Penhill is perhaps the most enigmatic Templar site in Yorkshire, perched three quarters of the way up the side of the hill from which it takes its name, a visitor to the site needs to be fairly energetic as the first part of the route is up a steep narrow lane, for the first 200 metres or so, from here we cut across grassland through stiles in dry stone walls, to at last reach the site surrounded by post and rail fencing to protect it from livestock.
At this point one gets some idea of the hardships the Templars must have endured just getting the stone to the site let alone building.
The exposed foundations on view are of the Preceptory chapel, the rest of the complex being still unexcavated, it is at these oblong chapel foundations that perhaps THE mystery of Penhill is apparent, as the signboard tells us there are three exposed tombs with their lids drawn back.
The first is fairly conventional with the general shape of the human body carved out of the coffin, and two holes about two inches across are cut through the coffin floor. (These were to let fluids drain away from the natural decaying process of the body.)
The other two are altogether different – the first thing one is struck with is their obvious small size, the body recess being only about four feet long and about nine inches across the “shoulder”, and there are no drainage holes in the bottom.
The usual answer to the puzzle is that they were the coffins of children, but that is hardly likely for an Order of celibate monks.
Aanother possibility, somewhat macabre centres around rumours of strange burial practices afforded to high ranking Templars in that they were dismembered at death and their head and lower limbs buried separately (skull and crossed bones).
Alternatively they may not be graves at all; a medieval sword would fit very nicely into the recess so they may have had some ritual connection.
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