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.