Knights Templar carvings found under Hertfordshire town centre

800-year-old carvings lie under a road junction at Royston Cave

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Credits: Cambridge news WS

These are the stunning medieval carvings found inside a 800-year-old Knights Templar cave deep under a crossroads in a Hertfordshire town centre.

The ancient Royston Cave, carved into the chalk bedrock, was used by the same religious order that fought in the Crusades.

See also: 'Rabbit hole' leads to incredible Knights Templar cave in Shropshire

See also: Ten unexplained archaeological discoveries

There's been renewed interest in the secret organisation in recent years on the back of the Dan Brown book The Da Vinci Code - which speculates that they may have found and hidden the Holy Grail somewhere in the UK.

This cave lies under the junction of a Roman Road in Royston, on the Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire border.

The Cambridge News reports that it comprises cylindrical lower and bell-shaped upper parts totalling 17ft diameter and 25.5ft in height.

Credits: Cambridge news WS

These ornate images found inside this ancient monument were captured by photographer Keith Jones.

One image of the carvings show two figures close together near a damaged section - all that remains of a Templar symbol showing two knights riding a horse.

Credits: Cambridge news WS

The carvings in the cave also include four saints:

1. St. Christopher, patron saint of travellers - below the original entrance - with the infant Jesus on his shoulder and staff in hand

2,. St. Katherine high up on the west part of the wall

3. St. Lawrence who was martyred on a gridiron

4. Either St. Michael or St. George, patron saint of England, wielding a sword which points to what might be the twelve apostles - with Judas the small figure at the back.

Credits: Cambridge news WS

Other carvings show calvary scenes with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John The Baptist - as well as a group believed to show the Holy Family - but uncertainty surrounds the remaining figures.

The official website for the cave says that the large panel on the left of St. Christopher "represents the Holy Sepulchre having a damaged figure of Christ awaiting the resurrection above the large niche on the left".

It continues: "Mary Magdalene, or an angel on the right-hand side sits on the stone rolled away from the entrance.

Credits: Cambridge news WS

"The dove and the hand above may represent the Holy Spirit. The niche below probably held a lamp.

"The long row of figures below includes both men and women and although none can be identified those marked with crosses are possibly saints and those with hearts may be martyrs.

"The two small figures below St. Katherine may be (although this is by no means certain) Richard I (Lion Heart) and his Queen Berengaria whose crown is shown floating above her head as she was never actually crowned Queen.

Credits: Hulton Archive

"Beneath St. Lawrence is a figure with upraised arms that has been variously identified as King William of Scotland and King David."

Some believe the cave's shape is modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

It was discovered by accident in 1742 by workmen who removed a millstone to find a well-like shaft down into a dark cavern - about 2ft (60cm) diameter and 16ft (4.8m) deep.

Credits: Bibliothque Municipale

Toeholds had been cut into the chalk to form rudimentary steps - and records say a small boy was "volunteered" to make the first descent.

The domed ceiling, which is now bricked and grilled, was complete and partly tiled - and lay just a foot below the surface of the road.

Credits: Perspectives

Perspectives

They also found what is now named the East Shaft which is believed to have been a chimney or air vent.

Investigators found some decayed bones and a skull, fragments of a small drinking cup and a small unmarked piece of brass.

Much to everyone's disappointment, no real buried treasure was discovered hidden - but for the carvings in the lower part of the chamber.

Credits: Cambridge news WS

Cambridge news WS

Early visitors came down the original 'North entrance' with the help of ladders but a new entry point was built in 1790 by bricklayer Thomas Watson who cut a 72ft (22m) long tunnel between the Town House and the only place in the cave wall not covered with carvings.

Mr. Watson was able to charge six pence for each visit - not cheap in those days.

The Cave was Grad 1 listed by English Heritage in 1964 and leased from the then owners by Royston Town Council who installed the railings and lighting.

Credits: Cambridge news WS

Cambridge news WS

The whole surface of the lower part of the cave is covered with names cut by visitors - but steps have been taken in recent years to prevent people touching the carvings.

Nowadays gate keeper James Robinson is the only person with the keys to this ancient monument - and the Cambridge News reports that he won't reveal its secrets to just anyone...

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