It’s a mystery that has provoked wild speculation for decades – is the Stone of Destiny on display in Edinburgh Castle a fake?
When the stone was returned to Edinburgh from Westminster Abbey in 1996, a nation was told its holiest relic had at last come home.
The artefact, used for coronations a millennium earlier, had been spirited away as war booty by the Hammer of the Scots, Edward I, 700 years earlier and was finally back on the right side of the border.
But now, two men have spoken exclusively for the first time about their role in the secretion of what many believe is the “real” Stone of Destiny
And if what the pair say is correct, the genuine article may still be hidden at a secret location somewhere in Scotland.
Charles Henderson, now 72, a retired engineer of Auchtermuchty, was working his way around the country photographing castles in the early 1990s when he befriended David Eaton, now 73, of Meigle, who was at that time custodian of Dunfermline Abbey.
In 1991, Charles was asked by David, who was a chevalier with the Knights Templar, if he would help him move the “real” Stone of Destiny from the former St Columba’s Church in Dundee. Locked inside an iron cage, it had been on display in the Lochee church since 1972 under the care of the Rev Dr John MacKay Nimmo.
A Scottish nationalist organisation, the 1320 Club, claimed it was the genuine stone stolen from Westminster Abbey by four students in 1950 and never returned, whereas the one sent back to Westminster was a replica, made by a Glasgow stonemason.
Charles’ involvement in the scheme came entirely by chance, he admitted in an interview at his home this week.
“I was asked to help because I had a Peugeot 305 diesel van,” he said.
“According to the late Rev Nimmo, after the stone was stolen from Westminister in 1950, the one placed on the high altar at Arbroath Abbey in April 1951 and returned to London, was actually a copy.
“The real one was kept and moved around secret locations under the guard of the Knights Templar.”
Taking his then 14-year-old son Adam with him to Dundee, Charles met up with a group of strangers, including several Knights Templar. The group carried the stone from the Rev Nimmo’s manse – resting only to have their photograph taken for posterity – before loading it into Charles’ van.
Charles said he was then asked to drive it to Hatton Castle, Newtyle.
A few months later he was asked to pick it up again and move it on to a former church, bought by the Knights Templar, at Dull near Aberfeldy, Perthshire, where more photographs were taken with Knights Templar in full regalia.
He understands the stone was later moved to Logie Coldstone, Aberdeenshire – but confesses he “lost track after that”.
Its whereabouts today are a mystery, as is its authenticity.
“In my mind there was always a bit of dubiety about whether it was the ‘real’ stone,“ added Charles, who said he was “too open-minded to be a Scottish nationalist”.
“But Rev Nimmo certainly believed it to be the real stone. He was a man of the cloth and he had no doubt in his mind whatsoever that this was the real stone we were moving.”
Mr Eaton, who says he is no longer involved with the Knights Templar, said he too remained “open minded” as to whether they moved the “real” Stone of Destiny. “Let’s put it this way, the Rev Nimmo believed it to be the real stone,” he added.
“I have an open mind but it’s impossible to prove.”
Of course, another school of thought is that the stone which Edward I spirited to England in 1296 was not even the genuine article to begin with.
Legend has it that under torture, the monks of Scone Abbey duped the English monarch with a fake and that the real stone, reputed to have been used as a pillow by Jacob in biblical times, was hidden and remains there to this day.
Mr Eaton, a fervent Nationalist, reckons this mystery is a long way from being solved.
“Even if the stone at Edinburgh Castle is the stone used for 700 years, it is now historic in its own right,” he said.
“But I believe the stone taken to Westminster Abbey in 1296 was actually a fake, quarried out of the Tay by the monks to fool the invading English Army. The real stone – said to be made from marble – is still out there.”
A spokesperson for Historic Environment Scotland, said: “We are confident the Stone of Destiny on public display at Edinburgh Castle is the stone taken to Westminster Abbey by Edward l in 1296.