In Midlothian, a few kilometers south of Edinburgh stands Rosslyn Chapel, the 15th century Collegiate Church of St Matthew. The chapel was built in 1446 specifically for William Sinclair, third Earl of Orkney, Earl of Caithness and Baron of Rosslyn. He was also the Scottish ambassador to France and married to Elisabeth Douglas, daughter of the Duke of Touraine. Devout Catholics, the couple wanted to erect a chapel where they could worship and be laid to rest until the Day of Judgment. The Earl was buried there in 1484.
What makes this
chapel unique to others of its time, are the medieval stone carvings of the
Green Men, gargoyles, griffins, lions, dragons, unicorns, elephants, monkeys, and camels. There is also a depiction of the Mouth of Hell, (at the time, enormous jaws of a grotesque beast were believed to be the gateway to hell) the
Seven Deadly Sins, saints, devils, angels, knights, kings, queens, minstrels,
musicians and even sinners. The stone ceiling also portrays a celestial scene
of sun, moon and stars.
The Knights Templar, (who were forcibly
disbanded by the church in 1307) were believed to have hidden the Holy Grail somewhere in the chapel
along with other treasures, including the cross of the crucifixion, and a piece of the
holy rood. Since the vault remained unopened for centuries it added fuel to the rumors, when in
truth the vault contains the remains of the Sinclair, descendants, entombed in their full armor
as was the custom.
Lastly, the tale that intrigues me is the most
persistent throughout the ages. A remarkable legend intimates that when one of
the descendants of the Prince of Orkney dies (who many thought was a Templar) the entire chapel appears as if it is on fire. Sir Walter Scott perpetuated the
legend in, Lay of the Last Minstrel. Curiously, strange lights have been witnessed
around the chapel in more recent years.
|One of the pillars|
However, in 1592, all the beautiful altars in the chapel was shattered by a Protestant mob in accordance with the Reformation. From this period onwards, until the 18th century the building began to fall into ruin. In 1650 during Cromwell's siege of nearby Rosslyn Castle, his troops used the chapel as a stable adding to the chapel’s state of disrepair. This wasn’t unusual under Cromwell's leadership---many sanctified places were summarily devastated. Then eight years later the chapel was attacked by an Edinburgh mob as well as a few inhabitants of Rosslyn village. Seen as object of Catholic idolatry, many of the interior carvings were destroyed.
In 1861 architect David Bryce was commissioned to begin restoration on the chapel by the 3rd Earl of Rosslyn, James Alexander and was rededicated on April 22nd 1862.
Rosslyn chapel is touted as one of the most mysterious places in Scotland and takes part in many conspiracy theories, most notably:
It’s said to be a replica of Solomon’s Temple with coded secrets (anyone remember the DaVinci Code?)
Others insist the chapel carvings suggest early contact with the New World 200
years before Columbus officially discovered the Americas. The depictions are thought to be
of cacti and Native American sweet-corn.
So, if you are ever in the vicinity of Rosslyn Chapel, might I suggest bringing along a horn? Legend has it that if you stand on a certain spot within the chapel and blow a horn a treasure will be revealed.