Gaye Mack’s Blog

ROSSLYN CHAPEL-LIFE BEFORE DAN BROWN AND THE DA VINCI CODE

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Writer's Work Leave a comment

 

 Rosslyn was and has been an important site long before Dan Brown and Hollywood arrived in the small village of Roslin, located about 7 miles south of Edinburgh.  The Chapel was founded in 1446 as a collegiate chapel for study by Sir William St. Clair, 3rd Prince of Orkney, but was actually not finished until after his death in 1484.  In fact the story goes that Sir William had left funds for an extensive expansion of the building we see today, but for unknown reasons this work was never carried out. 

Beyond the myths and sensation created by Dan Brown, (who apparently never visited Rosslyn prior to the publication of his book) the first thing immediately striking about the Chapel is the interior’s intense profusion of ornate carving.  This surely was a building project that kept stone masons busy year round…quite a contract if you were lucky enough to get it.  Personally I can’t ever recall entering either a chapel or cathedral previous to this visit where the visual impact was so overwhelming…packed…even claustrophobic in some respects. 

One aspect particularly intriguing is that interspersed amongst the deeply symbolic carvings reflecting religious themes, there are carvings that are quite clearly pagan in nature.  For example there are over 100 representations of ‘the green man’ throughout, not to mention that the base of the famous ‘Apprentice Pillar’ is wrapped with dragons suggesting the Norse mythology of the Sinclair’s roots.

 Interestingly enough, despite the mystical legends and rumors that surround Rosslyn, there is no evidence to back up the claims that the Templars as a group were particularly involved in Rosslyn’s history other than the family testified against the Templars when that Order was put on trial in Edinburgh in 1309.  The reality is that Rosslyn Chapel was built by William Sinclair, a devout Catholic, so that Mass could be said for the souls of his family.

 Nevertheless, despite this reality that throws cold water on the DaVinci mythology and other stories proposing alternative theories around the bloodline of the grail, Rosslyn abounds with fascinating symbology that poses a fair share of questions but few answers, leaving much to the imagination if one wishes to travel that route. 

Unfortunately but understandably, photography is not allowed inside the Chapel.  However, there are several online sites in addition to the ones offered here that you can visit which are full of information. 

 Admittedly I was disappointed in learning the cold facts as I love good unsolved mysteries and legends, but given the extensive on-going 7.5 million pounds conservation project, Rosslyn is an important historical site and is worth the visit should you happen to be traveling to Edinburgh.


DUNNOTTAR CASTLE-DRAMA AND DEATH

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Writer's Work Leave a comment

 There’s no castle I’ve visited over the years that possesses a more dramatic presence than Dunnottar.  Located to the south of Aberdeen, Scotland, Dunnottar is dramatically perched on a massive flat topped rock of sheer proportions that end into the crashing sea. The visual effect of its physical presence is definitely an outward representation of its ‘colorful’ history.

Four hundred years after the birth of Christ, St. Ninian established Dunnottar as a religious site for his followers, most likely because of its extremely remote location that exuded peace at the time.  However in the years that followed, Dunnottar was to forfeit this peace, becoming a miniature reflection of Scotland’s turbulent history that included dramas around William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots and the Marquis of Montrose to name a few.

Within this reflection are two events that particularly standout:  Dunnottar as the hiding place for the Scottish Honours (Crown Jewels) when Cromwell’s troops were advancing north of Edinburgh to capture them.  Fortunately Cromwell did not get his hands on the jewels, an outcome that would have secured his place as Scotland’s ruler…how they were hidden and where is a story worthy of a modern day thriller.

 

 

 

 

 

Even less honorable was the most inhumane imprisonment of 144 men and women by Charles II’s soldiers in a chamber known as the Whigs Vault.  For ninety days these individuals were deprived of water, food and sanitation because they refused to embrace the King’s promotion of Episcopacy, outlawing their own religion of Protestantism.  Many died from starvation and disease; several fell to their deaths in an effort to escape over the cliffs.  Those who survived the vault were shipped to the west indies…many not making landfall.   These stories a clear contrast between glory and dishonor.

As fascinating as this castle is, getting up to it is not for the faint of heart…the easy part is the parking lot.  From there, it’s a long and steep downward and then upward climb(I didn’t count the steps-it is fortress after all) and that’s before you even get to the castle itself.  Once you do, the stone steps are slippery and narrow through the rabbit warren of chambers up and down(no doubt to accommodate the size 2 feet in those days)…so being relatively fit is helpful…the good news is you won’t need to go to the gym for about 3 weeks…but, all worth the trip!

Photography©gaye f. mack,inc.


A PILGRIM RETURNING HOME

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Writer's Work Leave a comment

Later today I’ll be boarding an overnight flight to London, returning to my ‘soul home’ one more time.  Although this trip will include seeing friends and extended family, I have a specific purpose for this journey.  The focus this time will be on northern Scotland–up near Aberdeen, oddly an area of Scotland I’ve never before visited .  I want to explore the ruins and history of Dunnottar Castle, which like Whitby Abbey(profiled in my last post), sits on a eerie precipice overlooking the wild sea surrounded by sheer cliffs.   

And then there are multitudes of other castles in the area that warrant exploration…many with fascinating stories within their stones like Dunnottar.  Too many castles and stone circles, never enough time!(sigh) At the risk of putting the cart before the horse, I’ll just say that Dunnottar has a checkered history and one which I hope to incorporate in a new book which is taking form in my imagination.

So this post is short…much to do yet.  However, I intend to blog from the road with pictures, so stay tuned!

Photography©gaye f. mack, inc.


WHITBY ABBEY~ANCIENT MONKS, MIRACLES, GHOSTS AND DRACULA

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain Leave a comment

Whitby Abbey

Just looking at photos of this place conjures up all sorts of images, but to actually stand within the ruins is something else!  Whitby Abbey  is starkly  perched  on high  cliffs over looking the seaside village of Whitby on the north Yorkshire coastline .  Windswept and desolate doesn’t begin to describe the feeling.  Having wanted to visit Whitby for years, I had the chance to do so after speaking at  a conference in Cumbria a few years ago.  Although a lengthily detour cross country, it was definitely worth the trip. 
 
It was late fall; the day was grey, it was windy and bone-chilling  damp….and definitely haunting.  There wasn’t a soul around and I spent some time just sitting within the ruins  trying to imagine what it would have been like for the Whitby monks in harsh winters  1400 years ago…even into the 13th century….can you imagine?  It’s  probably  equally impressive on a balmy sunny day in summer but  with a bit more welcoming feel …perhaps I was just meant to get the full impression and so the opportunity presented itself…who knows?

This abbey, like several that dot the British Isles, has an intriguing history.  Whitby however,  possesses  more than one or two legends and events in its history.  This said, there are two that readily cometo mind if one has ever heard of the Abbey.   From a religious perspective, Whitby is very prominent as it  was the site of the ‘Synod of Whitby’ in 664 CE when the deciding vote was taken regarding the Church’s date for Easter.  Would the Celtic church bow to Rome or would it stand its ground on a date that had been honored for centuries?  Well, we all know the outcome of that one! 
 
Whitby’s history and lore is sprinkled with tales of bloody Viking raids, miracles performed by its first Abbess, St. Hild and of course the requisite ghosts! However, in more recent times(relatively speaking) it’s said that the ruins of Whitby provided inspiration to Bram Stoker as the destination of  Dracula’s doomed ship, Demeter.  Very definitely one can  see how old  Bram could have been so inspired. 
 
At the end of the day, Whitby is just one of those places you can’t easily erase from your mind…but then can’t one erase images of  Dracula, either.
 
 
photography©gaye f. mack, inc.

 


ENGLAND’S CORNISH COAST & MOORS…ROCK-BOUND AND EERIE… RIPE FOR SMUGGLERS, GHOST SHIPS & MERLIN’S CRYSTAL CAVE

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain Leave a comment

Aside from the better-known places of legend with their struggles between church and crown, I am also very fond of this island’s offerings that are remote, lending themselves to the active imagination.   The Cornish coast is just such a place.  Not exactly a time saver to get to (maps are deceiving!)… it is a bloody long way down the road from London,(think days…so it seems) but well worth the trip!   Having visited Cornwall a few times over the years(first in 1980), it is one of those places where you just can’t get enough of the land, the sea and the myths!  

Cornwall is ancient, very ancient…it’s energy is ancient and like many places around this island, you can easily fall into time traps…a few years ago, a friend and I (we who consider ourselves pretty savvy travelers) got lost…inexplicably lost, on Bodmin Moor within a very small radius….to this day we have NO idea how this happened….fortunately our OS Map came to the rescue or we might still be there with the faries!

 Myths tell us that the north coastal town of Tintagel is the place where Merlin kept his crystal cave, made so famous in the 1970’s fantasy novels of Mary Stuart(hmmm is she a direct descendant of THE Mary Stuart, one wonders?)  And that  is possibly the location of King Arthur’s Camelot, his birthplace, etc.etc….although the Welsh take exception, the local Tintagel merchants apparently ignore this as Arthur and company are very much alive and well in Tintagel.  

 

What I can tell you is that the climb up the steep slopes to the remaining  foundations of Tintagel Castle is not for the faint of heart, but like the journey to Cornwall, it’s worth the effort!  The views are spectacular on a clear day…and positively spooky when it isn’t.  I kid you not,  as you look out from a high precipice at the endless scope of blue sea before you, with your feet placed in the stone depression on  the very spot where  legend tells us the Cornish kings were crowned a thousand years ago, you are easily transported back in time! It’s hard to come back to the present.

But Tintagel, Merlin and King Arthur are not all that is Cornwall, by far….You could spend weeks exploring this part of Britain….there are smuggler’s coves dotted with lilliputian inns, Pirates in Penzance (particularly at the Admiral Benbow pub!) sacred wells, (and don’t forget the moors!) standing stones, roads so narrow not to mention so steep in some parts that make Filbert street in San Franciso look whimpy. 

All in all Cornwall is a magical place….perhaps that is why they have their own language and have tried to separate from England for hundreds of years!  If you don’t have a great deal of time, one of the easiest ways to get down there is via fast train from London’s Paddington station (first class is very worth the cost).  The trip is about five hours one way and there is an Enterprise car rental location right at the station…just don’t forget your maps!

                                                                                                                                                                       

 Photography: Cave courtesy of English Heritage

                                                                                                                                                    

Tintagel Castle & Precipice©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.