Those who believe there is a secret vault under Rosslyn Chapel have had a dent put in their theory by detailed 3D images of Rosslyn Chapel released this week.
These digital images were taken over a three day period by a team from Historic Scotland and the Glasgow School of Art, who laser scanned the interior and exterior of the building.
The results of this cutting-edge scientific exploration were awaited with interest. What many wanted to know was whether these images at last confirm the existence of a secret underground vault below Rosslyn that has been the focus of so much intrigue for the past 20 years.
Rosslyn lore ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. Some theories, including one which maintains that Rosslyn is built over a UFO landing pad, even make the Da Vinci Code look tame. Another theory is that, with wonderfully chivalric imagery, 12 Knights Templar, in full armour, lie beneath the chapel ready to rise again in times of need.
The first written record of the Knights began with Father Richard Hay in the early 1700s. He wrote a rather fawning description of the Sinclairs, the Rosslyn family who owned the lands and built the chapel, which was responsible for much of the mythologising around the Templars still given credence today. It was he who first described the secret vaults, or caves, accessed by a network of tunnels, that held the armoured knights. It was this account that influenced Sir Walter Scott to write the Ballad of Rosabelle which contains the lines:
Seem’d all on fire that chapel proud
Where Roslin’s chies uncoffin’d lie
Each Baron, for a sable shroud,
Sheathed in his iron panoply
So it was this mysterious cavern that Rosslyn watchers hoped to see revealed in the new 3D scanning. Surely this would reveal the outlines of armoured men, and perhaps even greater treasure?
Sadly it hasn’t.
The images do show a vault, but this is a later addition, probably built in the late 19th century by the 4th Earl of Rosslyn. Although largely forgotten this vault was opened up in 1937 when an even later Earl insisted on being buried here. There were no Templar Knights then or now.
John Ritchie, a Scottish Knight Templar and author of Rosslyn Revealed, has long been fascinated with this secret space and believes that this new survey cannot disprove the existence of another vault: “They’ve not gone below ground level which indicates to me … that it’s not going to be that easy to find.”
The vault that Ritchie is searching for lies at the heart of the mystery of Rosslyn and dates back to the time of Mary Queen of Scot’s mother, Mary of Guise. She wrote in a letter to Sir William Sinclair – whose family are so entwined with Rosslyn history – that : “His counsel and secret shown to us we shall keep secret.”
There have been a number of attempts to find this hidden vault and “secret shown” – some more successful than others. Members of the extended Sinclair family have financed attempts to search below the floor, but with no success. Ritchie says the most successful and intriguing work was done in the 1980s: “Believe it or not it was done by the US navy who brought sonar equipment over from Holy Loch,” he says.
According to Ritchie the readings were “quite interesting”, showing tunnels running away from Rosslyn chapel. Running away, perhaps, to Father Hay’s Templar resting place?
Whatever the truth, and with Rosslyn this is as twisted as the carvings on the so-called “Apprentice Pillar”, there is no doubt that the fascination for this building will continue. That the 3D images failed to reveal the Templar Knights has not brought the story to a close. Far from it. Ritchie is preparing his next book which he believes will at last reveal the truth: “There are secrets still in the unfound vaults,” he says, but he won’t give much away other than to assure us that his new book will be “fantastic and ties up the whole Rosslyn story”.
Let’s hope he’s wrong. Who amongst us would really like this extraordinary building “explained” when we have so much fun attributing so many stories to its elderly stones?