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If you are planning a trip to Edinburgh, one stop you will want to make is a day trip to Rosslyn Chapel. You might remember Rosslyn Chapel from The Da Vinci Code (book by Dan Brown, movie starring Tom Hanks).
Why visit Rosslyn Chapel?
It is one of the most unique chapels in Europe and has a history that is steeped in lore and mystery.
This chapel is quite spectacular filled with magnificent stone work and hidden, encrypted designs.
It is no wonder why many speculate that there is somehow a tie between the Knights Templar and Rosslyn Chapel.
Never heard of the Templar Knights?
The Knights Templar were originally monks who took up arms in 1118 A.D. in order to protect Christian pilgrims traveling from Jaffa (a port city in Israel) to Jerusalem.
According to legend, the Knights Templar discovered the greatest treasures of the world and were in charge of keeping them safe.
After being persecuted by the King Phillip IV of France in 1307, many of the surviving Knights Templar went into hiding and eventually taught stonemasons the Gothic building techniques (including sacred geometry) that they used. This eventually spawned into the foundations of Freemasonry.
Of course, all of this is speculation, but when visiting Rosslyn Chapel, it will make you wonder about the legitimacy.
Those who followed the story told in the Trilogy of books began making trips to Rosslyn Chapel to see where part of the film Da Vinci Code was filmed and created a fervor of attention to this small Chapel outside of Edinburgh.
If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I suggest you do before you visit Rosslyn Chapel! It will make tour Rosslyn Chapel even more exciting!
Tom Hanks had this to say about his time filming in Rossyln Chapel,
Few locations in film are so delightful and few destinations live up to their billing, but Rosslyn Chapel was all one could imagine or hope for.
History of Rosslyn Chapel
In 1446, William St. Claire (1st Earl of Caithness) came to Roslin with the plan to create the Collegiate Chapel of St. Matthew.
The purpose of the college was to observe the recitation of certain Christian prayers at fixed hours and also to celebrate Mass for all the departed faithful souls (most importantly, those of the Sinclair family).
Why is this important & what does it have to do with Knights Templar and Freemasonry?
William St. Claire was the first Grand Master of the Masonic Grand Lodge of Scotland.
Clearly there is some sort of tie between his faith, his work with Freemasonry and the Rosslyn Chapel.
Excavations show that St. Claire had intended for the chapel to have been in the shape of a cross, but unfortunately he died before the chapel was completed (around 1485).
By the time of the Scottish Reformation (1560) the Chapel was fully abandoned. Soon there after, it was left in ruin, overtaken by natural elements. Ceilings collapsed, green moss grew on the walls, and the entire building began to look run down.
It wasn’t until 1842, when the chapel was visited by Queen Victoria that it would be brought back to life. The Queen could see the beauty beyond the destruction and made it a priority to bring it back to its original glory.
By 1862, the chapel was once again in service, but this time under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
As time went on and the chapel was brought back to life, details of the masonry emerged and speculation grew on its history.
The unique intricate carvings and the stories of what lie beneath the chapel caused people to wonder if the Chapel had connections to the Free Masons or Knights Templar.
Unique Features of Rosslyn Chapel
While the outside of Rosslyn Chapel is beautiful, the interior has many unique features you will want to take time to admire.
The details are pretty intricate and were not placed there without purpose. St. Claire wanted to make sure that those who saw them paid attention to them.
There are no photographs of these features as photography is frowned upon inside Rosslyn Chapel so I am providing descriptions on what to take note of:
- There 110 “Green Men” who are found throughout the chapel. The men aren’t actually green in color, but have greenery surrounding (and sometimes engulfing them). They are thought to be Pagan symbols for rebirth and fertility.
- You will find unusual carvings of plants like aloe & maize. It is unusual because corn (a native American crop) was not yet discovered in the years during which the chapel was constructed. Remember, America was supposedly discovered by Columbus in 1492. Could this mean that St. Claire had knowledge of these plants prior to Columbus? And if so, how?
- You will find a camel etched in stone even though they are not found anywhere near Scotland.
- The Great Rose Window. At noon, on the day of the summer and winter solstice, light strikes the glass, showering the chapel with a rose-colored glow. It is no coincidence. There are other ancient ties to the importance of the summer & winter solstices found elsewhere (like Stonehenge)
- Note the 13 crisscrossing arches that run the length of the room. You will find that inside the arches are small cubes (there are 213 cubes in all). Each one has either a diamond, a flower, or an inverted circle. At the base of each arch is an angel either playing an instrument or singing. What are we to make of this? It has been believed to be the notes of an ancient hymn.
- And what might seem like a bit of graffiti on a pillar with no real meaning, is actually a hooked X (an ancient symbol used by the Knights Templar)
These are just a sampling of the many curiosities found in Rossyln Chapel. If you attend the guided tour, most likely you will be told about the legend of the apprentice pillar. If not, here it is:
Legend of the Apprentice Pillar
Rosslyn Chapel has 14 leviathan stone pillars which form twelve pointed arches.The Apprentice Pillar is the most impressive and has a story to go along with it.
It is said that it was done by an apprentice of the stonemason in charge of the chapel construction.
While the head stonemason was on a trip to Italy to learn new techniques and get ideas for the pillars, the apprentice took it upon himself to work on the pillar.
When the head stonemason arrived back and saw the craftsmanship that undoubtedly overshadowed his own, he killed him with a mallet, right on the spot.
Legends like this along with the intricate carvings found throughout Rosslyn Chapel are what make it so incredibly unique.
After you tour the inside of Rosslyn Chapel, be sure to take time to walk the chapel grounds.
While the interior is in much better shape when it comes to details in the stone work, the exterior still has features to be admired.
If you would like to purchase a souvenir from your trip, there is a lovely gift shop along with a small cafe.
How to get from Edinburgh to Rosslyn Chapel
If you are planning a day trip to Rosslyn Chapel from Edinburgh, be sure to get there early in the day. You will want to arrive in time to be able to get the guided tour (more like a lecture) before you do your own exploring.
The easiest way to get to Rosslyn Chapel from Edinburgh is by car or bus.
By car: Follow signs to the Newington or Liberton areas, then continue along the A701, towards Penicuik. Look for the brown tourist signs as you approach the village.
By bus: From Edinburgh, look for a Lothian Service 37 and check that it says ‘Penicuik/ Deanburn’ at the front of the bus. Take this bus to Rosslyn Hotel and walk a few minutes to the Chapel. The trip takes about a little under an hour and is about £1.70 per person (be sure to have exact change).
Day Tour to Rosslyn Chapel from Edinburgh
You can also book a small group excursion to Melrose, Rosslyn Chapel, and the Scottish Borders from Edinburgh. This 6 hour tour includes all transportation to & from Edinburgh.
Admission to Rosslyn Chapel
- Adults £9.00
- Children free as part of a family group
Guides provide talks throughout the day and are included in the admission price. I found this to be particularly interesting as the guide does a great job of explaining all the details you find in the chapel. These run at the following times:
- Monday to Saturday: 10am, 11am, 12.15pm, 2pm, 3pm & 4pm
- Sundays: 1pm, 2pm, 3pm
Keep in mind that Rosslyn is a working church. Services are held on Sunday mornings at 10:30am and Evening Services are held, between April and October, at 5:15pm. Everyone is welcome.
Short 10 minute prayer services are held throughout the year at 12 noon on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the Chapel.
Have you taken a day trip to Rosslyn Chapel? What was your favorite part?