Rosslyn Chapel is located several miles south of the city of Edinburgh within the village of Roslin, Midlothian. Perched on the top of a small hill overlooking the southerly Glen sits this mysterious and captivating chapel. Easily accessible by bus – a 50-minute journey from the city centre, by car – a large car park provides ample spaces and by foot or bike allowing for all to come and visit. The surroundings allow for a full day visit to the area with woodland walks and the nearby Roslin Castle to be explored if one wishes.
The chapel was founded by Sir William Sinclair (3rd Prince of Orkney) in the 15th century. The building of the chapel began in 1446 but it was at least a further 40 years before it was completed. Previous excavations from the 1800s onwards have uncovered foundations extending a further 30 metres to the west, indicating the initial design was of a cruciform building, to be known as the Collegiate Church of St Matthew, a full church complete with a steeple.
Following Sir Williams’ death, there was no further construction of the chapel. Rosslyn Chapel remains in its current form standing tall on the small hill above Roslin Glen.
The chapel displays high-quality detailed craftsmanship; with all carvings crafted by hand from local sandstone. There are stories behind each carving. Are they true or mythical? Is history carved into the building? Everyone can make up their own minds.
The chapel began construction in 1446 with the foundations completed by 1450. It is thought that the chapel was planned to be much grander, a full church complete with steeple as mentioned earlier. The death of the founder; Sir William Sinclair saw a halt to any further building of the chapel. Sir William Sinclair was laid to rest in the unfinished section of what would have been a much bigger church. After the burial, Oliver Sinclair, son of William either lost interest, lacked finance or simply did not pursue any further building except to add the roof that currently exists.
Rosslyn Chapel has been a burial site for the Sinclair family for a number of generations, the direct descendants of William Sinclair who built the chapel back in 1446. The Crypt within the chapel has been sealed shut for a significant time. No-one knows exactly what is behind the sealed entry. The sealed entrance can be found to the rear of the chapel by descending the stair. The legend that surrounds the crypt is that the sealed entrance leads to a bigger and more religious vault containing the Holy Grail, the treasures of the Knights Templar and the mummified head of Jesus Christ. No other entrance to the Crypt has ever been found. Exhaustive searches were carried out in 1837 when the 2nd Earl of Rosslyn died with the wish of being buried in the original vault.
The most outstanding piece of architecture found within Rosslyn Chapel is that of ‘The Apprentice Pillar’. The name derived from the pillar being crafted by an apprentice mason. Legend has it that the apprentice was murdered out of jealously by his master upon his return to Rosslyn after having travelled. The mason and his pupil have been identified with two of the gargoyles inside the church. Further to the legend, it’s said the master-mason’s face is carved into the chapel wall opposite so as to always have his eyes on the pillar. There has been no evidence to prove or disprove this. The detailed carvings on the pillar are said to make reference to rituals of stonemasons and have similarities to those of King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.
Carved into Rosslyn Chapel are more than one hundred Green Men. A Green Man carving is of a human face with various greenery growing around it and through its mouth. The Green Man is a symbol of rebirth, associated mostly with the Spring months when there is growth and bringing of new life.
The common greenery surrounding the face is leaves but there are carvings with branches and vines. Some may have flowers or fruit growing from various facial features. The carved figure is a common piece of architecture found on ecclesiastical buildings; these being buildings related to the Christian Church.
The Rosslyn Chapel Trust established in 1995 oversees the restoration and preservation of the historic site. The trust also oversees the running of the Chapel as a tourist destination. Extensive restoration of the chapel was carried out between 1997 and 2013. Repairs were carried out to the roof, walls, carvings and stained glass. There were many interesting archaeological discoveries during the conservation and restoration period; most noteworthy being three human skeletons.
The new visitor centre was built and opened in 2011. Entrance to the chapel is through the visitor centre. Since the publication of The Da Vinci Code novel, tourist numbers have risen. A larger car park was built to accommodate the coach tours coming to visit the chapel and the surrounding glen. Restoration of the chapel is not cheap and with the increase in the visitor the numbers the running costs and upkeep continue to rise. Additional funding for the trust has come from Historic Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund
Dan Brown, author of the world-famous novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’ based the finale of the story in Rosslyn Chapel. He believed the chapel to be the most mysterious and magical in the world. The book uses the chapel as a feature point in the quest for the location of the Holy Grail.
Since the novel’s publication in 2000 Rosslyn has seen visitor numbers sore as it continues to feature at the centre of many conspiracy theories. Is the Holy Grail at Rosslyn Chapel? Did the Knights Templar hide their treasures in the Crypt? A visit to the chapel is surely worth it for you to discover its wonders for yourself and to make your own judgement on these theories.
The chapel, as you will see if you visit, boasts exceptional and detailed craftsmanship. As with many other historic buildings in Scotland myths and legends abound. Rosslyn Chapel is no different, in fact, it is one of the most mysterious. Legend has it that underneath the chapel, buried behind a stone wall and set back from the detailed wall carvings, is a spartan stone crypt. Buried even deeper is said to be the treasure of the Knights Templar.
There is no solid evidence that suggests the Holy Grail is or ever was present at Rosslyn Chapel. Nor is there evidence that proves the latter is incorrect, a conundrum indeed. Unfortunately, further deeper excavations under the temple into the crypt are no longer permitted. This type of work is likely to affect the foundations and structure of the chapel. The Chapel is sometimes described as ‘The Church of the Holy Grail’. What makes the chapel mysterious is that no one will ever know its secrets and what possible treasures are buried beneath its foundations.
Roslin Glen Country Park is a spectacular place to walk, to discover nature, and learn more about the area’s history. Within the Park, the Midlothian Ranger Service is working to create safe public access whilst maintaining the Glen’s natural habitats for all to enjoy.
Wildlife to be seen includes buzzards soaring high above the woods, butterflies and bumblebees feeding on the nectar of foxgloves, as well as voles and badgers foraging on the woodland floors.
The River North Esk is home to a variety of birds including kingfishers and if you are lucky you may catch a glimpse of an Otter on the river banks. A wildflower meadow has also been created as a result of a partnership with the Midlothian Ranger Service and the local community. This allows everyone to enjoy the plants and flowers native to the area.
If time allows there are many walks through the Roslin Glen woodland that uncover more of the area’s history. Following the River North Esk through the glen you will pass ruins of Rosslyn Castle, Powder Mills, Mill Lade remains, and the Gunpowder Mill Gates. Roslin was once home to Scotland’s largest gunpowder mill. For a period of over 150 years, gunpowder and explosives manufactured from the mills were used in mining and supplied munitions for the First and Second World War.
Roslin Glen also produced textiles. Linen bleached on the bleach fields back in the 18th century was once worn by Queen Victoria. The remains of the 1868 Carpet Factory are still visible within the park. Tapestry carpets were manufactured here for over 100 years and shipped worldwide before its closure in 1968.
All these industries were initially serviced by a local railway and Rosslyn Castle station.
With Rosslyn Chapel standing tall on the small hill and the vast woodland of Roslin Glen around it there is something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you are a history lover, nature enthusiast, or simply like to take a walk then a visit to this area of Midlothian is highly recommended as part of your visit to Scotland.
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