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Issue 47 - Leith's Templars

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 47
October 2009

 

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Leith's Templars

We investigate Scotland's Templars and their association with Leith.

The association between Roslyn Chapel, the St. Clair family and Knights Templar has been recorded in numerous books both factual and fictional but not so well documented is the link between the Port of Leith near Edinburgh, Roslyn and a 16th Century hunt for Templar treasure.

Founded by Huges de Payen to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land, the Templars were forbidden any personal wealth but there was no restriction on the Order as a whole. The Order grew wealthy from gifts of land from various European monarchs including King David I of Scotland.

Phillip IV did not make any such donation.

He resented the Order’s wealth and influence. On 13th October 1307, known ever since as Black Friday, the French monarch ordered that the Knights be arrested on charges of trampling and spitting on the cross, homosexuality and worshipping an idol. Pope Clement V dissolved the innocent Order in 1312.

As the Templars were being arrested the Templar fleet at La Rochelle quietly slipped out of the harbour reportedly carrying the records of the Order and the treasure of the Templar Preceptory of Paris. The fleet sailed for Scotland and no doubt some of these ships landed at Leith as Berwick was in English hands after being sacked by Edward I in 1296.

There appears to be no record of where the treasure of the Templar Preceptory of Paris was deposited but one man who was certain he knew where it was hidden was Sir Robert Logan of Restalrig and Leith. Like the St.

Clairs of Roslyn, the Logans were Knights Templar and later Masons. The first known association between the families was when Sir William St. Clair and the Logans accompanied Sir James Douglas as he carried the heart of Robert the Bruce to Jerusalem.

Another more tenuous link between the families is the mystery of the Maize.

At Roslyn Chapel there has existed since 1460 a sculpted example of a maize plant indigenous to the American Indians, yet Columbus is credited with introducing maize to Europe some fifty years later.

The Leith coat of arms, also appearing in 1460 bears the same cereal plant. Perhaps there is some truth in the legend that Henry St. Clair discovered America a hundred years before Columbus.

Leith became the principal Templar port of Scotland and it was here the Logans founded the Preceptory and Hospital of the Blessed Confessor St. Anthony, a home for the aged and infirm. During the installation of gas mains in St. Anthony Street, a large amount of bones were dug up and the graveyard belonging to the Perceptory was discovered to have stretched all the way from St.

Anthony Street to the foot of Leith Walk.

On the corner of St. Anthony’s Lane today, stands Trafalgar Hall, a purpose built Masonic temple bearing carved images of the pentangle and Templar Tau crosses under the roof. The hall is named in honour of the men of Leith who although probably pressganged, took part in the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 It was not for his generosity though that Sir Robert Logan achieved fame but for his posthumous presence at his own trial, where he stood accused of taking part in the Gowrie Conspiracy.

David Lindsay the first minister of South Leith Parish Church (1560-1613) and chaplain to James VI claimed that an attempt had been made to kidnap the king whilst staying at the Earl of Gowrie’s house in Perth.

As no one but Lindsay believed that such an incident occurred, Logan was probably implicated by means of forged letters, a common practice at the time. His skeleton was exhumed and brought into court to stand trial.

During the restoration of South Leith Church in 1847-8, Logan’s bones were rediscovered at the west end of the north aisle. It would not have been unusual for a Mason to be buried in church grounds, Lindsay himself was probably a Mason and the first gravestone to be erected in the protestant churchyard in 1656 marked the burial place of Alexander Abercrombie, a Mason who fumigated houses after a deadly mixture of Bubonic and Pneumonic plague killed 2736 people in 1645. The skull and crossbones motif on his stone is derived from Masonic folklore.

A wicked Templar loved a great lady of Maraclea and violated her body after she died at a young age. A disembodied voice told him to return to the grave in nine months and he would find a son.

Nine months passed and he opened the grave to find instead a head on the leg bones of the skeleton.

Two things about Logan’s re-internment though were extremely strange. Firstly it is unlikely that a traitor would be buried in consecrated ground and secondly his jawbone was not amongst his remains. It had been sawn off.

The latter suggests that if he was guilty of any crime then it was not treason but a crime against the Masonic Order.

In the ceremony of admittance into the ‘Masonic cross degree of the Knight Templar of Jerusalem’ the following words are incorporated: “I do solemnly promise and swear that I will never illegally reveal the secrets of a Knight Templar… if ever I wilfully violate this,...may my skull be sown asunder with a rough saw, my brains be taken out and put on a charger...” It would appear that Logan did indeed have a loose jaw and divulged what he believed to be the secret hiding place of the treasure of the Templar Preceptory of Paris.

Fast Castle (Castle Knowe), a fortress described by ‘Sir Nicolas Throgmorton, in 1567 as a place ‘fitter to lodge prisoners then folks at liberty’ belonged to the Logan family from 1552 until 1606 On the discovery of old reports, Logan was convinced the Templar fortune lay there and drew up a contract with John Napier of Merchiston Castle, inventor of Logarithms and at the time believed to practise the black arts. Drawn up in July 1594, the contract stipulated that Napier should search and seek out by all craft and ingenuity the said fortune or prove that no such thing had been there. The contract was to be destroyed once all the conditions were met.

Logan also shared his secret with the wild Earl of Bothwell and fully armed, Bothwell and Napier searched the castle. Since the contract is still in existence and in the possession of Trinity College, Cambridge two things can be assumed. They never found the treasure but neither did they prove that it had never been there.

Could it be we have all been looking in the wrong place for clues as to the whereabouts of the Holy Grail?