May 12

William Sinclair, 1410–1484


William Sinclair (1410–1484), 1st Earl of Caithness (1455–1476), 3rd Earl of Orkney (1455–1470), Baron of Roslin was a Scottish nobleman and the builder of Rosslyn Chapel, in Midlothian [1].

According to Dr Robert Lomax, Rosslyn Chapel was bulit to house artifacts brought by the Knights Templar to Scotland in 1126. Lomax states "Between 1118 and 1128 the Templars excavated the ruins of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem. Hugue de Payen, first Grand Master of the Knights Templar, served on the First Crusade with Henri St Clair, First Earl of Roslin and Hugue visited Roslin in 1126 where he was given land to build the first Templar Preceptory outside the Holy Land" [2].  It is possible these artifacts remain hidden in the burials vaults under the chapel floor.

Rosslyn Chapel Aerial View

Construction of Rosslyn Chapel began on 20 September 1456, although it is often recorded as 1446. The confusion over the building date comes from the chapel's receiving its founding charter to build a collegiate chapel in 1446 from Rome. Sinclair did not start to build the chapel until he had built houses for his craftsmen [3].  The orientation is due east & west, marked out by the solar ray by ancient tradition. A double equilateral triangle regulates the proportions at Rosslyn [4].

Rosslyn Chapel Floor Plan

The decorative carving of the chapel was executed over a forty-year period. After the founder's death, construction of the planned nave and transepts was abandoned. The Lower Chapel (also known as the crypt or sacristy) should not be confused with the burial vaults that lie underneath Rosslyn Chapel [5].


Rosslyn by Louise Rayner c. 1860 showing an entrance through the floor to the burial vaults below

Below is a video portrait of the chapel.

The chapel stands on fourteen pillars, which form an arcade of twelve pointed arches on three sides of the nave. At the east end, a fourteenth pillar between the penultimate pair form a three-pillared division between the nave and the Lady chapel.  The three pillars at the east end of the chapel are named, from north to south: the Master Pillar, the Journeyman Pillar, and most famously, the Apprentice Pillar. These names for the pillars date from the late Georgian period — prior to this period they were called The Earl's Pillar, The Shekinah and the Prince's pillar.  All the carvings in Rosslyn were first cut in wood and produced to the Master of Works for inspection before being cut in stone. This is one of the earliest examples of Quality Control in Britain.

Inside Rosslyn Chapel looking east from the nave towards the lady chapel

The layout of Rosslyn, which was started in 1440, is an exact replica of the ground plan of the Third Temple, built in Jerusalem by Herod and destroyed in the First Century by the Romans [2].  The layout of Herod's Temple was not known to archeologists until the mid nineteenth century, nearly four hundred years after the construction of Rosslyn; The Sinclair Family were keepers of secrets.

Rosslyn and Herod's Temple from The Hiram Key by Dr Rober Lomax

On the architrave joining the The Apprentice Pillar the chapel's only Latin inscription reads "Forte est vinum fortior est rex fortiores sunt mulieres super omnia vincit veritas", which means "wine is strong, a king is stronger, women are stronger still, but truth conquers all".  The quote comes from the story of Zerubbabel in 1 Esdras, an ancient Greek version of the biblical Book of Ezra in use among ancient Jewry and the early church [6].

Forte est vinum fortior est rex fortiores sunt mulieres super omnia vincit veritas. Wine is strong, a king is stronger, women are stronger still, but truth conquers all

Mention of Zerubbabel primarily serves the purpose of describing the return to Judah following the exile from Babylon and the construction of the Second Temple.  1 Esdras 3-4 tells the story of a speech-writing competition between three bodyguards of Darius I, in which the winner would receive honor and riches from the King. The first two spoke about the strength of wine and the strength of kings, respectively, but the winner was Zerubbabel, the third bodyguard, who spoke about the strength of women and truth.  After Zerubbabel won the competition, he was given sanction to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem (Herod's Temple, described above) and return the sacred Temple vessels that Nebuchadnezzar II had preserved after the conquest of Babylon. [7]

Though he is not mentioned in Craft Freemasonry, Zerubbabel is considered to be of great importance to a number of Masonic bodies. Within the Holy Royal Arch, and Royal Arch Masonry he is considered to be a ruling principal.  In the Knights Templar his example of truth and fidelity is used as the foundation of the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross.  All three degrees of Knight Masonry deal specifically with the life and time of Zerubbabel. [7]

The inscription on one of the grave stones inside the chapel reads: "William de St. Clair, Knight Templar".  Although it is uncertain to which of the many William Sinclair’s this refers [6]; dating of the sword hilt shape and the Lombard lettering suggest one particlar William St Clair who fought with Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn and died in 1328 while taking Bruce's heart to buried in Jerusalem [8].  The St Clairs of France later became the Sinclairs of Scotland.

Gravestone of William de St. Clair, Knight Templar at Rosslyn Chapel

The grave stone symbols are shown below.  According to author Andrew Sinclair the crusading sword lies next to the symbol of the holy grail, which represents the knight's quest to experience unity with the divine [9].  A small templar cross and the knight's name are carved on the other side of the grail symbol.  The last two letters ER are turned up in a right angle in the set square pattern of Templars and masons [10].

At the base of the grail symbol are 3 steps, which are used in Freemasonry as symbol of the 3 degrees of initiation in the Blue Lodge.  At the top is an octagon with a fleur de lis blosoming from each corner, which mirrors the octagonal Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount, from where the Templars originally operated.

Gravestone of William Sinclair

Eight pointed arches in the Lady Chapel re-enforce the octagonal theme.

Eight Pointed Arch in The Lady Chapel and Journeyman Pillar (left) and Apprentice Pilllar (right)

The "Apprentice Pillar", or "Prentice Pillar", gets its name from a legend dating from the 18th century involving the master mason in charge of the stonework in the chapel and his young apprentice.

Apprentice Pillar known earlier as The Prince's Pillar

According to the legend, reminiscent of the story of Hiram Abiff, the master mason did not believe that the apprentice could perform the complicated task of carving the column without seeing the original which formed the inspiration for the design. The master mason travelled to see the original himself, but upon his return was enraged to find that the upstart apprentice had completed the column anyway. In a fit of jealous anger the mason took up his mallet and struck the apprentice on the head, killing him. The legend concludes that as punishment for his crime, the master mason's face was carved into the opposite corner to forever gaze upon his apprentice's pillar.

Author Henning Klovekorn has proposed that the pillar is representative of one of the roots of the Nordic Yggdrasil tree, prominent in Germanic and Norse mythology. He compares the eight dragons at the base of the pillar to the dragons found eating away at the base of the Yggdrasil root and, pointing out that at the top of the pillar is carved tree foliage, argues that the Nordic/Viking association is plausible considering the many auxiliary references in the chapel to Celtic and Norse mythology [3].


Next to the Apprentice Pillar is the Journeyman Pillar, which displays a series of pentagrams supporting musical angels; the angels replace the missing top triangle in each pentagram.  Above the angels, and throughout the Lady Chapel, are cubes carved with symetrical patterns. [10]

Journeyman pillar

Thomas Mitchell and his son Stuart claim that a total of 215 “musical cubes” in the pillars and arches of Rosslyn Chapel are found to match 13 unique geometrical sound patterns, known as Chladni figures or Cymatics. These patterns are produced when a metal plate is sprinkled with salt or powder and vibrated by sound frequencies.  Documented first by Ernst Chladni in 1787 (300 years after Rosslyn Chapel was finished), the patterns can range from primitive polygons like triangles, pentagons and hexagons to beautiful Mandela-like patterns, depending on which frequencies are used.

According to Richard Merrick , to the medieval Catholic Church, Egyptian ideas of resonance were considered part of a Pantheistic belief of God in nature and were a direct threat to the Christian belief of God outside of nature. As a result, the geometry of the pentagram and certain resonant intervals were considered unfit for use in the Church. This was especially true for the musical interval of three whole tones (six half-steps) known as the tritone.

Known as Diabolus in Musica, or the Devil in Music, the tritone is very strongly related to this ancient understanding of resonance, sharing what we will call for now, an “inverse harmonic relationship” with a consonant major sixth. The Rosslyn stave angel emphasizes this fact by pointing to the part of the tritone interval known as the “leading tone”. As a matter of fact, the melody in the cubes emphasizes the tritone in a way that would have been unacceptable to the Catholic Church in the 15th century.

Banned by Pope Gregory IX in 1234, the tritone was and still is outlawed in Catholic music. As a result, the Freemasons hid their use of this forbidden interval by encoding it as cymatic symbols in the chapel architecture. This was their way of preserving what they considered sacred Egyptian knowledge at a time when Europe was hostile to such beliefs. But there is another twist to this story that takes the concept of resonance to an even higher level of theosophical symbolism. [10]

Jeff Nisbit offers some interesting insights into alterations made to Rosslyn during restoration with respect to the the work of John and Stuart Mitchell. [11]

There are many carvings of plants at Rosslyn and two of the most interesting are thought by Andrew Sinclair and others to represent native species of America which were carved prior to Christopher Columbus's discovery of The New World in 1492.  According to Sinclair the Templars/Freemasons sailed from Scotland to Nova Scotia around 1398.  The carvings are suggestive, but not altogether convincing.

American corn (maize) surrounds the window in the broadest arch


Aloe Cactus

Other carvings at Rosslyn which provide evidence of a link to the esoteric symbolism of The Knights Templar and/or Freemasonry include the Green Man, which is also seen in Templar churches in Jerusalem [12]; the fallen and bound angel (Lucifer) and the knight on horse back.

Green Man, Knight and Lucifer

On the lower frame of the window in the South West corner of the Chapel there is a carving which seems to be of a Freemasonic First Degree [2].  The figure shows a man kneeling between two pillars. He is blindfolded and has a rope about his neck and in his left hand he holds a bible. The end of the rope about his neck is held by another man who is wearing the mantle of a Knight Templar.

The way of dressing for initiation into the Entered Apprentice (first) Masonic Degree is to wear rough white clothing folded back to reveal particular parts of the body. The candidate is blindfolded (Masons say "hoodwinked") and has a running rope noose, called a cable tow, about his neck.

Rosslyn Chapel carving (1 and 2). Outline drawing (3) and Masonic candidate who is correctly dressed for an inititation ceremony standing before the two pillars (Jachin and Boaz) that appear in every Masonic Lodge (4).



  1. Wikipedia, William Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness, 27 May 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Sinclair,_1st_Earl_of_Caithness
  2. Robert Lomas, The Origins of Freemasonry, 25 August 2000, http://www.robertlomas.com/Freemason/Origins.html
  3. Wikipedia, Rosslyn Chapel, 1 June 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosslyn_Chapel
  4. Edinburgh Architecture, Rosslyn Chapel, 3 June 2012, http://www.edinburgharchitecture.co.uk/rosslyn_chapel.htm
  5. Harry Drumond, Dudley Mall, Louise Rayner in Southern Scotland, February 2012,   http://www.dudleymall.co.uk/loclhist/rayner/louisesouthernscotland.htm
  6. Wkipedia, 1 Esdras, 2 June 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Esdras
  7. Wikipedia , Zerubbabel, 2 June 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zerubbabel
  8. Andrew Sinclair, The Sword and the Grail, 1992, http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Sword-Grail-Templars-Discovery/dp/1841582182
  9. Coast to Coast AM, Rosslyn Chapel - Secrets & History, 17 May 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4ExaFfj3Xc
  10. Richard Merrick, The Frozen Music of Rosslyn Chapel, 1 August 2007, http://www.interferencetheory.com/Articles/files/544e307e7c540c745a0340683695d1a0-3.html
  11. Jeff Nisbet, Rosslyn Pillars and Cubes, December 2010,   http://www.scribd.com/doc/45077790/Rosslyn-s-Pillars-Cubes
  12. Wikipedia, Green Man, 5 June 2012,    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Man