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Graffiti. The Royston Cave must be seen.

Royston Cave is a man-made cave in Royston, Hertfordshire, England. Speculation has it that it was used by the Templars, although there is no evidence to support this local hypothesis. Another theory is that the cave was first used in the Neolithic period, when it was used as a flint mine.

Royston Cave is a circular bell-shaped chamber. It is 8 metres high and 5 metres in diameter, with an octagonal platform. One theory is that the cave was divided into two floors by a wooden floor. The origin of the cave is unknown. The cave is unique in Britain (if not the world) because of the many bas-reliefs on its walls. Most of these have pagan themes, but some are thought to depict St Catherine, St Lawrence, and St Christopher.

Link to the Order of the Temple

It is assumed that Royston Cave was used by the Templars, before Pope Clement V suppressed the order in 1312 with the bull Vox in excelso. The soldier-monks held a weekly market in Royston between 1199 and 1254; they came from their commandery at Baldock, 15 kilometres south-west of Royston, and would have asked for a fresh storehouse and a chapel for their devotions. Two carved figures close together and near a damaged section could be the remains of a Templar symbol found on the order's seals: two knights riding a horse.

The rediscovery

Although the origin of the cave is unknown, the story of its rediscovery is well documented. In August 1742, a workman dug a hole in Butter Market to lay the foundations of a new bench for the merchants and their customers. He uncovered what looked like a millstone; he dug around the strange stone to unearth it, and discovered a downward shaft, dug into the chalk floor.

At the time of discovery, more than half of the cavity was filled with earth. Rumour had it that there was a treasure hidden at the bottom of the cave. Several truckloads of earth were removed before the base of the cave was reached. The remaining soil was scattered as it was thought to be of no value, but this is a pity as it contained some bones and pieces of pottery. Modern archaeology might have been able to unlock some of the secrets surrounding this place.

The location of the cave is interesting in itself, as it lies on the route of the Via Icenia, a road that ran from west to east across southern Britain and existed in pre-Roman times 1.

Today, the entrance is no longer through the original opening, but through a passageway dug in 1790. The sculptures can still be admired and are in almost the same condition as when they were made some 800 years ago.

Medieval sculptures

It is thought that these sculptures were originally coloured, as small traces of paint remain. Most of them represent religious scenes. Among them is the Crucifixion, as well as various representations of saints.

St Lawrence is depicted holding the iron gate on which he was martyred. A crowned figure holding a wheel is thought to be a representation of St Catherine. A large figure with a staff and a child on his shoulders is said to be Saint Christopher. Another figure with a brandished sword could be Saint George or Saint Michael, patron saint of the Templars and a recurring figure among Christians. Another borderline religious symbol in the Royston cave is the representation of a naked woman, which is thought to be a Sheela Na Gig2.

There are also numerous holes in the walls of the cave, some of which are located just below the carvings, suggesting that they were used to hold candles or lamps to light the bas-reliefs.

The dating of these sculptures is uncertain, which makes them even more interesting and gives visitors the opportunity to make their own hypotheses about their origin. The cave is open to the public during the summer months.

Source: Image: soolide

Royston Town Council.

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