Dr. Tim Wallace-Murphy is welcomed to Alpha Lodge by Worshipful Master David Lindez. The world renown scholar visited Saturday night to discuss “Rosslyn Chapel: Reliquary of the Holy Grail.”
The August Order of Alpha Males inducted a new member Saturday night when Dr. Tim Wallace-Murphy of Lodge Robert Burns Initiated No. 1781 in Edinburgh became the latest world renowned scholar to lecture at historic Alpha Lodge No. 116 in East Orange, New Jersey.
(I recently dubbed Alpha the Provincial Grand Lodge of Essex County because it simply surpasses everything else going on in New Jersey Freemasonry in terms of Masonic culture, while not at all forgetting about the basics, the brotherhood, and its relationship to the neighborhood.)
They came from miles away to be at Alpha that night. Masons from New Jersey’s Fifth, 10th, 12th Districts and more; and from Pennsylvania too. We gathered to listen to this prolific author, lecturer and familiar face from documentary films discuss “Rosslyn Chapel: Reliquary of the Holy Grail.”
“I started my spiritual journey 35-36 years ago,” said Wallace-Murphy, prefacing his lecture with some personal background. Fascinated by the books of Trevor Ravenscroft and Joseph Campbell, he was intrigued by the great power that symbols and myths have to conceal hidden wisdom while inspiring seekers to break the codes.
In particular it was the Holy Grail that first drew him in.
“My first literary collaborator, the late Trevor Ravenscroft, composed his masterwork, “The Cup of Destiny,” to reveal to the younger generation that the Grail romances reveal, within their drama and symbolism, signposts to a unique path of initiation: the true teaching of Jesus,” he explained. “He was not alone in this conclusion, for one of the world’s leading mythologists, the late Professor Joseph Campbell, writing of the importance of the Grail, cites a passage from the Gospel of Thomas: “He who drinks from my mouth will become as I am, and I shall be he.”
“Campbell came to the conclusion that this represented the ultimate form of enlightenment that can arise from a successful Grail quest. Thus the Grail quest is not what it seems, for there is a hidden agenda designed to conceal a heretical truth from the prying eyes of the clergy,” he continued. “The original Grail sagas of Chrétien (de Troyes) and Wolfram (von Eschenbach) are coded guides to initiation.”
Which leads us to Rosslyn Chapel, the enigmatic structure Wallace-Murphy credits with being the reliquary of this inspired initiatic heritage.
“The care and precision that went into the construction of the chapel fall into a category of what we would now call ‘quality assurance,’ ” said Wallace-Murphy. “Every carving and every decoration was first made of wood, and then shown to William (St. Clair).” They then were carved in stone and placed where he directed. Earl William St. Clair was the builder of Rosslyn Chapel and the last Sinclair Earl of Orkney.
Our speaker, using PowerPoint, lead a tour of the amazing site.
There are many flying buttresses of the Gothic order of architecture, but they are not weight-bearing. On the East Wall is found a bust of Mercury, “the first of many anomalies we’ll come across.” The West Wall he said was originally meant to be an inside wall, but the building was never completed; work on the site ceased upon the death of William St. Clair in 1482. In a window on the South Wall is carved a Knight Templar leading a blindfolded man by a rope about his neck.
The roof, made of solid stone, is divided into five sections, one of which displays what Wallace-Murphy said is a “profusion of five-pointed stars,” another sign denoting the Chapel’s relevance to the Knights Templar.
“The inside is superbly carved,” he said. “Profuse, with very intricate carving at eye-level and above. A symphony of carved spirituality!” There are Zoroastrian and ancient Egyptian symbols. “Every form of spirituality known in the 15th century, but this is supposedly a Christian church.”
The Apprentice Pillar – The master mason, having received from his patron the model of a pillar of exquisite workmanship and design, hesitated to carry it out until he had been to Rome, or some such foreign part, and seen the original. He went abroad, and in his absence an apprentice, having dreamed the finished pillar, at once set to work and carried out the design as it now stands, a perfect marvel of workmanship. The master mason on his return was so stung with envy that he asked who had dared to do it in his absence. On being told it was his own apprentice, he was so inflamed with rage and passion that he struck him with his mallet, killed him on the spot, and paid the penalty for his rash and cruel act.
(Source: “An Illustrated Guide to Rosslyn Chapel” by Tim Wallace-Murphy. Photo from “Cracking the Symbol Code” by Tim Wallace-Murphy.)
The Apprentice himself, Wallace-Murphy explained, is seen in the southwest corner of the clerestory wall, his gaze directed downward at the Master Masons Pillar. Relating a fascinating anecdote, he told of how a colleague laboring in the restoration of the Chapel had discovered that this Apprentice once had a beard. “Apprentices in the 15th century were not allowed to have beards,” he added. An esoteric clue lies therein.
Other aspects of the Apprentice Pillar include its allusions to the Tree of Life; the musicians playing medieval instruments; and what is called the Stafford Knot, a pretzel-shaped configuration that Wallace-Murphy said is a reference to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Bro. Wallace-Murphy discussed many symbols found built into the architecture of Rosslyn Chapel, varying from Green Man depictions to symbols of the Deadly Sins and Cardinal Virtues to carvings of maize, lilies and rosettes. The Magpie Mason strongly recommends his books for detailed description and analysis of these and more. But one aspect he did discuss in detail that I ought to share concerns the Templar symbolism, which is the crux of his theory of initiatic intent in the design of the Chapel.
There are “five diagnostic elements” embedded in Rosslyn Chapel, he explained.
The Agnus Dei, or Paschal Lamb – the seal of the medieval order of Knights Templar that in this instance has carved into it a pair of hands drawing back a veil, all but exclaiming a sense of esoterica revealed. In addition, an angel in the south aisle is carved holding a Sinclair shield, with another pair of hands pulling back a curtain.
The Engrailed Cross of the Sinclairs – depicted throughout the main chapel is what Wallace-Murphy called the Croix Pattée: a Knight Templar cross converted into the Gnostic Gross of Universal Knowledge.
The burial stone of Sir William de Sinncler, Grand Prior of the Templar order who, according to legend, had commanded the Templars in their intervention on Scotland’s behalf at Bannockburn.
“Commit thy work to God” – is the St. Clair family motto, which the author likened to that of the Templars: “Not to our name Lord. Not to our name, but to Yours be all the glory.”
The heraldic colors of the St. Clair family – are argent and sable, the same color scheme of the Beausant, the battle flag of the Templar order.
As regards the medieval Knights Templar and their alleged role in the history of Scotland and as forefathers of Freemasonry, the Magpie Mason stands comfortably in the Cooper camp. It makes for a far less romantic story, but the trail of facts into Masonic origins does lead to the builders of the great cathedrals. The rival theory of Freemasonry descending from the Templars is very exciting, has sold many books, and is entirely speculative. But on interpretations of the countless symbols carved and placed throughout Rosslyn Chapel, I’m open to informed opinion and very much enjoy reading the research of those who actually study this enigmatic site, using their training in religion and mythology to translate what they see. In Freemasonry, there are tangible facts, but there also are the intangibles that spark curiosity and ought to mark common ground on which academics and ordinary thinkers like myself can build together. Bro. Tim Wallace-Murphy’s books are accessible to all, and intentionally so. He knows his material thoroughly and presents his theses in language and style that can bring together the most orthodox of Quatuor Coronati disciples and the undecided seeker beginning his journey.
That embodies the ultimate goal of the Masonic lodge.