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crownLegend of Templars & Apprentice Pillar

Apprentice PillarThere is an old legend in Galway which states that the ancient Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas is located on the site of an earlier church built by the Knights Templar. The existing church is said to have been built in 1320 but according to tradition, the chancel is older, incorporating part of the earlier Templar chapel. Another legend relates to a stone pillar situated south east in the nave, it differs from the rest in design and is called the apprentice column. According to a short guide available inside the church, its name comes from the tradition that an apprentice mason had to produce a master piece before he could become a craftsman.

Soon after the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169, King Henry II of England granted, by charter, certain lands to the Knights Templar. The Noble and Feudal Lords soon followed the Royal example and eventually the Templarís would own at least 15 preceptories and various other properties in Ireland. Most preceptories included a Chapel, as well as domestic buildings. The Knights Templar in Ireland were mostly Anglo-Norman or of noble blood and it is recorded that Templarís departed this country for the holy land on the third crusade. The story of the Knights Templar in Ireland has remained elusive and shrouded in mystery, however, the wider history of the order including its dramatic rise and fall has fascinated people for the past seven centuries. There are legends of escaped Templarís, hidden treasure, mysterious scrolls and secret symbols. The layout of many Templar buildings has also caused a degree of speculation regarding their understanding of sacred geometry and also about secret codes and ancient wisdom imbued in the stonework.

Galway first appears in history as a Royal Gaelic Fort in 1124. After its Norman conquest by the powerful De Burgo family in 1232, the fort of Galway was replaced by a stone castle and hall and by 1270 the city wall building programme had begun. It is highly probable that these early Norman settlers had a small church or chapel to cater for their religious needs and that this structure was later dismantled or incorporated into the new enlarged Church of St. Nicholas in 1320. There are many architectural features which point to the existence of an earlier church. The chancel is not precisely aligned with the central axis of the nave but inclines slightly from it to the south. It is wider than the nave span between the arcades and it possibly incorporates an earlier building. Built into the south wall some feet below the most westerly of the three windows is the sill-stone of a window of about the same width as that above it. This is, in all probability, the earliest wrought stone in the church and it is worthy of note that the lower part of this south wall differs in its masonry from that over it. Possibly this sill and south chancel wall are relics of the earlier church or chapel. It has yet to be proven whether this earlier church actually belonged to the Knights Templar.

Could the powerful De Burgo family have granted the Templarís part of their newly conquered territory in order to construct a church, or were members of the family itself part of the military religious order. It is a curious fact that the family crest of the De Burgos is a red cross similar to that worn by the Templarís. According to legend the crest originated during the crusades when King Richard the Lion Heart dipped his hand into the blood of a slain Saracen by one of the De Burgos. He then drew a cross on the Saracens shield and presented it to De Burgo. Whatever the truth may be, the legend of the Templarís presence in Galway still remains.

Another legend of St. Nicholas Collegiate church is that of the apprentice pillar. In the church the arches of the nave arcades rest upon six columns, three for each aisle. Five of the columns are perfectly plain and circular in plan; however the sixth, the eastern column of the south arcade, is markedly different. It is fluted as if to emphasise that it represents a distinctive characteristic not accorded to the other columns. Technically it may be described as circular reduced by four quadrants concave to the circle. It is interesting to note that the only other column of its kind is to be found in Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, now made famous by the De Vinci code and other such popular books.

It is also called the apprentice pillar and is situated in the south east corner of the building. Visitors to Rosslyn learn the story of the master mason who was carving it and who was unable to complete his work, so journeyed to Rome to receive further guidance on its completion. However, on his return he found that the pillar had already been completed in his absence by the apprentice. In his fury the master mason killed the young apprentice, and so the pillar was named. The similarities between the apprentice pillar of St. Nicholas church and that of Rosslyn Chapel are both striking and fascinating and most surely deserve further detailed research.


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