Rosslyn Chapel, conveniently located only seven miles south of Edinburgh, offers some of the most stunning architecture and intriguing stories in Great Britain. Its beautiful stonework and ornate carvings have made it one of the most respected chapels in Scotland, while the legends surrounding its rich history have inspired stories as popular as Dan Brown’s "The Da Vinci Code."
Rosslyn Chapel was built in the mid-15th century as a place of worship for the Sinclair family of Roslin, Scotland. This noble family also built two other nearby places of worship in Roslin Castle and what is now Roslin Cemetery. When the Scottish Reformation eradicated Catholicism in 1560, the chapel closed to the public. It remained closed until 1861 when it was re-established as a Scottish Episcopal church.
Architecture Image: landhere (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0
While the architecture of Rosslyn Chapel is said to be some of the best in all of Scotland, there are also many controversies surrounding the architectural elements of the building. While the layout is said to reflect that of Solomon’s Temple, the original plans of the chapel have never been found. There are also many unique carvings found throughout the chapel, including 213 patterned cubes that are thought to be musical in nature, though that remains unproven. 110 carvings of plant-like faces are thought to be pre-Christian in origin, representing fertility. There are also decorative carvings of what is thought to be maize, a plant that would not have been introduced to Scotland for centuries after the chapel was built.
One of the most well known features inside Rosslyn Chapel is the Apprentice Pillar, built by the master mason’s apprentice without permission. Legend says when the mason discovered the finished pillar, he killed the apprentice in anger. The punishment for this murder was to carve the mason’s face into the opposite pillar, forcing him to stare at the pillar that angered him for eternity.
The chapel’s crypt is also shrouded in legend and mystery. Originally serving as a burial place for the Sinclair family, it has been sealed shut for many years. When considered with the legends surrounding the Freemasons and the Knight’s Templar, it has long been believed that this crypt is a great hiding place for grand treasures, such as the head of Jesus, the Holy Grail, and Scotland’s original crown jewels.
Da Vinci Code & Knights Templar
The history of Rosslyn Chapel has long since been entwined with legends surrounding the Knights Templar and the Freemasons, as many of the chapel’s carvings suggest association with both groups. For example, there is a carving of two riders on a single horse, more commonly known as a Seal of the Knights Templar. There is also an eroded carving of a blindfolded man being led by a noose, said to be part of Freemason initiation. Furthermore, there are Freemason connections in the Sinclair family and the suggestion that the layout of Rosslyn Chapel is similar to that of Solomon’s Temple. Legend also suggests the sealed crypt below the chapel is home to holy relics of the Templars, including the Holy Grail. Many of these claims have been disputed and argued over for centuries. Most recently, author Dan Brown centered his popular novel, "The Da Vinci Code," on these legends. As a result, Rosslyn Chapel has seen a steady increase in visitors in recent years, rivaling some of the more important cathedrals and churches in the UK.
Top image: carl-dania (flickr)