Friday, 6 September 2013

Rosslyn Chappel. Not your grandad's Holy Grail

Just seven miles and a long bus ride from the centre of Edinburgh Rosslyn Chapel has been associated with the Templars and Freemasons, part of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code was set there and it pops up in Ian Rankin's Rebus novel Set in Darkness. The temple is said to house secrets and There is on record a letter from Mary Queen of Scots sent to the Edinburgh City hierarchy that promises never to reveal the secret that she was shown at Rosslyn [1].

Rosslyn Chapel Timeline

In 1446 William Sinclair, the first Earl of Caithness, got Papal Permission to found a chapel here and an endowment was set up to pay for the upkeep of the staff for ever. He had cottages for the workmen built and started building the chapel 10 years later following standard medieval plans. It was intended to be cruciform but after the founder died in 1484 work ceased after the choir was built. In 1571 as part of the reformation the Endowments were seized and the altars destroyed in 1592. in 1650 Cromwell took the castle and used the chapel as a stable. In 1726 James Sinclair made an effort to repair the chapel. By the late 18th century the chapel became a magnet for poets and artists. In 1830 Dorothy Wordsworth declared the chapel was beautiful and in 1842 Queen Victoria said she wanted it preserved for the country. In 1862 it was reconsecrated as a protestant church and conservation work began in the 1950s. In 2003 Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code sparked an interest in the chapel and the mysteries or “mysteries” associated with it.

The Apprentice Pillar
There are three pillars in the chapel originally called the Earl's Pillar, the Shekinah ( meaning the dwelling of god [2] ) and the Princes Pillar. Since the late Georgian Period they have been known as the Master Pillar, the Journeyman Pillar and the Apprentice pillar, allegedly so called because, in an 18th century legend it was carved by an apprentice who surpassed his master and was killed by the master in a fit of rage. It is also called the Princes Pillar in An Account of the Chapel of Rosslyn published in 1778. Its general form was described by one architect as that of a bunch of sausages.

Henning Klovekorn suggested the pillar represents the Norse World Tree Yggdrasil, citing the carved foliage at the top of the tree, the dragons at the base, similar to the dragon Nidhogg who gnaws at the root of the world tree and other references to Celtic and Norse mythology. It may also be a symbolic representation of a generic world tree that appears in mythology other than that of the Scandinavian countries, but these are speculative theories, possibly untestable, and do not explain why the Apprentice pillar rather then one of the two other pillars was chosen for this role: if it was.

The Green Man
The Green Man is a type of sculpture found in various places in Europe, of a human head with greenery all over it , sometimes growing out of its mouth. They are believed to be a pre-christian symbol of fertility and renewal. The one shown in Wikipedia's Rosslyn Chapel page differs from most in having an appearance of malevolence and being more like a demon with a gag in its mouth. There are over 110 Green Man carvings in the Chapel so at the very least, it was a popular theme with the masons who carved it.

Another possible explanation for the Green Man in the Chapel is related to the Celtic cult of the head, with the head being a guardian of the building, just as the head of the god Bran is allegedly buried under the Tower of London protecting the country from invasion.

The Beehive
Jackdaws nesting in the rooftop pinnacles made them unstable (I think I don't want to know) and the pinnacles had to be dismantled brick by brick for renovation. During this work in 2010 an abandoned chamber made especially to harbour bees was discovered and sent to local beekeepers to identify.

Bees play a role in many mythologies and in folklore. In Ancient Greece Apollo gave Hermes the Bee maidens, who sometimes prophesied true and sometimes false. In British Folklore it was a custom to tell the bees when the master of the house died, and in Finland a bee plays a role in the Kalevala [3] and the Bible tells the tale of Samson killing a lion then finding bees breeding in the carcase.

The appearance of the bees in ancient myths suggests the chamber may have been carved for mystical or magical reasons and its very existence may have been deliberately hidden from those paying for the building of the Chapel. It seems not to have been intended as a source of honey and the bees entered through a hole in a carved flower. The reason for building it may never be known, bit it ins interesting that, according to Henessy.

There is a strong cultural link between secret societies such as the Templars and Masons and the ancient insectoid ET's.
For example one of the symbols of the Merovingian bloodline, of the secret Templar families is the golden bee. The Order of the Golden Bee was patronised by both Napoleon and the Earl of Rosslyn. It's also true that little ET's such as Kobolds can be found on Templar tapestries.
The beehive is also featured in many Masonic illustrations.

While Hennesy's work refers to a lot of interesting facts and anecdotes and must be treated with caution, the snippet on the Order of the Golden Bee is..... interesting.

Modern Mythology

Hennessy [1] notes that Rosslyn Castle and Chapel are only a mile from Hawthornden Castle, now owned by Heinz Foods and linked to the chapel by a tunnel. He notes the Hawthorn is, in Celtic lands, symbolic of the Fairy folk, who often live underground. There is a 19th Century legend of a Piper who was sent down a tunnel at Rosslyn Castle and played his pipes as he walked. The pipes suddenly fell silent and he was never seen again. This sort of legend is not uncommon and in most cases, when investigated, the tunnels in question were found to go only a few yards.

The Chapel is popularly linked to the Templars, who were dissolved about 100 years before the Chapel was built and the Masons, who did not exist till about 200 years later. There is no proven link between the Chapel and the Masons, though the Sinclairs later became the Grandmasters of Scottish Masonry

Moving to the present day Hennessy catalogues a lot of data to bolster his theory that the area is a hive (bees again) of activity for insectoid aliens living in the caverns under the Lothians. What you make of his theory is up to you but the stories he recounts are interesting though open to other interpretations.

The Wrap
Even if you discount the mythical aura that has built up round the Chapel the architecture and symbolism of the carvings is fascinating and the building is well worth a visit. It is a fairly long bus ride from the city centre and the last bus back is around 8pm on a week day and earlier at Weekends: it may not run at all on a Sunday by the time you read this. Check the times of the last buses back when planning your visit. It is easer to reach by car from Badjao Bed and Breakfast.

[1] Turning the tide: Andrew Hennesey.

[2] The Shekhinah

[3] Bee Myth and Legend

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