HIDDEN behind a veil of ancient woodland on a hillside seven miles from Edinburgh stands a small irregularly-shaped-structure carved from stone. Rosslyn Chapel was built in the 15th century by Earl William St Clair as a place of worship and burial for members of his wealth; aristocratic family.
But it is for entirely different reasons his masterwork has captured the imagination of writers and intrigued scholars for generations.
The chapel has been hailed as a world centre for Freemasonry and a treasure store for the Templar Knights, a secretive order, who for centuries controlled the finances of Europe.
The confection of intricate carvings which adorn its interior are also been said to commemorate the first crusade, the discovery of America a century before Columbus and a myriad of Masonic rituals. It has also been suggested that secreted in the cavernous vaults could be Scotland’s lost crown jewels, Robert the Bruce’s Heart, the true Stone of Destiny and even remnants of the cross on which Christ was crucified – the original ‘Holy Rood’ of Scotland.
But in a new book, author Tim Wallace-Murphy claims Rosslyn Chapel holds the key to the greatest mystery to have entranced religious and secular scholars since the dawn of this millennium – the search for the Holy Grail.
Wallace-Murphy, an Irish-born doctor who has spent the past decade researching the chapel’s history, says: ‘Rosslyn chapel is an arcane library in stone, built by a towering, genius. It is the most superbly carved repository for the Holy Grail in the entire world. Within it there are artistic and symbolic references to every spiritual pathway known at the time of its building. No matter from what point one is starting or from what point one is seeking God there are signposts within Rosslyn that are perfectly valid for people of every faith.
Such fascination has prevailed through time. Joseph Turner positioned himself on the banks of the River Esk to paint the awesome scene of the chapel rising from the steeply sloped woodland above him.
Sir Waiter Scott wrote effusively, saying: ‘Rosslyn and its adjacent scenery have associations dear to the antiquary and the historian which may fairly entitle it to precedence over every other Scottish scene of the same kind.’
Clearly entranced, Scott also based his famous poem Lay of the Last Minstrel there.
Robert Bums was another frequent visitor to Rosslyn and Boswell and Dr Johnson included it on their grand Scottish tour.
Wallace-Murphy asserts such unadulterated passion is not without foundation. There also has, he says, to be an good explanation as to why thousands of pilgrims in the middle ages should make the journey to the premier European shrines of St James of Compostela in Northwestern Spain then travel on to Rosslyn to deposit their prized scallop shells – the only tangible evidence of their pilgrimage.
BETWEEN the completion of Rosslyn and the Reformation so many pilgrims visited that the stain leading down into the crypt are very heavily worn.
‘Perhaps through the centuries the chapel became a significant place of pilgrimage because it was chosen by the Templar Knights for not only their treasure but, perhaps more significantly, their secrets,’ says Wallace-Murphy.
‘I believe that hidden within the fabric of the chapel are the scrolls discovered by the Templars during their excavations in Jerusalem on the first crusade. These could contain what has been described as “the fruits of a thousand years of knowledge”.’
What that knowledge might contain is a matter of speculation for everyone, Wallace-Murphy included.
He believes, however, through their centuries of trans-world networking, the were party to the inner workings of all this and knew all the paths to spiritual enlightenment. In other words – a Holy Grail for every creed, religion and culture. So, what of the origins of the Scottish dynasty entrusted with the key to the world’s greatest secret?