Rosslyn Chapel – Dragons and Green Men and Templars, oh my!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!!

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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.

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Painted people, drumming and a lot of things on fire!!

Well, what can I say. It was Edinburgh on Beltane Night (April 30th) and it was the Fire Festival! Hard to take pics cause it was night and a lot of people and a lot of fire spinning.  I know we didn’t see everything that happened (did I mention all the people?) and I know I didn’t understand all of what was going on (blue people, red people, drumming) so here is just a glimpse.

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Oh, and it involved fire performance, uninhibited behaviour and semi-nudity. Woop woop!

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Wearing our appropriate clothing and footwear, and leaving our flying lanterns a the hotel, we headed up Calton Hill and joined the sea of people.

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Getting to the top, there were some amazing fire figures.

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There was a May Queen (in white and red) with her attendants, lots of painted red drummers and fire spinners, some blue people (the Picts?), a troupe of death people in black and white and a green man with attendants carrying banners inscribed with the Celtic ogham for ivy.  At the big finale, the May Queen kills the shaggy Green Man, he is stripped of his, uh, foliage, and she brings him back to life. Newly sprung, he dances an amazing energetic dance and they kiss. Then, they lit the biggest bonfire I’ve ever seen.

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And there were a lot of things on fire.

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The best place to see some really amazing photos is on the Beltane Fire Festival Flickr site (seriously, check it out). Other than that, I highly recommend going and experiencing it for yourself! In the meantime, here is one minute of the festival, just to whet your appetite!

Avebury

I tried to take a bus trip to Glastonbury, I really did! But, the bus didn’t pick me up, then the alternate bus broke down. So, my amazing friends Cat and Seth came with me to Glastonbury, stopping at Avebury on the way.

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Being a holiday weekend in England, Cat’s one request as driver was that we get up very early to drive out of London before traffic got too congested.  And so we did. Really early.  So early, in fact, that the car park at Avebury was not even open when we got there. The down side? No coffee shop. The up side? No one else at Avebury so we had the stones all to ourselves.

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Well, except for the sheep and the lambs. But, really, the lambs are so cute, who could complain!

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Avebury is a neolithic henge monument containing three stone circles. It was built around 2,600 BCE (thus, neolithic) and  consists of three stone circles with a bank and a ditch  (a henge).

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Avebury contains the largest stone circle in Europe with a diameter of 331.6 metres (the henge is 420 meters across). Britain’s largest stone circle, there were originally 98 standing stones, some weighing more than 40 tons and varying in height from 3.6 to 4.2 meters.  The monument was used for at least a thousand years after it was built.

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There is a long avenue of standing stones that lead to the south entrance. Two very large stones mark this gateway. And, one has a convenient seating spot in it!

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This was my second visit to Avebury but the weather was equally gray, windy and cold both times! My first trip was also very foggy which made for some really amazing shots, like this one …

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If you ever get a chance to go and see Stonehenge, I highly recommend spending a bit more time and heading just down the road to Avebury. As opposed to Stonehenge, you can walk right up to, and within the stones. The energy of the place is amazing. The stones have such a presence, each has a personality. It’s like they watch you, knowing that they’ve been there long before you and will be there long after you’ve gone.

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York Minster

It was a sunny but windy day when we visited York Minster, one of the largest cathedrals in Northern Europe.

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The current Gothic-style cathedral was built starting in 1230. But, you can still see the foundations of the older, Norman-style church underneath the building.  Well, unless the lower part was closed for renovations like on the day we visited. Somewhere on that west portico are some tiny little carvings of a Klingon and a Ferengi, put there by modern stonemasons in a personal touch, just as their 13th century forecarvers would have done.

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In the English Civil War the city was besieged and fell to the forces of Cromwell in 1644, but Thomas Fairfax (who was a York man) prevented much damage to the cathedral.  The organ base and casing is from 1832 although the organ mechanics are only from 1903 (only!!).

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On 9 July 1984, a fire believed to have been caused by a lightning strike destroyed the roof in the south transept, and around £2.5 million was spent on repairs. Restoration work was completed in 1988, and included new roof bosses (the bits where the beams join) to designs from children via a competition organised by BBC Television’s Blue Peter programme (a kid’s show).  This boss has some children looking into a well with a rabbit. I think it is taken from one of the beatitudes.  At least  I think that’s what our guide said. The rose window was also under restoration and the workers were making a lot of noise.

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The Five Sisters window in the north transept made of five lancets, each 16 metres (52 ft) high and glazed with grey glass, rather than narrative scenes or symbolic motifs that are usually seen in medieval stained glass windows.  Til I learned this, I thought it was just really dirty.

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A view of the south transept ceiling and my good friend and traveling companion, Cat. To avoid having to give everyone complimentary neck massages on the way out, there was a mirror placed so you could look up while looking down. Beautiful church and beautiful friend in one shot.

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Behind the high altar is the Great East Window which tells the story of Genesis and is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world. Which would have been amazing to see but it’s currently undergoing a massive conservation project.  Instead, it was covered by the largest expanse of painted plastic in the world. Below the Great East Window currently sits The Orb, a stainless steel dome containing five of the conserved panels from the window, one of which is changed each month. We did get to see the Orb and thus to see some of the stained glass panels from the Great East Window up close.

A picture of before the restoration of the panel showing St. John being told by an angel to write to the seven churches of Asia.

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And the actual glass panel post-restoration. I never really realized how the glass was painted until I saw it up close.  New epoxies have allowed the glaziers to remove many of the lead lines which were holding pieces of glass together. This makes for a clearer picture.

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The Chapter House (this one built starting in 1260) is my favourite part of a Cathedral (if I’m allowed to play favourites). The Chapter House is where the priests met each morning to hear a chapter read. They are usually round, which makes for a great space and really funky acoustics. Each priest has his own chair round the outside and you can whisper and still hear all round the circle. No gossiping for the priests!! The ceilings are always amazing, as are the floor tiles. I think I’d rather hang out in the cozy Chapter House than the big drafty Cathedral!

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My trusty red walking shoes in the Chapter House.  An eight-pointed sword star and blue X marks my spot.

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Chalice Well, Glastonbury

Last weekend I visited the Chalice Well in Glastonbury. What a beautiful, peaceful and energetically soothing place. Now, it’s true that I had just come from the Tor, where I had a paralyzing attack of “OMG, I’m going to fall to my death” so any flat space close to the ground would probably have been soothing but none of the wells I have visited in Ireland or Scotland (or elsewhere) have been so lovely.

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The cover of the well has a wrought iron vesica piscis with a lance passing through it.  An ancient symbol of interlocking circles, representing heaven and earth, spirit and matter, inside and outside, above and below, masculine and feminine, two as one.

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In the past, the well was known as the Red Spring or Blood Spring because the water that flows from it, rich with iron, leaves a red deposit on everything it touches.  As you can imagine, many legends are associated with the well. That Joseph of Arimathea buried the cup that Christ used at the last supper. Or, that the red spring is a direct expression of the lifeblood of the land.

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Water has long been considered a source of healing and a bringer of life. It stores and transmits energy and our bodies flow with water just as the earth does. The Lion’s Head drinking fountain is safe for consumption. As the water is rich in iron, only small quantities are recommended. A little goes a long way.

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I collected a litre of water to bring back to share with friends.

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The vesica pool consists of seven bowls which each inscribe a figure eight. While wells often  have feminine associations, this pool seemed especially curvy and feminine to me. And, the flow of the water caught the sunshine and danced as it flowed.

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I left my votive candle by the vesica pool for blessings of the divine feminine.

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And, while the Well is obviously a place of Christian pilgrimage, it was nice to see the pagan element. Being close to Beltaine, there was a newly danced Maypole by the vesica pool, adding some divine masculine to the garden.

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The spring flowers in the garden were in full bloom.

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And so was my spirit.

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What’s the word?

I’m not sure who started the trend of picking a word for each year (Brené Brown? Susannah Conway?) but I’ve been doing it for the past three years although I’ve never shared my word with anyone. Before now.

At first I was kind of worried about picking a word because I thought it was just going to be another new year’s resolution that would gradually fade by the wayside leaving me feeling inadequate (again) at the end of the year.

But that’s not what has happened. The word never played out throughout the year like I thought it would. It took on nuances, different meanings and showed up in the most unlikely places. Which I guess might kind of be the point.

Last year my word was Light.

It was the light in the darkness of depression and loneliness.

It was the light that flickered but somehow didn’t go out, even when my heart had caved in and I couldn’t breathe.

It was the light of faith that helped me to keep going trusting that it would get better.

It was the light of learning that left me not regretting the past but grateful for the lessons learned.

It was the light that needed me to learn how to set the boundaries that would allow it the space and oxygen to stay lit. And maybe to shine brighter.

It was the light that taught me that I am merely the light-bearer, not the light itself.

It was the light of the torch flame that melted glass and created beauty.

It was the light that played in hundreds of photos and changed the way I look at the world.

And it was the light of the fire in me that led me to this blog, to the need write and to the risk of letting myself be seen.

Yup, it was not what I expected. Which makes picking a word for this year both exciting and scary. Because the word that I have picked – or rather which has picked me – is Joy.

I have certainly been happy over the past year but I have not felt that pure joy that makes me feel 100% alive. The joy I feel when I’m running.

Not the first part of the run when I want to stop and cough up a lung and head for the coffee shop. But, that sweet spot where I feel like I can run forever. Or dance or maybe even fly.

The joy of singing. When the breath and sound and tones vibrate through me in a way that makes me feel like my heart has learned to speak.

The joy of waking up early in the morning because I’m so excited about what the day will bring.

The joy of seeing a loved ones name on call-display or in my inbox and feeling that surge of excitement that I get to hear their voice and their stories.

The joy of being in the trees or near the ocean and finding myself in the slowness of geologic time, rather than the pressure of human time.

And the joy of a spiritual connection which fills me so full of this life that I don’t want to waste one single moment of it on the things that just won’t matter at the end of it.

As far as new year’s goals go, my little word seems kind of BHA – big, hairy and audacious.

But since I’ve shared it, I might as well get started on it. Because if it’s anything like last year, or the year before, all I have to do is take that first step and the rest of the journey will unfold as it will. With all it’s unexpected turns.

Guess it’s time to lace up my running shoes.

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The rattle of the bones

On this All Hallow’s Eve as the veil between the worlds thins and I honour the Ancestors, I am reminded of how short and precious life is. I am reminded to take chances, to go all in with my heart when it matters and to let go of the rest that doesn’t. To move through the fear that blocks me and stops me and leaves me with regrets. And to always strive to live with courage, with love and in connection.

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A song of light and colour

This weekend I visited the Chihuly Exhibition and Gardens in Seattle. I don’t think mere words can express how my heart and body and spirit responded to such beauty.

The glass seemed to be lit from within.  It sang in joyful colour rather than sound.

Amazingly strong and incredible fragile. Seemingly frozen in place, actually a liquid flowing so slowly that you can’t see it move.

The glass soared, curving with grace and rounded with sensuality.

In the presence of such beauty, my spirit took flight in colour and light and vibrated in tune with the glass.

These words and pictures are the best I can do to try to share the experience.

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