Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mysterious carved stone could be Templar relic

Reports indicate that a mysterious carved stone has been uncovered alongside a 12th-century church associated with the Knights Templar in Scotland.

According to a report in the Scotsman, what appears to be the carved top of a sarcophagus, was unearthed when builders were excavating and reinforcing a wall alongside the old ruined church in Temple, Midlothian.

“I was on a mission to repair the wall – which was falling into the graveyard. We got near the bottom of the foundations and found something buried there,” said Crispin Phillips, who is renovating a house alongside The Old Parish Church.

“We found one stone carved with a cross and then another with these carvings on it,” he said.

“We spent about half an hour in philosophical discussions about what we should do about it. I felt we should do something, rather than just bury it again,” he added.

The inscriptions, which include symbols similar to those found in Viking monuments, in medieval graves and in West Highland Celtic carvings, have baffled archaeologists.

Phillips contacted Historic Scotland and East Lothian Council, whose archaeologists cover Midlothian. He said that the stone had been photographed and recorded, but he was still unclear whether further investigations would be carried out.

“One of the archaeologists who came out told us it was probably from the early 12th century. But really, I’m still in limbo about what to do about it,” said Phillips.

Historian and author John Ritchie said the stone raised many questions.

“It is a crude carving, quite primitive, but I have never seen anything like it in my life. It has a whole series of symbols on it and the symbols are very interesting,” he said.

“The symbols at the bottom look like Viking sun compasses, while the dials at the top look a little bit like a Celtic cross but with notches carved on them,” he added.

According to David Connolly of Connolly Heritage Consultancy, the stone was from the 13th or 14th century.

“It is a significant site because it was the Templar Preceptory for Scotland. I think from the condition, it may once have been set inside the church – which was once much bigger,” he said.

Phillips said that he planned to complete the rebuilding of the 17th-century graveyard wall and would build an arch into it so interested scholars could still see the half-buried carvings.

The village of Temple in Midlothian takes its name from the Knights Templar, who once had their Scottish Preceptory – their headquarters – there.

The ruined chapel, which nestles in the valley at the foot of the village, is all that remains of what was once an abbey founded by the Templars on lands gifted by David I of Scotland in 1127.