As many of you are undoubtedly aware, there are several theories regarding a possible physical relationship between Freemasonry and the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, commonly known as the Knights Templar.
Many modern scholars vehemently refuse to examine objectively the prospect of any connection between the two Orders, however, there is a significant handful of learned scholars whose hearts and imaginations have been stirred by the possibility and who keep tripping over little hints of evidence which keep the theories alive.
The purpose of this Blog is to acquaint you with a theory that could suggest a potential Link between Freemasonry and the ancient Knights Templar. This Link is represented by the St Clair (Modern: Sinclair) family of Scotland and a small unfinished Collegiate chapel, constructed and lying in a tiny hamlet just south of Edinburgh, named Rosslyn.
After the Dissolution
When Pope Clement V and King Philip of France affected the successful dissolution of the Templars on 13th October 1307ce, many knights escaped and some managed to take refuge in the highlands of Scotland. The Scots were currently embroiled in a struggle for sovereignty and against their neighbours, England.
Their emerging leader, Robert De Bruce, was then under an order of excommunication issued by the Pope and was at war with Edward II of England and his allies.
Consequently, having nothing to loose, De Bruce gave his approval for the outlawed Templars to be sheltered and merged into the Knights Hospitallier or to take refuge in the Highlands of Scotland, thus enabling them to live out their lives.
Seven years later, in 1314ce, Sir Henry St. Clair, who was allegedly a member of the Knight Templar, and his two sons, William and Henry, took part in the famous Battle of Bannockburn where the Scots were able to preserve an independent Scotland for the King, Robert the Bruce.
An exciting and romantic legend links the Templars to the battle of Bannockburn. The legend tells us that Scots were outnumbered three to one and were struggling desperately against the forces of Edward II, losing men and ground rapidly, when there appeared on the horizon a well-equipped and obviously highly professional band of knights in full armor and mounted on heavy horses. the knights, although superbly equipped and obviously experienced in military battle tactics, bore no markings on their shields and carried no battle standards flying their colours.
These mysterious soldiers joined the battle on the side of King Robert the Bruce and quickly turned the tide in favour of the Scots who won the battle and freedom for Scotland. The knights then rode off over the horizon without making known their identities or from whence they came.
Many scholars believe these mysterious knights to be a contingent of the refugee and internationally outlawed Knights Templar that the King had permitted to take refuge in the highlands. Were they returning the favor while pledging loyalty to Scotland and King Robert the Bruce? There is a Masonic degree based on this story.
Many sources tell us that years later, Sir Henry St. Clair was appointed the Hereditary Grand Master of all the Masonic guilds of Scotland by royal charter (the King of Scotland remains the Sovereign Grand master).
This Hereditary Grand mastership was to abide with the Sinclair family until 1736ce, when Sir Henry’s heir, Sir William St. Clair of Rosslyn resigned his stewardship of the Scottish Masons to affect the creation of the Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland. A body to which he was immediately elected the Grand Master.
In 1440ce a mere 133 years (just two generations) after the suppression of the Templars by King Philip and Pope Clement, the Earl of Orkney, a descendant of Sir William St. Clair designed and began the project of building a church in the family seat of Rosslyn. His intention was to build a great sanctuary to the glory of God and the Templar tradition. It was to be constructed in the form of a cross with a lady Chapel and a high tower in the centre.
He imported the best stonemasons available, as well as tradesmen from the other guilds as necessary. The Master masons were paid a sum of 40 pounds per annum and the lesser skilled masons were paid 10 pounds. Simultaneously, he built the small hamlet of Rosslin to support and house his craftsmen during the project and see to their every need. The great sanctuary’s construction was never completed.
Through the centuries, St Clair’s unfinished sanctuary survived several invading armies and the brutalities of the Reformation as well as Scotland’s civil war of the mid-seventeenth century. It’s said that during this period, the armies of Oliver Cromwell occupied the areas in and around Edinburgh, including Rosslyn. Indicative of the disdain for which the Puritan church and Cromwell held divergent theological beliefs, after razing nearby Rosslyn castle, Cromwell stabled his invading troops horses and livestock in the chapel at Rosslyn.
There is a legend that says Cromwell recognizing the exoteric religious and Masonic symbolism and himself being a Brother, the unit’s commander was careful to preserve and protect the chapel and its artifacts during his troops occupation. Other religious structures and their icons did not fare as well during this turbulent time.
The Dirge of Rosabell is described in prose as our Brother Sir Walter Scott spoke of the ancient Barons of Rosslyn who were buried in the crypt of the chapel. His famous poem, The Lay of the Last Minstrel speaks of the ghosts and spirits of the honoured knights laid to rest in the ancient Gothic chapel’s crypt.
In 1787ce, our esteemed Brother Robert Burns, the recognized Poet laureate of Scotland and Masonry visited the chapel with a friend and artist, Alexander Nasmyth and implored him to paint his portrait while at Rosslyn.
The chapel that remains today, many scholars say, is probably one of the most remarkable examples of Gothic architecture in Scotland, not because of its design when viewed primarily from and architectural point of view, but because of the profusion of overt and esoteric design and symbolism shown in such abundance everywhere within the chapel.
When first viewed Rosslyn Chapel has an almost haunting quality exhibited not only in its Gothic spires and flying buttresses, but the chapel’s spiritual and ghostly esoteric qualities are manifested in the profuse and intricate carvings and hieroglyphics evidenced on the interior’s every square inch of masonry surface.
In this small cathedral, it’s a short and misty road from the present to the past. It’s a place where you enter into a world of “intellectual oblivion” expressed in design and stone by our spiritual Brothers of a different time. It is impossible, in this environment to deny that the genesis of our Order is shrouded in esoteria and rooted in the cryptic origins of contemplative man.
The ornate carvings and depictions in stone are almost overwhelming to everyone who views the chapel. But the abundant, half-hidden Templar and Masonic symbolism is profound and easily identified by the Initiated. There abounds hundreds of references to Christian parables, Biblical characters, the ancient Knights Templar, Freemasonry, and commentary on the religious-political climate of that time in our long past.
The chapel is a perfect exemplification of our sacred geometry and incorporates many easily recognized Masonic and Templar symbols in its architectural designs. The Apprentice Pillar with its attendant carvings, the Master’s Pillar, the hidden and much speculated upon contents of the subterranean crypt, the proliferation of Templar splayed and floriated crosses, obvious reference to the Masonic degrees, transparent references to Templarism, and so much more, can be found everywhere. There is a lintel at the east end of the south aisle bearing a familiar inscription in Latin which translates:
“Wine is strong, a King is stronger, women are even stronger, but Truth conquers all”
There is such a profusion of intricate carvings incorporated into the design and construction of every minute detail, that you can easily lose yourself for hours while just wandering.
To the best of my knowledge, Rosslyn Chapel represents the only place where such an obvious and overtly profuse collection of Masonic and Templar esoterica and symbolism is displayed together in a structure predating the traditional origins of the Craft.
Additionally, the founder and builder was documented as an heir to the heritage of the Knights of the temple as well as a Knight Templar himself. The dating of the construction of the chapel as well as its proximity to other known Templar and Masonic sites of pilgrimage leads me to the conclusion that Rosslyn Chapel is of significant importance to Masons and Knights Templar and may well be the common factor linking the respective orders.