Those of you who read the Da Vinci Code or saw the movie will know Rosslyn Chapel. But whether you enjoyed the Da Vinci Code or not, one result was a flood of paying visitors to Rosslyn Chapel who have now funded some pretty amazing restoration work. In the year following the release of the book, visitors increased by 56%. Reminds me of my last post on Glastonbury Abbey where the graves of King Arthur and Queen Guineviere were discovered just when the Abbey needed a big influx of tourism dollars.
All that being said, it also results in the outside of Rosslyn Chapel being mostly covered with scaffolding. So, I’ve swiped the first picture from the front of the brochure just so you can get an idea of what the place looks like. Because Dan Brown or not, it’s a great place to see.
The Chapel was built in the 15th Century by the Sinclair or St. Clair Family. After the Scottish Reformation (1560) Roman Catholic worship in the chapel was brought to an end, although the St. Clair family continued to be Roman Catholics until the early 18th century. The chapel was closed to public worship until 1861 when it was opened again and follows the rites of the Scottish Episcopal Church. There are crypts under the Chapel where the St. Clair family were buried. These crypts, and the fact that the St. Clair family were “exposed as templars”, are the source of much of speculation around Rosslyn Chapel.
Rosslyn is well-known for it’s elaborate carvings. I thought the ceiling especially was amazing. Different carved sections of stars, lilies, daises, roses, a dove with an olive branch. Even a crescent moon. The flowers represent a connection with nature but lilies and roses are also connected with the Virgin Mary.
There are over 110 carved green men throughout the Chapel with various amounts of foliage from lush and fertile to one single branch. While also a connection with nature, the symbol of the green man pre-dates Christianity and is associated with fertility.
This angel it thought to be holding a heart meant to represent that of Robert the Bruce. Sir Henry St Clair (1275-1336) and his brother William fought with the Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, and when Bruce died in 1329, Henry’s sons, William and John were two of those chosen to escort his heart to Jerusalem. Although the brothers were killed while on the crusade, their bodies along with Robert the Bruce’s heart were brought back to Scotland.
The Chapel has fourteen pillars. The three at the front are called the the Master Pillar, the Journeyman Pillar, and most famously, the Apprentice Pillar. The story of the Apprentice Pillar is that the Master carver left his Apprentice to complete the pillar. As you can see, the Apprentice got a little, uh, creative and beautifully decorated the pillar with winding trees/vines, eight dragons around the base and lots of intricate carvings.
The Pillar can be seen as the Christian Tree of Life but given the association of Scotland with the Norse (esp the Orkney Islands), it is more likely the Norse Tree of Life, Yggdrasil, which holds up the heavens from the earth and the dragons of time gnaw at the roots of the Tree. Near the Apprentice Pillar is a Latin inscription that reads, “Wine is strong, a king is stronger, women are stronger still, but truth conquers all.”
When the Master carver saw what the Apprentice had done, he grabbed a mallet and relieved the Apprentice of his head. There is a carving of a head in the Chapel which is said to be the Apprentice’s. Justice was served in this case, however, as the Master carver also lost his head for the crime and his carved head is right across from the Apprentice’s carved head and angled so that it stares at the Apprentice Pillar. Let that be a lesson in keeping cooler heads!!!
They say Rosslyn Chapel is built on the intersection of some powerful ley lines. The key stone at the meeting of the two aisles in the Chapel is said to be especially powerful. So, everyone takes turns standing on that spot. I have to admit, I did feel a lot of energy in that spot and I do believe in ley lines. But, maybe it was just the combined energy of thousands of visitors who have stood on the same spot doing the same thing. Whatever the case, it is a lovely Chapel with fascinating stories in the carvings and a wonderful peaceful energy.