The mysteries of Rosslyn Chapel
Rosslyn has already featured in the discussion of the Holy Grail previously, but according to alternative historians its true significance is as some sort of Templar cryptogram. It was built between 1440 and 1480 by William Sinclair of the Sinclair family, Earls of Orkney and also Lords of Roslin in lowland Scotland between Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Sinclair family were supposedly important Templars in the 13th century, and Freemasonry in Scotland was purportedly founded by William Sinclair, thus connecting the Templars with their supposed successors the Masons. Many Masonic and quasi-Masonic groups today claim this Templar ancestry.
Rosslyn Chapel represents the Sinclair’s use of the architectural secrets of the Templars and is riddled with Masonic symbolism. It is said to be a copy of the Temple of Solomon, deliberately left unfinished to look like the ruined original. The ornately carved Apprentice Pillar (or Prentice pillar) within the Chapel is suggested as a hiding place for the Templar loot, as are several large chests said to be buried about the property, possibly in secret crypts beneath.
The American connection
Rosslyn Chapel also apparently displays carvings of American flora, made before the voyages of Columbus. This ties in with legends about Henry Sinclair, ancestor of the chapel’s builder and an alleged Templar, who is said to have made secret voyages across the Atlantic, possibly using secret knowledge obtained from the Templar treasure (eg Biblical/pre-Biblical accounts of transatlantic voyages or Atlantean navigational lore, contained in the ancient scrolls they excavated from beneath the Temple), possibly in order to inter there the Order’s treasure, safe from grasping European hands.
Before Rosslyn became the focus of Templar/Grail hunters, the village of choice was picturesque Rennes-le-Château in Languedoc, the old Cathar region. Here the mystery of Bérenger Saunière has excited treasure hunters for decades. Saunière was the village priest of the poor parish of Rennes from 1889–1905. He should have spent most of his life in obscurity and near poverty, given his official income, but during the 1890s Saunière began to spend lavishly, first renovating the church, which included making some bizarre alterations, such as putting a statue of a demon over the door, and later building himself a luxury villa. In cosmopolitan Paris he hobnobbed with the rich and famous, occultists and the demi-monde, and at home he threw lavish parties.When he died he was said to be worth millions of francs.
The source of this wealth was alleged to be a mysterious scroll that Saunière found hidden inside a pillar in the village church. The scroll in turn led the priest to discover some hidden treasure nearby – possibly the lost Cathar-Templar treasure. Armed with the knowledge/power this brought, he was able to make influential friends and become enormously rich. With his death in 1917, however, the secret of the treasure was lost, perhaps buried under Rennes or somewhere in the surrounding countryside.
Take your pick
In conclusion, the Templar treasure is now hidden/buried in or around Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, somewhere in North America (see ‘The Oak Island Money Pit’, page 145) or somewhere underneath Rennes-le-Château. Alternative sites include any of the numerous Templar commanderies in Europe – many of which are said to sit atop warrens of tunnels and caverns – particularly those in countries like Scotland and England where the Order largely escaped persecution.
House of cards
These alternative versions of history make exciting reading, but the truth is that this convoluted web is constructed almost entirely of unfounded speculation, simple errors or outright fictions. Nearly every aspect can be debunked, although it is hard to know where to begin.
Did the Templars really discover or inherit something amazing?
Despite the various theories there is no evidence that they did. The three main suggested sources for the treasure are the Priory of Sion, the Temple Mount and the Cathars. All rest on shaky or non-existent ground.
The Priory of Sion story is the invention of a convicted French conman and fantasist named Pierre Plantard. After World War II Plantard concocted an elaborate fantasy version of history in which he was the descendant of the Merovingian kings and, by extension, of Christ himself. He then invented a secret society with supposedly mystical and portentous antecedents, called the Priory of Sion, and recruited a few members for quasireligious activities of vaguely distasteful nationalist-royalist political character. He even had forged documents smuggled into the French national archives at the Bibliothèque Nationale.
When later researchers unearthed these it lent credence to the tale Plantard himself was spinning for them. Although he eventually fell foul of the law and was ordered to stop perpetrating his scam, by then the Priory of Sion and its long guardianship of the bloodline of Christ was firmly established in the popular imagination. The Priory–Templar connection was another element of the tale concocted by Plantard. It should be pointed out that while there was, briefly, a real Order of Sion, it had nothing to do with Plantard’s Priory. It was a monastic order based around an abbey on Mount Zion in the Holy Land, which collapsed after the Saracen victories of the late 13th century.
One of the most common elements of the Templar story is that the founding knights excavated beneath the Temple Mount. In practice, however, there is not a shred of primary evidence (eg records from the time) to suggest that any excavations were ever carried out by the Templars, beyond whatever building works they undertook later in their history to enlarge or outfit their quarters on the Temple Mount. While there are tunnels in the Mount, there is no evidence that the Templars ever explored or were even interested in them.
Some literary detective work by historian Kevin McClure has uncovered the real source of many of these excavation myths, and it is an unsettling one. McClure traces the claims made by many alternative historians to a passage in a book on the Templars by Guy Delaforge, who later went on to set up the quasi-Masonic Order of the Solar Temple, which claimed to be inheritor of the Templar tradition (and secret knowledge), and which was eventually responsible for the terrible murder of more than 70 people. Delaforge’s book, in which he describes the excavations, is pure fantasy and he does not attempt to give a source. However, he in turn was apparently used as a source by several subsequent writers.
Assertions about the excavation are often backed up by the assumption that the nine founding knights were too few in number to be there for their avowed purpose of protecting pilgrims, and therefore must have had ulterior motives. This is suspect logic, especially given that each knight might have had a retinue of men-at-arms, making them a more formidable force than suggested; and more importantly their initial task was simply to escort pilgrims from Jerusalem to the Jordan River, for which an army was not necessary.
The Cathar connection is equally suspect. There is no evidence that the Cathars possessed any secret treasure, nor for the tale of the escape from Montségur, which seems to be pure romantic fiction. Nor is there evidence of special links between the Templars and the Cathars – only the circumstantial support that they co-existed and that there were Templar strongholds in the Cathar area, as there were all across France. Much is made of religious similarities between the two groups, but these are probably overplayed. The Templars were devout Christians and many of the heresies laid at their door can be put down to the hyperbole of their French prosecutors.
The ‘in’ thing
The Templars’ rise to wealth and power was indeed remarkable, but was it really inexplicable? Perhaps they were simply the right group at the right time. The Catholic Encyclopaedia explains: ‘The order owed its rapid growth in popularity to the fact that it combined the two great passions of the Middle Ages, religious fervour and martial prowess.’ Also, it was the practice at the time for charitable donations to be given on an institutional and not personal basis, which favoured institutions such as the Templars.
Was there any Templar treasure?
Another common conceit about the Templars is that they were immensely wealthy when they were suppressed, and that this wealth mysteriously vanished. This is a myth. In fact, by the time of their dissolution the Templars were in the red for a variety of reasons, from inflation to changing economic policy around Europe. Most of their assets were in non-liquid form, and they needed whatever rents or income their properties earned for their enormously expensive adventures in the East. By the end of the 13th century they, along with the other Crusaders, had been kicked out of the Holy Land with a concomitant loss of prestige and therefore donations. There is considerable evidence that by 1307 the Templars were struggling to pay for basic upkeep of their commanderies and many of their members were living in penury.
The Templar fleet
The famous Templar fleet proves to be equally mythical. Although they were heavily engaged in shipping and trade thanks to their constant travelling to and from the Holy Land, it is unlikely that they ever had more than a handful of ships. In 1312 their great rival order, the Knights Hospitaller, who were specifically engaged in naval operations, possessed only four warships, and it is thought unlikely that the Templars would have had many more. There are few records that explicitly state how many ships they had, but the most that are mentioned at any one time are two. When they needed extra ships they would hire them. Also, their ships were galleys, entirely unsuited for the kind of oceanic exploration attributed to them by some alternative historians.
Going out with a whimper
More misconceptions gather around the fate of the Templars. Their demise arose partly because of their very weakness, rather than through fear of their strength. It was when they became vulnerable due to money problems and loss of prestige that their enemies could take action, and – although in France the Templars did indeed have a rough ride, with many executed for heresy – in much of Europe they were not found guilty and did not suffer persecution. Pope Clement initially tried to stop the persecution, but Philip the Fair had done too good a job of blackening the name of the Templars in France through slander and acquisition of confessions by torture (a legal means of obtaining evidence at the time), and he was eventually forced to wind up the Order, which is not the same as utterly destroying it. What few assets it had were shared between other Orders, including a couple of successor Orders in Portugal and Spain, about which there was nothing secret or clandestine. This, and the fact that there was little to go round to begin with, accounts for the fact that Philip ended up empty-handed.
Did the Templars really have secret knowledge or relics?
There is no evidence that the Templars possessed any great secret. The strange practices that gave rise to many of the suppositions and legends about the Templars were exaggerated by Philip’s prosecutors as part of the plot to blacken their names. Baphomet, the so-called demon, was probably a word used to describe Mohammedans (ie Muslims), with whom the Templars necessarily had many dealings in the Holy Land. The alleged worship of heads may be an over-interpretation of their possession of a couple of relics – the heads of two female martyrs, in particular the head of St Euphemia, which were well known and in no way secret.
The secret knowledge they were said to have possessed and passed on to the Masons is pure speculation. Links between the Masons and the Templars are themselves purely fictional – invented by some Masonic groups/writers from the 18th century onwards in an attempt to give themselves a more impressive provenance.
Does Rosslyn Chapel have any links to the Templars?
In fact there is no evidence for this, according to Evelyn Lord, author of The Knights Templar in Britain. It was built more than a hundred years after the Order was suppressed. The alleged Scottish connection is generally tenuous. Contrary to legend, there is no record of Templars fighting with Robert the Bruce, which there would have been had they done so, and, in fact, the Templars were generally on good terms with the English kings Robert the Bruce opposed. In particular, the Sinclairs of the time were no friends of the Templars and are on record as having testified against them in the trials of 1309. Having said which, one of the early Sinclairs may well have been a Templar, but this applied to many noblemen of the period. Rosslyn Chapel itself is almost certainly a copy of nearby Glasgow Cathedral’s choir, which would have been a handy reference for the masons building the chapel, rather than a version of the Temple. It was probably left unfinished because of shortage of money, which was common for private chapels. It would be difficult for the chapel to have any connection with Freemasonry, since this was not founded until hundreds of years later. Alleged connections between the chapel’s builder, William Sinclair, and Freemasonry in Scotland are thought to be spurious and based on later fictions, like so much of Masonic ‘history’. There is no evidence that any treasure or other secrets are buried in or around Rosslyn Chapel. There is also no evidence beyond some letters of extremely doubtful authenticity that an early Sinclair travelled across the Atlantic.
Is there a real Rennes-le-Château mystery?
Much like the Plantard–Priory of Sion fraud, it seems that most of the Rennes mystery can be traced to a 1950s French hoax. In this instance Noël Corbu, the owner of a newly opened restaurant in Saunière’s old villa, thought that a good treasure mystery might boost custom. In practice none of the ‘mysteries’ are that mysterious. Saunière’s inexplicable wealth came from his practice of selling indulgences, where, in return for a fee, a priest would say a mass to shorten the payer’s stay in purgatory. This was outlawed by the Catholic Church and indeed Saunière was suspended and eventually fired for persistent violations. Also, he did not die a wealthy man. Quite the opposite, for he lived many of his later years in near poverty, desperate for money.
The strange alterations he made to his church owe more to symbolism linked with his radical pro-royalist, antidisestablishmentarianist views. The hollow pillar in which he supposedly discovered the parchment, and which is exhibited to visitors to this day, is almost certainly a complete fake that was never part of the church. There is no evidence of any treasure ever having been buried or found in the area.
The Templar deception
The lies and deceptions of Plantard and Corbu, together with their repetition and elaboration by subsequent authors, which is now reaching its ultimate synergy in the work of Dan Brown, means that much of genuine interest about the Templars and the various related mysteries is obscured. For instance, it is possible that the Templars adopted some unconventional approaches to Christianity due to their experiences in the East. Little is known about the Cathars beyond the tragedy of their brutal suppression. Rosslyn Chapel is indeed an extraordinary and beautiful piece of architecture, genuinely rich in strange symbolism. But the way that pseudohistorians uncritically recycle fiction, speculation and misinformation means that the so-called Templar mystery is like a snowball rolling downhill, gaining mass and momentum, but with nothing more than slush at its core.