It’s All in the Details at Rosslyn Chapel

I’m going to be real with everyone: this post was super hard to write. Not just because I only have exterior shots (which l’ll explain later) but also because Rosslyn Chapel is just hard to describe. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I’m pretty sure that statement was first uttered when the person walked into Rosslyn. I first visited here when I studied abroad, but was lucky enough to come back with our Heart of Scotland Tours. It was definitely a good way to start our morning.

While this wasn’t my favorite stop of the day, it was still incredible. If you’re ever in the Edinburgh area, you can reach Rosslyn Chapel by bus; there’s also a fantastic little village, castle ruins and a cemetery to explore. I wish we would have had some time to explore the village, but I know we can get there via public transportation one day. And after all, the chapel was the main attraction, and for good reason.

The Origins of Rosslyn Chapel

William St. Clair, 3rd Prince of Orkney, began to build Rosslyn Chapel in 1446. Dedicated in the year 1450 as the Collegiate Chapel of St. Matthew, chapels such as this were used to pray for the soul of the founder as well as spread intellectual and spiritual knowledge.  By 1592, Oliver St. Clair was ordered to destroy the altars of Rosslyn, causing the use of the Chapel to end and the building to fall into disrepair. In 1650 Oliver Cromwell ransacked Rosslyn Castle and used the Chapel to house his horses.

Fast forward to the year 1736, when the first known attempts at preserving the Chapel were recorded. Sir James Sinclair glazed the windows, relaid the floor with new flagstones and repaired the roof. In 1863, the Episcopal Bishop of Edinburgh rededicated Rosslyn Chapel. The Chapel was finally usable again after restoration work was carried out by the architect David Bryce on behalf of James Alexander, 3rd Earl of Rosslyn. Sunday services began again for the first time in 200 years. Sunday services and weekday prayers still take place.

Roslin Chapel
The exterior of Rosslyn Chapel.

Conservation Efforts

Conservation efforts were first kicked up a notch in the 1950’s, but they would ultimately do more hard than good. The sacristy roof was repaired and the interior carvings were cleaned and given a protective coating. The coating was a thin cement, which covered the beautiful colored sandstone and gave the interior of the chapel it’s universal gray color still seen today. 

In 1995, The Rosslyn Chapel Trust was formed the care for the Chapel. Water was leaking into the chapel and getting trapped in the stone, causing green algae to grow on inside the chapel and ruining all of the carvings. A giant canopy, covering the entire building, was erected in 1997 to allow the Chapel to dry out slowly and naturally.  The canopy has been removed, allowing visitors to see the intriguing details of both the inside and outside stonework.

Roslin Door
Looking inside the chapel, you can see a bit of stained glass at the back.
Roslin Chapel
Another exterior shot of Rosslyn.

A Stonemason and His Apprentice

In a chapel full of incredible stonework it isn’t easy to stand out, but one apprentice did just that. At the front of the building stand two pillars, one done by a master mason and the other completed by his apprentice. Legend has it that the apprentice was inspired by a dream to complete a carving in his master’s absence. When his master returned from his journey and saw the incredible work, he flew into a fit of rage. Raising his mallet he struck his apprentice and on the head, killing him.
To honor the apprentice, masons finishing the Chapel carved his face into one of the front corners. Directly across from him is a carving of the master mason himself. As a punishment for his deed, the master mason was carved in a position looking directly at the beautiful Apprentice Pillar. He will gaze upon the work of his apprentice for all of eternity.
Rosslyn details
The exquisite details found at Rosslyn Chapel are amazing.
Sandstone color
I love the colors of the chapel. Inside it appears much more gray.

Rosslyn Chapel in Popular Culture

In 2003, Dan Brown released the book The Da Vinci Code. The two main characters find themselves embarking on a journey that takes them around the world, including a stop at Rosslyn Chapel. The book, and subsequent movie, gave the Chapel worldwide attention. According to our tour guide, the year after publication the amount of visitors to Rosslyn Chapel grew by over 100,000 people. Dan Brown didn’t invent the legend surrounding Rosslyn Chapel, but he certainly brought it worldwide attention. You can find the treasure of the fabled Knights Templar buried deep underground in a vault impossible to reach. What that treasure is depends on who you ask: the Holy Grail, the head of Jesus, part of the cross on which he died or even sacred scrolls from the same time.

Another fun story? According to the talks given at Rosslyn Chapel, people also believe that you can find an alien spacecraft buried here. I don’t really see how it’s possible, but I suppose if you use your imagination…

Rosslyn gargoyles
Gargoyles that also serve as a water spout.
Rosslyn Gargoyle 2
A different look at the gargoyle.

Taking in the Beauty

What can I possibly say about Rosslyn Chapel itself? Several words come to mind – gorgeous, breathtaking, amazing. But those don’t really do it any justice. You have to go to Rosslyn yourself to really get a sense of the place.   Every inch, from the ceiling down to the floor is full of carvings. It’s a spectacular site to see. Sadly, you are asked to refrain from taking photos inside the chapel so I can’t show you what it looks like.

We had about an hour to ourselves to walk around, both out in the grounds and inside the chapel. They gave a talk in the chapel, discussing the history and the many carvings. To be honest, I couldn’t really understand most of what the docent was saying because of the low murmur of everyone walking around. But I didn’t need to. You get a sense of the place just by being there; even if you don’t know what some (OK, most) of the carvings are,  it doesn’t matter.

Final view Rosslyn
There’s something so peaceful about these old buildings. I could have sat and enjoyed being here all day.

I hope everyone has a happy weekend full of new adventures! Today is Ryan’s birthday, so I have some super fun plans in store for Saturday and Sunday. I’ll see you all next week!



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