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John The Baptist

John the Baptist was born, roughly 6 months before his cousin Jesus, to Zechariah and Elizabeth. His birth was miraculous as Elizabeth was advanced in age and had been unable to conceive. According to the Gospel of Luke, the angel Gabriel announced John’s birth to Zechariah, emphasizing that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth and would lead many people to righteousness.

John is best known for his ministry of preaching and baptizing in the wilderness. Dressed in camel hair, with dishevelled hair and beard, he called people to repentance and baptized them as a sign of their commitment to change their ways. He urged people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.

John’s ministry reached its peak when Jesus came to him to be baptized. Initially, John was reluctant, stating that he should be baptized by Jesus instead. However, Jesus insisted, and John baptized him in the Jordan River.


John’s outspoken condemnation of Herod Antipas for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, led to his imprisonment. Herodias held a grudge against John and sought to kill him. Eventually, Herodias’ daughter, Salome, danced for Herod on his birthday, and Herod promised to give her whatever she asked for. Prompted by her mother, Salome requested John’s head on a platter. Despite his reluctance, Herod ordered John’s execution to honour his promise.


The Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist on June 24th is one of the few saints' feast days that commemorate a birth rather than a death. It is a time for Christians to reflect on John's message of repentance and his role in heralding the coming of the Messiah.


Priory Seal © Royston Cave


Within Royston cave there is a carving which is thought to be similar to the seal of the Priory that used to stand in Royston. The seal shows John the Baptist on the left, and standing next to him is Thomas Becket. The seal wax impression was attached to a Deed of Supremacy which is currently preserved in the Public Record office.


Royston Priory was an Augustinian priory established in the 12th century. Like many religious institutions of its time, it adopted seals that often-included revered saints and religious figures as symbols of its spiritual mission and authority.


The combined imagery of John the Baptist and Thomas Becket on Royston Priory's seal conveyed a powerful message of spiritual authority, sanctity, and the protection of church rights.

After the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII declared that “Thomas Beckett was no longer a saint but a rebel and a traitor…. and that his name and remembrance should be erased from all documents” hence the church that now stands where the Priory once stood is only known now as St John’s.


To the Knights Templar, believed by some to have used Royston Cave, John the Baptist was regarded as their patron saint, as well as their counterpart, the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, otherwise known as the Knights Hospitaller.


The Templars often used symbols associated with John the Baptist, such as the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) carrying a cross, which appears in their seals and other iconography. This reflects John’s declaration of Jesus as the Lamb of God.


The Templars were reputed to possess relics of John the Baptist, including purported fragments of his bones, namely his right forefinger. Such relics were highly venerated and believed to provide spiritual protection and legitimacy. Many paintings of St John show his right forefinger to be pointing towards the sky. It is interesting to note that the carving in the cave, which is often attributed to King David, also has his right forefinger pointing towards the sky.

Leonardo Da Vinci's St John The Baptist


It has been suggested that when the Knights Templar took over the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, they discovered secret documents and scrolls that revealed many mysteries, including information about John the Baptist. Herod’s Temple was built near the site, which was reported by the Golden Legend to be the place where John’s head was buried, which is now where the Dome of The Rock now stands. When the Templars were declared heretics, one of the charges against them was the worship of a head, known as Baphomet, which some have linked to John the Baptist.


Despite their suppression, the legacy of the Templars, including their veneration of John the Baptist, continued to influence later organizations and popular culture. Modern groups, such as the Freemasons and various chivalric orders, often draw inspiration from Templar traditions and symbols. The Freemasons, for instance, also have John the Baptist as one of their patrons.


However, it is important to note that the evidence linking John the Baptist to the Knights Templar is mostly circumstantial. The historical record remains unclear, and some scholars dismiss the theories as unfounded or lacking in evidence.


Peter Houldcroft, a previous manager of the cave, has also investigated whether the alignment of the cave has connections to St John. The East shaft, as it is known, which is thought to have been a ventilation shaft for an oil cresset lamp, may have been aligned to match the direction of the rising sun on the day of June 24th, to coincide with the feast day. This was a practise often made when a church or scared site was dedicated to a saint. He also points out that there is a head, by the Calvary scene, which could also symbolise John the Baptist.


References

Beamon, S.P. (1992). Royston Cave: Used By Saints or Sinners? Baldock: Cortney Publications.

Lynn Picknett & Clive Prince ( 1997) The Templar Revelation: Corgi Books

Houldcroft, P.T. (2008). A Medieval Mystery at the Crossroads. Royston: Royston and District Local History Society.

Houldcroft,P.T. (1999). The Medieval Structure within Royston Cave : Royston: Royston and District Local History Society.


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