Priceless Scroll Carbon Dated
by Kath Gourlay
(First published in the Scotsman and the Sunday Times- reproduced by
permission of the journalist)
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
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 whether this was the Kirkwall
Contact with the University of Oxford Research laboratory which
did the radio-carbon dating adds to the mystery by supporting both
"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
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
"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
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
"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''.