The mystery of Rosslyn Chapel has been given a new twist amid claims that the historic building may be hiding more secrets deep underground.
Rumours of long lost vaults said to contain everything from the Holy Grail to a hoard of Templar treasure have been long debated but there has never been evidence of their existence – until now.
A curious painting has emerged showing a Templar Knight standing in front of an intriguing staircase which seems to lead down behind the rear wall of the chapel, to the left of the famous Apprentice Pillar.
It seems to present tantalising evidence not only of the chapel's fabled Templar links, but also a possible doorway to the hidden chambers themselves.
The investigation has been taken up by Scottish symbologist Ashley Cowie, dubbed "the real-ife Robert Langdon", in homage to author Dan Brown's fictional Da Vinci Code grail-hunter, who reveals all in his new book The Rosslyn Templar.
The pastel painting, entitled Templar Knight at Roslin (sic) Chapel by Scottish artist RT McPherson, is dated 1836 and remained in the private ownership of a family of local nobles until its auction at Shapes of Edinburgh four years ago.
The modern order of the Scottish Knights Templar commissioned Mr Cowie, 36, to analyse the painting for evidence of Rosslyn's links to the Templar legend.
While he found little evidence that the Templar symbols in the painting had ever existed inside the chapel in real life, he did spot the mysterious staircase.
Mr Cowie, who was born in Wick but now lives in Glasgow, said: "The book systematically examines the carved symbols and designs that some authors point to as evidence of Templar symbology within the chapel and reveals them to be common symbols in everyday Christianity.
"While a lot of the Templar symbols in the painting don't tie up with features within Rosslyn Chapel, the most interesting feature is the stairwell that also doesn't exist there today.
"It is possible that this stairwell is also the product of artistic license. However, there is a growing amount of scientific evidence from excavations and scans which seems to point to the existence of these chambers, so there is every possibility that this stairwell did exist and that it was once the entrance to the chambers."
Although he has no formal qualifications in archaeology or symbology, Mr Cowie's experience stems from nearly a decade of research into Scottish legends and symbols. Like many people he came to Rosslyn after being captivated by its alleged links to the grail but soon found these theories wanting and turned to some of the real mysteries surrounding the chapel.
He now delivers lectures on the international science festival circuit, is an elected member of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and also holds the rank of Knight Officer in a modern Order of the Scottish Knights Templar.
He said: "It would be fair to call me a reformed grail fanatic, but if my research does lead to the discovery of a hidden chamber containing the holy grail or a hoard of Templar treasure, I will be claiming finder's rights.
"The first thing I'll buy is a fedora hat and a bull-whip, because these things belong to the realms of fiction or what I term the 'loony fringe' of Rosslyn research.
"The chambers won't contain any of these things but, thanks to the results of some 3D scanning work that's going to be published in the next few months, we may be close to finding out what it does contain."
WHAT COULD THE LOST VAULTS CONTAIN?
The Holy Grail:Some say the cup of Christ is encased in Rosslyn's Apprentice Pillar – could it be in the vaults instead?
The remains of Mary Magdelene: Some authors have translated the phrase 'Holy Grail as "sangraal", which can also be translated as "royal blood". Did Mary Magedelene carry a child and the bloodline of Jesus to Rosslyn?
The lost treasure of the Knights Templar: The Templars built their Scottish headquarters at Balantrodoch, a few miles from Rosslyn, but when they were brought to trial in Edinburgh for heresy in 1309, the St Clairs of Rosslyn testified against them. Did the St Clairs steal their treasure and bury it under the church?