The Kirkwall Scroll

Andrew Sinclair

WHEN I saw Paradise, I was standing in a Masonic lodge on an island in the North Atlantic, 24 miles off the Scottish coast. Before me was a vast cloth scroll, more than l8ft long and 5ft wide, carrying a vision of the Garden of Eden so beautiful that I could hardly believe my eyes.

In faded pastel colours, a six-pointed sun and a moon with a face surrounded by seven stars shone down from the sky. Between them was a row mysterious symbols thatr be numerals or runes.

In a strip of ocean under a mountain chain, an eel and a fish cavorted with a whale and 4 other varieties of sea creatures. On the ground were three doves, a swan, a ewe and a ram, a serpent, a maned lion and other beasts that rang the changes from black cattle to a camel.

Behind all these was a strange hermaphrodite figure, both Adam and Eve at once; under the shade of a Tree Of Life. Male and female were merged into one being an image far removed conventional Christianity. As I gazed up, I sensed that I had chanced upon one of the great treasures of the Middle Ages perhaps rivalled only by the 13th century Mappa Mundi that hangs in Hereford Cathedral. It was a priceless relic that would demand the rewriting of medieval history.

For years, the scroll had lain neglected in a Masonic room at old town hall in Kirkwall on the Island of Orkney. The Masons moved it into their present lodge in the late 19th-century. It had been in their hands for long that they no longer realised its full importance. Only by enormous good fortune had I, a trained historian, been invited to examine it while attending a conference on the island. My eyes darted across the vast surface, dazzled by its magical heretical images. The biblical golden calf was being worshipped on an inverted cross. On another cross was a fiery serpent with two priests bowing down before it.

Closer examination showed that the scroll consisted of a centrepiece and two side panels. On the central part, beneath the Garden Of Eden were dozens of mystic signs a two angels guarding the Ark Of The Covenant—the casket containing the Ten Commandments on their tablets of stone.

At the sides, in two strips, were primitive maps of Egypt and Palestine. They showed the wanderings of Moses and the Twelve Tribes of Israel, searching for the Promised Land, and a Christian attack up the Nile during the Seventh Crusade.

The link to the Crusades was the vital clue I needed. There was much work still to be done, but the scroll's significance was clear.This was a message resounding across the centuries from one of the most fascinating and mysterious military orders ever to bear arms—the Knights Templars.

It was a message that conveyed the hidden religious wisdom of an heretical tradition that has been suppressed by the Church for two millenia. Through this scroll, the Templars had passed on their knowledge to the Freemasons. The scroll was a missing link between these two secret brotherhoods.

It was new proof that the Templars had sought refuge in Britain, carrying their treasures with them, after fleeing persecution in France at the start of the l4th-century.

My researches would show how they had played a key role in one of the great battles of British history and how their astonishing skills had enabled sailors from Scotland to cross the Atlantic to North America nearly a century before Columbus.

The scroll was a key to all these secrets, and yet it was still more. For I believe that the scroll is a treasure map, setting out an ancient code that offers vital clues in the greatest quest that mankind has ever known—the search for the Holy Grail.

It is a search that has dominated my life, and which I believe leads to a chapel in Scotland that is one of the most enigmatic and extraordinary places on Earth.

Hunting for the Holy Grail is rather like hunting for Lewis Carroll's Snark. It comes in many shapes, it leaves many trails, and, if you find it, the only certainty is that it won't be what you were looking for. Like the hunters in Carroll's poem, you'll discover that the Snark was a Boojum after all.

The most common image of the Grail is a chalice or bowl. According to one tradition, it is the cup from which wine was drunk at the Last Supper as a symbol of Christ's blood. Pictures and church windows across Europe show Joseph of Arimathea using this same cup to catch the blood of Christ from the cross. Confusingly, perhaps, Mary Magdalene is shown doing the same thing, using her long red hair to wipe the gore from Christ's nailed feet and squeeze it into a precious casket of her own. The message to us is clear—there is not one Grail, but many.

Indeed, in the literature of the Middle Ages, the Grail could be anything from a green meteorite to a silver platter with a severed head on it. For some, it was the lance that pierced Christ's side at the Crucifixion. For others, it was the lost Ark Of The Covenant.

Two of the most celebrated Grails were located in Constantinople, now Istanbul. They were the Jewelled receptacles that held the Holy Shroud, in which Christ's body had been wrapped after death, and the Veil Of Saint Veronica, used to wipe the sweat and blood off his face on the way to Calvary.

When Constantinople fell to the Crusaders in 1204, these two Grails came into the hands of the Knights Templars. The veil eventually reached the Vatican, and the shroud—or its copy—ended up in Turin.

But what became of their precious cases? And what became of the other sacred reasures accumulated by Templars who were hailed in medieval literature as the Guardians Of The Grail? To find out, we must look more closely at the order's bloody and turbulent history.

The Templars were founded in 1118 in Jerusalem, two decades after the Holy City had been wrested from Moslem control during the First Crusade, amid scenes of massacre and destruction. Contemporary accounts of the conquest speak of 'mounds of heads, hands and feet' filling streets that were ankle-deep in gore.

Despite the Christian victory, Moslem marauders continued to attack visitors to the region's newly liberated shrines. The nine foundingTemplars vowed to live the life of armed monks, defending the faith and protecting pilgrims.

They made their headquarters at the Dome Of The Rock, the Moslim Mosque in Jerusalem that marks the spot where the prophet Mohammed rose to heaven, and which is also one of the most sacred sites in the world for Christianity and Judaism.

It was here that Abraham came to sacrifice Isaac, here that King David brought the Ark of the Covenant and here that David's son, Solomon built the great temple from which the knights took their name.

The temple of Solomon was the wonder of it's age glittering with precious and base metals, as if forges in the fires of heaven. But it was destroyed by the soldiers of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, and the fate of the fabulous relics it contained has remained a mystery ever since.

Legend has it that the founding Templars, spent their first years digging beneath their feet for this lost treasure, including the Ark of the Covenant. Among many fantastical allegations is that they discovered the embalmed head of Christ.

Beguiling as such stories may be, they remain speculation, and the Templars were soon engaged in far less outlandish activities.

The forces they built up—at their height, numbering 20,000 Knights—became a vital element in the defence of the Crusader states, and garrisoned every town of size In the Holy Land.

Clad in their distinctive uniform of a white surcoat marked with a red cross, the Templars were fearless and disciplined fighters. So long as their black and white banner still flew, no Templar could leave the field of battle.

Every aspect of their life was regimented. Long hair was forbidden and beards were compulsory. Shoes and breeches had to be worn at night so that the men were ready to fight at a moment's notice. There was even a rule dictating the correct way for a Templar to cut cheese. It was an austere regime and personal possessions were out lawed. But military success brought plunder, and the knights gathered priceless stores of relics and other treasures.

They were also astute businessmen, garnering enormous wealth as a combination of bankers, diplomats and medieval travel agents, making safe the major trade and pilgrimage routes across Europe.

Bolstered by donations of land from noble families, the Templas grew into a multi-national conglomerate. In every country where they established themselves they became a state within a state, their Grand Master a king among kings.

However their days of glory were numbered. In 1187, less than 100 years after the Christian conquest, Jerusalem was recaptured for Islam by the great warrior Saladin. The Templars were ousted from their headquarters.

Although a succession of new crusades were launched, Jerusalem never came back into Christian control. With the fall of Acre, their last stronghold in the Holy Land in 1291, the Knights Templars lost their main reason for existence.

Their phenominal wealth now made them marked men. The Templars had 9,000 manors across Europe, none of which paid taxes to any ruler, thanks to the patronage of the Pope.Their home at the Temple it Paris was the centre of the world's money market, and Europe's crowned heads were forced to come to them for loans. Combined with an appearance of arrogance and secrecy, such riches could inspire only envious hatred. The French king, Philip the Fair, plotted the knights' destruction.

On Friday, October13, 1307-the original Friday the 13th—he planned to have every one of the 3,000 Templars in his kingdom arrested in one night. Although many fled to safety, hundreds were arrested and tortured.

On the basis of confessions drawn from men whose limbs had been stretched on the rack and whose feet were roasted over fires until the bones fell out, the Templars were accused of blasphemy and sexual perversion. Their initiation ceremonies were said to have involved spitting, stamping or urinating on an image of Christ on the cross. Homosexuality was said to be rife within the order, or even compulsory.

The knights were also said to have worshipped a severed head called Baphomet, stored within a reliquary of precious metal. Some would claim the bearded head had three faces and glowed in the dark. Although such stories reeked of superstition and invention, and although the confessions of tortured men were worthless and often later retracted, the truth is that the Templars had indeed strayed far beyond orthodox Christianity. Their beliefs, and their secret rites, were rooted in Gnosticism -one of the great heresies of the Christian faith, to which they had been exposed in the Middle East.

Its name is derived from the Greek word gnosis, meaning higher knowledge, and its central tennet is that its adherents can come into direct and intimate contact with God without the intervention of a priest or a church.

Gnosticism draws together threads from astrology, alchemy and the old pagan faiths that predate Christianity. Its texts include apocryphal gospels by the apostle 'Thomas—the doubter said to have poked his fingers into the wounds of the risen Christ -and Mary Magdalene. For the Gnostlcs, official worship is at best a delusion, at worst the work of Satan. True understanding can come only through a process of mystical initiation in which the spiritually elect will achieve a personal vision of the divine.

This was the supreme sin of the Templars: to preach the approach to God through personal inspiration outside the rules of orthodox religion.Their purported worship of the severed head can best be understood as a complex piece of Gnostic symbolism—the worship of the divine mind, the ultimate wisdom, the head of the faith.

But the king of France was not interested in understanding what the Templars really believed. He was interested in wiping them out, and the Pope eventually supported him by ordering the arrest of all Templars in other territories.

It was in vain for the order's elderly Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, to retract his confessions of heresy when he was brought on to a scaffold in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris to receive his sentence in 1314.

'I confess that I am indeed guilty of the greatest infamy,' he said. 'But that infamy is that I have lied. I have lied in admitting the disgusting charges against my order.

'I declare, and I must declare, that the order is innocent. Its purity and saintliness have never been defiled. In truth, I have testified otherwise, but I did so from fear of horrible tortures.' He was burned alive at the stake the next day. The power of the Knights Templars seemed at an end—but as the secret scroll shows, that was far from true.

Although King Philip's destruction of the Templars was as efficient as Hitler's coup against the Brownshirts, during the Night Of The Long Knives In 1934, there is no record of him finding their treasure in Paris, or their secret archives.

The evidence suggests that these were removed by ship, using the Templar fleet based at La Rochelle in Brittany, after senior knights were tipped off about the purge. Some of the refugee Templars took their galleys to Portugal, where they were reconstituted as the Knights Of Christ.

The African explorer, Vasco de Gama, was a member of the renamed order, and Prince Henry the Navigator—who founded the world's first school of navigation -was to become a Grand Master. In other European countries, the Templars vanished, went underground, or merged with other orders. In Germany. many joined the ranks of the Teutonic Knights later to be one of Hitler's great inspirations—as they carved out an empire to the east.

However, most of the sea-borne Templars made for Scotland, laden with their sacred relics, treasures and records. According to one French Masonic tradition, the priceless haul was taken on nine vessels to the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth. This is borne out by Templar tombstones I discovered at Currie, near Edinburgh, Westkirk, near Culross, and other sites along the Forth. Carved into the ancient stones were images of swords, crosses, Grails and the steps of the Temple of Solomon. The Templars knew that they would find a protector in the Scottish king Robert the Bruce, who had been excommunicated by the Pope and would have no interest in obeying the order to suppress them.

He would also value their martial skills in his struggles against his English rival, Edward II. Proof of that came in the extraordinary events of the Battle of Bannockburn, fought near Stirling Castle on the Forth, just three months after Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake. Robert the Bruce was outnumbered by the English army at least three to one, with 6,000 men pitted against 20,000. His worst deficiency lay in mounted knights.

Accounts of the conflict are sparse and fragmentary. Yet, they testify to two strange events. Shortly before the battle, Bruce received new supplies of weapons from unknown sources—much to the fury of King Edward. Then, while the fight was raging and after Bruce had sent his final reserve of mounted troops into action against the English archers, a fresh force of horsemen appeared with banners flying and routed the enemy.

One Scottish legend claims that these were camp followers riding ponies and waving pitchforks, but such a mob could never have put the English king and 500 of his knights to immediate flight. Every indication suggests that the squadron that struck terror into the English was made up of exiled Templars.

Each June, on the battle's anniversary, modern Scottish Templars still pay tribute to their predecessors who were martyred here in the struggle for independence. To show his gratitude for their role at Bannockburn, the Scottish king drew the Templars into the ancient guilds that were the forerunners of today's Masons. It was a perfect cover to ensure the Templars' survival.

Among those who fought with Bruce were three of my ancestors, the St Clairs of Rosslyn, a family closely associated with the Templars. One of them, William de St Clair, would later die with other Scottish knights in a charge against the Moslems in Spain, while taking the heart of Bruce for burial in Jerusalem. His was the first Templar tombstone I discovered in Scotland. Broken into three pieces, it lay ignored in a dark corner of the 15th-centuzy Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh.

Crouching in the gloom, I could hardly make out the design of the oblong slab. But, using flower and vegetable dyes, a rubbing was made that revealed the tell-tale cup of the Grail and a medieval crusading sword. But even more magical than this discovery was the building in which I had made it. For Rosslyn Chapel lies at the heart of the Grail mystery—and the story of the secret scroll.

The chapel at Rosslyn stands in the shadow of an ancient wood, planted on the Pentland Hills in the shape of a Templar cross. Set in an otherwise unassuming village, it is perhaps the most extravagantly ornamented sacred place in Northern Europe. Small and irregularly shaped, every inch of the Chapel's ancient stones is encrusted with lavish carvings in which pagan symbols of the Green Man and representations of the Temple of Solomon jostle together in one mystic-tapestry. Many Templar signs and seals are cut into the walls, and the influence of the Gnostic heresy is everywhere, in designs of such rich profusion that nobody has succeeded in unravelling them.

One carving calls to mind the Templar worship of the head of Baphomet—It shows a bearded face, with horns, peering over the tablets of the word of God, brought down by Moses from Mount Sinai. Another shows the head of Christ on the Veil of Saint Veronica. Elsewhere, an upside-down angel is shown bound by a rope—a Gnostic image of Lucifer as the angel of light and intelligence, constrained by the rope of order.

The chapel was founded by my ancestor William St Clair, Earl of Orkney, who employed masons from all over Europe to execute his complex vision. Its most extraordinary feature of all is its unique roof—a great barrel-vault of solid stone—in which the Holy Grail is shown, set amid the stars, pouring forth the waves of God's grace.

Many have claimed that Rosslyn is the ultimate hiding place of the Grail. Sir Walter Scott recorded the legend of 20 knights said to be buried in full armour in its vaults as if on eternal sentry duty over some great treasure.

Some others have claimied that the Grail is housed inside the barley sugar curves of the chapel's curious Apprentice Pillar, entwined with eight stone serpents. The Nazis were obsessed by the Grail mysteries, and Rosslyn was inspected by one of their emissaries in 1930. I was determined to learn the truth, and my cousin Niven Sinclair obtained permission to make a groundscan of the building using the latest radar techniques developed for modem archaeology; What we found was hugely exciting.

There was, indeed, evidence of hidden vaults. The radar pulses also detected what appeared to be metal—the armour, perhaps, of the buried knights. One particularly large signal also suggested the existence of a metallic shrine. The problem was how to reach the vaults. The groundscan had shown two stairways leading beneath the slabs.

Laborously, one set of flagstones was lifted, rubble was cleared and three steep stone steps were revealed leading to a vault below. I was the first to squirm into this secret chamber. It was small, comprising the space between the foundation of two pillars. It was arched with stone, but access to the main vaults beyond had been sealed by a thick wall of masonry.

The soggy wood from three coffins bad been stacked against the blocking wall. Sifting through the debris, I found human bones and the fragments of two skulls, two rusty coffin handles, a mason's whetstone—and a simple oak bowl. That is what the original Grail from the Last Supper would have been—a wooden platter passed by Jesus Christ in His divine simplicity to His poor Apostles. But the one I held in my hands had no doubt been left by the same medieval mason who discarded his whetstone.

We lifted the slabs to a second staircase, supposing they might lead down to the shrine, only to discover many feet of earth and sand. This was a bitter disappointment. We had not realised how deep the lower vaults lay, and how much infill was packed above them.

Drills were called into force through a narrow hole, down which we would lower an industrial endoscope—a tiny camera at the end of a glass fibre tube, as flexible as the head of a striking snake, which could point at buried objects under the light of a laser beam. It could operate to a depth of more than 30 feet and transmit colour images to our monitor screen above ground.

As we drilled deeper and deeper into the centre of the chapel, we struck 3ft of solid stone. Finally the drill bit broke through into open space—only to jam fast only after working day and night did we manage to remove the drill and introduce the protective pipe though which we could drop the endoscope. At last, it seemed that we were about to see what lay inside the chamber of the Knights. But the hidden shrine was still not ready to give up its secrets.

Again and again, we pushed the pipe down the drill hole. Again and again, infill poured down and blocked it. All we ever saw on our monitor was dust and detritus clogging up the end of the pipe. After a week of work, we were defeated. For now, Rosslyn would keep its secrets.

But what if there were a treasure map—a chart that would prove once and for all that the Templars had hidden their sacred relics beneath these stones. This was what I found when I was invited to the Masonic lodge at Kirkwall on Orkney. Although I myself am not a Mason, my ancestors and relatives have been the traditional Grand Masters of all the crafts and guilds of Scotland for many centuries

The great scroll that I was shown had been in the hands of the Masons for so long that they themselves were unsure of its origins. So far as the outside world was concerned, it might never have existed. But it was clear to me that this vast piece of painted sailcloth, blackened at the edges, was a storehouse of mystic Templar wisdom. Much of the imagery could have come straight from the carved walls of Rosslyn Chapel.

When I saw the hermaphrodite figure of Adam and Eve, I knew Goddess Sophia, a symbol of divine wisdom that merges both masculine and feminine. Below this Gnostic vision of Eden were dozens of the most ancient Templar and Masonic signs. The serpent worshipped on the cross, for example, was another symbol of arcane knowledge—a source of truth and illumination, not the malign tempter of the conventional Bible account.

At the left of the scroll was a mounted Moslem knight, beside an armed camp besieging a city on one of the mouths of the Nile delta. My investigations told me that this could only be Damietta, taken and lost in two Crusades.

If the scroll was not Templar in origin, the selection of images was hard to fathom. But the greatest revelation, and the one that made my long quest worthwhile, lay at the base of the scrolls central section. Here, fringed by banners and geometric patterns, I found a painting of the Temple of Solomon that provided nothing less than a blueprint of its secret chambers.

Painted in rough perspective, the groundplan clearly set out the two hidden vaults containing the Ark Of The Covenant and the tablets handed down to Moses. What took my breath away was that the plan was exactly that of Rosslyn Chapel. When I compared the image to an architectural survey of Rosslyn, everythnig was in the right place, pointing the east. The scroll showed the Ark within its secret tabernacle, with three great arches supporting a buried catacomb. To my astonishment the vaults were precisely where we had dug for the lost Templar treasure at Rosslyn.

I already knew that when William St. Clair built Rosslyn Chapel, he was trying to create the Temple of Solomon anew.

That was why the walls were studded with 20 little images of original Temple. That was why Rosslyn's Apprentice Pillar was complemented by another pillar in the Lady Chapel, so that together they represented Jachin and Boaz, the fabled pillars that held up Soloman's building.

The eight serpents writhing at the base of the Apprentice Pillar enshrined the legend of the Shamir, a mysterious worm-like creature whose touch split and shaped stone, and whose magic powers enabled Solomon to build the Temple without iron tools. This was a secret kept jealously by Hiram,the architect of the Temple, whose face also appears on the pillar.

For years, this face of a man with a wound in his forehead was associated with a legendary apprentice, said to have carved the pillar and then been killed for his presumption by his master mason. In fact, this seems to be just a Christian cover story for Solomon's great builder who was killed by fellow craftsmen when he refused to surrender his secrets, which are said to he guarded by the Masons to this day. Now, in addition to all these clues, we had the Orkney scroll—not only showing that Rosslyn was the Temple rebuilt, but giving the clearest possible sign that Templar treasures were buried beneath it.

Just one problem remained. I was faced by sceptlcs who claimed the scroll wa~iot a medieval relic at all, but the work of an 18th-century house painter who presented the Kirkwall Masons with a 'floor cloth' when he was admitted to their number in 1786. The gift was referred to in the lodge minutes of the time, although the fate of the 'floor cloth' was left unclear. The only answer was a scientific test. An inspector from the local CID, who was a Mason from the Kirkwall lodge, gave me fragments of the scroll for radio-carbon dating. I went to the same Oxford laboratory that had identified the Holy Shroud Of Turin as a fake. Would the secret scroll be discredited, too? Far from it. After months of suspense, and one initial test that seemed to show the scroll was not more than 50 years old, my theory was vindicated. The scientists dated the scroll to the 15th-century—the period of the building of Rosslyn Chapel. Who now can doubt that something truly glorious is buried at Rosslyn? Is it the Ark of the Covenant itself? The chalice of the Grail? The containers of the Holy Shroud and the Holy Veil from Constantinople? Maybe it is best not to speculate, but I am convinced that there is something.

I doubt. however, that we will ever see it Since my own attempt to drill into the vaults, Rosslyn Chaple has been taken over by a private trust dedicated to its conservation. Legal restrictions mean that disruptive excavations in the immediate future are unikely.

It seems that the Knights who guard the treasures will not be disturbed in their tombs, and perhaps that is how it should be. According to legend, they will reappear only on the Day of Judgement, when the stone slabs will crack open.

HIGH on a hill with a commanding view over Massachusetts, the Westford Knight lies on his ledge of rock, a silent witness to one of the most remarkable sea journeys in the history of navigation. His existence was first recorded in 1883. A local history book noted that the 'rude outlines of the human face' had been traced in the rock, apparently by native Indians.

On their way to school, boys from the town of Westford sometimes did a war-dance on the Indian face to show off their daring. One even used a chisel to add a pipe of peace, to make it look more authentic.

Not until the time of World War II did someone notice that this wasn't the face of a Red Indian at all. An amateur archaeologist published photographs of the rock, without giving its exact location, and argued that part of it bore the shape of a medieval sword, of European origin, broken in two as a memorial to an exceptionally brave warrior.

Experts scoffed at the theory. But another enthusiast, Frank Glynn, spent years tracking down the mysterious figure in the rock. When he finally found it, he stripped away the turf and moss to reveal a series of punch-holes and hammer blows tracing the funeral effigy of a helmeted knight-of-arms. Nearby, he came across a carved stone, which a local farmer had unearthed by a track to the sea. The stone showed the shape of a ship with twin sails on a single mast, along with eight portholes or rowlocks, and the numerals 184.

After taking advice from a Cambridge archaeologist, Glynn decided that the numbers signified paces. And within a radius of 184 paces, he found three rough stone enclosures, resembling dry docks for small ships. It was a dramatic discovery. Long-established legend claimed that would-be colonists from Scotland had landed on this strip of the New England coast almost a century before Columbus reached the New World in 1492. Had Frank Glynn found proof of their visit?

Many local people were sceptical. They insisted the image of the knight was simply a combination of weathering and vandalism by the boy with a chisel. The ship stone was dismissed as an Indian signpost, of only recent vintage.

Others however, were convinced they now had confirmation of a Scottish expedition to America in the late 14th century. Geologists who studied the knight's effigy confirmed the marks in the rock were between 500 and 800 years old.

When I visited Westford, I had a rubbing made of the tombstone. The cloth impression clearly showed a gigantic knight, some 7ft tail. He wore the habit of one of the Christian military orders such as the Knights Templars. At the base of his shield was the outline of ship, similar to one on the coat of arms of my Scottish ancestors, the St Clairs, who fought in the Crusades and were members of the Ternplars from the order's earliest days. But if a medieval crusading party from Scotland had reached West-ford, surely they would have left other clues?

My attention turned to a curious stone tower at Newport in nearby Rhode Island. Local historians suggested this was merely an old windmill, no older than the 17th century, but I was convinced they were wrong. It was completely the wrong shape for a windmill. All my instincts and experience told me that I was looking at a medieval Templar church. Clearly based on the stone architecture of Northern Europe in the Middle Ages,the tower was constructed on the model of the ancient Temple Of Solomon in Jerusa1em, where the Knights Templars were founded.

The design was an octagon within a circle, one of principles of sacred architecture with eight arches built round walls. This was one in hallmarks of the Templars. Round churches were rare. The only one in Scotland, built in the 12th century, was in Orphir in Orkney, where my Templar ancestor Henry St Clair was Earl. The arch of its one surviving window was constructed in the same fashion as those of the Newport Tower.

Moreover, the unit of measurement of the Newport Tower was not the English foot or yard, nor a Portuguese or Dutch standard, such as 17th-century colonists might have employed. It was the Scottish ell, a cloth measure used in England until Shakespeare's time, equivalent to just over 37 inches. The diameter of each column in the Newport Tower was exactly one Scottish ell; the diameter of the circle surrounded by the columns was exactly six Scottish ells.

On the tower's first floor was a fireplace made to a 14th-century design. Not only would this have burned down any mill, it was a further link to the Templars and Scotland. The flames would have shown through a small window facing the fireplace and acted as a beacon for ships entering the local harbour—a feature familiar to me from the watchtower of a church at Corstorphine, near Edinburgh.

The Corstorphine church also holds the grave of Henry St Clair's daughter, and carvings of the Temple of Solomon and a crusader sword. Experts even confirmed the tool marks on the Newport Tower's stones were identical to those of medieval buildings in Orkney and the Shetlands, and could be found nowhere else in New England. We were now far beyond the realms of mere coincidence—the legend of the Scottish colonists was based on fact.

So who were the men who built this sacred tower, carved the West- ford Knight and beat Columbus to America by a century? As my research would show, the story was an astonishing one—and my St Clair ancestors had played a central part in it.

Tantalising clues to the tale can be seen on the secret scroll that I found in a Masonic lodge in Kirkwall, on Orkney. As I described in Saturday's Mail, this vast wall-hanging dates from the 15th century and is covered with mystic Templar symbols and clues to the location of the Holy Grail.

Hidden among these is the seal of a medieval ship with a single mast, similar to that of the St Clair faimily. Round it is an odd inscription in dog Latin and code: 'Noterina et Svltcrinea.' The first word can be deciphered only as meaning 'distinguishing marks or symbols'. The last word has no Latin equivalent, but is an anagram of 'St Cler' and 'Vina'. Was this a reference to the St Clairs and Vinland—the old Norse name for the New World?

Close by are the heads of two sea serpents—one bearing a crown, the other a cross. They are remarkably similar to the dragon crest of Henry St Clair. Other images include sea-borne angels and the lost Ark Of The Covenant floating on the waves. These were emblems of the Ancient. Ark Mariners Guild, a Masonic brotherhood of shipwrights who built the St Clair family's fleet.

I believe the scroll's symbols reflect the long odyssey of the Templars, from heroes of the Crusades to persecuted pariahs. It was a journey that took them from Jerusalem, where the Ark Of The Covenant was said to be buried beneath their headquarters, across Europe and the Mediterranean to Scotland, where the knights took refuge after the French king—envious of their wealth—sought to exterminate them.

It was in Scotland that they passed on their secret religious wisdom, gathered in the Holy Land, to the Masons. And it was here, too, that they brought the priceless holy relics accumulated during their years of glory. As I revealed on Saturday, the secret scroll offers powerful evidence that these relics—which some would hail as the Holy Grail—eventually reached the vaults of Rosslyn Chapel, an extraordinary treasure house of Templar mysticism near Edinburgh.

Rosslyn Chapel was founded by William St Clair, Henry's grandson, in the 15th century. Astonishingly, it contains carvings showing maize and aloe cactus—crops that were then unknown outside the New World. Overwhelming evidence suggests that it was Henry St Clair who led the Scottish expedition to America, left behind the Westford Knight and the Newport Tower, and brought back knowledge of the New World crops.

His voyage is said to have taken place around 90 years after the Templars made their exodus from France to Scotland, bringing with them the seamanship and navigational expertise built up while transporting pilgrims and merchants to the Holy Land. It is this expertise that would have been the key to Henry's astonishing achievement. And although I do not believe that he took the Holy Grail or other Templar treasures on his voyage, he did take with him the idea of the Grail—a holy quest, the civilising mission of a European knight to pagan countries.

The voyage was also a quest for a home. After their catastrophic fail from grace at the start of the 14th century, when their Grand Master and other leaders had been accused of blasphemy and burnt to death, the Templars were refugees. Although they had found protection with Scotland's King Robert The Bruce, who absorbed them within the early Masonic guilds, it was natural they should look further beyond the seas for a new land where their ideals could take root. The outcast Templars would look to the West, and set out to build their new Jerusalem.

The story begins with a shipwreck. Nicolo Zeno, a member of a distinguished family of Venetian mariners, which had played a key role intransporting knights to the Holy Land, was caught in a terrible storm. His vessel was smashed onto the rocks of what has been identified as Fair Isle, between Orkney and the Shetlands. The inhabitants were about to kill him and his crew when they were rescued by a local prince.

This was Henry St Clair. Born in 1345, he had become Lord of Rosslyn at the age of 14 and was made Earl of Orkney by the king of Norway just ten years later. A knight skilled In the arts of war, but also a diplomat and deep thinker, he had become a powerful figure in the Scottish royal court. Henry took the shipwrecked Venetians under his wing, and persuaded Nicolo Zeno to write home and get his brother, Antonio, to buy another ship and join him. Henry was to employ the Zeno brothers as his admirals.

It is documents compiled from the records they left behind, known as the Zeno map and narrative, that are the best evidence of the Templar expedition to America. They tell how Earl Henry first sent the more experienced Nicolo Zeno on a scouting mission to Greenland. Then, in 1398, Henry set off with Antonio and a fleet of ships, packed with knights and monks, to discover what lay even further west. It was a perilous voyage in rough seas and, at one point, the fleet was scattered, before managing to regroup. However, helped by a following wind, they reached what is now known as Nova Scotia just 18 days after leaving the Faroe Islands, where they had stopped to take on water and supplies.

The original log of the voyage is lost, and the Zeno narrative was pieced together in 1558 by one of the brothers' descendants. Sceptics have claimed that it is a forgery—a cynical attempt by the Venetians to steal the thunder of Columbus, hero of the rival city of Genoa.But this seems unlikely.

The Zeno family was one of great honour and integrity, to whom such chicanery would have been utterly foreign. Then there is the precision of the the map showing the brothers' travels, which was used by other seafarers until the end of the 17th century. The accompanying narrative is equally convincing, particularly in its descriptions of the Nova Scotia shoreline around Cape Breton island.

It speaks of various strange features—a smoking mountain, which came from a great fire in the bottom of a hill; a spring that exuded a substance like pitch that ran into the sea; and many small and timid natives who lived in caves. When I visited Nova Scotia, I found all these things could be substantiated. Besides being the home of a headland known as Cape Smokey, so-called because clouds almost always wreath its crests, this area also had natural gas and coal seams burning underground, producing smoke from the bottom of the hills. Oily residues from open coal seams still seep into the rivers that run down to the sea, polluting the beaches with their greasy, black waters. The local Micmac Indian tribes are of small stature and not as warlike as the neighbouring Algonquins. There are sacred Indian caves in the sea-cliffs and, to this day, the Micmacs tell traditional tales of a tall white man who visited their ancestors from over the seas.

His vessel was variously described as a stone canoe and a E floating island with trees on it, very manageable and able to go like magic. This suggested a ship with two masts, able to steer with a rudder and sail to the wind. The mysterious visitor was known as 'Glooscap'—a name which, in the Micmac tongue, sounds much like 'Earl Sinclair'. He was a friend and teacher to the Indians, showing them how to fish with nets and cultivate the soil. It is a picture of Earl Henry that matches the account of him In the Zeno narrative. Far from being a hostile conqueror, he went to the New World in peace and was deter-mined to live in harmony with the local inhabitants.

Another vital piece of evidence appeared when I was shown a photograph of a primitive ship's cannon dredged from the sea off the Nova Scotia coast in 1849. I could hardly believe my eyes. The design—a narrow barrel of welded iron rods, held together by eight rings to keep it from bursting—was one I had seen in the Venice naval museum. It had been pioneered by the Venetian hero Carlo Zeno, elder brother of Nicolo and Antonio, when he saved his city from the Genoese in 1380.

Clearly, the Zeno brothers had shared this piece of military technology with Henry St Clair, who had used it to armour his boats on their dangerous voyage. Such cannons swiftly became obsolete, so the chance of this one being left by other sailors is remote.

According to the Zeno narrative, Earl Henry was so delighted by the country he had discovered that he immediately began laying plans to establish a city. However, other members of the expedition were exhausted and feared the approach of winter. He sent them back across the Atlantic, keeping just a small party to continue his explorations. The evidence of the Westford Knight and the Newport Tower suggests that he made his way around Nova Scotia and down along America's east coast to what is now Massachusetts. It must have been here that they wintered. I believe Earl Henry left small parties of colonists behind him, both in Nova Scotia, and New England, before finally setting sail for home. Hints of their existence remain on ancient maps.

A 16th century map of the world in the library of Harvard University, based on a German original, marks Nova Scotia with a crowned and bearded knight kneeling by his shield and wearing the surcoat of a military order like the Templars.

The celebrated Dutch globe of 1537, the Frisius-Mercator, depicts the region with three flags containing crosses that have a remarkable resemblance to the Templar war banner. It adds the words "terra per britannos inventi"—the land was discovered by Britons.

But those early colonists were to be cut off, and no doubt suffered swift extinction, following Henry St Clair's death less than a year after his return to Orkney in 1400. He was cut down when sea raiders made a surprise attack on Kirkwall—a deliberate act of assassination by the Baltic traders of the Hanseatic League, who had heard rumours of his activities and feared the competition. The Templar settlers in the New World were thus left to their fate.

The influence of the Templars would still be felt in America in later years, but by more indirect and underground means. As the scroll in the Masonic lodge at Kirkwall makes clear, the great inheritors of the Templar tradition are the Freemasons. It was into the forerunners of todays Masonic guilds that the Templars had merged and disguised themselves after fleeing to Scotland at the start of the 14th century.

The tradition was brought south of the border when King James VI of Scotland, himself a mason and the ultimate judge of all Masonic disputes, became James I of England in 1603. However, following the demise of the House of Stuart, many Masonic historians came to disclaim their northern roots, and insisted their lodges had entirely English origins under the Hanoverian kings of the 18th century.

It was left to the Jacobites, the Stuart loyalists, to keep the flame burning. One way in which they did so was to establish Masonic lodges in the American colonies that were true to what was known as the Ancient Scottish Rite. These did more than just cherish their Templar heritage. They drew together men who believed in religious tolerance, freedom from persecution and political liberty. It is no coincidence that many leaders of the American War of Independence were masons.

Lodge members in Boston, where a new Knights Templars degree was conferred in 1769, were to the fore in the celebrated Tea Party. The most prominent mason of all was George Washington, revolutionary general and flrst President of his liberated nation. His brothers in the American Supreme Council of the Ancient Scottish Rite would proudly commission a commemorative painting of him laying the foundation stone of the United States Capitol in his Masonic apron and regalia.

Washington would also stamp Templar and Masomc symbols on the dollar bill, which survive to this day. The eye enclosed in a triangle echoes the apocalyptic visions of an obscure medieval seer, Joacbim de g Fiore, while the pyramid, left unfinished, suggests a pinnacle of human wisdom that is still to be reached. The symbols reflected the millennial yearnings that fuelled the American Revolution—a belief in building a Heaven on Earth, as well as a better society. They are directly related to the similar symbols that cover the secret scroll of Kirkwall. Henry St Clair had failed in his attempt to build a new Jerusalem in the New World, but the dollar bill and the sacred scroll ensured that his Templar vision lived on.