turned down. Imagine if they had found relics. Rosslyn wouldn’t have been able to handle the crowds; and think how any positive findings would ruin a delightful old story like the legend of the Holy Grail!
It is possible that there are people alive today who are in possession of the Templar heritage and secret traditions and those people could be Freemasons. Since its formal inception in 1717, Freemasonry has sought an answer for its roots in history and the speculations have been varied. The connection between the Templars and the Freemasons will always remain unsubstantiated, but in their book The Hiram Key, Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas say:
“We can now be certain, without any shadow of doubt, that the starting place for Freemasonry was the construction of Rosslyn Chapel in the mid-fifteenth century; later historical developments confirm this view because the St Clair family of Rosslyn became the hereditary Grand Masters of the Crafts and Guilds and Orders of Scotland, and later held the post of the Master of Masons of Scotland until the late 1700s.”