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The Rosslyn Bones

The Rosslyn Bones

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Published by Jeff Nisbet
An investigation into the "remains" found in Rosslyn Chapel in Feb. 2010.
An investigation into the "remains" found in Rosslyn Chapel in Feb. 2010.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Jeff Nisbet on Nov 23, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Copyright March 2011 by Jeff Nisbet / www.mythomorph.com
By Jeff Nisbet
hotographic pioneer and artist Louis Daguerre's 1824 painting,
The Interior of Rosslyn Chapel 
, shows twoworkmen crouching by the base of a pillar, with threeTemplar Knights nearby. One workman is staring intently atsome bones they have found beneath the flagstones.For a bizarre example of life imitating art, let's fast-for-ward 186 years.On March 1, 2010,
Scottish Television
reported that work-men at Rosslyn, the chapel made famous by
The Da VinciCode
, had discovered remains in an area with no recorded burials. The remains, continued the STVreport, had been“removed from the site to be examined by archaeologists todiscover their age, type and if they are human or animal.”The local police confirmed the find, but said “it was not being treated as a crime.” Rosslyn Chapel declined comment.Two things aroused my interest.First, I was sure that even an untrained eye would be ableto distinguish between animal and human remains, and won-dered why the archaeologists could not do the same. Second,I wondered exactly where the remains had been discovered.The idea they might have been found in the spot Daguerreshowed in his painting made me chuckle.It would take me a year to get some answers.During that time, I searched for news updates. There werenone. I also broached the subject with two St. Clair/Sinclair clan online forums. Since a William St. Clair had built thechapel in the mid-15th century, these groups share an abidinginterest in its history. No one knew anything.Finally, on Feb. 21, I wrote to a Rosslyn Chapel executive.There was no reply.Someone knew more, but no one was talking.Two weeks later, however, my inquiries finally bore somefruit -- an Email containing four remarkable photos of theexcavation, before the remains had been moved.One showed leg bones that were undoubtedly human, con-firming that one of the stated reasons for their removal was,as I suspected, clearly bogus.Two showed the exact location of the remains, but it wasnot the area shown in Daguerre's painting. Instead, they had been found at the threshold of the west door.The fourth showed a skull, face down, with a ragged-look-ing wound just a short distance above the
 foramen magnum
,the natural aperture that allows the spinal cord to connectwith the brain.Taking just a small leap of the imagination, what mightthis tell us?There's a long-lived legend that Rosslyn's master mason,returning from Rome after studying the design of an exqui-site pillar in person, found an apprentice had carved the pil-lar in his absence. Flying into a rage, he slew the apprenticewith a blow to the head, a legend that resonates with theeponymous murder of Hiram Abif, chief architect of Solomon's Temple, absolutely central to the Freemasonic rit-ual of the Third Degree.Could the skull belong to the apprentice? The teeth were
The Rosslyn Bones
 Is the tale of the murdered apprentice more than just a legend?
The Rosslyn Bones
 Is the tale of the murdered apprentice more than just a legend?
Note: This article was originally published in
 Atlantis Rising 
magazine and
Girnigoe: Scotland’s Clan Sinclair Magazine.
This version ihas been updated with material not available by the original deadline.
in remarkably youthful condition, and the shape of the headwound appeared consistent with the stone-trimming end of amason's hammer.Researchers skeptical of the chapel's claimed Masonicroots scoff at the legend, protesting that it's not exclusive toRosslyn. While there are indeed similar tales told about other ecclesiastical buildings of the day, I'm not so quick to throwthe baby out with the bathwater.As a speculative researcher,and in the absence of the forensic evidence already more thana year in coming, I'm happy to present some speculativethoughts about the Rosslyn bones.Above the area of discovery are three carved heads.Rosslyn tradition describes the one in the southwest, gazingnortheast, as the head of the apprentice; the one in the north-west, gazing southeast, as the head of the master mason; and,on an adjacent wall, the apprentice's mother, weeping for her son. The chapel's website describes the master's gaze as his punishment, forever condemned to look southeast towards thenow-famous Apprentice Pillar. Not much of a punishment for m u r d e r, certainly.I have since received, however, another dispatch that sug-gests a stiffer sentence: There were
skeletons found atRosslyn, in a single grave. Could one be the master?That they were found at the threshold of the chapel, con- jures up a plump scenario of darkly poetic justice.History records many examples of human remains being buried in the foundations of buildings, and at their thresh-olds, but the reasons are varied. Legend has it that SaintDunstan ordered his own burial to be under the threshold of Winchester Cathedral as a testament to his humility;Scotland's St. Columba, by contrast, is said to have buried aman alive at the foundations of a cathedral in order to ensurethe building's structural stability with blood sacrifice; and Iwill give a third example, later on, where the practice wasmeant as an insult to the deceased.Another robust legend that may connect Rosslyn withthreshold sacrifice is the widespread belief that the chapel'sgroundplan is based on that of Solomon's Temple, althoughskeptics point out that Rosslyn's is identical to that of Glasgow Cathedral, which, except for the enormous differ-ence in scale, is true.But what if the similarities between Rosslyn and Solomon'sTemple, at least for Freemasons, were meant to be more sym- bolic than actual, and that both skeptics and true believershave been looking at things the wrong way?In Albert Mackey's
 Encyclopedia of Freemasonry
is thefollowing entry: “Over the Sacred Lodge presided Solomon,the greatest of kings, and the wisest of men; Hiram, the greatand learned King of Tyre; and Hiram Abif, the widow's son,of the tribe of Naphtali. It was held in the bowels of thesacred Mount Moriah, under the part whereon was erectedthe Holy of Holies. On this mount it was where Abrahamconfirmed his faith by his readiness to offer up his only son,Isaac. Here it was where David offered that acceptable sacri-fice on the threshing-floor of Araunah by which the anger of the Lord was appeased, and the plague stayed from his peo-
Copyright March 2011 by Jeff Nisbet / www.mythomorph.com
Clockwise from upper left: The leg bones; the skull; the skull shown at the west end of the excavation; the location of the excavationat the threshold of the chapel’s west door. Inset center: a mason’s hammer with the stone-trimming end at left.
 ple. Here it was where the Lord delivered to David, in adream, the plan of the glorious Temple, afterward erected byour noble Grand Master, King Solomon. And lastly, here itwas where he declared he would establish his sacred nameand word, which should never pass away -- and for these rea-sons this was justly styled the Sacred Lodge.”Might not the floor of Rosslyn Chapel be symbolic, then,of a place that predates Solomon's Temple - the threshingfloor of Araunah and a place of great Biblical sacrifice,which in many ways it still is? Claimed as a holy place byChristians, Jews, and Muslims, the rock over which nowstands Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock has become, over mil-lennia, a most costly piece of real estate.Also revered as “The Foundation Stone,” the rock fromwhich the world was made, it was the place where Biblical patriarch Jacob is said to have dreamt of a ladder reaching toHeaven, with angels ascending and descending - which brings us to Scotland's unique connection with the place.Whether or not the block of stone now safely enshrined inEdinburgh Castle is Scotland's fabled Stone of Destiny, oneof its popular monikers is “Jacob's Pillow.” And then there isthe theory that the Scots are, in fact, a “lost tribe of Israel.”When historians, Biblical scholars and adherents to BritishIsraelism debate
theory, things get noisy.But let's return to the Rosslyn bones, continuing to sup- pose that the remains belong to the jealous master and theslain apprentice. What better place for the apprentice to be buried than beneath the carved head of his grieving mother?And what greater insult to the master than to be condemned,forever, to be trod underfoot by God-fearing Scots?As it happens, though, the head of the apprentice is also gaz-ing at an exquisitely carved pillar - one attributed to the mas-ter's hands. Curiously, there is evidence that the Master's Pillar,as it is now known, had been concealed under a plain exterior for over 400 years, and had been rediscovered by architectDavid Bryce during his 1860's restoration efforts. Might it nothave been concealed because it was, after all, the work of anarch sinner? The Scots have historically done much moreabout a lot less, particularly over matters of morality.Whether or not there is any truth to the slain apprenticelegend, it is the height of coincidence that Rosslyn's mostenduring legend involves the murder of one man by another, by a blow to the head, and that the murder has been memori-alized by the carved heads of the murderer and the victim, onthe wall above the unmarked grave of two recently discov-ered bodies, one of which shows indications of having beenkilled by a blow to the head.But until the forensic experts release their findings, wemust consider the possibility that the bones were put theremore recently.In 1846, during a lecture at London's Institute of BritishArchitects, antiquary John Britton criticized the lines inWalter Scott's
 Lay of the Last Minstre
that suggest tenRosslyn barons were buried, in full armor, below the chapel.Also in attendance was William Burn, architect in charge of the chapel's 1830's restoration. Burn supported Britton by
Copyright March 2011 by Jeff Nisbet / www.mythomorph.com
Clockwise from upper-left: the apprentice, the apprentice’s mother, the master mason, the Dome of the Rock, the Stone of Destiny, the Foundation Stone.Center: The murder of Hiram Abiff, as reenacted in a Masonic ritual.

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