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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From what can be ascertained from the scattered surviving historical references, the chapel was built for the Prince of Orkney, Sir William St Clair in 1446.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.

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Daniel Parkinson

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The Hound of Roslin

I am a resident of Roslin and am out walking in the Glen every day with my Flat Coat Retriever. The strange thing is my dog never barks!! However, on a Murky night very Misty and Dreich, I had been at the river and was on my way up the steps at the side of Roslin Castle, when my dog went crazy, he snarling and growling, Deep gutteral growl with a fixed stare at the top of the steps which lead to the path to the castle. I was extremely unnerved as my dog turned side on, as if to make himself look bigger, with a sideways glance at me standing behind him, He was guarding me, but guarding me from something I could not see! I allowed my dog to stand growling for  a few minutes, wondering what I should do. As I stood there I thought to myself, I can't see anything, so Walk On Through! I did this, my dog still snarling and growling (very out of character) and we proceeded up the hill towards the Graveyards. Also what was unusual that night was, we never met another "Living" soul! and with all the hype from the Davinci Code No tourists "Strange" My dog continued looking behind all the way up the hill, and as we got to the graveyard I was feeling a little spooked. we sat on the wall for a moment, and I thought I would test my dog out and motioned for us to walk back down the hill. My dog dug his paws in and was Not for walking back in the direction we had just come from.! On return home, I checked the net and read about the Hound of Roslin.. I am convinced to this day, That is what he saw. Thankfully a few days later he had forgotten about the incident and we can now walk back down that path and go to the river. I believe my dog saw a ghost that night, unfortunately I didnt, but then maybe that was for the best! Or I may have screamed all the way home!!!!

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Thanks Suzie, it's great to

Thanks Suzie, it's great to hear of personal experiences at these sites.

Mark Oxbrow
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Templars? Er... no

Hi Daniel

Great article .. except...

the Templar bit - I'm afraid it's completely inaccurate..   not your fault!  a horrendous amount of disinformation has been written and said about the chapel and the Sinclairs in the last few years..

"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."

There is a contemporary primary source on the Sinclairs of Rosslyn and the Templars from 1309.. the only thing is that Henry St Clair (Sinclair) and his son Willian both testified AGAINST the Templars when they were brought to trial in Holyrood, Edinburgh, in 1309.

There are first hand witness statements from the Sinclairs of Rosslyn CONDEMNING the Knights Templar.  The Sinclairs were not Templars. They did not shelter Templars or offer 'refugee Templars' a safe haven. Rosslyn Chapel does not include Templar carvings or Templar treasures...     a 20th century fantasy version of Rosslyn's history has been promoted widely - eventually turning up in the Da Vinci Code... 

The thing is that it isn't history. It's not even secret history... it's basically 20th cent neo-templar fanstasy pseudohistory... based on discredited masonic legends, dodgy theories and unreferenced leaps of imagination..

It's time for the nonsense about Templars to be written out of Rosslyn's history - it's an insult to the memory of the real medieval St Clairs. They were Scots lords and knights - honourable men with wives and children - not secret Templars. If they were Templars then they broke every vow in the Templar rule...and betrayed the order  !!

BTW the chapel is not modelled on Solomon's Temple - it's modelled on the East Quire of Glasgow Cathedral

and - there are not carvings of cacti or indian corn in the chapel - there are trefoil wild strawberry leaves and bound sheaves of wheat from a story of Joseph..

all the best
mark :]

Mark Oxbrow - co-author 'Rosslyn and the Grail'

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Thanks for the great comments Mark, we're happy for readers to add to these articles where they can. There seems to be a lot of  "20th cent neo-templar fanstasy pseudohistory" (great phrase) out there and it's becoming almost like modern myth.  It was also good to have another opinion on the claims of the carved sweetcorn.  I'll certainly check out your book :)

Bests wishes

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Thanks for you comments. I think if you look at a lot of myths and legends you will find inconsistencies with historical fact, as they are after all myths and legends. There are really 2 parts to the above article: a brief history, and then speculation and mythology. It is interesting to see that most of this seems to be modern in origin and shows how myths develop (and in a relatively small time scale).
I guess I will postpone my search for the holy grail :-)

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Just as an addition I should also point out the: A word on sources and reality of Stories section of the copyright and sources regarding site articles. 

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Templars and Rosslyn

Quite right Mark, amazing how that old chestnut lingers on.

Actually if there was anyone there remotely connected with the Templars they were fighting on the English side at Bannockburn. Coincidently  perhaps, I've found some of the English nobility who had Templar connections end up associated with phantom dogs (Mandeville and Bigod most notably, both of whom were Templar patrons and probably confraters, with Bigod closely associated with Black Shuck). Nefarious practices no doubt :)

A lot of people even doubt the Masonic connection with Rosslyn these days, though I suspect there's an Operant Masonic connection rather than a Speculative one. The Sinclairs (quite a villainous family I thought,as they had a reputation for exploiting their Scottish stone masons) were certainly connected with the formation of Scottish Grand Lodge however.

Alas have yet to visit. 

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Though I agree with Daniel's

Though I agree with Daniels point as well as I'm a great believer in the relevance of myth. I think a lot of what passes for mainstream history still contains quite a few myths and sometimes whats' dismissed as myth by historians turns out to be true. Alas not in the case of the Templars of Rosslyn however.
But, what counts of course is what people believe happened, not what really did... ;)
Its worth pointing out also that while Sinclair was a prosecution witness against the Templars, he also says good things of them, and only mentions he's heard bad rumours about one Preceptor.

One of the odd things I find about Bannockburn is that combatants on both sides were often actually quite closely related and even friends,  before and after, and theres a case of a tip off regarding attacks to friends on the other side in one instance! Very odd, a kind of 'nothing personal, just war' attitude prevailed. I'll be covering that in more detail in my forthcoming book on the Templars and wider hidden history, Temple Garden. 

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Re: Rosslyn Chapel & Roslin Castle

The following from 'The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain by John Ingram (1897) mentions the burial in armour of the St Clairs and the legend of the chapel appearing to be burning down as death omen to the family.

The family vault of the St Clairs is beneath the pavement of the chapel, and there the barons were anciently buried in their armour, without any " useless coffin.' - ' A manuscript history, quoted by Sir Walter Scott, thus alludes to a family interment in the vault at Roslin : "When my good father was buried, his (a long deceased Baron of Roslin) corpse seemed to be entire at the opening of the cave; but when they came to touch his body, it fell into dust. He was laying in his armour, with a red velvet cap on his head, on a flat stone; nothing was spoiled, except a piece of the white furring that went round the cap, and answered to the hinder part of the head. All his predecessors were buried after the same manner, in their armour; late Kosline, my good father, was the first that was buried in a coffin, against the sentiments of King James the Seventh, who was then in Scotland, and several other persons well versed in antiquity, to whom my mother would not hearken, thinking it beggarly to be buried after that manner."

But the wierd and curious superstition which lends so much romantic interest to Roslin, and which has caused it to be a favourite theme for poets, is the belief that whenever any of the founder's descendents are about to die the chapel appears to be on fire. Not-withstanding the fact that the last " Roslin," as he was called, died in 1778, and the estates passed into the possession of the Erskines, Earls of Rosslyn, the old tradition has not been extinguished. The manner and matter of the time-honoured legend are so well portrayed by Harold's song in The Lay of the Last Minstrel, that it had better be quoted from here:

O'er Roslin all that dreary night
A wondrous blaze was seen to gleam ;
'Twas broader than the watch-fire liffht.
And redder than the bright moon-beam.

It glared on Roslin's castled rock,
It ruddied all the copse-wood glen ;
'T was seen from Dryden's groves of oak,
And seen from caverned Hawthornden.

Seemed all on fire that chapel proud,
Where Roslin's chiefs uncoffin'd lie;
Each baron, for a sable shroud,
Sheathed in his iron panoply.

Seemed all on fire, within, around,
Deep sacristy and altars pale;
Shone every pillar, foliage bound,
And glimmered all the dead men's mail

Blazed battlement and pinnet high,
Blazed every rose-carved buttress fair-
So still they blaze when fate is nigh
The lordly line of Hugh St. Clair.

There are twenty of Roslin's barons bold
Lie buried within that proud chapelle !
Each one that holy vault doth hold
But the sea holds lovely Rosabelle!

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Re: The Hound of Roslin

I too had a similar experience as a Roslin resident.My terrier stopped at the path at the back of the castle and refused to go further.With a lot of persuasion we continued our walk.Nothing was out of the ordinary and I felt a bit unnerved.
Another time I went a summer evening walk around the outside oldest part of the castle.The path is separated by a tall beech hedge from the front of the castle.It was about 9.30pm and a lovely evening with no wind.As I was walking along the pathI heard loud crunching footsteps coming from the forecourt of the castle. I was a bit surprised as there were no cars parked in the usual space.It is let for holidays most of the year.
The steps were loud and "echoy"on the gravel forecourt and I thought it must be a heavy person to be striding about.It was all I could do to hold my dog back from barking.I kept moving and in a couple of seconds I had a view of the area and all was still and quiet and no person to be seen.
I realised it must be the Keeper of the Castle of times past still haunting the place.
A couple of years later I came to work at the castle and have had several scary experiences there.



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