You are on page 1of 9

Coordinates: 555119N 30937W

Rosslyn Chapel
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rosslyn Chapel, formally known as the Collegiate

Chapel of St Matthew, is a 15th-century chapel located
at the village of Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland.

Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel was founded on a small hill above Roslin

Glen as a Catholic collegiate church (with between four
and six ordained canons and two boy choristers) in the
mid-15th century. The chapel was founded by William
Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness of the Scoto-Norman
Sinclair family. Rosslyn Chapel is the third Sinclair place
of worship at Roslin, the first being in Roslin Castle and
the second (whose crumbling buttresses can still be seen
today) in what is now Roslin Cemetery.[1]
The purpose of the college was to celebrate the Divine
Office throughout the day and night and also to celebrate
Mass for all the faithful departed, including the deceased
members of the Sinclair family. During this period the
rich heritage of plainsong (a single melodic line) or
polyphony (vocal harmony) would be used to enrich the
singing of the liturgy. An endowment was made that
would pay for the upkeep of the priests and choristers in
perpetuity and they also had parochial responsibilities.


Shown within Midlothian

After the Scottish Reformation (1560), Roman Catholic

worship in the chapel was brought to an end, although the
Sinclair family continued to be Roman Catholics until the
early 18th century. From that time the chapel was closed
to public worship until 1861, when it was opened again as
a place of worship according to the rites of the Scottish
Episcopal Church, a member church of the Anglican
Since the late 1980s, the chapel has also featured in
speculative theories concerning a connection of
Freemasonry, the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail. It
was prominently featured in the 2003 bestselling novel
The Da Vinci Code and its 2006 film adaptation.
Rosslyn Chapel remains privately owned. The current

555119N 30937W
OS grid



Roslin, Midlothian



Denomination Scottish Episcopal Church

Roman Catholic


owner is Peter St Clair-Erskine, 7th Earl of Rosslyn.[2]

1 Architecture (http://ww

Saint Matthew






Category A

1.1 Apprentice pillar



1.2 Carvings
1.3 Crypt
1.4 Rooftop pinnacle
2 Restoration, conservation and tourism
3 In popular culture
3.1 Templar and Masonic connections
3.2 Alternative histories
4 See also
5 References
5.1 Further reading

Interior of the chapel.

6 External links

The original plans for Rosslyn have never been found or recorded, so
it is open to speculation whether or not the chapel was intended to be
built in its current layout. Its architecture is considered to be among
the finest in Scotland.[3]
Construction of the chapel began on 20 September 1456, although it
has often been recorded as 1446. The confusion over the building
date comes from the chapel's receiving its founding charter to build a
collegiate chapel in 1446 from Rome. Sinclair did not start to build
the chapel until he had built houses for his craftsmen.
Although the original building was to be cruciform in shape, it was
Pendant keystone in the roof
never completed. Only the choir was constructed, with the retrochapel, otherwise called the Lady chapel, built on the much earlier
crypt (Lower Chapel) believed to form part of an earlier castle. The foundations of the unbuilt nave and
transepts stretching to a distance of 90 feet were recorded in the 19th century. The decorative carving was
executed over a forty-year period. After the founder's death, construction of the planned nave and transepts
was abandoned - either from lack of funds, lack of interest or a change in liturgical fashion.
The Lower Chapel (also known as the crypt or sacristy) should not be confused with the burial vaults that lie
underneath Rosslyn Chapel.[1]
The chapel stands on fourteen pillars, which form an arcade of twelve pointed arches on three sides of the
nave. At the east end, a fourteenth pillar between the penultimate pair form a three-pillared division between
the nave and the Lady chapel.[4] The three pillars at the east end of the chapel are named, from north to

south: the Master Pillar, the Journeyman Pillar and, most famously, the Apprentice Pillar. These names for
the pillars date from the late Georgian period prior to this period they were called the Earl's Pillar, the
Shekinah and the Prince's Pillar.

Apprentice pillar
One of the more notable architectural features of the Chapel is the
"Apprentice Pillar, or "Prentice Pillar". Originally called the "Prince's Pillar"
(in the 1778 document An Account of the Chapel of Roslin)[5] the name
morphed over time due to a legend dating from the 18th century, involving
the master mason in charge of the stonework in the chapel and his young
apprentice mason. According to the legend, the master mason did not believe
that the apprentice could perform the complicated task of carving the column
without seeing the original which formed the inspiration for the design.
The master mason travelled to see the original himself, but upon his return
was enraged to find that the upstart apprentice had completed the column by
himself. In a fit of jealous anger, the master mason took his mallet and struck
the apprentice on the head, killing him. The legend concludes that as
punishment for his crime, the master mason's face was carved into the

The Apprentice Pillar

opposite corner to forever gaze upon his apprentice's pillar.[6]

On the architrave joining the pillar there is an inscription, Forte est vinum fortior est rex fortiores sunt
mulieres super omnia vincit veritas: "Wine is strong, a king is stronger, women are stronger still, but truth
conquers all" (1 Esdras, chapters 3 & 4).
The author Henning Klovekorn has proposed that the pillar is representative of one of the roots of the Nordic
Yggdrasil tree, prominent in Germanic and Norse mythology. He compares the dragons at the base of the
pillar to the dragons found eating away at the base of the Yggdrasil root and, pointing out that at the top of
the pillar is carved tree foliage, argues that the Nordic/Viking association is plausible considering the many
auxiliary references in the chapel to Celtic and Norse mythology.[7] The general form of the pillar has been
related to a type described by the French architect Eugne Viollet-le-Duc as a "bunch of sausages."[8]

Among Rosslyn's many intricate carvings are a sequence of 213 cubes or "boxes" protruding from pillars
and arches with a selection of patterns on them. It is unknown if these patterns have any particular meaning
attached to them. Many people have attempted to find information coded into them, but no interpretation has
yet proven conclusive. Unfortunately, many of these 'boxes' are not original, having been replaced in the
19th century after erosion damage.
One recent attempt to make sense of the boxes has been to interpret them as a musical score. The motifs on
the boxes somewhat resemble geometric patterns seen in the study of cymatics. The patterns are formed by
placing powder upon a flat surface and vibrating the surface at different frequencies. By matching these
Chladni patterns with musical notes corresponding to the same frequencies, the father-and-son team of
Thomas and Stuart Mitchell produced a tune which Stuart calls the Rosslyn Motet.[9][10]
There are more than 110 carvings of "Green Men" in and around the chapel. Green Men are carvings of
human faces with greenery all around them, often growing out of their mouths. They are found in all areas of
the chapel, with one example in the Lady chapel, between the two middle altars of the east wall.

Other carvings represent plants, including depictions of wheat, strawberries or lilies.[11] The authors Robert
Lomas and Christopher Knight have hypothesized that some carvings in the chapel represent ears of new
world corn or maize, a plant which was unknown in Europe at the time of
the chapel's construction. Knight and Lomas view these carvings as evidence
supporting the idea that Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, travelled to the
Americas well before Columbus.[12]

The chapel has been a burial place for several generations of the Sinclairs; a
crypt was once accessible from a descending stair at the rear of the chapel.
This crypt has been sealed shut for many years, which may explain the
recurrent legends that it is merely a front to a more extensive subterranean
vault containing (variously) the mummified head of Jesus Christ,[13] the
Holy Grail,[14] the treasure of the Templars,[15] or the original crown jewels
of Scotland.[16]

Green Man of the chapel

In 1837, when the 2nd Earl of Rosslyn died, his wish was to be buried in the
original vault. Exhaustive searches over the period of a week were made, but
no entrance to the original vault was found and he was buried beside his wife
in the Lady Chapel.[17]

Rooftop pinnacle
The pinnacles on the rooftop have been subject to interest during renovation
work in 2010. Nesting jackdaws had made the pinnacles unstable and as
such had to be dismantled brick by brick revealing the existence of a
chamber specifically made by the stonemasons to harbour bees. The hive,
now abandoned, has been sent to local bee keepers to identify.[18]

Carvings, which some

believe depict Indian corn

Restoration, conservation and tourism

The chapel's altars were destroyed in 1592,[19] and the chapel was abandoned, gradually falling into decay.
In 1842 the chapel, now in a ruined and overgrown state, was visited by Queen Victoria, who expressed a
desire that it should be preserved. Restoration work was carried out in 1862 by David Bryce on behalf of
James Alexander, 3rd Earl of Rosslyn. The chapel was re-dedicated on 22 April 1862, and from this time,
Sunday services were once again held, now under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Episcopal Church, for the
first time in 270 years.
The Rosslyn Chapel Trust was established in 1995, with the purpose of overseeing its conservation and its
opening as a sightseeing destination. The chapel underwent an extensive programme of conservation
between 1997 and 2013. This included work to the roof, the stone, the carvings, the stained glass and the
organ.[20] A steel canopy was erected over the chapel roof for fourteen years. This was to prevent further
rain damage to the church and also to give it a chance to dry out properly. Three human skeletons were
found during the restoration.[21] Major stonework repairs were completed by the end of 2011. The last major
scaffolding was removed in August 2010.[22]

A new visitor centre opened in July 2011. The chapel's stained-glass windows and organ were fully restored.
New lighting and heating were installed.[22] The expected cost of the restoration work is around 13 million,
with about 3.7 million being spent on the Visitor Centre. Funding has come from various sources including
Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland and the environmental body, WREN. Actor Tom Hanks also made
a donation.[22]
Photography and video have been forbidden in the chapel since 2008. The chapel sells commercially
produced photos in its shop.[23] In 2006, historian Louise Yeoman criticised the Rosslyn Chapel trust for
"cashing in" on the popularity of the The Da Vinci Code, against better knowledge.[24]
In the financial year of 2013-2014, Rosslyn Chapel recorded 144,823 visitors, the highest number since
2007-2008, when (at the height of popular interest induced by The Da Vinci Code), the number of visitors
was close to 159,000.[25]

In popular culture
Templar and Masonic connections
The chapel became the subject of speculation regarding its supposed connection with the Knights Templar or
Freemasonry beginning in the 1980s.[26]
The topic entered mainstream pop culture with Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (2003), reinforced by the
subsequent film of the same name (2006),[27] Numerous books were published after 2003 to cater to the
popular interest in supposed connections between Rosslyn Chapel, Freemasonry, the Templars and the Holy
Grail generated by Brown's novel.[28] The chapel, built 150 years after the dissolution of the Knights
Templar, supposedly has many Templar symbols, such as the "Two riders on a single horse" that appear on
the Seal of the Knights Templar. William Sinclair 3rd Earl of Orkney, Baron of Roslin and 1st Earl of
Caithness, claimed by novelists to be a hereditary Grand Master of the Scottish stonemasons, built Rosslyn
Chapel.[29] A later William Sinclair of Roslin became the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland
and, subsequently, several other members of the Sinclair family have held this position.[30]
Robert L. D. Cooper, curator of the Grand Lodge of Scotland Museum and Library, in 2003 published a 12th
edition of the 1892 Illustrated Guide to Rosslyn Chapel with the intention of countering the "nonsense
published about Rosslyn Chapel over the last 15 years or so".[31] Cooper in 2006 also published Rosslyn
Hoax? in which he actively debunks this type of speculation at length and in great detail. An example is the
comparison of the Rosslyn myth of the Apprentice Pillar with that of the allegorical references to Hiram
Abiff in Masonic ritual, and in the process he debunks any similarities between the two. A minute
comparison between the Rosslyn Myth and the Masonic allegory can be found in a detailed tabular form in
The Rosslyn Hoax?[32]
Cooper further debunks other claims of a connection between carvings within Rosslyn Chapel and Scottish
Freemasonry. The suggestion that the Apprentice Pillar is a physical reference to the Entered Apprentice
degree of Scottish Freemasonry logically led to the conclusion that the other two pillars (in line south to
north with the so-called Apprentice Pillar) represented the Fellow of Craft degree (middle pillar) and the
Master Mason's degree (north pillar). This association of three pillars in the east part of Rosslyn Chapel with
the three degrees of Scottish Freemasonry is impossible, given the fact that (according to Cooper) the third
degree of Freemasonry was invented c.1720 - almost 300 years after Rosslyn Chapel was founded.[33]

The claim that the layout of Rosslyn Chapel echoes that of Solomon's
Temple[29] has been analysed by Mark Oxbrow and Ian Robertson in their
book, Rosslyn and the Grail:
Rosslyn Chapel bears no more resemblance to Solomon's or
Herod's Temple than a house brick does to a paperback book. If
you superimpose the floor plans of Rosslyn Chapel and either
Solomon's or Herod's Temple, you will actually find that they
are not even remotely similar. Writers admit that the chapel is
far smaller than either of the temples. They freely scale the plans
up or down in an attempt to fit them together. What they actually
find are no significant similarities at all. [...] If you superimpose
the floor plans of Rosslyn Chapel and the East Quire of Glasgow
Cathedral you will find a startling match: the four walls of both
buildings fit precisely. The East Quire of Glasgow is larger than
Rosslyn, but the designs of these two mediaeval Scottish
buildings are virtually identical. They both have the same
number of windows and the same number of pillars in the same
configuration. [...] The similarity between Rosslyn Chapel and
Glasgow's East Quire is well established. Andrew Kemp noted
that 'the entire plan of this Chapel corresponds to a large extent
with the choir of Glasgow Cathedral' as far back as 1877 in the
Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries. Many alternative
history writers are well aware of this but fail to mention it in

An interior view showing the

Apprentice Pillar and ornate

their books.[11]
As to a possible connection between the St. Clairs and the Knights Templar, the family testified against the
Templars when that Order was put on trial in Edinburgh in 1309.[11] Historian Dr. Louise Yeoman, along
with other mediaeval scholars, says the Knights Templar connection is false, and points out that Rosslyn
Chapel was built by William Sinclair so that Mass could be said for the souls of his family.[34]
It is also claimed that other carvings in the chapel reflect Masonic imagery, such as the way that hands are
placed in various figures. One carving may show a blindfolded man being led forward with a noose around
his neck similar to the way a candidate is prepared for initiation into Freemasonry. The carving has been
eroded by time and pollution and is difficult to make out clearly. The chapel was built in the 15th century,
and the earliest records of Freemasonic lodges date back only to the late 16th and early 17th centuries.[35] A
more likely explanation however is that the Masonic imagery was added at a later date. This may have taken
place in the 1860s when James St Clair-Erskine, 3rd Earl of Rosslyn instructed Edinburgh architect David
Bryce, a known Freemason, to undertake restoration work on areas of the church including many of the

Alternative histories
Alternative histories involving Rosslyn Chapel and the Sinclairs have been published by Andrew Sinclair
and Timothy Wallace-Murphy arguing links with the Knights Templar and the supposed descendants of
Jesus Christ. The books in particular by Timothy Wallace-Murphy and Marilyn Hopkins Rex Deus: The True
Mystery of Rennes-le-Chteau And The Dynasty of Jesus (2000) and Custodians Of Truth: The Continuance
Of Rex Deus (2005) have focused on the hypothetical Jesus bloodline with the Sinclairs and Rosslyn Chapel.

On the ABC documentary Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci, aired on 3 November 2003, Niven Sinclair hinted that
the descendants of Jesus Christ existed within the Sinclair families. These alternative histories are relatively
modern - not dating back before the early 1990s. The precursor to these Rosslyn theories is the 1982 book
The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (retitled Holy Blood, Holy Grail in the United States) by Michael
Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln that introduced the theory of the Jesus bloodline in relation to the
Priory of Sion hoax - the main protagonist of which was Pierre Plantard, who for a time adopted the name
Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair.

See also
Clan Sinclair
Sinclair (surname)
Earl of Caithness
Sinclair & Girnigoe Castle
Roslin Castle
Castle of Mey
List of Category A listed buildings in Midlothian

1. Turnbull, Michael, 'Rosslyn Chapel Revealed' (Sutton Publishing Ltd., November 2007) ISBN 0-7509-4467-6 ISBN
2. "About Rosslyn Chapel". Retrieved 5 November 2014.
3. Dunton, Larkin (1896). The World and Its People. Silver, Burdett. p. 66.
4. Wallace-Murphy, Tim; Hopkins, Marilyn. Rosslyn: Guardians of the Secrets of the Holy Grail, Element Books, 1999,
p. 8, ISBN 1-86204-493-7.
5. Forbes , Robert An Account of the Chapel of Roslin. (reprint ed. Cooper, Robert L. D., Grand Lodge of Scotland,
2000. ISBN 0-902324-61-6)
6. Dr Forbes, Bishop of Caithness, An Account of the Chapel of Rosslyn, 1774; cited in Rosslyn Chapel (1997) by the
Earl of Rosslyn, p. 27.
7. Klovekorn, Henning. The 99 Degrees of Freemasonry. Cornerstone, 2007 ISBN 1-887560-82-3.
8. Finlay, Ian, Scottish Crafts, Harrap (1948), p.23, "On en voit un (pilier) compos de gros boudins en spirale dans
l'glise de Sainte-Croix de Provins," Viollet-le-Duc, Dictionnaire Raisonn de lArchitecture Franaise du XIe au
XVIe sicle/Pilier
9. Mitchell, Thomas (2006). Rosslyn Chapel: The Music of the Cubes. Diversions Books. ISBN 0-9554629-0-8.
10. "Tune into the Da Vinci coda". The Scotsman. 26 April 2006. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
11. Oxbrow, Mark; Robertson, Ian (2005). Rosslyn and the Grail. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 1-84596076-9.
12. Knight, Christopher; Lomas, Robert. The Hiram Key. Fair Winds Press, 2001 ISBN 1-931412-75-8.
13. Laidler, Keith, The Head of God The Lost Treasure of the Templars (1998).
14. Wallace-Murphy, Tim; Hopkins, Marilyn, Rosslyn: Guardian of Secrets of the Holy Grail (1999).
15. Robert Lomas, The Origins of Freemasonry (
16. Ralls-MacLeod, Karen; Robertson, Ian, The Quest for the Celtic Key (2002).
17. Donaldson's Guide to Rosslyn Chapel published 1862.
18. "Rosslyn Chapel was haven for bees". BBC News. 30 March 2010. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
19. In 1590, the Presbytery forbade George Ramsay, Minister of Lasswade, from burying the wife of Oliver St. Clair in
the chapel. The same St. Clair had been repeatedly asked to destroy the chapel's altars because they were taken to
represent "monuments of idolatry". St. Clair's tenants were forced to attend the Lasswade Parish Church. In 1592, St.
Clair, who had until then refused to destroy the altars, was summoned to appear before the Church of Scotland
General Assembly and threatened with excommunication if the altars remained standing after 17 August 1592. On
31 August 1592, George Ramsay reported that the altars of Roslene were haille demolishit. John Charles Carrick,
The Abbey of S. Mary, Newbottle: a memorial of the royal visit, 1907, G. Lewis & Co., 1908, p. 153.
20. "The Chapel Today". Retrieved 5 November 2011.

22. "Rosslyn Chapel's resurrection revealed". The Scotsman. 12 August 2010. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
23. "Rosslyn Chapel - FAQs". Retrieved 18 October 2012.
24. "What really upsets me is that they know the Knights Templar connection is false, yet they still perpetuate the myth
on their interpretation boards." "Historian attacks Rosslyn Chapel for 'cashing in on Da Vinci Code' ". The Scotsman.
3 May 2006. Retrieved 8 May 2014.
25. The trust's financial year ends on 31 March. Scaffolding coming down helps visitor numbers go up (http://www.rossl, Rosslyn Chapel Trust website
(April 2014).
26. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982), Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry Hardcover John J.
Robinson, Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry Hardcover (1989), Michael Baigent The Temple and the
Lodge (1991), Coppens, Philip. The Stone Puzzle of Rosslyn Chapel. Frontier Publishing/Adventures Unlimited Press
27. "Hollywood legend Tom Hanks makes donation to Rosslyn Chapel restoration". The Scotsman. 6 February 2010.
Retrieved 5 November 2011.
28. e.g.: Mark Oxbrow and Ian Robertson, Rosslyn and The Grail. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing (2005), [[Ashley
Cowie|]]. The Rosslyn Templar (2009), Alan Butler and John Ritchie, Rosslyn Revealed, A Library in Stone (2006),
Alan Butler and John Ritchie, Rosslyn Chapel Decoded: New Interpretations of a Gothic Enigma (2013).
29. Burstein, Dan (2004). Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind the Da Vinci Code, p.
248. CDS Books. ISBN 1-59315-022-9.
30. National Geographic Channel. Knights Templar, 22 February 2006 video documentary. Written by Jesse Evans.
31. "Book Review (" at the Grand Lodge of Scotland website: "There has been so much
nonsense published about Rosslyn Chapel over the last 15 years or so that it is now extremely difficult to know what
is nonsense and what is accurate."
32. Robert L D Cooper, The Rosslyn Hoax?, Lewis Masonic 2006, pp.173-4
33. Robert L D Cooper, The Rosslyn Hoax?, Lewis Masonic 2006, pp.146-7
34. "Historian attacks Rosslyn Chapel for 'cashing in on Da Vinci Code' ". The Scotsman. 3 May 2006. Retrieved 8 May
35. History ( page from the website of the
United Grand Lodge of England
36. "The St Clair Family". Retrieved 5 November 2011.

Further reading
Cooper, Robert L. D. The Rosslyn Hoax?. Lewis Masonic. 2006. ISBN 0-85318-255-8.
Forbes, Robert An Account of the Chapel of Roslin. (reprint ed. Cooper, Robert L. D., Grand Lodge of
Scotland, 2000. ISBN 0-902324-61-6).
Hay, Richard Augustin, Genealogie of the Sainteclaires of Rosslyn (
giesaint00haygoog). 1835 (reprint ed. Robert L. D. Cooper, Grand Lodge of Scotland. 2002. ISBN 0902324-63-2).
Thompson, John, The Illustrated Guide to Rosslyn Chapel and Castle, Hawthornden &c., 1st ed. 1892
(12th edition, Robert L. D. Cooper (ed.), Masonic Publishing Co. 2003. ISBN 0-9544268-1-9).
Peter St Clair-Erskine, 7th Earl of Rosslyn, Rosslyn Chapel, Rosslyn Chapel Trust, 1997.

External links
Official Rosslyn Chapel website (
Wikimedia Commons has
media related to Rosslyn
Rosslyn Chapel's extraordinary carvings explained at last (http:
an article on Rosslyn's Green Men, and an associated reading of its carvings, from The Scotsman
QuickTime Virtual Reality Image of Rosslyn Chapel by Jonathan Greet (
hericalvr/rosslyn.htm), View 2 (
"The Rosslyn Templar", a book about the pastel painting by R T McPherson in 1836 of a "Templar

Knight at Roslin Chapel" with new photographs of the Chapel (

Retrieved from ""
Categories: 15th-century churches 1446 establishments Category A listed buildings in Midlothian
Chapels in Scotland Churches in Midlothian Collegiate churches in Scotland
Listed churches in Scotland Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact
Scheduled Ancient Monuments in Scotland Freemasonry in Scotland Scottish Episcopal Church
Episcopal churches in Scotland
This page was last modified on 19 July 2016, at 11:37.
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may
apply. By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Wikipedia is a registered
trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization.

Related Interests