What Lies Beneath Rosslyn Chapel?

It has long been speculated that the chapel was designed to hide something of great importance - a treasure or What is the secret carved into Rosslyn Chapel?sacred object. There are legends of treasure attached to Rosslyn Castle - the Theatrum Scotiae of 1693 states that 'a great treasure, amounting to some millions, lies buried in the vaults.' Some believe that it is the treasure of the Templars that Philip IV of France failed to seize when he suppressed the Order in 1307. Others, however, believe that the Templar wealth became that of the St Clairs, and was used to finance, among many other things, the building of Rosslyn Chapel, as well as Prince Henry's voyage to America. If the secret of Rosslyn is connected with the Templars, it is more likely to be some artefact, relic or document that was important to them.

The Tombs of the Lords of Rosslyn

Digging under the floors of Rosslyn ChapelIt is known that the chief members of the St Clair family are buried in vaults beneath the chapel. This was part of the purpose in building it. Sir William St Clair brought the bodies of his illustrious ancestors, including Prince Henry the Navigator, to be reinterred beneath the chapel.

It is recorded that 'three Earls or Princes of Orkney and nine Barons of Rosslyn' are buried there. There were only three St Clair Princes of Orkney - Henry the Navigator, his son (also Henry) and William, founder of the chapel. But where their tombs are in unknown.

Sir Walter Scott wrote that:

Discovery made under the floors of Rosslyn ChapelThere are twenty of Rosslyn's barons bold
Lie buried within that proud Chapelle
('Lay of the Last Minstrel', 1805)

A stone on the north side of the chapel bears the engraving of a knight in armour, and this is believed to cover one of the graves. It is not known which, although it has been proposed that it is Monitoring the results of a fibre optic probeeither Alexander Sutherland of Dunbeath (the chapel-builder's father-in-law) or the Sir William St Clair who was killed while taking Robert Bruce's heart to the Holy Land. (It is unlikely that, as some have suggested, that it is the tomb of the chapel-builder himself, as the coat of arms on the knight's shield is incorrect.)

The vaults are thought to extend beneath the full length of the chapel, between the two rows of columns. Until Sir William St Clair, who died at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, they were all interred in full armour.

Discovery at Rosslyn ChapelA record of 1693 says that the Lords of Rosslyn 'lie in a vault so dry that their bodies have been found entire after four-score years, and as fresh as when they were buried'.

Father Hay says that when his step-father, Sir James St Clair, was buried in the chapel in the late 19th century, the body of Sir William St Clair (founder of the chapel) was found in full armour, and that his body 'seemed to be entire at the opening of the cave, but when they came to touch his body it fell into dust.' The last person to be buried in the vaults was Sir William St Clair in 1778, the last of the male line. This Sir William was the one who had given up the St Clairs' rights as hereditary Earthworks at Rosslyn ChapelGrand Master of Freemasonry in Scotland, but had been elected as first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, and so was buried with full Masonic honours. After this the vault was sealed up.

There is a legend - made the subject of a poem by Sir Walter Scott - that the chapel glows as if on fire at the death of a member of the St Clair family.

Rosslyn chapel digGiven the strange mysteries connected with the lords of St Clair, it is possible that the vaults contain artefacts that would finally shed some light on them - perhaps some kind of tangible proof of Prince Henry's voyage to America, or of the connections with the Knights Templar. Or perhaps there are valuable books and manuscripts from Sir William St Clair's unique lost library.

But other theories have it that something of far greater importance is hidden within the chapel, either beneath it, or behind that walls of the crypt, or even sealed within the Apprentice Pillar.

The Holy Rood of Scotland

Rosslyn dig John Dowson, Assistant Convener of Dumfries and Galloway Council, argues that the building hides a priceless relic, the Holy Rood of Scotland. This is a piece of what is supposedly the 'True Cross' on which Jesus was crucified, which was found by the Empress Helena (mother of Constantine) in the 4th century. The Holy Rood was brought to Scotland by the Saxon Princess Margaret when she came to marry Malcolm III in 1086, becoming one of the major relics of the kingdom of Scotland. Margaret was accompanied on her journey by William de St Clair, for which he was rewarded with the lands around Rosslyn.

The Holy Rood was twice captured by the English - first by Edward I then again in 1336 - but both times returned to Scotland. The second time was in the middle of the 15th century, at around the time of the building of Rosslyn Chapel. Since then it has disappeared. There is evidence that various objects were taken from Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh in advance of an English attack in 1544, and given to the St Clairs of Rosslyn for safekeeping.

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