Rosslyn Chapel

Near Edinburgh, Scotland

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[Note: The material below has beentaken from various web sites, and its accuracy is not warranted.]

Perched on a gorge at the edge of the hauntingly beautiful Esk valley, the 15th century chapel has been described as a cathedral in miniature – a little bit of Chartres surreally transplanted to a Scottish hillside.

Amongst the chapel’s dazzling array of ornate carvings, New World plants such as cacti and sweet corn feature prominently.   These were unknown in Europe before Columbus’ discovery of America in 1492, yet scientists agree that the carvings predate this.   Devotees of Rosslyn provocatively assert that America was in fact discovered by a Scotsman – Henry Sinclair of Roslin, grandfather of the chapel’s architect.   There is a body of evidence backing up this claim that in 1398 Sinclair crossed the Atlantic and landed in an area he named Nova Scotia in honour of his beloved Scotland.   Henry Sinclair had strong links with the mysterious group of warrior knights known as the Knights Templar, and it is now known that Columbus sailed under the Templar flag.   Did the famous explorer have the benefit of Henry Sinclair’s charts when he set sail nearly 100 years later?

Another mystery is why Rosslyn Chapel was not destroyed by Oliver Cromwell.   The Sinclairs were on the the Royalist side and therefore enemies, but though the Roundheads destroyed the nearby Rosslyn Castle, on Cromwell’s instructions they did not touch the chapel itself.   As a Grand Master mason was he showing respect for the building’s many masonic symbols…or was he perhaps privy to its secrets ?

Agnus Dei, the ancient symbol of Christ which was adopted as the seal of the Knights Templar, some of whom lie in full battle armour in Rosslyn’s cavernous sealed crypt underneath the chapel.   Sir Walter Scott was moved to immortalize them in his poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel, when he wrote of “that chapel proud, where Roslin’s chiefs uncoffined lie”.

To appreciate Rosslyn fully you have to know about the Templars, who were the architects and its inspiration.   Named after the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem and formed in the 12th century, allegedly to protect pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land.  *(it is now known that one of the knights swore allegiance to the Order twenty years prior to the popular date quoted of 1118 as being the year the Order was formed – it is also accepted that the ‘families’ forming this Order were the instigators of the original formation of the Crusades in 1095  – one theory taking credence is that the ‘Rex Deus’ families used this as an opportunity to regain their ‘inheritance’ that their forbears had secreted under the Temple in its vast caverns prior to the ransacking by the Romans in AD70.   ……)*

Many claim that their true purpose was to excavate the foundations of the Temple of Jerusalem to look for certain ‘treasures and knowledge’.    Fueling the suspicion that they must have found something, the Templars soon became incredibly rich and powerful.   Those who speculate that their ‘treasure’ lies somewhere in Rosslyn Chapel’s vast crypt support their claim by pointing out that the floor plan is an exact scale replica of the floor plan of Herod’s Temple.

So powerful did the Templars become that soon they presented a threat to both church and state.   On Friday October 13th, 1307, King Phillippe IV of France – with the blessing of the Pope (who was under his control) – rounded up all known Templars.   Accused of blasphemy and heresy, they were tortured and burned at the stake.   Not all the Templars died.   Their fleet stationed at La Rochelle escaped – many to the west coast of Scotland, where they were guaranteed safe haven since Robert the Bruce had himself been excommunicated.   These warrior monks were literally the cavalry who rode in and turned the Battle of Bannockburn in Bruce’s favour guaranteeing victory and independence for Scotland.

It was William Sinclair, Henry’s grandson, who in 1446 started work on Rosslyn Chapel, employing the best stonemasons in Europe.   The resulting extravaganza of Christian, Pre-Christian, pagan and Arabic symbolism has been described as the greatest example of medieval architecture in Britain.   One of the chapel’s most remarkable features is the Apprentice Pillar, symbolic of the Tree of Life, with luxuriant carvings snaking down its length.   Look closely – around its base are eight winged serpents which have eaten evil’s forbidden fruit.   Those coiling spirals which wrap themselves around the pillar’s Tree of Life are suddenly revealed as a perfect double helix – the fundamental DNA building block of life.   When the pillar was carved the meaning of the double helix wasn’t to be discovered for another 500 years.   Another striking aspect is the detail of the ceiling, which features hundreds of small cubes intricately carved with mysterious symbols.   One theory is that this is some sort of coded musical notation, and a prize of £5,000.00 has been offered to anyone who can break the code.


As a building the chapel is not very big, there are what look like unfinished walls at the west end. The official line is that they were originally intended to form part of what would have the transept giving the chapel a cruciform shape when viewed from above. There is however, an alternative point of view espoused by Lomas and Knight in their books ‘The Hiram Key and The Second Messiah’, and it is, that unfinished look is quite deliberate and a conscious attempt by the builders to emulate the ruin of Herod’s temple. The entire building is currently covered by a canopy that is intended to allow the structure to dry out as it had been suffering quite badly from water damage. However, the real beauty of the building is in the amazing carvings both inside and out, although the external carvings are weather worn now, the extent of the interior work is quite breathtaking.

When my colleague and I visited, there were a fair number of tourists there, Japanese, American and German and no doubt other nationalities as well. The guide who initially started to take us round gave up pretty quickly when she realised that we had a rather different agenda than she would cover on her itinerary. As soon as we mentioned the alternative theories, she knew that tales of how this was just a Christian church wouldn’t do. One thing that we did learn however was that another non-invasive investigation of the vault beneath the chapel with ultrasound will be carried out in the near future. As it happened, we noticed that Bob Bryden (the Scottish Templar archivist) was there lecturing to a group of Americans from the Edgar Cayce Society, so we tagged onto them and listened with great interest to what he was saying, and learned considerably more than we would have done from the official guide.

The building itself is redolent with history, even the name; ‘Rosslyn’ is perhaps significant. According to the researches of Lomas and Knight for the book ‘The Hiram Key’ the word can be broken into its two syllables, ‘Ros’ and ‘lyn’ these have their roots in the Gaelic, ‘Ros’- ancient knowledge and ‘Lyn’- down the ages. It can therefore be argued that even the name of the place is telling us what it is, a library carved in stone ciphers. An attempt to impart arcane knowledge in something more durable than paper, knowledge, hidden in plain sight, only to be understood by those with the intellect to decode it. Outstanding amongst the wonderful carvings are two items deserving particular mention, these are the two exquisitely worked pillars at the East end of the chapel.

The most impressive of these ‘The Apprentice Pillar’ is a marvelous piece of work, the carving of which was supposedly completed by the apprentice of a craftsman who had gone abroad for advice on the project. The tradesman on his return was consumed by jealousy and murdered the apprentice with a blow to the head. This head is reproduced about halfway up the wall in the South West of the chapel. This particular story is a direct reference to a Masonic tradition, which is itself interwoven with Templar rituals and beliefs; in fact the two organizations are inextricably linked. Indeed some of the higher degrees of Freemasonry specifically deal with certain aspects of the Knights Templar to the extent that the Freemasons can claim ‘ownership’ of the Templars. The two orders are in effect running the Templar rituals in parallel, the methodology will be slightly different but the rationale will be the same.

The contents of the vaults beneath the chapel are the real mystery, exactly what is down there?, there are many theories, some fanciful, some not, but all of them a source of puzzlement and speculation. The last burial was in the 1600’s when the vault was finally sealed, all those interred there are from the St. Clair family, some buried in full battle armour and lying on stone slabs. Just what exactly is buried with them?, nobody knows for certain, there is (allegedly) depending on where you get your information. The physical gateway to paradise, scrolls bearing the lost gospels of Jesus, which the original Templars excavated, from below the Jerusalem Temple. The actual cup of The Holy Grail used at the last supper, (although there is a school of thought that the chapel itself is the grail) since the necessary parameters required to be the grail are found in the structure and location of the chapel.

Finally, the latest theory espoused in a new book by Dr. Keith Laidler, is that the mummified head of Christ is there, this is based on the legend that the Templars venerated if not actually worshipped something known as the father of knowledge, this was a head of some kind (which they referred as the Baphomet) although its origins are shrouded in mystery. It is believed that following the rout of the Templars in 1370, this along with other artifacts were spirited away to Scotland, originally to Kilwinning then to their final resting place at Roslyn. The Militi Templi Scotia themselves believe that the vaults contain a piece of the ‘true cross’ of Christ, the (Holy Rood) which was brought to Scotland by St. Margaret, the Queen of Malcolm Canmore in the 11th century. On a cynical note, it is worth pointing out that fragments of the ‘true cross’ were a handy and profitable sideline in ages past. This and sundry body parts of assorted saints could be had if the price was right, some saints must have had an incredible number of fingers and toes and the fragments of the cross would make a small forest.

Hopefully, one day soon when the vaults are finally opened up and the contents revealed the truth will emerge, sadly, the truth will not please everyone as the contents, (whatever they are) cannot be all things to all people. Some will no doubt be deeply disappointed, but if nothing else the speculation will finally come to an end and who knows, perhaps an entirely new chapter in history will be written, or existing history re-written. I look forward to that day with a sense of great anticipation and excitement.


There are 2 bus services that operate to Roslin – Lothian Buses service 15A (not15) and First service 62.

Lothian Buses service 15A operates from Tranent to Penicuik via Morningside and you can board this service at St Andrew Square, Princes Street or Lothian Road. It operates to Roslin hourly, Monday to Friday during the day with no evening or Saturday and Sunday service. Times at St Andrew Square are 0641, 0740, 0845 then 42 minutes past the hour all day until 1747 and 1852. Return journeys are at 19 minutes past the hour at Roslin and there is timetable information at all stops in Roslin.

Service 62 operates from the new Bus Station and can be boarded there or on North Bridge. Times are as follows: Bus Station 0925, 1025, 1125, 1225, 1325 and 1425 arriving at Roslin at 57 minutes after the hour. Return journeys are at 0944, 1044, 1144, 1244, 1344 and 1444. Operates to Roslin Monday to Saturday only, no evening or Sunday service.