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A New Rosslyn?

Those seeking a Templar-Mason connection should give up on Rosslyn Chapel and look instead to Kilwinning Abbey

New Rosslyn

The seal of the abbots of Kilwinning


The classic theory goes something like this: the Templars, upon their downfall in the early 14th century, fled to Scotland for protection, reorganised themselves under Robert Bruce and led the Scots to victory on the fields of Bannockburn. At some point, they merged/united with/evolved into Freemasonry at Rosslyn Chapel, where, incidentally, their fabled treasures (arks, cups, scrolls, crowns, miscellaneous decapitated heads and other delightful trinkets) lay buried within the crypts of the Sinclair family.

As things stand, all the leading expon­ents are chasing the same thing, each finding little or nothing of any substance, before writing it up as a potential bestseller. If we try to link the Templars with Freemasonry via Lothian’s Rosslyn Chapel (a structure related to neither order), we are doomed to failure. The connection just isn’t there. Every modern investigation has led its author to the right country (Scotland) but quite clearly to the wrong area (Lothian). As our attention shifts from Rosslyn, we will see that the county of Ayrshire plays host to the oldest titular Masonic lodge on the planet and the highest concentration of Templar properties in Scotland. Records show that the lands of both orders physically overlapped, but this fact has eluded even the most distinguished writers of Masonic history and has until now been buried in the myth of modern Templar-Mason lore.

In 2009, I presented a 50-page thesis for peer review by a group of scholars from the USA and UK, who have since  endorsed it – a move that might make this one of the most important events in recent Masonic history.

Our new Templar-Mason journey begins in the ancient county of Cunning­ham (modern day north Ayrshire) at the mouth of the mysterious Irvine Valley. Kilwinning and Irvine, united since the 12th century, occupy an important and unique (yet widely ignored) position in Templar and Masonic history.

Framed by a vast natural amphitheatre, the Irvine Valley is one of the most picturesque in Britain. It is indeed “questionable if […] so fine a natural panorama, both for richness and extent, is anywhere to be met within the lowlands of Scotland”. [1]  It was, to early commentators, “one of the richest and most interesting vallies [sic] in Scotland, abounding with every topographical resource…” [2]

The first High Constable of Scotland (Hew de Morville) “established his caput (administrative and military centre) in Irvine perhaps as early as 1140”. [3]  The earliest named Lord Chamberlain of the Kingdom (Hubertus, Hebertus or Herbert de Camera ‘Camerarius Regis Scotiæ’) was also “first on record of the ancient Ayrshire family” of Chalmers (c 1153). [4]  The third High Steward of Scotland was styled “ecclesiæ de Dundonald” during his appointment as Judiciary of Scotland in 1230 – as was his great-grandson when crowned King of Scots in 1371. The near-regal office of Guardian of Scotland was at different times occupied by various Ayrshire nobles: James 5th High Steward, Sir William Wallace, Robert Bruce, Robert II and possibly William Lamberton and John de Soulis – all had strong Ayrshire connections or origins.

The density of Templar holdings in Irvine is reflected in the numbers found throughout Ayrshire, and indeed the entire south-west of Scotland, where almost 200 scattered properties have been identified. This is an unusually generous sprinkling of Templars, especially when compared with those found elsewhere in Scotland. In Stirling, for example, there were only seven Templar properties; in Dundee, two; in Lanark, Ayr and Aberdeen, just one. At Rosslyn there were none.

At Irvine, there were an estimated 20 properties within the burgh, five of which were situated in or around the market centre and several more outside it. At Kilwinning, there were at least six Templar properties associated directly with the Abbey, and many others spread throughout the parish.

As extant records confirm, Kilwinn­ing Lodge (a.k.a. The Mother Lodge, Mother Kilwinning, Ancient Lodge of Scotland, MK.0.), was the certified Head Lodge of Scotland in 1599, predating the foundation of the trad­itional earliest Grand Lodge (that of England, est. 1717) by more than a cent­ury. Mother Kilwinning warranted the creation of numerous Masonic lodges all over the world, many of which still bear the name “Kilwinn­ing” within their own title. The most famous of these, Tapahann­ock Kilwinn­ing Lodge, Falmouth Kilwinning Lodge (both in Virginia) and Pythagorean Kilwinning Lodge (in Antigua) were all founded by Kilwinning during a curious schism (1743–1807) in which Scotland was served by both a Head Lodge and a Grand Lodge. Even Canongate Kilwinn­ing Lodge (est. Edinburgh 1677), a founding member of Grand Lodge, was itself a daughter of Kilwinning.

Currently, Mother Kilwinning sits at the top of the Grand Roll, a list of lodges ordered according to antiquity, and has done so for more than 200 years. If this is a mark of respect from an old rival in the east, why has every­one forgotten the crafty old mother and her Templars in the west?

1 The New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, p667.
2 Topographical Account of Cunninghame, 1858, p93.
3 T Campbell: Ayrshire: A Historical Guide, 2003, p204.
4 William Anderson: The Scottish Nation, 1862, vol. 1, p615.

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New Rosslyn

The ruins of Kilwinning Abbey

Author Biography
AJ Morton is an independent researcher and occasional historical columnist who likes to seek out forgotten histories (and a publisher).


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