rosslyn chapel and freemasonry






Rosslyn Chapel and Freemasonry

Rosslyn Chapel and Freemasonry


This lecture on Rosslyn Chapel and Freemasonry won the 2018 lecture competition sponsored by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Worcestershire. It was written by David Wilson, Past Master of Northfield Lodge No. 5056 in Worcestershire.

I have always found quite fascinating the subject of the origins of Freemasonry, which until recently I had never heard adequately explained.

The theory that stonemasons in Scotland had formed an underground and secret society, with its own passwords and ceremonies seemed improbable, as there was simply no reason for them to go to such lengths to conceal their craft. The fact that these ceremonies were all based around the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem (which likely none of them had ever visited) reinforced my view that there must be some better explanation.

As the Knights Templar were the only group (even to this day) to have excavated the Temple of Solomon, it always put at the back of my mind the fact that they could be a link between the Order and the genesis of Freemasonry.

The need for secrecy, to avoid being burned as a heretic, would have been a strong motivation for going underground.

Reading Sanford Holst’s book “Sworn in Secret” last year, and to a lesser extent “Born in Blood” by John Robinson convinced me that this was indeed the case, and that the argument that has raged since Chevalier Ramsey’s emotive Templar claim in 1739 was now effectively settled.

The fall of the Templars was indeed the birth of Freemasonry.

Both the Regius Manuscript and the Cooke Manuscript show that Freemasonry was alive and well as far back as 1390. Records from the Peasants Revolt in 1381 show that a “Great Society” was clearly in existence then, and this was verified by numerous independent sources.

Realistically, that “Great Society” could only have been the Freemasons.

From the fall of the Templars in 1312 to the Peasants Revolt in 1381 is not a great leap in terms of time, and one that was clearly evidenced by Sanford Holst.

I could go into all of the evidence that has been recently uncovered and documented by Mr Holst, but that is not my purpose. It is sufficient for me to say that I found the case for the Templar links overwhelming, and the Regius Manuscript and the Cooke Manuscript were hugely interesting documents in themselves.

Although they were quite lengthy, I made sure I read them in their entirety so as to fully understand them, rather than relying solely on the interpretations of others. The Cooke Manuscript especially, is very clear in the way it identified Freemasonry within its text, but both are obviously Masonic documents, and widely accepted as such.

The Regius Document is a little different, and contains information which I will come back to later.

Rosslyn Chapel

The acceptance of the Templar version of events drew me back to Rosslyn Chapel, that beautiful building close to Edinburgh that has been linked to both the Freemasons and the Templars by Hollywood, writers, and theorists alike.

Many of the suggested links have been works of fiction, or wishful thinking. There is no evidence to suggest that a Templar force came to the aid of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn in 1314. Hugh de Payens (First Grand Master of the Knights Templar) was not married to Catherine Sinclair, daughter of the Earl of Rosslyn, despite claims as to this on numerous Templar websites.

But there are facts which do support Templar/Masonic links, they have just been a little harder to find.

The fact that the Earls of Rosslyn were shown to be the hereditary Grand Masters of Scottish Freemasonry prior to the official formation in 1736 was a crystal clear indication of the Chapel’s links to Freemasonry.

Hugh de Payens, the first Grand Master of the Knights Templar, fought with Henry Sinclair (2nd Baron of Rosslyn) in the first Crusade, and visited Scotland in 1128. He sought grants of land to support the Order, and the first grant of land given to the Templars in the UK was less than four miles away from Rosslyn. The links to the Templars were there also.

The design of Rosslyn Chapel itself has been the subject of much debate, and there is clearly something very different about it. In an age where the Church burned heretics on a regular basis, here was a religious building that held little or no Christian imagery, as well as objects that were certainly not Christian at all.

So why was it designed this way, and why were there so many Pagan and obscure images contained in it?

If the Sinclair family were linked to both the Templars and the Freemasons, it would likely be evident in the design.

There was one particular piece of the Chapel I had always found rather odd, and that was the four altars on the east wall of the Lady Chapel.

We are told in the “official” version of the design that the Sinclair family designed it this way so that four priests could pray around the clock (six hours per day each) for the souls of the Sinclair ancestors. One altar for each priest.

Why four?

What had the Sinclair’s ancestors done to need such prayer or atonement?

Furthermore they are oddly arranged, in that one of them is slightly higher than the other three.

We are told that this was to accommodate the stairway leading down to an older part of the building that predated Rosslyn Chapel, but that makes no sense. The other three altars could just have been raised slightly to show in line with the higher one, and the symmetry of the building maintained.

As with everything at Rosslyn, I have never believed that it was random or in error. This beautifully designed structure has a reason behind every brick of it, even if we don’t fully understand what those reasons are.

Having dated the origins of Freemasonry to before the date that the Chapel was built, both the Templars and Freemasonry could have influenced its design.

The question was: could it be evidenced?

Was there anything significant enough in Templar history or symbolism that stood out to the point that it would likely be incorporated in some way?  Going back to the history of the Templars, and their dissolution of the Order in 1312, which is probably the most significant piece of Templar history, I read in depth about the trials of many of the knights.

And then I came across the line which gave me a moment of inspiration.

Four of the Templars had been tried separately, and last.

They were Jacques de Molay (Grand Master of the Order), Geoffrey de Charney (Grand Commander of Normandy), Geoffrey of Goneville (Grand Commander of Aquitaine, & Poitou), & Hugh Peraud (Grand Commander of the Isle de France).

A Grand Master, and three Provincial Grand Masters. Three on a level together, and one slightly higher.

Could these four Templars be the inspiration behind the four altars at the Lady Chapel?

What other similarities or links were there between these four and the four altars at Rosslyn?

Even though they were innocent, could the fact that they were convicted and sentenced as heretics lead the descendants of their organisation to have prayers for the delivery of their souls said for them every hour of the day?

Four Crowned Ones

This possibility immediately made me think of a passage in the Regius Document, which talks about the “Four Crowned Ones”. The document describes them as the “Holy Martyrs Fours”, who “would not give up their true faith”. There is also a reference of an Emperor ordering them to make false idols. It refers to them as being “Put in a deep prison” by an Emperor who “sorely he punished them in that place”, and then put them to death.

That description matched exactly the last days of the four Templars, who were put in prison by King Philip IV of France and initially confessed to heresy (under torture) and the worship of false idols.

When the four were sentenced together, Jacques de Molay & Geoffrey de Charney recanted their confessions and were burned at the stake the same day, but all four died at the hands of the King of France.

A very good reason for their souls to be prayed for every hour of the day.

I include the relevant passage from the Regius Document rather than simply quoting from it.

The art of the four crowned ones.

Pray we now to God almight, (almighty)
And to his mother Mary bright,

That we may keep these articles here,
And these points well all y-fere, (together)
As did these holy martyrs four,
That in this craft were of great honour;
They were as good masons as on earth shall go,
Gravers and image-makers they were also.
For they were workmen of the best,
The emperor had to them great luste; (liking)
He willed of them an image to make
That might be worshipped for his sake;
Such monuments he had in his dawe, (day)
To turn the people from Christ’s law

But they were steadfast in Christ’s lay, (law)
And to their craft without nay; (doubt)
They loved well God and all his lore,
And were in his service ever more.
True men they were in that dawe, (day)
And lived well in God’s law;
They thought no monuments for to make,
For no good that they might take,
To believe on that monument for their God,
They would not do so, though he were wod; (furious)
For they would not forsake their true fay, (faith)

And believe on his false lay, (law)
The emperor let take them soon anon,
And put them in a deep prison;
The more sorely he punished them in that place,

The more joy was to them of Christ’s grace,
Then when he saw no other one,
To death he let them then gon; (go)
Whose will of their life yet more know
By the book he might it show
In the legend of sanctorum (holy ones)
The names of the quatuor coronatorum.

There are so many similarities between the “Four Crowned Ones”, and the four Templar Masters, that it can be strongly inferred that the passage reads about them.

The four together, who were put in prison and tortured although their faith was true. The mention of false idols ,and their death of the four at the hands of a false ruler.

Relating that to the four altars at Rosslyn, there are three on a level, and one slightly higher. I fully believe, that all these similarities (especially when we can already link the Templars to the birth of Freemasonry) were no coincidence.

If this is indeed the case, and the four altars represent both the four senior Templars and the Four Crowned Ones (and thereby identify them as one and the same), then it not only makes another direct link between the Templars and Freemasonry  via the Regius document, but also between both those entities and design of Rosslyn Chapel.

As an ex-Police Intelligence Inspector, I have use the word “inferred” in its proper context. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “infer” as “Deduce or conclude (something) from evidence and reasoning rather than from explicit statements”.

So while the links outlined are not explicitly stated (and the realities of life in 1390 meant that it was never going to be), I believe that they are very reasonable conclusions to draw from the available evidence.

As ever, such theories will be the subject of much debate, and I look forward to hearing from anyone who wishes to contribute further on the subject.

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Rosslyn Chapel and Freemasonry

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Provincial Grand Master Robert Vaughan presents lecture trophy to PM David Wilson

Rosslyn Chapel Apprentice Pillar stands in front of the four altars

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Rosslyn Chapel and Freemasonry