Review of Freemasonry

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Robert Cooper
by W. Bro. Robert L. D. Cooper
In this article the author talks about his new book.

Robert L. D. Cooper is the Curator of the Grand Lodge of Scotland Museum and Library (Edinburgh) and is custodian of the oldest and most precious Masonic documents anywhere in the world. He is in the most privileged position to know ‘from the inside’ the truth about all the various theories regarding Rosslyn Chapel, Freemasonry, the Knights Templar and the St. Clair family. For the first time a Scottish Freemason, one pre-eminent in the field, speaks out. At last, he says, "Scottish Freemasons themselves are being asked about Freemasonry, Rosslyn Chapel, the Knights Templar etc." This book will provide many of the answers readers of, for example, 'The Temple and The Lodge'; 'The Hiram Key'; and 'The Da Vinci Code' etc. have been seeking.

In the last twenty five years or so there has been a huge amount of material published in the public domain about Rosslyn Chapel, Freemasonry, the Knights Templar and the St. Clair family and a whole host of subsidiary subjects. Beginning with The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln in 1982 Rosslyn Chapel made its début on the international stage but it was not until the publication of The Temple and The Lodge by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh in 1989 that it began to assume a central position within the lore of modern Freemasonry and became part of all the various writings on the previously mentioned subjects. From that very brief cursory mention in 1982, the chapel slowly attracted interest, interest which accelerated, magnifying its position within the lore of Freemasonry and eventually taking it into the realms of a Hollywood block buster movie just released in the cinema world. It has come a very long way indeed in just 25 years – or has it?


Rosslyn has been thought of as a curiosity for a very long time. Visitors since the 17th century have commented on the unusual architecture, obscure carvings and the stories surrounding the and it. For hundreds of years artist have drawn and painted it, authors have written about it and with the invention of photography it has been visually captured on film. The air of mystery that is part of the fascination of the place has been there almost from the start. How and when does Freemasonry, the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail etc. come to be associated with the chapel? What did the Freemasons of Scotland think about it and how did they interpret the place? Did they visit the chapel and, if so, what did they think about it? What did they do there?


Bruno Gazzo Robert Cooper

The author has chosen an interesting and provocative title for his latest book - The Rosslyn Hoax?
So what is it all about I asked?

Bruno V. Gazzo, Editor of PS Review of Freemasonry interviewed the author to find out more...

Bruno Gazzo (BG): Well Robert, you seem to have stirred up something of a storm with you forthcoming book. What do you think about that?


Robert Cooper (RC): The storm or the book?


BG: Oh, I see this is not doing to be easy. Let me try again. Why do you think that your book has kicked up such a storm?


RC: I have no idea, since it has not been published yet – but I suspect it is because people are making all sorts of assumptions based on the title of the book.


BG: Are they anywhere near the mark in their assumptions?


RC: It depends on where one is coming from I suppose. What I will say is that this book is based on years of research and is backed up by a great deal of information and source material.


BG: What kind of information?


RC: Many writers today discuss things as if they are accepted as a matter of fact. What I have done, like any good historian, is to go back to those ‘matters of fact’ and re-examine them. The results of that have been very interesting.


BG: Can you give me any examples?


RC: Yes, from a historian's point of view re-visiting documents such as the so called St. Clair ‘Charters’ has been especially rewarding.


BG: Can you, are you prepared to, say why?


RC: Sure. The so called St. Clair ‘Charters’ are dated 1601 and 1628 and are therefore pretty old by Masonic standards. They hang on the wall of my office not six feet (two meters) from my desk. They, and other important documents, are often used to support one theory or another about the St. Clair family, the Knights Templar, Scottish Freemasonry etc. They are therefore important to those who write on those subjects.


BG: And, so why did you decide to ‘revisit them’, why are they so important?


RC: Let me say this – although many authors today discuss these documents, not one of those authors has ever come to see them.


BG: Please indulge me here – why should they?


RC: These documents are crucial to the understanding of the origins and development of modern Freemasonry, the connections with the St. Clair family, Rosslyn Chapel and all associated subjects such as the Knights Templar. It is a real puzzle why authors would discuss these documents, often in some detail, but not examine the originals.


BG: So this book is all about some musty old documents that are interesting to a very few people like yourself?


RC: If only that were true! No, these musty old documents are treasures, treasures of Scottish history, treasures of Scottish Masonic history. Although these documents are important the book discusses much more than them, for example: Rosslyn Chapel in detail, the origins of Freemasonry, the Knights Templar etc.


BG: Can you tell me what the ‘etc’ is?


RC: Lots of things.


BG: Specifically?


RC: Emm..., The Kirkwall Scroll is an example.


BG: The Kirkwall Scroll has created a lot of interest but why is it central to your book?


RC: I did not say that it was central to my book. It is an important Masonic artefact which, like the St. Clair Charters, I have re-examined for the first time in many years. In fact, I probably spent too much time on that particular artefact – but then I could have written a whole book on that item alone. Look, I cannot tell you everything that is in the book I am under strict instructions.


BG: I understand but is there anything further that you can tell me?


RC: Not really but there are quite a few surprises and some interesting pictures.


BG: Thank you. Can I have another interview once you are rich and famous?


RC: I think that you will wait a very long time for that but you can have another interview anytime you like.


After I became a Freemason I was introduced to an entirely different version of Scottish history to that which I had been taught at school, college and university. This was fascinating. How could so many teachers, professors and others in the educational system have got it so badly wrong? I was delighted! I had a completely new field of history to investigate and it was all on my own doorstep! The Freemasons of Scotland apparently had a secret, esoteric, history which was completely different and unknown to anyone who was not a Freemason. It was not until I was appointed to the position of Curator of the Grand Lodge of Scotland Museum and Library that I began to take a real interest in what was being written about my country’s history and how that impacted on what I knew about Freemasonry in Scotland. However, a new position meant acquiring new skills and learning all the ‘in’s and out’s’ of Freemasons’ Hall, how Grand Lodge operated and so on. That meant that my personal research was again delayed. However, I did begin to notice certain things that were locked away in my memory for future use.


I became aware that authors, TV programme makers and even painters were using Freemasonry to make connections with Rosslyn Chapel and that in itself was very interesting. What did begin to disturb me was the fact that authors, in particular, were writing about ‘Masonic’ documents such as the Schaw Statutes (1598 and 1599); the earliest Lodge records in the world (1599); the so called St. Clair ‘Charters’ (1601 and 1628) and the Falkland Statutes (1638) yet not one of the authors writing about these very documents had come to Freemasons’ Hall. Well, why should they you might ask? Because all these documents are the property of the Grand Lodge of Scotland!


Although that was, to say the least, disappointing there was an impact on my duties as Curator. As more and more writers produced books about the documents they never came to see I began to receive enquiries from all over the world asking questions and seeking confirmation not only about these precious early Masonic documents but also about more peripheral subjects such as Rosslyn Chapel and the St. Clair family. In an attempt to satisfy the demand for information I procured, prepared and edited on behalf of the Grand Lodge of Scotland the first known guide book of Rosslyn Chapel: An Account of the Chapel of Roslin 1778. This was published in 2000 and has now gone to a second reprint. In 2002, at the request of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, I purchased, prepared and edited the very rare work: The Genealogie of the Sainteclairs of Rosslyn based on the manuscripts of Father Richard Augustine Hay and published in a printed form in 1835 by James Maidment, Librarian of the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh. The Grand Lodge’s reprint of this book is especially significant because, for the first time, it provided translations of the numerous Latin documents included in Maidment’s work. I pay tribute here to the translator, Brother John Wade, for his scholarly and patient assistance.


These two works, I had hoped, would help stem the flow of enquiries about Rosslyn Chapel etc. but alas it was not to be and I found myself repeating the same answers over and over again. Many of these questions related to Rosslyn Chapel and so in 2003 I prepared and edited a new, revised, edition of the official Rosslyn Chapel guidebook: The Illustrated Guide to Rosslyn Chapel etc. which had been sold at the chapel since 1892. Thankfully that did slow the number of enquiries being received but then, within a couple of months of its publication, the first edition of the novel The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown appeared in the bookshops. The enquiries started to flood in again – I was back to square one! As sales of the novel soared into the millions and then the tens of millions so did the number of enquires to me multiply. Sadly, I am now custodian not only of the oldest Masonic documents in the world but also of hundreds if not thousands of unanswered letters, e-mails and voicemail messages. I apologise to all who have written but who not received a response.


There was one last gamble – to produce a reasonably comprehensive account, based on all the research over the preceding years, in the hope that it would serve to answer most of the questions being asked. Such a book would also provide the text of all the important documents discussed but never examined by those popular authors who wrote about them.


The title: The Rosslyn Hoax?, is an indication that my research over all these years has resulted in some very interesting facts brought to light for the first time. Has the public been the victim of a massive hoax? That is for you to decide.

The Rosslyn Hoax? web site is at:

Available from the publisher: Lewis Masonic


W. Bro. Cooper became a Freemason in The Lodge of Light, No.1656 (Edinburgh) and was a Founder member of Lodge Edinburgh Castle, No.1764. He became Master of the latter in 1998. In February 2001 he was proud and honoured to be the first Scot in fifty years to be admitted to full membership of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No.2076 (London, England).

He took the three Holy Royal Arch degrees (Mark, Excellent Master and Royal Arch) in Castle Park RAC, No.520 – of which he was Scribe E for many years and is a Past Principal thereof, serving for three years (1987-89). He is also a Knight Templar, (Preceptory of the Eastern Marches – Eyemouth) and a member of the Red Cross of Constantine (St Giles, No.2) and a member of the Supreme Council for Scotland (Edinburgh Conclave, No.1). He was admitted a member of the Grand Lodge of the Royal Order of Scotland in 2003.

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