Priceless Scroll Carbon Dated
by Kath Gourlay
The results of radio carbon dating carried out on a rare wall hanging has shocked members of a Masonic Lodge in the Orkney Islands who have been told that their document is a medieval treasure worth several million pounds.
Writer Andrew Sinclair claims that the little known Kirkwall Scroll is second in value only to the famous 13th Century Mappa Mundi which hangs in Hereford Cathedral.
"It's beyond price" says Sinclair, who heard about the scroll while researching the history of the St Clair Earls of Orkney "Its significance is immense. This will demand the rewriting of Scots medieval history."
He claims that radio carbon dating of the scroll points to the huge 18 foot sailcloth hanging as being 15th Century.
The St Clair Earls of Orkney were strongly associated with the legendary Templar knights, and the family stronghold in Midlothian is the site of Rosslyn Chapel, built by Orkney Earl William St Clair in the fifteenth Century. The chapel is well known for its Masonic connections and symbolic carvings and was built in memory of the Earl's grandfather William de St Clair, who legend has it formed a secret order to protect the Templars a century earlier. Scottish speculative freemasonry was associated with its symbolism and is believed by many to have originated from there.
"The operative side of the craft, connected with the trade guilds and stone masons, was also strongly associated with the St Clairs" says Rosslyn Chapel's Exhibition Director Bob Brydon "so there's little doubt that the Kirkwall Scroll has very significant implications."
However Brydon is not convinced that the scroll is 15th Century. "Its usual to date these kind of things stylistically" he says "and the small copy we have hanging in the Rosslyn museum is a perfect example of 18th Century naïve art - unique, because of the symbolism and in Masonic terms its indeed priceless."
"It's quite feasible it's a copy of an earlier document" he adds "and when things are copied the style of the era is usually very noticeable."
Although the Kirkwall Lodge's own archive material records the gift of a symbolic floorcloth in the 18th Century by a William Graeme, Lodge members disagree about whther this was the Kirkwall Scroll.
Contact with the University of Oxford Research laboratory which did the radio-carbon dating adds to the mystery by supporting both dates.
"We analysed material from the Kirkwall Scroll on two separate occasions" says a spokesman from the Archaeology and History of Art department which carried out the work. "You have to allow a certain margin of error in calibrating carbon content and the first sample taken from the outside edge of the material was possibly 18th or early 19th Century. The second piece which came from the central panel produced a much older date - 15th or Early 16th Century."
A senior Lodge member from Kirkwall says they have a possible answer to that one.
"The cloth has been joined at some stage. You can clearly see where the two side panels interlink with the centre panel ."
London based Scots businessman Niven Sinclair, who has done a great deal of research into his St Clair ancestry, concurs with this theory.
"The symbolically Masonic content which ties in with the Knights Templar is in the central panel" he says "the outer panels are more biblically connected later additions, I'm convinced of that."
Andrew Sinclair says the scroll is unique in that it proves how the ancient knowledge amassed by the Templar knights during the crusades has been passed on into Freemasonry for safekeeping by the St Clairs. However, many other historians disagree from this view saying there is no conclusive evidence to support it. But Sinclair is adamant.
"This knowledge was stored in the Scriptorium at Rosslyn Castle and it included priceless Templar artefacts relating to the Holy Grail. I believe the Kirkwall Scroll is a unique treasure map taken to Orkney for safekeeping by Earl William after a fire which destroyed much of the original library."
The date of the fire has been confirmed by Judy Fiskin, former curator of Rosslyn Chapel who now works for the National Trust.
"It was documented as being at the time when William was Earl of Orkney and is quite proveable" she says and agrees that priceless documents were stored at Rosslyn.
"William St Clair was one of the great illuminati of the time and I have been told from reputable sources that such people were also Master Masons."
Members of Lodge Kirkwall Kilwinning also have in their records information that the Orkney Earl, who owned Kirkwall Castle, where the present Lodge buiding now stands, held the appointment of "Patron of the Masons of Scotland" in the mid 15th Century.
"We don't discount the possibility that something could have been stored in Kirkwall Castle, though there is no evidence to support it. What does bother us is the adverse publicity these kind of claims will stir up" says a former Office Bearer.
And the statement by Andrew Sinclair that the priceless scroll should be removed for safekeeping has incensed them.
"Anything is priceless if you've got a market for it so his sensation-making claims of it being worth millions mean nothing. It is priceless to us and we have safeguarded it well for more than two and a half centuries. No one can have access without special permission and it is protected from the light, so we would urge 'leave well alone''.