Reader of the Lost Stone

by Jeff Nisbet

(Originally published in Fortean Times #146 — May, 2001, and republished in the June, 2003, Journal of the Rennes Alchemist)

Editor’s Intro: The templars left no written documents testifying to their beliefs–at least none that have been allowed to survive. Jeff Nisbet has found one carved in stone.

In the pre-dawn hours of Friday, the 13th of October, 1307, King Phillip “the Fair” of France, with the full knowledge and blessing of his lackey in Rome, Pope Clement V, attempted to round up and exterminate the then 200-year-old chivalric order of warrior monks known as the Knights Templar. The barbarity of the methods subsequently used to extract confessions to such charges as heresy, blasphemy, sorcery and sodomy, has become the stuff of legend, and Friday the 13th has been considered unlucky ever since.

The fact that Phillip owed the order a small fortune has given mainstream historians a creditable-enough reason for his actions, if not his excesses. But according to a line of speculative reasoning which has become more popular since the 1982 publication of the ever-controversial The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, there was perhaps another reason.

It is now thought by many that the Templars had uncovered evidence that Jesus Christ, contrary to church dogma, had not been born of a virgin, had not died on the cross, had not risen from the dead, and had not ascended bodily into heaven, but in fact had sired children with a wife, the much-maligned Mary Magdalen, thereby establishing a “holy bloodline” that would beget and begat its way over the centuries through some of the highest and mightiest families of Europe, and is begatting still.

But Phillip’s pre-dawn raid was not a complete success. It’s thought that a fair number of Templars may have tumbled to the plot and sailed away, with their treasure and their truth, to Bonnie Scotland, scoring great points with King Robert the Bruce by helping win the day against the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, the same year that Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay was slow-roasted to death on an island in the River Seine.

And so, outlawed throughout the rest of Europe, the Templars had found a sanctuary of sorts in Fair Caledonia, and are thought to have been absorbed, and thereby concealed for safety’s sake into a similar chivalric brotherhood–the Knights Hospitaller–an order that still remained in the good graces of Rome.

No Templar document has ever been found which testifies to a belief in that “holy bloodline.” And who can blame them, given their history, for not putting pen to parchment?

They did, however, inscribe that belief in code, on a fairly large stone high atop a decrepit, roofless church in the tiny Midlothian village of Temple–ancient headquarters of the Knights Templar in Scotland–and it is there, on Aug. 5, 1999, that I showed up.

I was visiting a good friend of mine in the area, who pointed the stone out to me and told me the inscription had never been deciphered. That was all I needed. I shot the photographs that accompany this article and, after returning to the US, put my thinking cap on.

The inscription on the East side of the stone consists of two lines: VÆSAC and MIHM. The second line has been “justified” to make it the same width as the first. On the North side the letters RI have been added, but with less care, in a different hand, and probably at a later date.

Bearing in mind that there were no letters U and J in classical Latin (V and I were used instead), my translation is as follows:

VÆSAC is an anagram of the Latin word CAVSÆ, or “Cause.” What that cause was is revealed in MIHM, which is an anagram of an acronym, and which translates as the Heirs of Mary Magdalen and Jesus.

If my translation of the inscription proves to be correct, as I believe it eventually will, the Templars’ cause, their raison d’etre, as implied by several books written within the last 20 years, was to protect the heirs of Jesus and Mary Magdalen.

The letters RI were a bit more problematic. Although it took me a while, their proximity to VÆSAC eventually led me to believe that they were meant to be introduced into the general mix, creating the letter string VÆSACRIMIHM. This string revealed a second code, embedded in the first, which related to yet another Templar legend–that Henry Sinclair of Orkney, grandfather of the man who built Rosslyn Chapel, made a voyage of discovery to North America in 1396, 96 years before Christopher Columbus is historically credited with that feat.

As I pondered the inscription the word AMERICA suddenly jumped out at me, leaving the letters VSIHM. Just like the second line of the first code, these letters proved also to be an anagram of an acronym. That acronym stands for Henry Sinclair Made 1st (or “one”) Voyage, or “I, Henry Sinclair, Made Voyage”. Amazingly, the letters MIV are perhaps yet a third embedded code–acceptable crypto-shorthand for 14th Century. Whoever added the RI was leaving little to chance!

[Note: There is actually yet a fourth code embedded in the inscription which, due to space considerations, I cut from my original article. I include it here. VÆSAC plus RI deciphers as SACRE VIA, or “Sacred Way.” It’s my opinion that the inscribed stone at Temple lay along a path of initiation for those who, over time, were initiated into the “higher mysteries” of the Templars. When that path fell into disuse, or if indeed it ever did, is open for debate.]

My translation of VÆSAC MIHM has been called “very ingenious” and “very persuasive” by an eminent Scottish archaeologist. I have since written three applications to Historic Scotland, the government department that protects the property, for permission to conduct an inexpensive and minimally invasive on-site investigation, and have been turned down. HS has accused me of playing a “pleasurable game of anagrams” which, it says, is “no substitute for methodical research,” and that “without clear evidence” of the existence in Scotland of a “cult of Mary Magdalen as the bride of Christ,” my reasoning, “while interesting, cannot be regarded as having any basis in fact.” My argument that perhaps the inscription may be that clear evidence has so far fallen on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, HS plans to sink a bundle into making Urquhart Castle a more tourist-friendly and all-inclusive lookout perch for the Loch Ness Monster. There’s enough “clear evidence” for Nessie, I guess!

So what should all this mean to us, and why should it matter?

Briefly put: If the Templar legends of a holy bloodline and Henry Sinclair’s voyage of discovery eventually prove to be true, then world history as it has been presented to us must be radically altered. If these legends prove not to be true, yet have been believed to be true down through the ages by a privileged and influential few, then perhaps the course of history has already been altered, in ways we can only guess at. Either way, the inscription on the Temple stone deserves a closer look.

I’ll be returning to Scotland later this year, and will spend a few hours in Temple. Once again I will look up at the inscription, and wonder. But I mustn’t touch. Touching has been strictly forbidden

— END —

TOO EARLY FOR AMERICA

Here is an interesting letter-to-the-editor Fortean Times ran (UK Aug. 2001, US Sept.).
It is followed by an Editor’s Note, which is followed by my response:

“With regard to the article by Jeff Nisbet, ‘Reader of the Lost Stone’ [FT 146:47], is this meant to be a leg-pull, perhaps?

There seems to be some confusion in the rendering of the Latin ‘inscription’ væsacrimihm. While there could, just conceivably, be a chronogram in that inscription, it beggars belief that the author could have made the word America from this if he claims the inscription is 14th-century in date.

Had the author looked up in any reference book the derivation of the name America, he would have found that the name appears on no map, printed or manuscript, prior to the great 12-sheet xylographic map printed in 1507 by Martin Waldseemüller, on which the New World was named in honour of the voyager Amerigo Vespucci, Pilot Major to the Casa de Contratación, the Spanish clearing house for all overseas voyages at Seville. On this map, the name America appears in what we now call Brazil. Waldseemüller’s map is generally held to have been printed at Strasburg in an edition of 1,000 copies, only one of which is known to have survived, at Schloss Wolfegg in Germany. Or is Mr. Nisbet recording an early example of time-travel!”

—JJS Goss, MA, FRGS, Bletchley, Buckinghamshire

EDITOR’S NOTE

Besides the Vespucci hypothesis, the Oxford Gazetteer offers an alternative origin for the name America: “Another suggestion is that it was named after a Bristol merchant, Richard Ameryk (or Amerik), who is said to have invested in Cabot’s second voyage. As a customs collecter he paid Cabot his pension of 20 pounds, but whether his name was used for the new land is a matter of speculation.”
MY REPLY

Although there are at least two theories about the origin of the word “America” that we were not taught in primary school, I will not argue them here. But I will say this:

Nowhere in my article do I write that the inscription on the stone at Temple is contemporary with the original building. On the contrary, I specifically state that the letters RI (without which the word “America” cannot be found) appear to have been added at a later date. When that date was, I do not know, but the belfry was rebuilt in the late 17th or early 18th centuries. It is unclear whether or not the inscribed stone was part of that rebuilding, or whether it was incorporated from the earlier structure.

I do, however, attribute the original inscription to the Knights Templar–an order that standard references tell us was dissolved in 1307. I have good reasons to believe (and I am far from alone in this) that the Templars continued to exist for many years after the 1307 dissolution of the order, and so the letters RI could certainly have been inscribed after Amerigo managed to get his name on Waldseemüller’s 1507 map.

It’s interesting to note, however, that Waldseemüller’s later maps of 1513 and 1516 do not include the name–and we are free to wonder why. It’s also interesting to note that a sole-surviving map out of an edition of 1,000 (a large press run at that early date) is certainly suggestive of something, if not conclusive of much. Finally, it’s interesting to note that the 1507 map was produced under the patronage of Duke Renaud II of Lorraine who, as titular “King of Jerusalem,” may possibly have had some binding “family” reasons for attempting to conceal a prior origin of the word.

Time will no doubt tell. But until Historic Scotland agrees to climb up the east wall of the ruined church at Temple and take a closer and more open-minded look, I will continue to wonder, and point, from below. I’d appreciate some company!

[Note about the map (not included in my reply): I recently read that Waldseemüller’s 1507 map has been purchased by the US Library of Congress for $5 million. According to the article I read, it will be the “crown jewel” of its map collection.]

POSTCRIPT

Since the publication of my article in Fortean Times, I have periodically searched “VAESAC MIHM” (without the Æ ligature) on various internet search engines just to see if my findings had generated any kind of buzz on the world wide web. I never got a “hit” until 26 August 2001. The “Temple, Midlothian” page of the Gazetteer for Scotland website (a page I had visited several times while researching my article) had recently added the following:

“The old parish church may date back to the 12th C., but is more likely built by the Knights of St. John [Kinights Hospitaller] soon after they succeeded the Templars in 1312. The inscription VAESAC MIHM on the gable-end tends to confirm this. It has been translated as Vienne Sacrum Concilium Militibus Johannis Hierosolymitani Melitensibus or ‘The Sacred Council of Vienne, to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem and Malta”.

On 17 August 2001 I Emailed the Gazetteer’s “feedback” link asking for the documentation used for the translation, but received no reply. On 8 Sept. I Emailed one of the original developers of the site with the same request. On 11 Sept. I received a reply which included the following two sources in which the translation is “mentioned”: 1. Lang, Theo (ed.) (1952) The Queen’s Scotland: Edinburgh and the Lothians, Hodder and Stoughton, London. 2. Thomas, Jane (1995) Midlothian: An Illustrated Architectural Guide. The Rutland Press, Edinburgh.

I am tracking those books down, and will update this site on the documentation used in them when it becomes available.

In the meantime, you may be interested in knowing some of the other arguments (not included in my article) that Historic Scotland used to stymie my requests for a more thorough investigation of the Temple site. Here are two of them:

• As you point out, the inscription is enigmatic. All the more so because it is doubtful that it is complete. In the 1920s it was still possible to decipher two further letters (RI) on the other face of the stone. Indeed the cut into the stone of the adjacent bell-rope may have removed other parts of the inscription.

• While your deciphering of the inscription of the stone is ingenious, it supposes that the inscription is complete and that the stone has not been reused from another location; in both cases there is room for doubt.

Historic Scotland obviously did not know of the existence of an earlier translation when it corresponded with me. It would have mentioned it in its correspondence if it had. Although I have not yet approached them on the matter for an opinion, I somehow feel that they would not use those same arguments against the Gazzetteer’s posted translation that they used against mine. Unsatisfying tho’ the Gazetteer’s posted translation becomes when you begin to work with it as a code, it nevertheless fits into the officially accepted version of history we are taught in school#while mine, which works letter-for-letter and ligature-for ligature, does not.

One final note: It would not surprise me that early 14th-century “heretics” on the run would build a certain amount of “deniability” into any code they carved in stone. It does surprise me, however, that in these enlightened times we are still not permitted to investigate that possibility!

Stay tuned …

POSTCRIPT 2

A third source of the Gazetteer for Scotland’s translation was provided to me by a high-ranking officer in the modern-day Scottish order of the Knights Templar (the Militi Templi Scotia). He trotted out essentially the same translation of the inscription that the Gazetteer had posted, but attributed the translation to Nigel Tranter, a recently deceased (2000) writer and historian who has become affectionately known as “Scotland’s Storyteller.” The officer also told me that while I am entitled to my opinions, they are not “informed opinions.” When I wrote back saying that “informed opinions” are opinions one has been “informed” about, and so may have little to do with “Truth,” I got silence in reply – a sound I have become used to.

I researched all three given sources of the translation on my April 2002 trip to Scotland, and list my findings here. The most recent is listed first.

1995: Jane Thomas says in her Midlothian: An Illustrated Architectural Guide, that the inscription “may stand for Vienne Sacrum Militibus Johannis Hierosolymitani Melitensibus (The Sacred Council of Vienne, to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem and Malta),” but gives no attribution

1975: Nigel Tranter says in his Portrait of the Lothians book that “there is a strange inscription on the east gable which long puzzled antiquaries, ‘VAESAC MIHM.’ This is now thought to be the initial letters of Vienne Sacrum Concilium Militibus Johannis Hierosolymitani Melitensibus (The Sacred Council of Vienna, of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem and of Malta).” Tranter gives no attribution to the translation

1952: Theo Lang says in his Edinburgh and the Lothians book that “the letters on the gable, ‘VAESAC MIHM,’ have been translated as the initials for ‘Vienne Sacrum Concilium Militibus Johannis Hierosolymitani Melitensibus’ (The Sacred Council of Vienne, to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem and Malta).” No attribution is given by Lang, either.

Neither of the three sources, spanning the years 1952 through 1995, give the original source of the translation which has now become well-enough accepted as historically accurate source material for both Edinburgh University’s Gazetteer for Scotland, and the Scottish Knights Templar, and yet both the Gazetteer and the Knights are content that the translation is an accurate one.

Only time will tell…

© Jeff Nisbet

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