Royston town is situated at the intersection of what was once the ancient Icknield Way, running south-west from Norfolk to join the Ridgeway and thence to the West country, and Ermine Street, the Roman Road from London to York. It was only after the Norman Conquest in 1066 that Royston begins to develop, but it's possible that a wayside cross marked this intersection from the beginning of the Christian era.
The Cave Shop - Cave entrance is through the archway. Royston Cave Entrance - The open door.
Tickets are purchased in the Cave Shop. Priced at £2.00 per adult, children go free if accompanied by a paying adult or on their own 20p.
By the end of the 13th century the Templars had fallen into disrepute and were accused of heresy leading to their persecution. It is also possible that the Church and Kings throughout Europe wished to lay claim to Templar lands and wealth. In France fifteen thousand members of the order were imprisoned in 1307 and many were subsequently executed by burning. A number of Templars were held in the Chateaux de Chinon in the Loire valley where in the dungeons they carved signs similar to some seen in the Royston Cave. The persecution followed quickly throughout Europe but delays by Edward II in England allowed many Templars to escape to Scotland or possibly go underground. The order was finally suppressed by Pope Clement V in 1312. It is believed that some of the Templar rituals survive in Freemasonry.
The cave has the appearance of being a secret meeting place for the Templars in the period that followed their persecution for heresy which began in 1307. It seems that some time in the 14th century it was no longer needed and the cave was filled in and the entrance shaft sealed with a millstone and then covered over.
The cave remained undetected for the next 400 years. In August 1742, someone decided that the market place at Royston in Hertfordshire ought to have a new bench for the patrons and traders to sit upon. So workmen were duly detailed to get on with the job. In doing so, one of the workmen dug a hole in the Butter Market and, to his surprise, he discovered a buried millstone. Needing to get the object out of the way in order to get decent footings for the bench, the workmen dug around the curious stone and, to their amazement, found beneath it a shaft leading downwards into the chalk. News of the discovery spread like wildfire around the small market town, and the curious had flocked to examine the mysterious hole, and have their 'two penn'oth' on its function. Soon, it was generally decided that there must be treasure buried beneath the soil inside the cave, and there was no shortage of volunteers ready to lend a hand digging for it.
Working at night by lantern light, the diggers slaved away, passing up the soil in buckets to waiting carts. Eventually, several cartloads of soil were removed from the subterranean cavity and bedrock was reached.
During an exceptionally hard winter, in 1790, a local building contractor employed his men to cut a passage into the cave, so that more people could gain access. Previously, entry had been by the precarious route of a rope ladder or, like the denehole explorers of a century later, by being lowered on a rope. The contractor had wished to alleviate unemployment, and make the cave more accessible to the tourists who insisted on coming to see the Hertfordshire curiosity. With this passage cut, a renewed interest was generated, as more and more sightseers flocked to Royston to see it for themselves.
Original enlarged entrance now blocked and lies buried under the road
No scientific archaeological investigation was made at this time and all the earth was discarded as rubbish, but according to the reverent G. North, who visited the cave shortly after its discovery, the contents included, apart from the earth, some decayed bones and a skull, fragments of a small drinking cup and an unmarked piece of brass.
Royston Cave Plan showing original entrance and probable layout.
Stone steps and tunnel leading down to the Templar cave.
Royston cave is a man-made circular chamber cut in the layer of chalk strata below the town. It is roughly bell or bottle shaped and and the lower part measures 17 feet (5.2m) across and almost 27 feet (7.7m) in height.
The lower circular part of the cave, about 10 feet (3m) high, is covered in low relief carvings and are now generally accepted as being the work of the Knights Templar, a powerful medieval order of warrior monks. The carvings seem to have originally been coloured.
A small section of the Royston Templar Cave Carvings
The dominant figure in this section is St Katherine, (top left) of doubtful historical actuality. Stories mentioning her first appeared in the 10th century. She was said to have opposed the persecution of Christians in Alexandria in the early-mid 4th centaury by Maxentius and for her defiance was eventually martyred on a spiked wheel. This could be how the once popular firework, the Katherine Wheel got its name. Possibly she was held in esteem by the Knights Templar following there victory at Ramleh in 1177 over the Saracen Saladin, which occurred on her saint's day, 25th November. Two crucifixions are depicted here, both show two figures below the arms of the cross. I have coloured in some of the carvings to make them clearer and are no indication of their original colouring.
St Katherine Richard I and his wife Berengaria
Below the carving of St Katherine are two smaller figures identified as Richard I and his wife Berengaria, whom he married while on a crusade. She was never crowned Queen of England and this is believed to account for the crown floating above but not on her head.
Long line of figures
The line of figures, that includes men and women, begins with a disembodied head, which might represent John the Baptist. Under torture some Templars did reveal that a 'head' was worshiped. The 'head' like many of the figures and carvings have suffered from the hands of people scratching their initials in the chalk over 100 years ago.
Head of John the Baptist, perhaps. Close-up of some of the figures.
None of the figures can be named but it is thought those marked with a heart are martyrs and those with a cross are saints.
The Holy Sepulcher Carving
The main carving in this section is thought to represent the Holy Sepulcher It once showed, above a large niche, a swathed reclining figure of Christ, now seriously damaged, only the head remains. Early photographs show the complete figure with a hand underneath. To the right of the panel, which has a blue coloration, is a seated figure thought to be Mary Magdalene, or possibly an angel. Above the Sepulcher is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, the arm of God releasing a dove, which seems to be carrying something.
Arm of God releasing a dove which may be carrying an object.
The Mary Magdalene figure. Head of Christ resting on a niche which probably held an object.
Located to the right of the Holy sepulcher is a carving of St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers and ferrymen. Probably included as support of the Knights Templars alleged purpose of protecting and giving safe passage to the pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem. This is the reason the Knight's Templar were formed, but it seems they did little to aid the unfortunate pilgrims on their perilous journey to the Holy Places.
Royston Cave Carvings showing man being burnt at the stake.
This section of carvings seems to be a memorial and has two niches, one large and one small. The figure about to suffer in the flames is wearing a heretic's hat. He is naked and his hands are tied behind him. Around him a pile of faggots are ready for lighting. In preparation for the burning the man's hair and beard have been shaved off. The Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was executed by burning at the stake in 1314 and so it is probable that carving area is a memorial to him. In his memory candles would have been burned in the large niche.
Jacques de Molay St. Lawrence
The right-hand image depicts St. Lawrence, a middle 3rd century martyr, who was the treasurer of the church of Rome. He is often shown holding a bag of money but his distinguishing feature is the gridiron, held in his right hand, on which he was burnt to death. Unfortunately this figure was damaged and repaired badly but he does seem to be holding a bag in his left hand.
Located to the right of St lawrence are three figures, a man, woman and child. These are believed to be the Holy Family, Mary, Joseph and Jesus or Jesus and Mary Magdalene with their child. Below them are pagan fertility symbols.
Pagan fertility symbols including an earth goddess or Shiela-na-gig. Crossed branch.
To the right of the fertility symbols a large crossed branch has been carved and it seems to be on fire if the details at the top are flames.
The large figure shown here was once thought to be Henry II or Saint Michael but it is now believed to be Saint George. He was adopted by the crusaders as a model of knightly chivalry before he became the patron saint of England. As Sylvia Beamon has pointed out, the symbolism of St George is that he rescues a lady, (that is the church) from the devil or the oppressor, represented by the dragon he slew.
Templar myth also informs us that St George was present at the battle of Ramleh, riding alongside the dying king of Jerusalem.
The sword he holds is pointing to a line of figures thought to be Jesus and his twelve disciples with Judas as a small figure in the background 4th figure from the right, squeezed in between the other disciples. St George and the disciples shows the dual religious and military function of the Knight's Templar. During conservation work carried out in 1996/7 a small socket in the left hip was discovered, so he probably carried, in addition to his sword, a wooden lance pinned to the wooden platform above. To the right of St George can be seen one of the two concentric circles, the meaning of which is unknown, but this symbol was clearly important to the templars as it has been used on the blades of their swords. The circle design has, like the other one elsewhere in the cave, been crossed out, presumably in an act of rejection. The crossed out marks defacing the other symbol are different giving credence to the rejection theory. Above the symbol a small area where something has been erased.
Judas squeezed between two disciples. The two defaced circle symbols.
There are many more carvings to explore and I highly recommend a visit to the unique Royston cave to examine them all.
The cave is open on Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays from 2.30 to 5 pm from Easter to the last Sunday in September.
Please remember that the cave is prone to flooding and is liable to be closed without warning if there has been heavy rain.
For more information and how to get there visit the Royston Cave website:
|Ben Hammott's Illustrated Guide to Rennes-le-Chateau No1||Lost Tomb of the Knights Templar||Illustrated Guide to Rennes-le-Chateau No2||
by Ben Hammott
BEN HAMMOTTS LIMITED 1ST EDITION DISCOVERIES ALBUM
The complete set of Bérenger Saunière's 33 Rennes-le-Château Postcards
These are the highest quality examples available
Sauniere's Altar Pillar - Updated + New photos added
'Sauniere Messages' The Radiocarbon Test Results - 20th June 2008
Small Chest Details - 20th June 2008