Rosslyn Chapel – A Mystery from the Middle Ages

Truth and history surrounding Rosslyn Chapel are spotty. Theories, speculations, and fantasies abound and feed curiosity about its origin and meaning. No matter what draws you there, you will be rewarded.

When you’re in Edinburgh, plan a half day outing to nearby Rosslyn where you can visit this exquisite memorial to freemasonry carving. A local bus takes you there in about half an hour.

Rosslyn Chapel has been in the Sinclair/St. Clair family for centuries and continues to be used as a house of worship. William Sinclair received a charter to build it in 1446. His intent was to provide a place where Mass could be said for the souls of his family. Construction began in 1456. It took some 40 years to complete the carvings.

Docents regularly present the story of the chapel. Afterwards you can study the intricate carvings on your own and try to penetrate their meanings.

If you’re lucky, you may also enjoy a special program, such as re-enactor Jim Tribble, who portrays a troubadour while playing medieval instruments. Enriching.

As you explore, the easiest carving to find is the Apprentice Pillar. You will know and long remember its grisly story which the docent just shared.

Green men symbolize rebirth/growth/life, and are depicted as human faces surrounded by greenery. In some cases vines are growing out of the mouth of the figure. I challenge you to see how many of the 110 green men you can find.

Look up at the arches in the chancel. You’ll see small cubes protruding at points along the archway. Each cube has a unique pattern carved on its surface. The meaning of these carvings is unknown. But that hasn’t stopped people from speculating. A recent interpretation is that each represents a musical note. After much analysis, a tune, called the Rosslyn Motel, has been recorded. You can buy a copy in the gift shop.

The Legend of the Holy Grail is centuries old. Referring to King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable, some people associate the story with Rosslyn Chapel. A weak link, though historical, relates to a 1546 letter written by Mary of Guise who was the wife of King James V and mother of Mary Queen of Scots.

The author Dan Brown captured this link and set it in his wildly successful book, The DaVinci Code. As a result, Rosslyn became a destination site for tourists. The lonely little chapel in the Midlothian countryside swelled with visitors. At its height (2007-08) it hosted more than 159,000.
The surge in tourism provided funds to add a small museum and visitor center, complete with a gift shop and cafe, plus a dearly needed car park.

Over the centuries, moisture engorged Rosslyn’s cold, dark interior to the point that it was overgrown with moss. A restoration project, began in 1997, brought it back to its original appearance.

How fortunate that this architectural and artistic jewel is now restored for all to enjoy.

Don’t miss it.

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