Located around 30 minutes drive from Edinburgh in Midlothian is the stunning Rosslyn chapel, the 15th Century Chapel made famous by the filming of the Da Vinci Code in 2003. I took a trip to explore the meaning behind the intricate carvings and delve into the crypt.
The History of Rosslyn Chapel
Rosslyn Chapel was built in 1456. Legend says that it was built in 15th century by night’s Templar – but they were suppressed in 1300’s. Apparently, however, fugitive knights took refuge here at the Rosslyn Chapel. A Secret society was created for masons to travel from one lodge to the next. This was later revealed to the world as freemasonry.
The Rosslyn Chapel was used for worship by Catholics until the Scottish Reformation of 1560. During the Scottish Reformation, a number of acts were passed that ended the Pope’s authority over the Scottish Church. Scotland developed a predominantly Calvinist Church (Kirk). The Scottish Reformation was part of the wider religious conflict between the Catholic and Protestants, which divided Europe for around 150 years.
In 1842 Queen Victoria visited the Rosslyn Chapel (then in a dilapidated and overgrown state) and it became a working church once again. In 1861, it was opened once again for worship, but by the Scottish Episcopal Church (Anglican denomination).
Maintenance and Renovation of the Rosslyn Chapel – 1900’s-1900’s
During the 1990’s, the inside of the roof of Chapel was going green due to moisture in the stone. The stone was dried out by giving the building an umbrella – a 50 tonne steel canopy!
In the 1950’s, something had to be done about the severe damp. The fragile sandstone was given a hard shell – the grey colour that you can see inside is evidence of the 1950’s conservation work.
In 1995, the Rosslyn Chapel Trust was formed in order to oversee the conservation of the Chapel, and open the chapel as a tourist destination. A new visitors centre was opened in 2011.
The Meaning Behind the Intricate Carvings of the Rosslyn Chapel
As soon as you enter the Rosslyn Chapel, you immediately notice the intricate carvings on all walls. In the NE corner you can find the oldest surviving version of ‘the dance of death’ carved in stone.
The story of Jesus all around – crucifixion in the North, the Crown of Thorns, the Resurrection and the 12 apostles.In the lady chapel is the nativity story carved to detail the birth of Jesus Christ. The whole room is in fact visual communication.
7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Virtues
You will also find the 7 deadly sins and the 7 virtues in the carvings of the Rosslyn Chapel. Within the sins (including pride, gluttony and anger), is the act of charity – the offering alms. On the other side is the same piece of stone with a man displaying greed in amongst the virtues.
It is said that this could have been a simple carving mistake by the stonemason, who carried on the carving hoping that no-one would notice these the wrong way round. However, some argue that it was a deliberate mistake, just like in Islam you find a flaw, because only God is perfect.
The Green Man
The Rosslyn Chapel is full of ‘green men’ – a green man is easily identified by the vines coming out of mouth. In NE corner of the chapel, a green man is accompanied by his green family (mother). Green men were good luck for stone masons. They represent fertility, and are an attempt to bridge the gap between paganism and Christianity.
The Rosslyn Chapel and the Fame of the Da Vinci Code
Prior to the filming of the Da Vinci Code in 2003, the Rosslyn Chapel was receiving 40-50,000 visitors a year. When the film was released in May 2006, people queued all day long to enter the Rosslyn Chapel. Visitors shot up to 176,000 in one year! These figures have stabilised to around 170,000 a year to this day.
The Da Vinci code was so controversial when it was first published that the Vatican wanted it banned! It was translated into 40 languages in just 6 years.
Donations go towards lighting, heating, maintenance of the chapel, which is extremely welcomed, considering that the Chapel was falling into a state of disrepair in the 1950s. Unfortunately the ‘cementicious slurry’ (appearing as grey cement) used to coat the inside of the chapel obscured some of the original carvings.
Facebook Live from the Rosslyn Chapel!
Practicalities – Visiting Rosslyn Chapel
- The best way to get to the Chapel is by car, around 30 minutes drive South of Edinburgh.
- By bus – take the 37 bus from South Bridge in Edinburgh City Centre (£1.60 each way and takes around an hour).
- The cost to visit is £9.00, which goes towards the renovation and preservation of the chapel.
- There are discounts for disabled and students.
- A talk inside the chapel is included in the price of the ticket.
- Photography is not allowed inside the Chapel by the general public.
- Don’t forget to look for the Church Cat – William!
Many thanks to my friend Skye Class for recommending a visit to the Rosslyn Chapel. If you are interested in Churches in Edinburgh, you might also want to visit Greyfriars Kirk to find Greyfriars Bobby!