Ok, so I didn’t uncover THE Holy Grail, but while in Scotland I did have the opportunity to visit Rosslyn Chapel, a treasure trove of unique stone work and ornate statues, it’s exploding with legend and folklore.
I was only in Edinburgh for a few days and hadn’t originally looked into taking the time to head out of town to see it but my father had been talking about this place since before I had planned my trip to Scotland. Each time I talked to my family while I was away my mom said through the receiver, “Your father wants to know if you went to Rosslyn yet?” So, mostly to appease my dad, I decided to set aside an afternoon and scope it out. I had planned to make it a quick trip, take a few pictures, then head back to town. I thought for sure it wouldn’t be more than another old European church but I’ll admit defeat on this one and eat my words. Rosslyn was an amazing, intriguing, small wonder in the middle of the Scottish countryside and I was awestruck at the mystery and spellbinding nature this little chapel has over its visitors.
The chapel is truly magical. William St. Clair began construction of the chapel in 1446 but he died close to forty years later and the work on the chapel ceased. Originally there were plans to make the chapel much larger, what stands today is only a small portion of St. Clair’s grand plan. For the next 200 years the chapel was basically unused due to the reformation and at one time it even served as horse stables. In the late 1700’s Rosslyn gained attention when poets and artists like Wordsworth and Nasmyth came to marvel at this elaborate stone work with nature now encroaching in all the details. Ferns grew around the grounds and through the stone flooring. Moss and ivy wove along the walls and ceilings and it became a space where nature and human craftsmanship intertwined. Gazing up at the pink and golden stone ceiling today I could only imagine how marvelous and inspiring their artistic pilgrimage was. By 1842 the little church garnered the attention of Queen Elizabeth.
“So unique a gem should be preserved for the country” ~ Queen Elizabeth
Under my Umbrella
In the 1950’s a conservation project began in order to preserve the restoration. In the long run the protective washing they placed on the roof ended up doing more harm than good. The building is made from local, porous stone so the water that had been raining down onto the roof for ages became trapped and algae started to grow. To give the chapel time to dry out a canopy was raised like a giant umbrella for 13 years.
Check out the time lapse video of the removal of the canopy:
The many faces of Rosslyn
The chapel is only 69 feet long by 42 feet high and every inch is covered in carvings, figures and scenes. This is where the stories of the property and the history really come to life. The Green Man, a pagan symbol, is smiling at your from all different locations within the chapel walls. There are several different angel carvings around the building some in precarious positions like the upside down angel and these unique figures are what fuels the rumors of the freemason connection. The appearance of corn and aloe carvings is puzzling because they would have been native to the Americas and Columbus hadn’t set foot there yet at the time the chapel was built. Because most of the family archives were destroyed there is little to help piece the puzzle together leaving a maddening amount of possibilities and potential connections with Freemasons and Knights Templar. Or, the cryptic symbols maybe just coincidence.
Pillar of Greatness
The famous Apprentice Pillar is yet another of the many mysteries of Rosslyn. There are three pillars that stand behind the alter and the legend is that a master mason had designed the pillars on the left of the alter as per the vision of Sir William. The mason believed that he couldn’t finish the work unless he had a better understanding of the design St. Clair had hoped for so he set off to Italy to do research. In a dream, the apprentice of the master mason saw the pillar and finished the work himself. The “Prentice Pillar” is noticeably more ornate and clearly took superior craftsmanship. Once the master mason returned and saw his apprentice’s work, he struck and killed him in a jealous rage in front of the pillar. It’s stories like these that only enhance the allure of Rosslyn.
The Holy Grail, treasures of the Knights Templar, and Christ himself has been rumored to be buried here in hidden vaults and Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code featured Rosslyn Chapel in the middle of his mystery novel bolstering the chapel’s mystique. Whatever secrets lie within the walls and below the crypts of Rosslyn, it’s a captivating enigma.