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Gilmerton Cove - Does It Hold Roslin Chapel Secrets?

Updated on June 29, 2012

Gilmerton Cove

Gilmerton Cove is a secret network of 300 year old vaults and passageways lying beneath the street of a sleepy suburb of Edinburgh. Deep below ground lies a long forgotten underground labyrinth of tunnels and rooms, on the outskirts of Scotland’s capital city. Rumoured to be a secret meeting place of Freemasons and the Knights Templars, Gilmerton Cove remains a mystery, despite excavations as recently as 2002.

Some four miles from the centre of Edinburgh lies Gilmerton, a small mining village; there beneath an unassuming cottage lies the cove; carved from the sandstone bedrock.

The origins of the cove are surrounded in myth and lore.

What is known is that the property above the chambers was occupied by a blacksmith known as George Paterson, who lived there from 1719 to 1724.

Paterson did use the rooms, accessed from stone steps from the property above, amounting to 1000 square feet, and including beds, couches and tables carved from the rock; bedrooms, fireplace, workshop and forge. He lived there with his family but was also charged by the Kirk for operating an illegal drinking den on the Sabbath.

Covenanters and Witch Hunts

In 1792 after Paterson's death the cove was investigated by the Rev Thomas Whyte, who concluded that the chambers could not have been excavated by Paterson himself, the work was too extensive for one man to complete in five years. Paterson; being a blacksmith also lacked the stonemasonry skills needed to carry out such complex and detailed work.

A further investigation in 1897 by F R Coles of the Scottish Museum of Antiquities also concluded that chisel marks and other evidence pointed to a much earlier creation of the cove. During the time of the covenanters in 1600s Scottish Presbyterians were persecuted, and many sought refuge to practice their religion in secret dens and hides, away from the eyes of the authorities. The 1500s also saw a time of witch persecution, where hundreds of women were hunted and killed for their devilish practices.

Within the cove there is a large stone basin called the punch bowl, which could equally have been used as a font for religious practices or as a cauldron.

After Paterson's death the cove became a den of vice, local stories abound of an illegal distillery, brothel, hell fire club and satanic meetings.

Masonic Connection

Gilmerton Cove has been only recently been excavated, in 2002. There are a large number of masonic carvings on many stone faces and surfaces, notably the masonic compass, the single most important symbol used within freemasonry. A geometric symbol and an architect’s tool, the symbol serves to remind freemasons to be "square in their dealings" and "circumscribe desires".

This evidence may suggest that the cove was used as an underground meeting place for a masonic lodge. The Order of the Masonic lodge owes its existence to the Knights Templars, also spotlighted in the nearby Roslin Chapel. Some speculate that this could be the final resting place of the Holy Grail, brought to Scotland by the Knight’s Templars. What better hiding place could there be than this sleepy unassuming mining town, just a stone’s throw from Roslin Chapel.

Excavations in 2002 have revealed that the vaults may be more extensive than first thought, there are two passageways blocked by falling rock, one which runs the street, and heads in the exact direction of Roslin chapel, only three miles to the south. The other passageway heads in the direction of Craigmillar castle, a medieval fortification built in 1400 AD and just a mile to the East.

Permission for further excavation has been declined for the time being, the removal of the rubble would compromise the stability of the road that runs over the tunnel, so the secrets of Gilmerton Cove may stay hidden for the sometime yet.


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    • Silver Fish profile image

      Silver Fish 5 years ago from Edinburgh Scotland

      Thanks bac2basics, it is an amazing place.

    • bac2basics profile image

      Anne 5 years ago from Spain

      Wow, what a strange and fascinating place. It´s one of those places which make´s you wish you could go back in time and find the real truth of it all. Great hub.

    • Silver Fish profile image

      Silver Fish 5 years ago from Edinburgh Scotland

      molly meadows- I agreem I think the mystery of the bcked tunnel adds to the appeal, it would be pretty disappointing if it was excavated and turned out to be a dead end!

    • Silver Fish profile image

      Silver Fish 5 years ago from Edinburgh Scotland

      DzyMsLizzy. I am sure you are right, we do have the technology to do this, but I think the funds are lacking. It's not a big money making business, and is owned by a local charity.

    • Silver Fish profile image

      Silver Fish 5 years ago from Edinburgh Scotland

      Nel, that, I read your Hub about the Hellfire club- amazing!

    • mollymeadows profile image

      Mary Strain 5 years ago from The Shire

      Maybe the uncertainty is the most valuable thing to the city fathers. If they knew all the answers, it wouldn't be nearly as much fun!

      Still and all, it kinda gives me the creeps. I'm one who thinks that what has to be hidden underground usually isn't very good.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Fascinating. I'm always interested in historic excavations and discoveries. It would be great if further excavations could be done. I'm not sure a valid reason for denying them was given--modern methods certainly have the means for shoring up the surface against collapse....So, the question to ask it, "What do they fear is hidden?"

      Voted up, interesting and shared.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      That was so fascinating! I had never even heard of Gilmerton Cove! I know about Roslin obviously, but Oh how I would like to go down there and explore that cavern system! what a shame that the tunnel pointing to Rosslyn is blocked in, but as you said it can't be excavated because of the road as it might cave in, I have visited a few of these type of secret caves, in fact I live just up the road from the Hellfire caves in high wycombe, I did write a hub about it, and there is the shell grotto cave in margate kent too, wonderful hub and so fascinating, voted up and sharing! nell

    • Silver Fish profile image

      Silver Fish 5 years ago from Edinburgh Scotland

      Glad you liked it - it is certianly one one Edinburgh's best kept secrets, and althoug open to the public has few visitors.

    • Redberry Sky profile image

      Redberry Sky 5 years ago

      Wow, Silverfish, what an utterly fantastic find this Hub is for me. I love Scotland, but I haven't explored its secrets even *nearly* enough - and such a mysterious place as this really appeals to the 'Indiana Jones' in me! You've piqued my interest, and I'll be hunting it down the next time I visit Edinburgh. Voted up and across and shared.