Intricate Wonders of Rosslyn Chapel

The Collegiate Church of St. Matthew, more commonly known as Rosslyn Chapel, was founded in the mid-15th century by the last St. Clair Prince of Orkney, Sir William St. Clair. The foundation stone for Rosslyn Chapel was laid on 21st September 1446 – St. Matthew’s Day. The chapel, with its intricate decorative carvings, is considered to be an architectural masterpiece.

The chapel stands on fourteen pillars, with the three pillars at the east end of the chapel being named the Master Pillar, the Journeyman Pillar and the Apprentice Pillar. The legend attached to the Apprentice Pillar tells the tale of a master mason who was given a model of a pillar with a very intricate design that he was hesitant to attempt before traveling abroad to see the original. In his absence, his apprentice had a dream that he had completed the pillar. Prompted by this dream the apprentice set to work and completed this marvel of skilled workmanship. When the master mason returned and saw the pillar had been completed by his apprentice, he was so overcome by envious rage that he struck and killed the apprentice with a mallet. The Apprentice Pillar has eight dragons at its base, each with a vine emerging from its mouth winding around the pillar. Many theories prevail as to the symbolism of the carvings, ranging from Scandinavian Mythology to the Christian Tree of Life.

Directly below the carving of the apprentice’s head (complete with wound from the mallet blow) is the figure of the chapel’s founder, Sir William St. Clair. Among the elaborate carvings found in Rosslyn Chapel is a sequence of 213 patterned cubes protruding from arches and pillars. It is popularly believed that these patterns have some significant meaning to them, but no interpretations have proven conclusive to date.

Another notable feature of Rosslyn Chapel’s architecture, are the more than 110 carvings of human faces, some with foliage growing out of their mouths and all around them. Found throughout the chapel and referred to as the “Green Men” it is thought that they may be symbolic of rebirth or fertility, possibly of pre-Christian origin.

Rosslyn Chapel is prominently featured toward the end of the novel “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown (2003). However, many incorrect statements were made in the book. It is believed that the author never actually visited the chapel before writing the book, but took his information from previously published material.

Rosslyn Chapel is an active member of the Episcopalian Church and holds weekly Sunday services, as well as prayer sessions during the week. It is also an extremely popular wedding venue. The Rosslyn Chapel Trust staff members are trained as guides, and tour groups should book in advance to ensure that a guide will be on hand to assist.

Visitors to Scotland have endless options with regard to places of interest to explore. A visit to fascinating Rosslyn Chapel will be time well spent.