Work is getting underway to preserve one of Scotland’s most famous and important chapels.
Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian starred in the blockbuster Da Vinci Code and has seen a massive increase in visitor numbers since.
But thanks to a botched repair job in the 1950s the roof is crumbling and has been sealed off for some time.
The Rosslyn Chapel Trust is looking to secure a further £1 million to ensure that a £9 million restoration can be completed within the next year.
Work is set to start next month on a brand new roof for the chapel, restoring the building to its former beauty.
It is famous for the intricate carvings that line the walls of the small chapel, and the rumoured connections to the Knights Templar.
Work has already begun on restoring the stained glass windows in the main body of the building.
By Cara Sulieman
Bannockburn has long been heralded as Scotland’s finest victory over the Auld Enemy.
The battle has been celebrated in verse and song ever since Robert the Bruce defied the odds to send King Edward II’s army “hameward tae think again” in 1314.
However, a historian now claims the credit lies not with the Scots but with a band of Templar knights from overseas.
Robert Ferguson, an American lawyer, says a new “statistical analysis” shows that a significant number of Templars arrived in Scotland from other parts of Europe and that they tipped the balance in Bruce’s favour.
The King of France ordered the arrest of any Templars in his country in 1307 – seven years before Bannockburn – and Pope Clement later ordered all European monarchs to follow suit.
Ferguson claims, citing a statistician he hired for his research, that at least 29 battle-hardened knights and sergeants would have ended up in Scotland, based on 335 avoiding capture, and that they influenced Bruce’s tactics. And he argues that the real figure could even be as high as 48.
He said Bruce progressed with unusual speed from small encounters with the English to a full-blown battle at Bannockburn with properly armed men.
Ferguson says he has built up a convincing case from the circumstantial evidence that is available.
“Given the battle plan that is commonly accepted for Bannockburn, I believe that the Templars were necessary,” he said.
“The existence of Templars at Bannockburn follows a consistent line of facts.
“There is now good evidence that a number of Templars, if not most of them, were aware that they were going to be arrested, and they escaped. There’s only two places they really could escape to, Portugal and Scotland.”
Ferguson’s new claims are made in his book The Knights Templar And Scotland, which will be published in the new year by The History Press.
Ferguson is a Californian attorney, a former professor of astronomy, and a former vice-president of his local Clan Ferguson Society. His book comes with an endorsement from Raymond Morris, laird of 14th century Balgonie Castle in Fife, who claims to be the “Grand Prior of the Scots” Templars.
“Every Templar should read it,” said Morris.
There are several Templar groups in modern Scotland.
“I’ve got about 150 people in America of Scots ancestry,” said Morris.
But Ferguson’s claims were met with scorn yesterday by historian Helen Nicholson, who teaches medieval warfare at Cardiff University and is an expert on the Templars.
It has been claimed before that Templars took part in the battle, and Nicholson said Ferguson’s theories drew on discredited Victorian historical fantasies.
Nicholson said the idea was “hardly more credible” than old claims that the kingdom of Scotland was founded by the Egyptian princess Scota, and that Ferguson’s theories reheated an old slur on Bruce’s achievements.
“The myth is being used to show that Robert the Bruce was a weak man who couldn’t win his own battles, rather than the inspirational military leader that he was,” she said.
“I think that the Scots should be fighting this myth.”
Nicholson, author of The Knights Templar On Trial, bluntly said claims of Templars fighting at Bannockburn in 1314 were “rubbish”.
“There are no records of any French-speaking knights appearing in Scotland in the early decades of the 14th century in a country where French speakers would certainly be noticed.” she said.
“The story has an unpleasant result for the Scots, because it makes out that Robert Bruce was incapable of defeating the ‘all-powerful’ English, without the help of foreigners.”
The Templars’ main fighting force was wiped out at the Fall of Acre in 1291, she said. By 1307, any left with fighting skills would have been in Cyprus.
“Bruce’s battle plan at Bannockburn would have followed best contemporary practice which, as the Templars also did the same, would have meant that there were some elements in common. This does not mean that Bruce had actually met any Templars.”
The Templars rose to prominence as knights of the Crusades, guarding revered sites and castles in the Holy Land.
But on Friday, 13 October, 1307, King Philip IV of France, heavily in debt to the order, ordered the arrest of its Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, and other French Templars. Many confessed to numerous sins under torture, and Pope Clement made his order the following year.
The writer Dan Brown drew heavily on Templar stories in his 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code, which was later made into a film, claiming that the order built Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh, and guarded many secrets there with their lives.
By Tim Cornwell
An unusual painting has emerged that seems to present fresh evidence of the fabled history of Rosslyn Chapel.
The figure of a Templar knight is shown standing in front of a staircase at the back of the Midlothian chapel, which features in Dan Brown’s best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code.
Symbologist Ashley Cowie believes that the staircase may lead to long-lost vaults or chambers housing Templar treasure – including the Holy Grail.
The pastel painting, entitled Templar Knight at Roslyn Chapel by the Scottish artist RT McPherson, is dated 1836 and remained in private ownership until its auction at Shapes of Edinburgh four years ago.
The modern order of the Scottish Knights Templar commissioned Mr Cowie, 36, to analyse the painting for evidence of Rosslyn’s links to the Templar legend.
Mr Cowie said: “There is a growing amount of scientific evidence from excavations and scans which seems to point to the existence of these chambers, so there is every possibility that this stairwell did exist and that it was once the entrance to the chambers.”
in The Scottsman
By Rhiannon Edward
As Kilwinning is thrown into the spotlight with speculation that it could be the final resting place of The Holy Grail, historian Jim Kennedy, who has compiled an in-depth guide to the history of the town, (…) talks about what lies under the tunnel.
The Abbey was the traditional burial place of the Earls of Eglinton in medieval times and later, it seems unlikely that this powerful family would have allowed the destruction or loss of access to their memorials at the rebuilding of the parish church or at any other time.
The 10th Earl, killed in a dispute with a local excise man, had been buried here in 1769 to the great grief of his mother, Susanna and brother Archibald, who succeeded him and oversaw the rebuilding of the parish church a few years later with the addition of the Eglinton Aisle.
A vault, used in 1861 for the interment of the 13th Earl lies at present beneath the parish church towards the west.
The other lead coffins there were recorded as The Countess Susanna, 1782; 12th Earl, Hugh, 1812; Hugh, 1817; Earl Archibald, the Countess Theresa, 1853 and Countess Adela, 1860.
Timothy Pont, writing at the end of the 16th century, was impressed with the memorials he saw at the Abbey, seemingly, still intact: “The founder thereof Sr Richard Morwell layes interrid under a tome of Lymestone, of old polished work, with this coate cut on the stone without aney superscriptione or Epitaphe. Heir, also were the Lords Montgomery and Earls of Eglintoune interred.”
That there was a place of burial under the old church is evidenced by an entry in the session register: “1731 to workmen for lifting the stone of the burial places.” There is also an account in 1859 of alterations being made to a series of vaults beneath the church.
Mr Pont writes: “The burial place of the noble house of Eglinton is in chambers situated under the present church and must have originally been part of the crypt of the old abbey. Before the late Countess died the vaults were in the state that they had been left in by the old iconoclasts but the present earl has caused these sepulchral relics to be protected. He has also caused several alterations to be made to the interior of the vaults which have altered the appearance.”
There is a final and fairly definite clue in the building contract of 1773 for the new parish church where the contractors were to take down the old walls except 15ft of wall opposite to the aisle to be built to the new church by the Earl of Eglinton. At this precise location at the Tironensian Abbey of St Dogmaels, there is a narrow stair contrived in the thickness of the wall leading down to an extensive early 13th century crypt, so this stipulation, and that no effigies or memorial slabs have ever been found around the site or in town buildings, is a good indication that such a crypt, which would be a great archaeological treasure, still exists below the church.
KILWINNING could rival Rosslyn Chapel as a major tourist attraction in the wake of claims it is the final resting place of the Holy Grail.
The Irvine Herald can reveal an historic archaeological dig is to take place in the town’s Abbey grounds.
The project is to be carried out by Irvine Bay Regeneration after actor turned historian, Jamie Morton, a recognised expert on Freemasonry, revealed the artefact used by Christ at The Last Supper could have been hidden in the town by the Knights Templar.
He based his theory on historical documents he has uncovered and the town’s close connections with The Masonic Order.
Mr Morton has compiled the evidence in his latest book, the foreword of which is being written by members of The Mother Lodge in Kilwinning. The 29-year-old author said: “Historians have been searching for a Templar haven where the members sheltered after their downfall.
“Several places have been pinpointed but all of them are false, I have found that Kilwinning and nearby Irvine had the highest concentration of Templar Knights in Scotland.
“The Templars were Europe’s bankers and when they were destroyed, none of the material was returned, it disappeared, so it is possible that it is in Kilwinning or Irvine.”
One leading member of the Lodge said he hoped the findings would bring the importance of Kilwinning to Freemasonry to the rest of the world.
He said: “It’s great for the town and while I can’t claim to be an authority on the topic of the Holy Grail, it certainly has shown just how important Freemasonry is to the world.
“I am interested to know what lies beneath this street as there are wells underneath the surface, who knows what’s buried there?”
Jim Miller, spokesman for the ancient Abbey Tower, welcomed the findings.
“It’s great news for the town as people will be coming from all over to find out more about Kilwinning’s connection to the Holy Grail.
“We have a number of artefacts in the Tower but I’m afraid I don’t know the whereabouts of this particular cup.
“I know there are people who follow the Grail Trail and travel all over the world, you just have to appreciate how popular Rosslyn Chapel became following the Da Vinci Code claims so we should be expecting a lot more people in the town.”
Kilwinning is thought to be the resting place of the Holy Grail after information was found to suggest The Templars had a major presence in the town.
And he rubbished the claim that Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh, was where the Grail was hidden.
“There were no Templars in Rosslyn as the building was constructed after the Templars were destroyed, while Kilwinning Abbey was built shortly after the Templars were created – Rosslyn Chapel is an enigma, a beautiful building but nothing to do with the Templars.”
Rosslyn Chapel was saved from certain closure as its visitors shot up from 30,000 to over 120,000 a year with the release of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code book and subsequent Hollywood film starring Tom Hanks.
Now, the search is on as Holy Grail trailers who travel the world looking for evidence about the cup – said to have mystical powers – are expected to invade Kilwinning on the hunt for the Holy Grail.
Hot spots where it could be include:
l The Mercat Cross outside the original Mason’s Howff in the Main Street. It is said in Kilwinning folklore that the cross is believed by some to have been part of the original wooden cross on which Jesus was crucified.
l The Abbey Church grounds. The Tower already has a feasibility study for an archaeological dig approved and Irvine Bay Regeneration have also talked of making the town an open dig to draw tourists.
l The Mother Lodge – the new lodge was built next to the Abbey Church and Tower, could this be standing on top of the Holy Grail?
l The Main Street itself – it has already been the subject of an archaeological dig by Irvine Development Corporation. Could it be hiding the Christian chalice?
If Mr Morton’s theory is proved, Kilwinning could hold the keystone to re-writing history and give the Main Street a boost with the tourist trade.
by Lorraine Howard, Irvine Herald
Some hotels’ claims to a colourful historical past may prove tenuous, but David Knight can’t help but be impressed by a country house which dates back, in part, to the 13th century and the Knights Templar.
Men in white tunics and women in white dresses are threads which are interwoven in the past and present of Maryculter House Hotel, near Aberdeen.
Many country hotels like to trade on their historic past, with varying degrees of authenticity, but Maryculter House has something right from the top drawer.
As soon as you see the 1225 date engraved above its entrance you realise it has something different from the rest.
It sits in a charming, secluded spot alongside the River Dee which also happens to be the ancestral home of a Scottish contingent of the famed Knights Templar.
These were fearsome fighting Christian knights with various strongholds around Europe spanning two centuries, who fought in the Crusades and protected pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land.
A mere 80 knights once challenged an army of 26,000 Saracens to a scrap on the road to Jerusalem – and eventually won, according to my research.
Apart from their fighting prowess, they were also distinguishable by their white robes and vivid scarlet crosses. You feel their presence everywhere here, and it is not every hotel which can list in its range of activities the chance to stand in a field at midnight in the hope of seeing a knight’s ghost charging past on horseback.
With a surname like mine, I wondered if I, too, might have had ancestors who were Knights Templar. Very fanciful, I know, and on checking the meaning of names, I discovered that the name, Knight, was also granted to domestic servants or soldiers in the pay of real knights. My lot probably had the contract for cleaning the gents for the Knights Templar.
They are now outnumbered here by an equally formidable and unstoppable force also dressed impeccably in white – an army of brides.
With more than 100 weddings a year, Maryculter House is up there with the best around Aberdeen for staging nuptials.
It is easy to see why: it is beautifully picturesque and the River Dee ripples just feet away from the actual place where couples tie the knot under an arch outside, weather permitting.
The views in both directions down and upriver take some beating. You can see the attraction for wedding pictures with such an idyllic background.
It is not compulsory to get married before you stay here, of course. It has plenty to offer everyone else as well.
Apart from being pretty to look at, the Dee also offers up its bounty of fish and the hotel boasts its own beat with various packages tailored to the fishing fraternity.
Golf abounds everywhere in these parts, of course, and from some of the rooms, you can gaze across the river and see golfers ambling up and down Peterculter golf course.
From the South Deeside Road, it is possible to drive past and not actually see the hotel as it is tucked away from view. New sections have been added over the years, but at its centre, the architecture remains distinctly mediaeval.
Its showpiece is the residents’ lounge, set in an ancient hall dating back to 1225 which would not look out of place in any castle, with huge exposed stone walls and a beamed ceiling so high it almost disappears from sight.
It is a perfect room in which to relax with a drink in its luxurious leather sofas and soak up the historical atmosphere. The knights’ stables were supposedly beneath this very room.
The rooms were nicely appointed and, for my wife and I, there was a view across the Dee which ran just past our window. A 32in flat-screen TV and a walk-in stone-floor shower were other pleasurable extras.
We sampled room service and ordered ham and cheese croissants. These proved to be quite a sumptuous affair with deep, delicious fillings, tomatoes and cucumber dressed in a tasty balsamic sauce and accompanied by crisps.
Outside, and opposite the reception, there are the remains of a large Knights Templar chapel and cemetery, which is well worth a visit. From its gates, we could spot deer in the distance.
It’s an ideal base to strike out for other activities and visits in the area, but this is also a great place just to get away from it all, relax and do nothing in particular, or perhaps some walking, eating and drinking in very pleasant surroundings. That would be perfect.
Maryculter House also offers one luxury city dwellers crave – peace and quiet. There is no traffic and no noisy drunks outside, as often happens around city hotels. We were there for only 24 hours, but felt our batteries had been recharged by the time we left.
The Priory restaurant offers an excellent a la carte menu choice, with special theme nights now and again such as murder-mystery dinners, wine-tasting and mediaeval banquets.
Gourmet menus are offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, at £32.50 a head when we visited, and that was a superb special treat. Various discounted room offers also accompany a number of the meal options. A good selection of meals and snacks is also served in the Poachers Pocket bar.
A full traditional breakfast awaits guests in the morning in a dining-room just off the bar.
The staff were friendly, helpful and very approachable throughout our stay, but we gave one special attraction a miss. There is a field nearby where, legend has it, a knight rides out at midnight and a ghostly Saracen woman can be seen floating about the woods.
I decided to stay safe close by the bar.
It is said that the Knights Templar were not allowed to retreat in battle, even against ridiculous odds, which probably explains why their life expectancy was so short.
Maryculter House Hotel is a special retreat of another kind which even the knights would have had trouble resisting.
Maryculter House Hotel, South Deeside Road, Maryculter, Aberdeen. Phone 01224 732124, or visit http://www.maryculter househotel.com
IT has been steeped in mystery for hundreds of years.
The labyrinth of rooms and passageways in Gilmerton Cove have been surrounded by tales of witchcraft, secret rituals and theories that it was once used as a chapel for the medieval Knights Templar.
Now a local historian and genealogist claims he can finally reveal the origin of the cove – as a drinking den and Edinburgh’s first man-made tourist attraction.
According to John Rennie, most of the common theories behind the cove’s existence can now be discounted with evidence that it was not created until the 18th century and appears to have attracted customers from miles around.
Mr Rennie, 77, from Liberton, was a guide at the cove around three years ago and has now discovered the earliest written evidence of its existence.
The information, which was found in the minutes of a meeting of Liberton Kirk Session on May 7, 1725 – Gilmerton was previously part of Liberton Parish – reveals that the cove was dug out of rock by an 18th Century blacksmith from Gilmerton, George Paterson, between 1719 and 1724.
This means the cove could not have been used by either the Knights Templar or the Covenanters, as had been suggested.
Mr Rennie, a member and guide at Liberton Kirk, said: “The Knights Templar predates the cove by several centuries – at least 300 years – and by the time the cove had been built, the Covenanters had become obsolete.”
He added: “George Paterson had visitors from Edinburgh and further afield to see his cave so it’s clear to me that he built it as a visitors’ centre serving alcohol. It’s pretty clear that it was a licensed premises.”
The minutes make it clear that the cove was one of many legal drinking dens at the time in Gilmerton, and state that Mr Paterson was compelled to appear before Liberton Kirk Session charged with supplying people with alcohol on the Sabbath.
He was warned that if anyone was caught drinking in the cove on the Sabbath again, he and his wife would be banned from attending Liberton Kirk.
Mr Rennie also disputes speculation that the cove was used as a blacksmith’s shop because the forge inside the cove is too small and shows no signs of having been used.
He added: “The vast majority of the tales told regarding the cove have no foundation.”
Margaretanne Dugan, owner of tour company Rosslyn Tours, which operates tours of the cove, said: “John’s theory is interesting, although Gilmerton had 24 drinking establishments at the time, and if he is correct, then it seems an awful lot of effort has gone into creating the underground cave for a sly whisky on the Sabbath Day.
“Also, the markings throughout the cove indicate a tool much earlier than the 1700s was used.
“Queen Margaret’s Cave at Dunfermline has the exact same tool markings dating back 1000 years.
“We also have Masonic marks and a carving of a cat at Gilmerton Cove.
One thing is for sure – the cove is mysterious and a definite must-see.”
FROM KNIGHTS TEMPLAR TO WITCHES
THERE are many theories surrounding the use of Gilmerton Cove.
These include speculation that the cove was used as a chapel by the Knights Templar and the Covenanters.
It is also believed that the cove was linked by tunnel to Craigmillar Castle. However due to the distance between them – around two miles – and the fact that a valley lies between them, this theory has also been discounted by many.
Witches are said to have used the cove while another theory is that the cove may have been a blacksmith’s shop.
The man said to have built the cove, blacksmith George Paterson, is thought to have had a separate shop – as well as a house – next to the cove. But neither building exists today to prove this theory.
By LAURA CUMMINGS