, properly named the
Collegiate Chapel of St Matthew
, was founded on a
small hill above Roslin Glen as a Roman
collegiate church (with between 4 and 6 ordained
canons and two boy choristers) in the mid-15th century
. Rosslyn Chapel and the nearby Roslin Castle are located at the village of
Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland.
The chapel was founded by William Sinclair, 1st
Earl of Caithness
"Sainteclaire/Saintclair/Sinclair/St. Clair") of the Sinclair family
, a noble family descended
from Norman knights
, using the standard designs the medieval
architects made available to him. 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.
The purpose of the college was to celebrate the Divine Office
throughout the day and night and
also to celebrate Holy 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.
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
In later years the Chapel has featured in speculative theories
and the Knights Templar
Interior of the chapel.
Pendant keystone in the roof
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 some of the finest in Scotland.
Construction of the chapel began on 20
, although it is 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 never
completed; only the choir was constructed, with the retro-chapel,
otherwise called the Lady Chapel
on the much earlier crypt
believed to form part of an earlier castle. The foundations of the
stretching to a distance of 90 feet were
recorded in the 19th century
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, disinterest, 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.
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
. 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.
The Apprentice Pillar
The "Apprentice Pillar", or "Prentice Pillar", gets its name from
an 18th century legend involving the master mason in charge of the
stonework in the chapel and his young apprentice. 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 anyway. In a fit of jealous anger the mason
took up his mallet and struck the apprentice on the head, killing
him. As punishment for his crime, the master mason's face was
carved into the opposite corner to forever gaze upon his
The pillar is also referred to as the "Princes Pillar" in An
Account of the Chapel of Roslin
(1778). On the architrave
joining the pillar, there is the
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"
, chapters 3 & 4)
Author Henning Klovekorn has proposed that the pillar is
representative of one of the roots of the Nordic Yggdrasil tree,
prominent in Germanic and Viking Mythology. He is of the opinion
that the dragons at the base of the pillar are also found eating
away at the base of the Yggdrasil root, and the top of the pillar
is carved tree foliage, and argues that the Nordic/Viking
association is plausible considering the many auxiliary references
in the chapel to Celtic and Nordic mythology.
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 whether these patterns have any
particular meaning attached to them — many people have attempted to
find information coded into them, but no interpretation has yet
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
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
Green Man of the chapel
Another notable feature of Rosslyn's architecture is the presence
of 'Green Men
'. These are carvings of
human faces with greenery all around them, often growing out of
their mouths. They are commonly thought to be a symbol of rebirth
pre-Christian in origin. In Rosslyn they are found in all areas of
the chapel, with one excellent example in the Lady Chapel, between
the two middle altars of the east wall.The green men in Rosslyn
symbolise the months of the year in progression from East to West
in the Chapel. Young faces are seen in the East symbolising Spring
and as we progress towards the setting sun in the west the carvings
age as in autumn of man's years. There are in excess of 110
carvings of Green men in and around the Chapel.
'Ears of corn'
In addition to the boxes, there are carvings of what the authors
and Christopher Knight
be ears of new world corn or maize
chapel. This crop was unknown in Europe at the time of the chapel's
construction, and was not cultivated there until several hundred
years later. 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. Mediaeval scholars
interpret these carvings as stylised depictions of wheat,
strawberries or lilies.
Carvings, which some believe depict
indian corn (maize).
The Chapel has also acted as a burial place for several generations
of the Sinclairs — a crypt was once reachable from a descending
stair at the rear of the chapel. This crypt has for many years been sealed
shut, 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, the
Holy Grail, the treasure of the Templar, or the original crown jewels of
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.
Templar and Masonic connections
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
that the layout of Rosslyn Chapel echoes that of Solomon's
Temple has been analysed by Mark Oxbrow and Ian Robertson
in their book, Rosslyn and the Grail:
An interior view showing the Apprentice Pillar and ornate
Rosslyn Chapel bears no more resemblance to Solomon's
or Herod's Temple than a house brick does to a paperback
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
[...] 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
The East Quire of Glasgow is larger than Rosslyn, but
the designs of these two medieval Scottish buildings are virtually
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
Many alternative history writers are well aware of this
but fail to mention it in their books.
With regards to a possible connection between the St. Clairs and
the Knights Templar, the family testified against
Templars when that Order was put on trial in Edinburgh in 1309.
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.
It is also claimed that other carvings in the chapel reflect
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. 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
architect David Bryce
, a known
freemason, to undertake restoration work on areas of the church
including many of the carvings.
3rd Earl of Orkney, Baron of Roslin and 1st Earl of
Caithness, claimed by novelists to be a hereditary Grand Master of
the Scottish stone masons, built Rosslyn Chapel. A later William
Sinclair of Roslin became the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland
subsequently, several other members of the Sinclair family have
held this position.
These connections, to both the Templars and the Freemasons, mean
that Rosslyn features prominently in romantic conjectures that the
Freemasons are direct descendants of the Knights Templar.
Alternative histories involving Rosslyn Chapel and the Sinclairs
have been published by Andrew
and Timothy Wallace-Murphy arguing links with the
and the supposed
descendants of Jesus Christ
. The books
in particular by Timothy Wallace-Murphy Rex Deus: The True
Mystery of Rennes-le-Château 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
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
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.
The Chapel is a major feature in the last part of Dan Brown
's 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code
, though many
incorrect assertions were made about the structure. For example,
Brown's book states that the Chapel was built by the Knights Templar
, and contains a
six-pointed Star of David
the stone floor although no such star is present. Many sources say
that Brown never visited the Chapel until after the publication of
his book, and most of his material came from previously published
Another claim from The Da Vinci Code
is that the name
"Rosslyn" is a form of the term Rose
, and that a line starting in France also runs through
the Chapel, however scholars point out that the name "Rosslyn" is
most likely derived from two Celtic words: "ros", meaning
promontory or point, and "lyn", meaning waterfall.
- Michael T R B Turnbull, 'Rosslyn Chapel Revealed' (Sutton
Publishing Ltd., Nov 2007) ISBN 0750944676 ISBN 978-0750944670
- Tim Wallace-Murphy & Marilyn Hopkins. Rosslyn:
Guardians of the Secrets of the Holy Grail, p.8. Element
Books, 1999 ISBN 1-86204-493-7.
- Dr Forbes, Bishop of Caithness, An Account of the Chapel of
Rosslyn, 1774; cited in Rosslyn Chapel (1997) by the
Earl of Rosslyn, page 27.
- Henning Klovekorn. The 99 Degrees of Freemasonry.
Cornerstone, 2007 ISBN 1-887560-82-3.
- Thomas James Mitchell, Rosslyn Chapel: The Music of the
Cubes (Diversions Books, 2006).
- Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas. The Hiram Key. Fair
Winds Press, 2001 ISBN 1-931412-75-8.
- Mark Oxbrow & I. Robertson. Rosslyn and the Grail.
Mainstream Publishing, 2005 ISBN 1-84596-076-9.
- Keith Laidler, The Head of God – The Lost Treasure of the
- Tim Wallace-Murphy, Marilyn Hopkins, Rosslyn: Guardian of
Secrets of the Holy Grail (1999).
- Robert Lomas, The Origins of
- Karen Ralls-MacLeod, Ian R. Robertson, The Quest for the
Celtic Key (2002).
- Donaldson's Guide to Rosslyn Chapel published 1862.
- Mark Oxbrow, Ian Robertson Rosslyn and the Grail
(Mainstream Publishing; 2005 ISBN 1-84596-076-9).
- Oxbrow, Mark, and Ian Robertson. Rosslyn and the
Grail. Mainstream Publishing, 2005 ISBN 1-84596-076-9
- Article by Historian Louise Yeoman, The
- History page from the website of the
United Grand Lodge of
- , Official Rosslyn Chapel Website
- National Geographic Channel.
Knights Templar, February 22, 2006 video documentary.
Written by Jesse Evans.
- Maclennan, Malcolm (1979). A pronouncing and etymological
dictionary of the Gaelic Language. ACAIR and Aberdeen
University Press. ISBN 0-08-025712-7. Ros = promontory or point;
leum uisge = waterfall.
- Butler, Alan and John Ritchie Rosslyn Revealed, A Library
in Stone. 2006. ISBN 978 1-905047-92-4
- Cooper, Robert L. D. (Ed.) An Account of the Chapel of
Roslin. Grand Lodge of Scotland. 2000. ISBN
- Cooper, Robert L. D. (Ed.) Genealogie of the Sainteclaires
of Rosslyn. Grand Lodge of Scotland. 2002. ISBN
- Cooper, Robert L. D. (Ed.) The Illustrated Guide to Rosslyn
Chapel. Masonic Publishing Co. 2003. ISBN 0-9544268-1-9.
- Cooper, Robert L. D. The Rosslyn Hoax?. Lewis Masonic.
2006. ISBN 0-85318-255-8.
- Cooper, Robert L. D. (Ed.) The voyages of the Zeno
brothers. Grand Lodge of Scotland. 2004. ISBN
- Coppens, Philip. The Stone
Puzzle of Rosslyn Chapel. Frontier Publishing/Adventures
Unlimited Press. 2002. ISBN 1-931882-08-8.
- The Earl of Rosslyn, Rosslyn Chapel, Rosslyn Chapel
- Cracking Da Vinci's Code, 2006 documentary
- Da Vinci Declassified, 2006 TLC video documentary