Mystery of The Royston Cave and why historians remain baffled

Mystery of The Royston Cave and why historians remain baffled

The Royston cave is one of England's greatest mysteries. Located in Cambridgeshire, the cave is visited by hundreds every single year to marvel at its unexplained carvings and place in history.

When the word cave is mentioned, you wouldn't be judged for instantly imagining a naturally developed, maybe pre-historic structure. However, discovered in 1742 accidentally by workmen, this cave is man-made and cut approximately 8 m into the chalk that lies beneath Royston’s ancient crossroad, Ermine Street and Icknield Way.

Put plainly: The Royston Cave is an enigma. No records of its age or purpose exist and, despite quite a few theories, nothing has ever been proven.

Arguably, the most fascinating part of this cave is what decorates the walls. Royston Cave is decorated with the most amazing and extensive low relief wall carvings, some of which may have been originally coloured. The carvings are mostly Christian in depiction and medieval in style. Picturing an array of saints, Jesus and his disciples, Richard the Lionheart and King David of the Psalm.

There are also fascinating non-Christian carvings in the cave that depict the figures of a horse and an Earth Goddess, known as a Sheila-na-gig, which is believed to be Pagan symbols for fertility. There are even many smaller figures and symbols that remain unidentified even today.

Although the carvings are shrouded in mystery, a recent study on the designs of the crowns, swords and costume depicted in the cave suggest that the carvings were likely made in the mid-1300s though the purpose of the cave is still unknown.

One theory suggests that it might have had something to do with the Knights Templar. With a stronghold in Baldock, which is only eight miles from Royston, and having visited Royston often to sell produce at its market, it’s possible Knights Templar used Royston Cave as a secret place of worship.

Another theory argues it might have been a Freemasonry Lodge. Some believe King James I might have used Royston Cave to practise Freemasonry, away from the prying eyes of his court. If that's the case, Royston Cave could be one of the earliest examples of a Freemason's Lodge in England.

Another theory argues that Royston Cave might have been a hermitage, the subterranean home of a hermit who lived in the cave for solitude to practice religious discipline. Some suggest that travellers would pay the hermit to pray for their safe passage and that less notable figures carved in the cave could be effigies of its more generous benefactors.

These fascinating theories show why Royston Cave is still visited by so many people all over the country every year. Not only is it an historical mystery which inspires so many theories, it is also a beautiful part of English underworld history that we don't need to understand to admire.