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Rosslyn Chapel & Roslin Castle
Rosslyn Chapel is touted as being one of the most mysterious places in Scotland, especially with the current gloat of books purporting to show how hidden secrets lurk within every crack of stone at this venerated place. Anybody who has ever visited the chapel may feel that it deserves its current status, and I must confess the atmosphere even on a busy day is something to be experienced. The exquisite carvings are some of the best in the whole of Europe, and portray scenes not found in any other 15th century chapel. It has become a kind of Mecca to those interested in the mysteries of life, and contains many carvings relevant to biblical, masonic, pagan and Knights Templar themes.
The area around Rosslyn has played an important role in the history of Scotland, and the castle was a key holding during the wars of independence. A battle was fought here in 1303, when small force of Scottish Knights defeated a larger English army three times in 24 hours.
From what can be ascertained from the scattered surviving historical references, the chapel was built for the Prince of Orkney, Sir William St Clair in 1446. The chapel being part of a large-scale project involving a cruciform structure that was never completed. The Prince of Orkney died in 1484 and was buried within the chapel.
According to Father Richard Augustine Hay, who published a study on the genealogy of the St Clairs of Rosslyn. The workers and the materials were brought from far and wide. The village of Roslin being created for the numerous stonemasons and other labourers. It was in this period that the Apprentice is supposed to have been murdered for far surpassing his master's skills. But more on that later.
The chapel did not remain in use for long, great changes in secular activity during the reformation led to the provost resigning under threat of violence, and by 1592 the altars of the chapel had been smashed in accordance with the reformation and puritanical thought. From this time onwards until the 18th century the building began to fall into ruination.
Cromwell's troops used the chapel as a stable while they were besieging nearby Roslin Castle in 1650. It is surprising they did not destroy the chapel further, as many ancient places of sanctity were destroyed by Cromwell's troops. Eight years later the chapel was attacked by an Edinburgh mob and some of the villagers from Roslin. The chapel was still seen as blatantly Catholic, and a target against idolatry, some of the interior carvings of the chapel were damaged during the rampage.
James St Clair halted some of the environmental damage to the chapel when in 1736 he re-flagged the floor and fixed the roof. The most extensive repairs were started in 1861 when architect David Bryce was commissioned to restore the chapel by James Alexander the 3rd Earl of Roslin. It was rededicated on April 22nd 1862.
From then on the chapel has been in use and restoration has continued, although bad restoration techniques used in the 1950's have led to the covering steel structure to allow the stonework to dry out.
Legends & Mystical Connections
The chapel has played the part in many theories of mystical relevance, the chapel undoubtedly has a strong atmosphere. On my visit I certainly felt uplifted as I walked through the door and into the chapel, and the romantic in me half imagined an up welling of energy from under the stone floor creating light headedness.
But then this is purely personal romanticism with no scientific basis, although later research suggested other people have had the same feeling. This is probably something to do with the dim light and the multitude of strange carvings.
There has certainly been a lot of conjecture about the chapel's mystical significance, the place undoubtedly has many enigmas, and what follows are a few legends and theories.
The Murdered Apprentice
The chapel has been described as a 'Tapestry in Stone' it has some of the most impressive stone carving in Scotland if not Europe, especially the Apprentice Pillar. This pillar is said to have been carved by an apprentice to the master mason. The master went to Rome to seek inspiration for carving. When he returned, he found that his ambitious apprentice had completed the pillar, and made an exquisite masterpiece out of it. Enraged he is said to have struck him dead on the spot in a fit of jealousy. Whether this is pure myth or based on a real event is not known. According to some sources the Bishop of St Andrew is supposed to have obtained the popes permission to delay the consecration of the building because a violent deed had taken place. The story may have its basis in the legend of Hiram Abif and other aspects of Masonic thought and ritual.
One of the carvings within the chapel shows a young man with a cut in his forehead, it is said to depict the murdered apprentice. There is a chance that the carving has been damaged in the past however, either accidentally or intentionally, perhaps when the altars were smashed or when the chapel was attacked by an Edinburgh mob.
The Knight Templars
The Prince of Orkney was undoubtedly involved in the Order of the Knights Templar, who were forcibly disbanded in 1307, although they continued on in one form or another. The Templars have become embroiled in many legends of mystical significance. They were supposed to have in their possession the Holy Grail, and it has been surmised that the chapel is the hiding place for this and other religious treasures, including a fragment of the holy rood, the cross of the crucifixion. The vault, unopened for centuries is the suggested repository for these items. The vault actually contains the remains of the Sinclair ancestors, interred in full armour as was customary until one of their wives objected to the practice in the 1700s.
The chapel is also said to be a representation of Solomon's Temple, and is said to hold encoded secrets to those who are willing to work them out. Another legend suggests that if you stand on a particular step within the castle and blow a horn a treasure will be revealed, Rosslyn, it has been suggested, is the treasure.
Some of the carvings within the chapel suggest that there was an early contact with the New World 200 years before the 'discovery' of America by Columbus. The carvings depict what is thought to be an American Cactus and Indian Sweetcorn, things that should not have been known when the chapel was created. Perhaps the Templars, who travelled far and wide discovered America before Columbus.
There have been numerous sightings of phantom monks in and around the chapel. One curator is said to have witnessed a ghostly monk praying at an alter in the crypt, surrounded by four guardian knights. In other sightings a monk dressed in grey, and one dressed in black have been seen inside and outside the chapel on a number of occasions. Curators have also heard mysterious noises when there was nobody about to account for them.
Some people have had strange experiences in the dark atmospheric crypt of the chapel, one person I have spoken to felt a mysterious wind come from nowhere while alone in the crypt.
A curious legend suggests that when one of the descendants of the Prince of Orkney dies the whole of the chapel appears as if it is on fire, Sir Walter Scott wrote about the phenomena in his Lay of the Last Minstrel. Strange lights have been seen witnessed around the chapel more recently.
Roslin Castle: Ghosts & Legends
No description about the alleged haunting of the chapel would be complete without including Roslin Castle's hauntings and legends; the two are linked, both in history and mystical connections.
The Castle and its environs, still owned by the Sinclair family, are haunted by a Black Knight on horseback, who has been seen by motorists on three separate occasions. There is no story to suggest who the figure might be but speculation suggests he is a knight killed in the battle of 1303.
There is a story that if you stand on a certain step within the castle and blow a trumpet treasure will be found, although a similar story has been told to me about blowing horn within the chapel to reveal the secrets of Rosslyn. The ghost of a white lady is also said to frequent the area.
The story with the longest precedent suggests a phantom hound, who haunts the woods around the castle on dark and stormy nights, heralded by its eerie baying. The legend as to how it came to haunt the area is as follows, and can be found in full in More Highland Folktales 1964 by R. Robertson MacDonald. On February the 24th 1302, the site was the scene of a major battle between Scots and English forces. One of the English knights was master of a large war hound, and when the Englishman was killed by a Scottish knight, the hound attacked him so viscously that Scotsman was forced to kill it.
That very night as the Scots rested in the confines of Roslin Castle, the spirit of the hound appeared in the guardroom causing panic amongst the troops. After this the dog appeared nightly, and the soldiers nicknamed it the 'Mauthe Doog'. Eventually the turn to guard came to the man who had slain the hound's master. Walking down the passage with the castle keys he let out a scream above the noise of a snarling hound, and fled back upstairs in blind panic, he never spoke another word and died three days later. The hound was said to have disappeared from the castle after this event, although the sound of baying can still be heard.
Additional Information: Due to the increasing populartity of the chapel through having been referred to in the Da Vinci Code novel and film, it is said that the quietest time to visit the chapel is in the morning, as soon as it opens. There is an entry fee to visit the Chapel. The Castle however, is not open to the public.