The Stone Puzzle of Rosslyn Chapel 

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Excursions from Rosslyn Chapel

 

REMAINS OF THE TEMPLE PRECEPTORY AT TEMPLE

Although it has been restored over the centuries, the church at Temple, roughly five miles from Rosslyn, is the only existing Templar property in Scotland. It is situated in a valley, next to the river. The Knights Templar first came to Scotland in 1128 during the reign of King David I, whom Hugues de Payens visited as part of his international recruitment drive. De Payens made a very favourable impression on King David, to the extent that he later surrounded himself by Templars and appointed them as “the Guardians of his morals by day and night”. As a result of this Royal favour, through gifts from both the King and his Court, the Templars acquired a substantial property holding in Scotland. There were two major Preceptories at the time: in Midlothian, there was Ballantradoch, also known as Balintradoch or a number of other spellings, but now renamed Temple, which was regarded as the main Preceptory and the administrative headquarters of the Order in Scotland; the other was at Maryculter in Aberdeenshire, on the southern bank of the River Dee.

The centre at Temple was opened in 1129. It is alleged that Hugues de Payens was married to Catherine St. Clair, whose family had given the land to the order. However, there is no evidence for these allegations. The Sinclairs were not present in the area at this time and it is known that Ballantrodoch was donated by King David I himself.

At the Battle of Falkirk, where King Edward defeated William Wallace, the king’s archers stayed at Temple and were assisted by the Master of England and the Preceptor of Scotland. Edward’s march to Falkirk had been under Templar command. But despite this allegiance to the English king, the Knights Templar suffered a similar fate to their French brethren.

When the Templars were rounded up in France in 1307, Scotland itself was not affected; but then the area south of the Firth of Forth, where Rosslyn is situated, belonged to England at that time. This fact is often neglected and it is frequently assumed that the Scottish borders were then as they are now, and that the Knights Templar of Temple were affected by the ban.
Upon receiving the Papal Decree, Edward ordered all Templars to surrender themselves at Holyrood Palace. Two Knights were arrested, Walter de Clifton and William de Middleton while a third, Thomas Tocci, surrendered voluntarily. None of them were of fighting age, or Scottish by birth, but all were residents of Temple, the Templars’ Scottish headquarters. They were tried in 1308 by an ecclesiastical court, presided over by William de Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews. The Knights Templar were prosecuted by John Solario, the papal legate to Scotland. During the trials, both Henry St. Clair and his son William were called as witnesses. Researcher Mark Oxbrow points out that this evidence is at odds with the popular accounts, which state that the Sinclairs were the Knights’ protectors. The evidence suggests nothing of the kind. In fact, the Sinclairs stated that they felt the Knights Templar were of no good, for “if the Templars had been faithful Christians they would in no way have lost the Holy Land”.
In spite of such testimony, which was after all merely the Sinclairs airing their personal prejudice against their neighbouring knights, the verdict was that the accusations were not proven and the Knights were released. Acceding to French pressure, in 1312 Edward did abolish the Templars in both England and Scotland. Any Scottish Templars under arrest were confined to the Cistercian Houses.
Two charters show that members of the Seton family, staunch Catholics and esteemed friends of the Sinclairs, were Masters of the Knights Hospitaller in 1346 and were in control of Temple. As in most countries, the Hospitallers were granted many of the former Templar lands, although North of the Firth of Forth, Robert the Briuce was reluctant to grant them that privilege.
Despite the fact that the ban did mean the end of Temple’s association with Templars, one legend has it that treasure of the Knights Templar was removed secretly from Paris, to be hidden in Temple. A local legend states: “Twixt the oak and the elm tree/You will find buried the millions free.” French legends about the Templar treasure apparently also state that the treasure was taken to Scotland, with the knights landing on the Isle of Mey, the first island they would encounter in the Firth of Forth. Geographically, this would take them to the mouth of the river Esk, which could take them on to Rosslyn – though this is theory, since seafaring ships would find it virtually impossible to reach that far inland. A route over land would definitely have been easier.

Only the outside walls of the church at Temple remain standing. In 1989, Dr. Crispen Phillips discovered a wall and a set of steps running north-south at right angles to the church. Subsequent excavations showed there was at least two feet of dressed stonework above the foundations revealing steps and the foot of a doorway.
On all four sides, it is surrounded by graves, many of which show the familiar “skull and bones”-motive. This design has been linked to masonic degrees, but in truth, the motive is quite common, and was a “memento mori”: a reminder of death, expressing the knowledge we must all die eventually.

ABBOTSFORD: THE HOME OF SIR WALTER SCOTT

Abbotsford is the house that Sir Walter Scott built for himself. It is situated on the banks of the River Tweed and contains an impressive collection of relics, weapons and armours. It cannot come as a surprise that a writer of Scott's fame had a famous library, containing over nine thousand rare volumes. Scott’s love for Rosslyn Chapel is expressed in one room, where carvings from the chapel have been reproduced. It should be stressed the room is not a replica of the chapel; instead, the decoration of the room is based upon the decoration of Rosslyn chapel.

SOUTRA AISLE: THE DESTROYED HOSPITAL

Soutra Aisle is all that remains of the medieval hospital of Soutra. It is here that excavations have uncovered details of how medicine was practiced in one of the biggest and most famous hospitals in Europe. Situated along Dere Street, which connected Newcastle to Edinburgh (the route of the A68), it was a medieval highway, whereby the hospital functioned both as a hotel, first aid, spiritual retreat and hospital. Archaeological discoveries on the site have revealed the use of hallucinogenic substances, used during the treatment of patients, particularly as anaesthetics. The small remaining building is in itself not worthy of a visit, but the views from the Aisle over the Lothians, the Pentland Hills and the coasts of Fife are spectacular - weather permitting.

How to get there
Soutra Aisle is situated along the A68, just South of Fala. From the Edinburgh direction, turn right where it is signposted. From the Lauder direction (south), shortly after a long descent, turn left where it is signposted. Climb the hill, with signposts to Soutra Aisle and car park. The car park is about fifty metres beyond the Aisle and can take approximately eight cars. There is disabled access to this site.

LIBERTON'S BALM WELL: ST CATHERINE'S SACRED WELL

Legend has it that a pilgrim let fall a drop of oil used to embalm St. Catherine of Alexandria that he was carrying to Queen Margaret from Mount Sinai. Where the drop fell, a spring welled up. There are coal deposits in the area and these are most likely linked to the water in the well which has an oily balm on its surface. This is a black tarry substance which was an effective ointment for some skin complaints and was also used to relieve the pain of sprains, burns and dislocations. As well as treating eczema, it was alleged that this well was used for treating leprosy, Robert the Bruce being one of its patients. This speculation is based on the assumption that Liberton is derived from “Leper-Town”, but this is known to be incorrect. There is also no evidence to suggest that there was a leper colony near here or that lepers are connected with the well.
Because of its dedication to St. Catherine, one of the patron saints of the St. Clairs, it is believed they held this well in special reverence. Apart from the St. Clairs, this healing well was a place of pilgrimage for many Scottish monarchs. In 1504, James IV visited it and left an offering. In 1617, on a visit Scotland, James VI (and I of England) ordered that the well-house and steps be built, so that access to the balm was easier. In 1650 Cromwell’s troops demolished the well. Over 200 year later, in 1889, the well-house was once again carefully rebuilt. Inscription belongs to Lord Prestonfield.

Originally a chapel to St. Catherine (known as St. Catherine of the Kaims) stood nearby. But in the early 19th Century, this was rebuilt as a house, and is now The Balm Well restaurant.

How to get there
From Roslin, follow the A701; cross the City Bypass at Straiton Junction. The Balm Well is situated on the A701, Howden Hall Road, opposite Mortonhall Crematorium. Streets in the immediate vicinity have Balm Well and St. Catherine's in their name.

[This information was excerpted from the book.]