It came into his mind to build a house for God’s service, of most curious work.” These words – used to describe the founder of Rosslyn Chapel, Sir William St Clair, third Prince of Orkney – exude a sense
of foreboding, especially in autumn and winter when dusk falls early.
No expense was spared in the 40-year construction of the Gothic masterpiece, founded in 1446. Festooned with flying buttresses and pointed arches, Rosslyn Chapel retains a mysterious aura even to this day.
It’s claimed the location – above the steep-sided Roslin Glen – was chosen because it sits on a powerful ley line that ends in Jerusalem. Others hail the chapel as a link connecting the Knights Templar to Freemasonry, though it was built a century before the Masons’ foundation.
The Da Vinci Code fans won’t be disappointed by its hugely elaborate architecture. Author Dan Brown retold a legend of the famed Knights Templar and the treasure – allegedly the Holy Grail – they buried beneath the chapel. This has been debunked by serious scholars, as has the view that the chapel’s plans were based on a blueprint of ancient Solomon’s Temple in the Holy Land; architectural historians believe the plans are based on the earlier Glasgow Cathedral.
Pagans and skeletons
Founded as a Roman Catholic collegiate church, the place of worship remains active, though these days in the Scottish Episcopalian tradition.
Replete with grinning Green Man carvings, dense foliage, a detailed Danse Macabre – in which figures waltz with their future skeletons – and stained-glass windows that bathe the interior in red light twice a year at the solstices, Rosslyn Chapel has given rise to many a wild theory. Nevertheless, the symbols can all be related to the Bible.
It’s a lot of fun to spy the numerous carvings. See if you can spot the hart’s-tongue fern on the Apprentice Pillar. The stone support is said to have been carved by the master stonemason’s assistant in his absence. The master returned displeased and killed the man with a hammer blow to the head.
You could spend hours craning your neck at the intricate stonework. If you feel the need to stretch your legs, there’s a traffic-free cycle path, part of National Cycle Route 196, that runs 4.5 miles between nearby Rosewell and the edge of Penicuik; take your bike lights for the tunnels.