Historical Notes: Is the head of Christ buried in Scotland?

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AT STE Baume, in the South of France, lie the relics of St Mary Magdalene, Christ's companion, and at St Maximin the head of the eponymous saint. Given the existence of these, and other relics of Christ's contemporaries, is it possible that the head of Jesus himself might also have survived?

The Knights Templar worshipped a long-haired, bearded head known as Baphomet, meaning "Father of Wisdom". However, unlike their medieval contemporaries, who openly worshipped the heads of every possible saint, the Templars adored their head in the deepest secrecy, with an almost paranoid attention to security. Why?

The answer lies in orthodox Christian dogma, which insists that Christ ascended into heaven in the physical body - so no trace of his remains could have remained on earth. To voice a different opinion, during the Middle Ages, was to risk ruin and death. Might it be, then, that the Baphomet was a forbidden relic, of Christ himself?

But why would anyone take the head of Jesus? There is, in fact, evidence of a cult of the head in Palestine, and of Jesus's connection to a head- cult, perhaps even of an unorthodox burial. Archaeological evidence has revealed a 5,000-year-old head cult in the Levant, with head caches found in Judaea. The heads of heroes and holy men were taken after their death and worshipped. Among the Jews, the head cult manifested itself in the Natzorites, who held both head and hair as holy. Samson is the best-known member of the cult, but later members included John the Baptist, Jesus himself and James the Just, who took over as leader of the Jerusalem Church after Christ's death.

When we come to Christ's crucifixion, the evidence for unorthodox burial is unassailable. In John's Gospel, Nicodemus visits the tomb at night, carrying 100lb of aloes and myrrh (John xix,39). However, Dr Joseph Zias, an authority on ancient Jewish burials, is adamant that such spices were absent from orthodox Jewish ritual. How then do we explain this gospel report? A medieval text that draws heavily on the Gospel of Nicodemus seems to provide the answer. It states that, after the burial, this same Nicodemus had in his possession a carved head of Jesus which was unbelievably lifelike, "nor could it have been made by human hands". But Nicodemus was an aristocrat, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin; it is simply not feasible to imagine him a master-carver.

Nicodemus would also have had access to the Jerusalem Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans around 30 years after the crucifixion. Although destroyed, rumours circulated that treasure and relics lay hidden beneath the Temple, reports confirmed in the Treasure Scroll, discovered at Qumran. The Knights Templar are known to have excavated beneath the Temple and shortly thereafter certain Templars began burying their dead with their heads removed. They also had possession of the mysterious head, the Baphomet.

When the Templar Order was suppressed by the Pope and French King in 1307, no trace was found of the head or treasure. Shortly before this, a small group left Paris with three treasure carts and made its way to Scotland. The king, Robert the Bruce, had been excommunicated and the Pope's writ did not run in his realm.

Just 150 years later, a Templar Grand Master built a "Chapel" at Rosslyn, a building filled with esoteric carvings and symbols. It is beneath the "Glory of Rosslyn", the so-called Apprentice Pillar, that I believe the head to be buried. The carvings on the pillar link it directly with Jesus, and contain reference to an embalmed Head of God buried beneath it, a head whose title, astonishingly, is identical to the Templar's Baphomet - Father of Wisdom.

Keith Laidler is author of 'The Head of God: the lost treasure of the Templars' (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, pounds 20)