During our 30th anniversary trip to Scotland, Lana and I put Rosslyn Chapel as one of our “can’t miss” destinations. We visited it on the same day we visited St. Andrews and The Old Course and I’m so glad we did!
Rosslyn Chapel and Dan Brown’s The Davinci Code:
What is Rosslyn Chapel? On the surface, it is an small old church in the Scottish countryside that belongs to the Sinclair family. Mysterious in its own right for the multitude of odd carvings that cover the inside and outside of the church, Rosslyn Chapel gained famed and a bit of notoriety as part of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. Readers of the books and viewers of the movie will recall Rosslyn Chapel as the place where Sophie Neveu discovers she is the blood descendant of Jesus. Whether you subscribe to that version of things or not, Rosslyn Chapel still is a mysterious place.
The Apprentice Pillar:
What makes Rosslyn so fascinating are the carvings that cover the inside of the church. According to our guides at the site, Rosslyn Chapel was founded in 1446 and sits on land still owned by the Sinclair family. Stone masons and apprentices worked on the building and the carvings. One of the most interesting stories concerns the Apprentice Pillar near the altar of the church. As the story goes, the master mason wanted to travel abroad to see the pillar he had been commissioned to fashion at Rosslyn. His apprentice dreamed of the pillar and set to work on it while the master was away. When the master returned, he saw the finished pillar and asked who dared to do the work in his absence. When he discovered his apprentice carved the pillar, the enraged master mason stuck and killed him in the chapel. The master mason was executed for his crime.
Legend says that carved heads of the apprentice and master gaze over the chapel from opposite corners of the interior. To further the master’s punishment, his carved head faces the Apprentice Pillar and has to gaze upon the pillar for eternity! If you look closely at the picture below to the left and right corners, you can see the heads.
Unfortunately, photography isn’t permitted inside the chapel (though we didn’t know that when Lana snapped a picture of me standing near the Apprentice Pillar). Too bad, because the carvings inside are what makes Rosslyn Chapel such an enigma.
Carvings, Decorations, and The Knights Templar:
Virtually every surface has a carving of some kind on it. From pagan symbols like The Green Man, to gargoyles, roses, musical notes, bagpipers, and so much more, the carvings spawned books devoted to interpreting what it all means. Of course, such mysterious things lead to conspiracy theories and one of the most famous connects the Knights Templar to Rosslyn Chapel. Here are just a few of the carvings:
Rosslyn Chapel carving
Now to the Knights Templar. As I understand the theory, in 1307 King Phillip of France urged the Pope to declare the Templars heretics and confiscate their lands and property. Many believe Phillip owed the Templars much money and seizing their fortunes could relieve the debt. When the raid happened, the treasure ships had disappeared. Some believe that a high-ranking Templar official was a member of the St. Clair family (in English Sinclair) and had the treasure spirited away to Scotland. The Sinclairs finished Rosslyn around 1446 or almost 140 years after the raid, so the timeline doesn’t work. If the Templars hid the treasure in the Rosslyn area, where did they hide it for all those years?
Timeline issues aside, there is a vault beneath the chapel. The docent we spoke with confirmed the vault’s existence. However, she told us it is the Sinclair family burial vault and only contains the remains of Sinclair family members. Her assertions aside, others believe it is the hiding place of artifacts. Some believe the Holy Grail, The Spear of Destiny, the True Cross, and the Menorah stolen from Rome by the Visigoths (after the Romans stole it after sacking Jerusalem) rest at Rosslyn Chapel. To add to mystery and the conspiracy theory, the Sinclair family refuses to allow excavation under the chapel.
What do you think?
What do you think? Is Rosslyn Chapel simply a place where masons could come and practice and perfect their craft or is it the resting place of some of the greatest artifacts in human history? Either way, the place has an astounding number of mysterious carvings, and a history shrouded in mystery. If you get to Scotland, put this one on your list of places not-to-miss!
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