Rosslyn Chapel

So, like 150,000 other fans of The DaVinci Code each year, I chose to visit Rosslyn Chapel , about a 35-minute bus ride from our vacation apartment. Margaret proposed a lot of our travel destinations, since she was in York and Edinburgh much more recently than me, but this one was my suggestion.

So, from the outside, Rosslyn Chapel is a medieval small gothic church made of local sandstone. Here’s me standing near the main entrance, next to the water bowl for William, the chapel’s resident cat.

Some of the pink you can see, especially above and to the left of the main entryway, is the natural colour of the stone. Inside, it’s all grey, from a thin concrete layer added in the 1950’s trying to protect the porous original stone from water. The chapel was neglected for a very long time, and partly restored by the Victorians after the interior became overgrown with moss and ivy. In 1995 the current Earl set up a trust, which got a big boost once Dan Brown’s book came out and tourism quintupled.

I learned that it was originally a “collegiate church” housing a “college” of priests the builder (William Sinclair, first Earl of Caithness) paid to pray for him and his ancestors every day. It’s a reminder that ancient universities were originally run by the clergy.

The main reason it’s worth spending a good chunk of a day there is to examine the intricate carvings inside. Despite the depredations of Scottish weather, and the vandalism of Cromwell’s followers, most are still fairly easy to make out. There are carvings everywhere. I particularly liked the angel with a bagpipe (in the midst of others playing more conventional instruments). It’s still an active church, with two Sunday services, which was quoted as the reason we’re not allowed to take pictures inside (buy the guidebook, instead!)

This view shows signs of the original builder’s intent. The current chapel was meant to be the choir of a standard gothic church — the smaller bit at the top of a cross. Workmen started building the walls of the transept (the crossbeam), which you can see to the left of the bit sticking out towards the camera (added much later, as a baptistry). There was going to be a tower that could be seen from Edinburgh many miles away. But then the lord died, and his son chose not to continue for reasons unrecorded — perhaps lack of interest, or perhaps lack of money.

After spending a couple of hours in and around the chapel, we took a short walk downhill to Rosslyn Castle It was a bit disappointing, since the castle part is in ruins, and what is left is a tourist accommodation when the Earl isn’t in residence.

The house is just visible beyond the rightmost of the backlit pillars.

Another minor point of interest is that we got to and from Rosslyn on a regular Lothian bus, not a special tour bus. Some bus stops have signs that show you when the next one is expected:

A couple of minutes before this, the second Silverknowes bus showed DLY (for Delayed). If only buses at home were so civilized!

Edit: Here is Margaret’s blog about the same day.

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