Rosslyn Chapel

First published in the 2011 GLSA Southern Division Spring Ball magazine

Rosslyn Chapel, originally named the Collegiate Chapel of St. Matthew, is a 15th Century church in the village of Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland. The chapel was designed by William Sinclair of the St Clair family, a Scottish noble family descended from Norman knights and, according to legend, linked to the Knights Templar. Construction of the chapel began in 1440, and the chapel was officially founded in 1446. Construction lasted for forty years.

 

Some authors have theorised that the Chapel’s west wall is actually a model of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and is part of the structure by design, rather than proof of another intended stage of building, which would have made the site about the size of a Cathedral.

 

In September 2005 a musical cipher hidden in mystical symbols carved into the stone ceiling of Rosslyn Chapel was reported as being unravelled by Scottish composer Stuart Mitchell. His feat was hailed by experts as a stroke of genius.

 

The codes were hidden in 213 cubes in the ceiling of the chapel, where parts of the film of Dan Brown’s best-seller The Da Vinci Code were shot. Each cube contained different patterns to form an unusual 6 ½-minute piece of music for 13 medieval players. The unusual sound is thought to have been of great spiritual significance to those who built the chapel. The melody was unravelled after Mr Mitchell discovered the stones at the bottom of each of 12 pillars inside the chapel formed a cadence (three chords at the end of a piece of music) of which there were only three types in the 15th century.

 

Mr Mitchell said the music sounded like a nursery rhyme. "Everyone wants to hear something miraculous but William Sinclair, who designed the chapel, was an architect, not a musician," he said. "It is evident from the nursery rhyme style of the music that he could not play very well. It is in triple time, sounds childlike and is based on plain chant which was the common form of rhythm of the time." The strange combination of instruments in the piece includes bagpipes, whistles, trumpet, a medieval mouth piano, guitar and singers.

 

The chapel has long been famous for its possible connections to Freemasonry and its attendant rituals. This was first publicised by Knight and Lomas, but it is also found in works by Michael Baigent and Leigh and Tim Wallace Murphy (circa 1990), and the connections entered mainstream consciousness when named in the novel The Da Vinci Code for its (possible) links to the Holy Grail.

 

Despite the fictitious nature of this work, its influence has been considerable. The Scottish NGO The Friends of Rosslyn, which own the land surrounding the Chapel and the Rosslyn Chapel Trust which administers the Chapel, have both published a number of books and literature on the Chapel.

 

Certainly the Chapel is used by the modern Knights Templar (a masonic group rather than descendants of the military religious order) for ’investiture’ ceremonies, and because of its connection to one of the more famous freemasons (William Sinclair) and also due to the Masonic architecture and symbolism featured on the Chapel walls, many Freemasons from all over the world visit it. Certain points in its architecture are quite indicative of a Masonic, and Templar, connection.

 

In addition to the theory that the Chapel was used by Freemasons and Knights Templar is the claim that those groups, stationed at Rosslyn Chapel, journeyed to North America and back before Columbus. This claim is based on several points:

 

1. some of what appear to be the oldest graveyards in Nova Scotia (which means New Scotland) have Masonic symbols and Crusader crosses on them;

 

2. the Westford Knight is a rock engraving in Massachusetts supposedly showing a Scottish knight, linked to the Henry Sinclair party, with the Clan Gunn markings;

 

3. most importantly, Rosslyn Chapel, although completed 6 years before Columbus’ voyage, allegedly has stone carvings in it of plants unique to the Western hemisphere.

 

Because of its rumoured connections with Freemasonry, the chapel has inevitably become listed as one of the possible final resting places of The Holy Grail. This is a possibility based on legends of ‘Secret Vaults’ and the possibility that the similarities between Rosslyn and the Temple of Jerusalem might be more than cosmetic.

 

The White Lady of Rosslyn Castle is said to hide a secret worth ’millions of pounds’ – and some have suggested that this could be The Grail or instructions on how to find it.

 

St Clair legend suggests that there are 3 big medieval chests (probably the size of steamer trunks) buried somewhere on the property, and this has inevitably led to various theories as to the chests’ contents. Past scanning and excavations in or near the Chapel have not yielded any such chests.

 

Sealed chambers under the basement of the chapel, however, have yet to be excavated for fear of collapse of the entire structure. These chambers are filled with pure white Arabic sand – rumored to have been brought to the chapel by the Knights Templar from the Dome of the Rock – and ultrasonic scans have revealed six leaden vaults within the sand. It should be noted that it is only the Ruined Wall that is based on the Temple of Jerusalem – the chapel itself most closely resembles the East Quire of Glasgow Cathedral.

 

The Chapel is famous for its 2 pillars: the Apprentice Pillar and the Master Pillar which, though next to each other, are carved differently. Masonic Architects believe these structures could signify the pillars of Boaz and Jachin.

 

Most interestingly are the (pictorial) refererences to the Key of Hiram, a significant piece of Masonic legend in the wall carvings, and in depictions of the New World, purportedly showing maize and aloe vera plants about a century before the discovery of North America, suggesting pre-Columbus travel there (the La Merika theory).

 

Also many archaeoastronomers believe that the walls are carved with azimuths, that give coordinates for sites in Iceland (where the St Clairs supposedly originated) and across Britain.

 

 

References:

M Oxbrow & I Robertson. Rosslyn and the Grail

Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas. The Hiram Key

 

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