HISTORIAN Andrew Sinclair is acclaimed as one of the world’s
foremost experts on the story of the Holy Grail. A founding
fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, he has taught and
travelled widely across the world. In his new book, he draws on
years of research to explain the importance of a discovery that
he believes holds the key to the Grail mystery — and much else
besides. It is a story that combines religious heresy, Masonic
secrets, and the bloodthirsty adventures of the Crusades.
WHEN I saw
Paradise, I was standing in a Masonic lodge on an island in the
North Atlantic, 24 miles off the Scottish coast. Before me was a
vast cloth scroll, more than 18ft long and 5ft wide, carrying a
vision of the Garden of Eden so beautiful that I could hardly
believe my eyes.
In faded pastel
colours, a six-pointed sun and a moon with a face surrounded by
seven stars shone down from the sky. Between them was a row of
six mysterious symbols that might be numerals or runes.
In a strip of
ocean under a mountain chain, an eel and a fish cavorted with a
whale and four other varieties of sea creature.
On the ground
were three doves, a swan, a ewe and a ram, a serpent, a maned
lion and other beasts that rang the changes from black cattle to
Behind all these
was a strange hermaphrodite figure, both Adam and Eve at once,
under the shade of a Tree Of Life. Male and female were merged
into one being, in an image far removed from conventional
As I gazed up, I
sensed that I had chanced upon one of the great treasures of the
Middle Ages, perhaps rivalled only by the 13th-century Mappa
Mundi that hangs in Hereford Cathedral. It was a
priceless relic that would demand
the rewriting of medieval history.
For years, the
scroll had lain neglected in a Masonic room at the old town hall
in Kirkwall on the island of Orkney. The Masons had moved it
into their present lodge in the late 19th-century.
It had been in
their hands for so long that they no longer realised its full
importance. Only by enormous good fortune had I, a trained
historian, been invited to examine it while attending a
conference on the island.
My eyes darted
across the vast surface, dazzled by its magical and heretical
images. The biblical golden calf was being worshipped on an
inverted cross. On another cross was a fiery serpent with two
priests bowing down before it.
examination showed that the scroll consisted of a centrepiece
and two side panels. On the central part, beneath the Garden Of
Eden, were dozens of mystic signs and two angels guarding the
Ark Of The Covenant — the casket containing the Ten Commandments
on their tablets of stone.
AT THE sides, in
two strips, were primitive maps of Egypt and Palestine. They
showed the wanderings of Moses and the Twelve Tribes Of Israel,
searching for the Promised Land, and a Christian attack up the
Nile during the Seventh Crusade.
The link to the
Crusades was the vital clue I needed. There was much work still
to be done, but the scroll’s significance was clear.
This was a
message resounding across the centuries from one of the most
fascinating and mysterious military orders ever to bear arms —
the Knights Templars.
It was a message
that conveyed the hidden religious wisdom of an heretical
tradition that has been suppressed by the Church for two
Through this scroll, the Templars
had passed on their knowledge to the Freemasons. The scroll was
a missing link between these two secret brotherhoods.
It was new proof
that the Templars had sought refuge in Britain, carrying their
treasures with them, after fleeing persecution In France at the
start of the 14th-century.
would show how they had played a key role in one of the great
battles of British history, and how their astonishing skills had
enabled sailors from Scotland to cross the Atlantic to North
America nearly a century before Columbus.
The scroll was a
key to all these secrets, and yet it was still more. For I
believe that the scroll is a treasure map, setting out an
ancient code that offers vital clues in the greatest quest that
mankind has ever known — the search for the Holy Grail.
It is a search
that has dominated my life, and which I believe leads to a
chapel in Scotland that is one of the most enigmatic and
extraordinary places on Earth.
HUNTING for the
Holy Grail is rather like hunting for Lewis Carroll’s Snark. It
comes in many shapes, it leaves many trails, and, if you find
it, the only certainty is that it won’t be what you were looking
for. Like the hunters in Carroll’s poem, you’ll discover that
the Snark was a Boojum after all.
The most common
image of the Grail is a chalice or bowl. According to one
tradition, it is the cup from which wine was drunk at the Last
Supper as a symbol of Christ’s blood. Pictures and church
windows across Europe show Joseph of Arimathea using this same
cup to catch the blood of Christ from the cross.
perhaps, Mary Magdalene is shown doing the same thing, using her
long red hair to wipe the gore from Christ’s nailed feet and
squeeze it into a precious casket of her own. The message to us
is clear — there is not one Grail, but many.
Indeed, in the
literature of the Middle Ages, the Grail could be anything from
a green meteorite to a silver platter with a severed head on it.
For some, it was the lance that pierced Christ’s side at the
Crucifixion. For others, it was the lost Ark Of The Covenant.
Two of the most
celebrated Grails were located in Constantinople, now Istanbul.
They were the jewelled receptacles that held the Holy Shroud, in
which Christ’s body had been wrapped after death, and the Veil
Of Saint Veronica, used to wipe the sweat and blood off his face
on the way to Calvary
Constantinople fell to the Crusaders in 1204, these two Grai]s
came into the hands of the Knights Templars. The veil eventually
reached the Vatican, and the shroud — or its copy — ended up in
BUT what became
of their precious cases? And what of the other sacred treasures
accumulated by the Templars who were hailed in medieval
literature as the Guardians Of The Grail?
To find out, we
must look more closely at the order’s bloody and turbulent
The Templars were
founded in 1118 in Jerusalem, two decades after the Holy City
had been wrested from Moslem control during the First Crusade,
amid scenes of massacre and destruction.
accounts of the conquest speak of ‘mounds of heads, hands and
feet’ filling streets that were ankle-deep in gore.
Christian victory, Moslem marauders continued to attack visitors
to the region’s newly liberated shrines. The nine founding
Templars vowed to live the life of armed monks, defending the
faith and protecting pilgrims.
They made their
headquarters at the Dome Of The Rock, the Moslem mosque in
Jerusalem that marks the spot where the prophet Mohammed rose to
heaven, and which is also one of the most sacred sites in the
world for Christianity and Judaism.
It was here that
Abraham came to sacrifice Isaac, here that King David brought
the Ark Of The Covenant and here that David’s son, Solomon,
built his great temple, from which the Knights took their name.
The Temple of
Solomon was the wonder of its age, glittering with precious and
base metals as if forged in the fires of heaven. But it was
destroyed by the soldiers of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon,
and the fate of the fabulous relics it contained has remained a
mystery ever since.
Legend has it
that the founding Templars spent their first years digging
beneath their feet for this lost treasure, including the Ark Of
The Covenant. Among many fantastical allegations is that they
discovered the embalmed head of Christ.
Beguiling as such
stories may be they remain speculation, and the Templars were
soon engaged in far less outlandish activities.
The forces they
built up — at their height numbering about 20,000 knights —
became a vital element in the defence of the Crusader states,
and garrisoned every town of size in the Holy Land.
Clad in their
distinctive uniform of a white surcoat marked with a red. cross,
the Templars were fearless and disciplined fighters. So long as
their black and white banner still flew, no Templar could leave
the field of battle.
Every aspect of
their life was regimented. Long hair was forbidden and beards
were compulsory. Shoes and breeches had to be worn at night so
that the men were ready to fight at a moment’s notice. There was
even a rule dictating the correct way for a Templar to cut
cheese. It was an austere regime, and personal possessions were
outlawed. But military success brought plunder, and the knights
gathered priceless stores of holy relics and other treasures.
They were also
astute businessmen, garnering enormous wealth as a combination
of bankers, diplomats and medieval travel agents, making safe
the major trade and pilgrimage routes across Europe.
donations of land from noble families, the Templars grew into a
multi-national conglomerate. In every country where they
established themselves, they became a state within a state,
their Grand Master a king among kings.
days of glory were numbered. In 1187, less than 100 years after
the Christian conquest, Jerusalem was recaptured for Islam by
the great warrior Saladin. The Templars were ousted from their
succession of new crusades were launched, Jerusalem never came
back into Christian control. With the fall of Acre, their last
stronghold in the Holy Land in 1291, the Knights Templars lost
their main reason for existence.
wealth now made them marked men. The Templars had 9,000 manors
across Europe, none of which paid taxes to any ruler, thanks to
the patronage of the Pope.
Their home at the
Temple in Paris was the centre of the world’s money market, and
Europe’s crowned heads were forced to come to them for loans.
Combined with an
appearance of arrogance and secrecy, such riches could inspire
only envious hatred. The French king, Philip the Fair, plotted
the knights’ destruction.
October 13, 1307— the original Friday the 13th — he planned to
have every one of the 3,000 Templars in his kingdom arrested in
one night. Although many fled to safety, hundreds were arrested
ON THE basis of
confessions drawn from men whose limbs had been stretched on the
rack and whose feet were roasted over fires until the bones fell
out, the Templars were accused of blasphemy and sexual
perversion. Their initiation ceremonies were said to have
involved spitting, stamping or urinating on an image of Christ
on the cross. Homosexuality was said to be rife within the
order, or even compulsory.
The knights were
also said to have worshipped a severed head called Baphomet,
stored within a reliquary of precious metal. Some would claim
the bearded head had three faces and glowed in the dark.
Although such stories reeked of superstition and invention, and
although the confessions of tortured men were worthless and
often later retracted, the truth is that the Templars had indeed
strayed far beyond orthodox Christianity.
and their secret rites, were rooted in Gnosticism —one of the
great heresies of the Christian faith, to which they had been
exposed in the Middle East.
Its name is
derived from the Greek word gnosis, meaning higher knowledge,
and its central tenet is that its adherents can come into direct
and intimate contact with God without the intervention of a
priest or a church.
together threads from astrology, alchemy and the old pagan
faiths that predate Christianity. Its texts include apocryphal
gospels by the apostle Thomas — the doubter said to have poked
his fingers into the wounds of the risen Christ — and Mary
For the Gnostics,
official worship is at best a delusion, at worst the work of
Satan. True understanding can come only through a process of
mystical initiation in which the spiritually elect will achieve
a personal vision of the divine.
This was the
supreme sin of the Templars: to preach the approach to God
through personal inspiration outside the rules of orthodox
religion. Their purported worship of the severed head can best
be understood as a complex piece of Gnostic symbolism — the
worship of the divine mind, the ultimate wisdom, the head of the
But the king of
France was not interested in understanding what the Templars
really believed. He was interested in wiping them out, and the
Pope eventually supported him by ordering the arrest of all
Templars in other territories.
It was in vain
for the order’s elderly Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, to
retract his confessions of heresy when he was brought on to a
scaffold in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris to receive
his sentence in 1314.
‘I confess that I
am indeed guilty of the greatest infamy,’ he said. 'But that
infamy is that I have lied. I have lied in admitting the
disgusting charges against my order.
‘I declare, and I
must declare, that the order is innocent. Its purity and
saintliness have never been defiled. In truth, I have testified
otherwise, but I did so from fear of horrible tortures.’
He was burned
alive at the stake the next day. The power of the Knights
Templars seemed at an end — but as the secret scroll shows, that
was far from true.
Philip’s destruction of the Templars was as efficient as
Hitler’s coup against the Brownshirts, during the Night Of The
Long Knives in 1934, there is no record of him finding their
treasure in Paris, or their secret archives.
suggests that these were removed by ship, using the Templar
fleet based at La Rochelle in Brittany, after senior knights
were tipped off about the purge.
Some of the
refugee Templars took their galleys to Portugal, where they were
reconstituted as the Knights Of Christ.
explorer, Vasco de Gama, was a member of the renamed order, and
Prince Henry the Navigator — who founded the world’s first
school of navigation —was to become a Grand Master.
In other European
countries, the Templars vanished, went underground, or merged
with other orders. In Germany, many joined the ranks of the
Teutonic Knights — later to be one of Hitler’s great
inspirations — as they carved out an empire to the east.
However, most of
the sea-borne Templars made for Scotland, laden with their
sacred relics, treasures and records. According to one French
Masonic tradition, the priceless haul was taken on nine vessels
to the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth.
This is borne out
by Templar tombstones I discovered at Currie, near Edinburgh,
Westkirk, near Culross, and other sites along the Forth. Carved
into the ancient stones were images of swords, crosses, Gratis
and the steps of the Temple of Solomon.
The Templars knew
that they would find a protector in the Scottish king Robert the
Bruce, who had been excommunicated by the Pope and would have no
interest in obeying the order to suppress them.
HE WOULD also
value their martial skills in his struggles against his English
rival, Edward II. Proof of that came in the extraordinary events
of the Battle Of Bannockburn, fought near Stirling Castle on the
Forth, just three months after Jacques de Molay was burned at
Robert the Bruce
was outnumbered by the English army at least three to one, with
6,000 men pitted against 20,000. His worst deficiency lay in
Accounts of the
conflict are sparse and fragmentary. Yet, they testify to two
strange events. Shortly before the battle, Bruce received new
supplies of weapons from unknown sources — much to the fury of
Then, while the
fight was raging and after Bruce had sent his final reserve of
mounted troops into action against the English archers, a fresh
force of horsemen appeared with banners flying and routed the
legend claims that these were camp followers riding ponies and
waving pitchforks, but such a mob could never have put the
English king and 500 of his knights to immediate flight.
suggests that the squadron that struck terror into the English
was made up of exiled Templars.
Each June, on the
battle’s anniversary, modern Scottish Ternplars still pay
tribute to their predecessors who were martyred here in the
struggle for independence.
To show his
gratitude for their role at Bannockburn, the Scottish king drew
the Templars into the ancient guilds that were the forerunners
of today’s Masons. It was a perfect cover to ensure the
Among those who
fought with Bruce were three of my ancestors, the St Clairs of
Rosslyn, a family closely associated with the Templars. One of
them, William de St Clair, would later die with other Scottish
knights in a charge against the Moslems in Spain, while taking
the heart of Bruce for burial in Jerusalem.
His was the first
Templar tombstone I discovered in Scotland. Broken Into three
pieces, it lay ignored in a dark corner of the 15th-century
Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh.
Crouching in the
gloom, I could hardly make out the design of the oblong slab.
But, using flower and vegetable dyes, a rubbing was made that
revealed the tell-tale cup of the Grail and. a medieval
crusading sword. But even more magical than this discovery was
the building in which I had made it. For Rosslyn Chapel lies at
the heart of the Grail mystery — and the story of the secret
THE chapel at
Rosslyn stands in the shadow of an ancient wood, planted on the
Pentland Hills in the shape of a Templar cross. Set in an
otherwise unassuming village, it is perhaps the most
extravagantly ornamented sacred place in Northern Europe.
irregularly shaped, every inch of the chapel’s ancient stones is
encrusted with lavish carvings in which pagan symbols of the
Green Man and representations of the Temple of Solomon jostle
together in one mystic tapestry.
signs and seals are cut into the walls, and the influence of the
Gnostic heresy is everywhere, in designs of such rich profusion
that nobody has succeeded in unravelling them.
One carving calls
to mind the Templar worship of the head of Baphomet — it shows a
bearded face, with horns, peering over the tablets of the word
of God, brought down by Moses from Mount Sinai. Another shows
the head of Christ on the Veil of Saint Veronica.
upside-down angel is shown bound by a rope — a Gnostic image of
Lucifer as the angel of light and intelligence, constrained by
the rope of order.
The chapel was
founded by my ancestor William St Clair, Earl of Orkney, who
employed masons from all over Europe to execute his complex
vision. Its most extraordinary feature of all is its unique roof
— a great barrel-vault of solid stone — in which the Holy Grail
is shown, set amid the stars, pouring forth the waves of God’s
Many have claimed
that Rosslyn is the ultimate hiding place of the Grail. Sir
Walter Scott recorded the legend of 20 knights said to be buried
in full armour in its vaults as if on eternal sentry duty over
some great treasure.
SOME others have
claimed that the Grail is housed inside the barley sugar curves
of the chapel’s curious Apprentice Pillar, entwined with eight
stone serpents. The Nazis were obsessed by the Grail mysteries,
and Rosslyn was inspected by one of their emissaries in 1930.
I was determined
to learn the truth, and my cousin Niven Sinclair obtained
permission to make a groundscan of the building using the latest
radar techniques developed for modern archaeology. What we found
was hugely exciting.
indeed, evidence of hidden vaults. The radar pulses also
detected what appeared to be metal — the armour, perhaps, of the
buried knights. One particularly large signal also suggested the
existence of a metallic shrine. The problem was how to reach the
vaults. The groundscan had shown two stairways leading beneath
set of flagstones was lifted, rubble was cleared and three steep
stone steps were exposed leading to a vault below. I was the
first to squirm into this secret chamber.
It was small,
comprising the space between the foundation of two pillars. It
was arched with stone, but access to the main vaults beyond had
been sealed by a thick wall of masonry.
The soggy wood
from three coffins had been stacked against the blocking wall.
Sifting through the debris, I found human bones and the
fragments of two skulls, two rusty coffin handles, a mason’s
whetstone — and a simple oak bowl.
That is what the
original Grail from the Last Supper would have been — a wooden
platter passed by Jesus Christ in His divine simplicity to His
poor Apostles. But the one I held in my hands had no doubt been
left by the same medieval mason who discarded his whetstone.
We lifted the
slabs to a second staircase, supposing they might lead down to
the shrine, only to discover many feet of earth and sand. This
was a bitter disappointment. We had not realised how deep the
lower vaults lay, and how much infill was packed above them.
called in to force through a narrow hole, down which we would
lower an industrial endoscope — a tiny camera at the end of a
glass fibre tube, as flexible as the head of a striking snake,
which could point at buried objects under the light of a laser
beam. It could operate to a depth of more than 30ft and transmit
colour images to our monitor screen above ground.
As we drilled deeper and deeper
into the centre of the chapel, we struck 3ft of solid stone.
Finally, the drill bit broke through into open space — only to
jam fast. Only after working day and night did we manage to
remove the drill and introduce the protective pipe through which
we could drop the endoscope.
At last, it
seemed that we were about to see what lay inside the chamber of
the Knights. But the bidden shrine was still not ready to give
up its secrets.
Again and again,
we pushed the pipe down the drill hole. Again and again, inflll
poured down and blocked it. All we ever saw on our monitor was
dust and detritus clogging up the end of the pipe.
After a week of
work, we were defeated. For now, Rosslyn would keep its secrets.
BUT what if there were a treasure
map — a chart that would prove once and for all that the
Templars had hidden their sacred relics beneath these stones?
This was what I found when I was invited to the Masonic lodge at
Kirkwall on Orkney. Although I myself am not a Mason, my
ancestors and relatives have been the traditional Grand Masters
of all the crafts and guilds of Scotland for many centuries.
The great scroll
that I was shown had been in the hands of the Masons for so long
that they themselves were unsure of its origins. So far as the
outside world was concerned, it might never have existed.
But it was clear
to me that this vast piece of painted sailcloth, blackened at
the edges, was a storehouse of mystic Templar wisdom. Much of
the imagery could have come straight from the carved walls of
When I saw the
hermaphrodite figure of Adam and Eve, I knew that I was seeing
the ancient goddess Sophia, a symbol of the divine wisdom that
merges both masculine and feminine. Below this Gnostic vision of
Eden were dozens of the most ancient Templar and Masonic signs.
worshipped on the cross, for example, was another symbol of
arcane knowledge — a source of truth and illumination, not the
malign tempter of the conventional Bible account.
At the left of
the scroll was a mounted Moslem knight, beside an armed camp
besieging a city on one of the mouths of the Nile delta. My
Investigations told me that this could only be Damietta, taken
and lost in two Crusades.
If the scroll was
not Templar in origin, the selection of images was hard to
fathom. But the greatest revelation, and the one that made my
long quest worthwhile, lay at the base of the scroll’s central
Here, fringed by
banners and geometric patterns, I found a painting of the Temple
of Solomon that provided nothing less than a blueprint of its
PAINTED in rough
perspective, the groundplan clearly set out the two hidden
vaults containing the Ark Of The Covenant and the tablets handed
down to Moses.
What took my
breath away was that the plan was exactly that of Rosslyn
Chapel. When I compared the image to an architectural survey of
Rosslyn, everything was in the right place, pointing to the
The scroll showed
the Ark within its secret tabernacle, with three great arches
supporting a buried catacomb. To my astonishment, the vaults
were precisely where we had dug for the lost Templar treasure at
I already knew
that when William St Clair built Rosslyn Chapel, he was trying
to create the Temple of Solomon anew.
That was why the
walls were studded with 20 little images of the original Temple.
That was why Rosslyn’s Apprentice Pillar was complemented by
another ornate pillar in the Lady Chapel, so that together they
represented Jachin and Boaz, the fabled pillars that held up
serpents writhing at the foot of the Apprentice Pillar enshrined
the legend of the Shamir, a mysterious worm-like creature whose
touch split and shaped stone, and whose magic powers enabled
Solomon to build the Temple without iron tools. This was a
secret jealously kept by Hiram, the architect of the Temple,
whose face also appears on the pillar.
For years, this
face of a man with a wound in his forehead was associated with a
legendary apprentice, said to have carved the pillar and then
been killed for his presumption by his master mason.
In fact, this
seems to be just a Christian cover story for Solomon’s great
builder who was killed by fellow craftsmen when he refused to
surrender his secrets, which are said to be guarded by the
Masons to this day.
Now, in addition
to all these clues, we had the Orkney scroll — not only showing
that Rosslyn was the Temple rebuilt, but giving the clearest
possible sign that Templar treasures were buried beneath it.
JUST one problem
remained. I was faced by sceptics who claimed the scroll was not
a medieval relic at all, but the work of an 18th-century house
painter who presented the Kirkwall Masons with a ‘floor cloth’
when he was admitted to their number in 1786. The gift was
referred to in the lodge minutes of the time, although the fate
of the ‘floor cloth’ was left unclear.
The only answer
was a scientific test. An inspector from the local CID, who was
a Mason from the Kirkwall lodge, gave me fragments of the scroll
for radio-carbon dating. I went to the same Oxford laboratory
that had identified the Holy Shroud Of Turin as a fake. Would
the secret scroll be discredited, too? Far from It.
After months of
suspense, and one initial test that seemed to show the scroll
was not more than 50 years old, my theory was vindicated. The
scientists dated the scroll to the 15th-century — the period of
the building of Rosslyn Chapel.
Who now can doubt
that something truly glorious is buried at Rosslyn? Is it the
Ark of the Covenant itself? The chalice of the Grail? The
containers of the Holy Shroud and the Holy Veil from
Constantinople? Maybe it is best not to speculate, but I am
convinced that there is something. I doubt, however, that we
will ever see it. Since my own attempt to drill into the vaults,
Rosslyn Chapel has been taken over by a private trust dedicated
to its conservation. Legal restrictions mean that disruptive
excavations in the immediate future are unlikely.
It seems that the
knights who guard the treasures will not be disturbed in their
tombs, and perhaps that is how it should be.
legend, they will reappear only on the Day of Judgment, when the
stone slabs will crack open.
HIGH on a hill
with a commanding view over Massachusetts, the Westford Knight
lies on his ledge of rock, a silent witness to one of the most
remarkable sea journeys in the history of navigation. His
existence was first recorded in 1883. A local history book noted
that the ‘rude outlines of the human face’ had been traced in
the rock, apparently by native Indians.
On their way to
school, boys from the town of Westford sometimes did a war-dance
on the Indian face to show off their daring. One even used a
chisel to add a pipe of peace, to make it look more authentic.
Not until the time of World War II did someone notice that this
wasn’t the face of a Red Indian at all. An amateur archaeologist
published photographs of the rock, without giving its exact
location, and argued that part of it bore the shape of a
medieval sword, of European origin, broken in two as a memorial
to an exceptionally brave warrior.
at the theory. But another enthusiast, Frank Glynn, spent years
tracking down the mysterious figure in the rock. When he finally
found it, he stripped away the turf and moss to reveal a series
of punch-holes and hammer blows tracing the funeral effigy of a
helmeted knight-of-arms. Nearby, he came across a carved stone,
which a local farmer had unearthed by a track to the sea. The
stone showed the shape of a ship with twin sails on a single
mast, along with eight portholes or rowlocks, and the numerals
184. After taking advice from a Cambridge archaeologist, Glynn
decided that the numbers signified paces And within a radius of
184 paces, he found three rough stone enclosures, resembling dry
docks for small ships. It was a dramatic discovery.
Long-established legend claimed that would-be colonists from
Scotland had landed on this strip of the New England coast
almost a century before Columbus reached the New World in 1492.
Had Frank Glynn found proof of their visit? Many local people
were sceptical. They insisted the image of the knight was simply
a combination of weathering and vandalism by the boy with a
chisel. The ship stone was dismissed as an Indian signpost, of
only recent vintage.
OTHERS, however, were convinced
they now had confirmation of a Scottish expedition to America in
the late 14th cebtury. Geologists who studied the knight’s
effigy confirmed the marks in the rock were between 500 and 800
When I visited
Westford, I had a rubbing made of the tombstone. The cloth
impression clearly showed a gigantic knight, some 7ft tall.
He wore the habit
of one of the Christian military orders such as the Knights
Templars. At the base of his shield was the outline of ship,
similar to one on the coat of arms of my Scottish ancestors, the
St Clairs, who fought in the Crusades and were members of the
Templars from the order’s earliest days. But if a medieval
crusading party from Scotland had reached Westford, surely they
would have left other clues? My attention turned to a curious
stone tower at Newport in nearby Rhode Island.
suggested this was merely an old windmill, no older than the
17th century; but I was convinced they were wrong. It was
completely the wrong shape for a windmill.
All my instincts
and experience told me that I was looking at a medieval Templar
church. Clearly based on the stone architecture of Northern
Europe in the Middle Ages, the tower was constructed on the
model of the ancient Temple Of Solomon in Jerusalem, where the
Knights Templars were founded. The design was an octagon within
a circle, one of the guiding principles of sacred architecture,
with eight arches built into the round walls. This was one of
the hallmarks of the Templars. Round churches were rare. The
only one in Scotland, built in the 12th century, was in Orphir
in Orkney, where my Templar ancestor Henry St Clair was Earl.
The arch of its one surviving window was constructed in the same
fashion as those of the Newport Tower. Moreover, the unit of
measurement of the Newport Tower was not the English foot or
yard, nor a Portuguese or Dutch standard, such as 17th-century
colonists might have employed. It was the Scottish ell, a cloth
measure used in England until Shakespeare’s time, equivalent to
just over 37 inches. The diameter of each column in the Newport
Tower was exactly one Scottish ell; the diameter of the circle
surrounded by the columns was exactly six Scottish ells. On the
tower’s first floor was a fireplace made to a 14th-century
design. Not only would this have burned down any mill, it was a
further link to the Templars and Scotland.
The flames would
have shown through a small window facing the fireplace and acted
as a beacon for ships entering the local harbour — a feature
familiar to me from the watchtower of a church at Corstorphine,
near Edinburgh. The Corstorphlne church also holds the grave of
Henry St Clair’s daughter, and carvings of the Temple of Solomon
and a crusader sword.
confirmed the tool marks on the Newport Tower’s stones were
identical to those of medieval buildings in Orkney and the
Shetlands, and could be found nowhere else in New England.
We were now far
beyond the realms of mere coincidence — the legend of the
Scottish colonists was based on fact.
So who were the
men who built this sacred tower, carved the Westford Knight and
beat Columbus to America by a century? As my research would
show, the story was an astonishing one — and my St Clair
ancestors had played a central part in it.
to the tale can be seen on the secret scroll that I found in a
Masonic lodge in Kirkwall, on Orkney. As I described, this vast
wall-hanging dates from the 15th century and is covered with
mystic Templar symbols and clues to the location of the Holy
these is the seal of a medieval ship with a single mast, similar
to that of the St Clair family. Round it is an odd inscription
in dog Latin and code: ‘Noterina et Svltcrinea.’
The first word
can be deciphered only as meaning ‘distinguishing marks or
symbols’. The last word has no Latin equivalent, but is an
anagram of’ St Cler’ and ‘Vina’. Was this a reference to the St
Clairs and Vinland — the old Norse name for the New World?
CLOSE by are the
heads of two sea serpents — one bearing a crown, the other a
cross. They are remarkably similar to the dragon crest of Henry
St Clair. Other images include sea-borne angels and the lost Ark
Of The Covenant floating on the waves. There were emblems of the
Ancient Ark Mariners Guild, a Masonic brotherhood of shipwrights
who built the St Clair family’s fleet. I believe the scroll’s
symbols reflect the long odyssey of the Templars, from heroes of
the Crusades to persecuted pariahs. It was an journey that took
them from Jerusalem, where the Ark Of The Covenant was said to
be buried beneath their headquarters, across Europe and the
Mediterranean to Scotland, where the knights took refuge after
the French king — envious of their wealth — sought to
It was in
Scotland that they passed on their secret religious wisdom,
gathered in the Holy Land, to the Masons. And it was here, too,
that they brought the priceless holy relics accumulated during
their years of glory.
As I revealed,
the secret scroll offers powerful evidence that these relics —
which some would hail as the Holy Grail — eventually reached the
vaults of Rosslyn Chapel, an extraordinary treasure house of
Templar mysticism near Edinburgh.
was founded by William St Clair; Henry’s grandson, in the 15th
century. Astonishingly, it contains carvings showing maize and
aloe cactus — crops that were then unknown outside the New
evidence suggests that it was Henry St Clair who led the
Scottish expedition to America, left behind the Westford Knight
and the Newport Tower, and brought back knowledge of the New
His voyage is
said to have taken place around 90 years after the Templars made
their exodus from France to Scotland, bringing with them the
seamanship and navigational expertise built up while
transporting pilgrims and merchants to the Holy Land. It is this
expertise that would have been the key to Henry’s astonishing
achievement. And although I do not believe that he took the Holy
Grail or other Templar treasures on his voyage, he did take with
him the idea of the Grail — a holy quest, the civilising
mission of a European knight to pagan countries.
The voyage was
also a quest for a home. After their catastrophic fall from
grace at the start of the 14th century, when their Grand Master
and other leaders had been accused of blasphemy and burnt to
death, the Templars were refugees. Although they had found
protection with King Robert The Bruce, who absorbed them within
the early Masonic guilds, it was natural they should look
further beyond the seas for a new land where their ideals could
take root. The outcast Templars would look to the West, and set
out to build their new Jerusalem.
THE story begins
with a shipwreck. Nicolo Zeno, a member of a distinguished
family of Venetian mariners, which had played a key role in
transporting knights to the Holy Land, was caught in a terrible
His vessel was
smashed onto the rocks of what has been identified as Fair Isle,
between Orkney and the Shetlands. The inhabitants were about to
kill him and his crew when they were rescued by a local prince.
This was Henry St Clair. Born in 1345, he had become Lord of
Rosslyn at the age of 14 and was made Earl of Orkney by the king
of Norway just ten years later. A knight skilled in the arts of
war, but also a diplomat and deep thinker, he had become a
powerful figure in the Scottish royal court. Henry took the
shipwrecked Venetians under his wing, and persuaded Nicolo Zeno
to write home and get his brother, Antonio, to buy another ship
and join him. Henry was to employ the Zeno brothers as his
admirals. It is documents compiled from the records they left
behind, known as the Zeno map and narrative, that are the best
evidence of the Templar expedition to America. They tell how
Earl Henry first sent the more experienced Nicolo Zeno on a
scouting mission to Greenland. Then, in 1398, Henry set off with
Antonio and a fleet of ships, packed with knights and monks, to
discover what lay even further west. It was a perilous voyage in
rough seas and, at one point, the fleet was scattered, before
managing to regroup. However, helped by a following wind, they
reached what is now known as Nova Scotia just 18 days after
leaving the Faroe Islands, where they had stopped to take on
water and supplies.
THE original log
of the voyage is lost, and the Zeno narrative was pieced
together in 1558 by one of the brothers’ descendants. Sceptics
have claimed that it is a forgery — a cynical attempt by the
Venetians to steal the thunder of Columbus, hero of the rival
city of Genoa.
But this seems
unlikely. The Zeno family was one of great honour and integrity,
to whom such chicanery would have been utterly foreign.
Then there is the
precision of the map showing the brothers’ travels, which was
used by other seafarers until the end of the 17th century. The
accompanying narrative is equally convincing, particularly in
its descriptions of the Nova Scotia shoreline around Cape Breton
It speaks of
various strange features — a smoking mountain, which came from a
great fire in the bottom of a hill; a spring that exuded a
substance like pitch that ran into the sea; and many small and
timid natives who lived in caves. When I visited Nova Scotia, I
found all these things could be substantiated.
Besides being the
home of a head-land known as Cape Smokey, so-called because
clouds almost always wreath its crests, this area also had
natural gas and coal seams burning underground, producing smoke
from the bottom of the hills. Oily residues from open coal seams
still seep into the rivers that run down to the sea, polluting
the beaches with their greasy, black waters. The local Micmac
Indian tribes are of small stature, and not as warlike as the
neighbouring Algonquins. There are sacred Indian caves in the
sea-cliffs and, to this day, the Micmacs tell traditional tales
of a tall white man who visited their ancestors from over the
seas. His vessel was variously described as a stone canoe and a
floating island with trees on It, very manageable and able to go
like magic. This suggested a ship with two masts, able to steer
with a rudder and sail to the wind.
visitor was known as ‘Glooscap’ — a name which, in the Micmac
tongue, sounds much like ‘Earl Sinclair’. He was a friend and
teacher to the Indians, showing them how to fish with nets and
cultivate the soil.
It is a picture
of Earl Henry that matches the account of him in the Zeno
narrative. Far from being a hostile conqueror, he went to the
New World in peace and was determined to live in harmony with
the local inhabitants.
piece of evidence appeared when I was shown a photograph of a
primitive ship’s cannon dredged from the sea off the Nova Scotia
coast in 1849. I could hardly believe my eyes.
The design — a
narrow barrel of welded iron rods, held together by eight rings
to keep it from bursting — was one I had seen in the Venice
naval museum. It had beep pioneered by the Venetian hero Carlo
Zeno, elder brother of Nicolo and Antonio, when he saved his
city from the Genoese in 1380.
Clearly, the Zeno
brothers had shared this piece of military technology with Henry
St Clair, who had used it to armour his boats on their dangerous
voyage. Such cannons swiftly became obsolete, so the chance of
this one being left by other sailors is remote.
ACCORDING to the
Zeno narrative, Earl Henry -was so delighted by the country he
had discovered that he immediately began laying plans to
establish a city.
members of the expedition were exhausted and feared the approach
of winter. He sent them back across the Atlantic, keeping just a
small party to continue his explorations.
The evidence of
the Westford Knight and the Newport Tower suggests that he made
his way around Nova Scotia and down along America’s east coast
to what is now Massachusetts. It must have been here that they
wintered. I believe that Earl Henry left small parties of
colonists behind him, both in Nova Scotia and New England,
before finally setting sail for home. Hints of their existence
remain on ancient maps.
map of the world in the library of Harvard University, based on
a German original marks Nova Scotia with a crowned and bearded
knight kneeling by his shield and wearing the surcoat of a
military order like the Templars.
Dutch globe of 1537, the Frisius-Mercator, depicts the region
with three flags containing crosses that have a remarkable
resemblance to the Templar war banner. It adds the words
terra per britannos inventi - the land was discovered by
But those early
colonists were to be cut off, and no doubt suffered swift
extinction, following Henry St Clair’s death less than a year
after his return to Orkney in 1400.
He was cut down when sea raiders
made a surprise attack on Klrkwall — a deliberate act of
assassination by the Baltic traders of the Hanseatic League, who
had heard rumours of his activities and feared the competition.
The Templar settlers in the New
World were thus left to their fate.
THE influence of
the Templars would still be felt in America in later years, but
by more indirect and underground means.
As the scroll in
the Masonic lodge at Kirkwall makes clear, the great inheritors
of the Ternplar tradition are the Freemasons. It was into the
forerunners of today’s Masonic guilds that the Templars had
merged and disguised themselves after fleeing to Scotland at the
start of the 14th century.
was brought south of the Border when King James VI of Scotland,
himself a mason and the ultimate judge of all Masonic disputes,
became James I of England in 1603.
following the demise of the House of Stuart, many Masonic
historians came to disclaim their northern roots, and insisted
their lodges had entirely English origins under the Hanoverian
kings of the 18th century.
It was left to
the Jacobites, the Stuart loyalists, to keep the flame burning.
One way in which they did so was to establish Masonic lodges in
the American colonies that were true to what was known as the
Ancient Scottish Rite.
These did more
than just cherish their Templar heritage. They drew together men
who believed in religious tolerance, freedom from persecution
and political liberty. It is no coincidence that many leaders of
the American War of Independence were masons.
LODGE members in
Boston, where a new Knights Templars degree was conferred in
1769, were to the fore in the celebrated Tea Party. The most
prominent mason of all was George Washington, revolutionary
general and first President of his liberated nation.
His brothers in
the American Supreme Council of the Ancient Scottish Rite would
proudly commission a commemorative painting of him laying the
foundation stone of the United States Capitol in his Masonic
apron and regalia.
also stamp Templar and Masonic symbols on the dollar bill, which
survive to this day. The eye enclosed in a triangle echoes the
apocalyptic visions of an obscure medieval seer, Joachim de
Fiore, while the pyramid, left unfinished, suggests a pinnacle
of human wisdom that is still to be reached.
reflected the millennial yearnings that fuelled the American
Revolution — a belief in building a Heaven on Earth, as well as
a better society. They are directly related to the similar
symbols that cover the secret scroll of Kirkwall.
Henry St Clair
had failed in his attempt to build a new Jerusalem in the New
World, but the dollar bill and the sacred scroll ensured that
his Templar vision lived on.
extract published in the Daily Mail, UK, from The Secret Scroll
by Andrew Sinclair published by Sinclair-Stevenson at £19.99.