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Rosslyn Chapel
Rosslyn Chapel

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Unraveling Rosslyn Chapel’s Mysterious Secrets

Just south of Edinburgh is Rosslyn Chapel, a church veiled in mysteries. The Sinclair family, who built the church, is associated with an important, centuries-old bloodline. Is the Holy Grail referring to this bloodline, or is the Ark of the Covenant brought and hidden here by Henri Sinclair, a member of the Knight Templars?

What is the mystery of Rosslyn Chapel?

The mystery of Rosslynn Chapel has to do with three myths (stories for which there is no scientific evidence).

  • The first myth is that the Sinclair family are descendants from Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
  • The second is that Sir William Sinclair (1240-1299) was a Knight Templar. He had taken the Holy Grail or Ark of the Covenant with him to Scotland for safekeeping. One of his great-grandchildren, also called Sir William Sinclair (1410-1448), built Rosslyn Chapel to hide the object.  
  • The third myth is that Sir Henri Sinclair went to America centuries before Columbus’ discovery in 1492. There might even be a connection to Oak Island. Could he be the creator of the money pit?

Then there is also the mystery of the church itself. The way it’s built, the strange references and images.

I visited Rosslyn Chapel a couple of years ago and was baffled by its appearance. I had never seen a church like this.

Rosslyn Chapel and the De Vinci Code

Would Rosslyn Chapel have ever had so many visitors if it didn’t star in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code? Probably not. Yet, this place was on my list of mysterious places long before the publication of this book. 

In the eighties, I became interested in Rennes le Château’s mystery.
I had read about the enigmatic Pierre Plantard, who from 1975 used the surname Plantard de Saint-Clair. In “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail,” the French name “Saint-Clair” is associated with the Scottish branch “Sinclair.” 

According to this book, the Sinclair’s were descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, a holy bloodline.

Who built Rosslyn Chapel?

Picture of William Sinclair
Picture of William Sinclair

But first, let us dive in the history or Rosslyn Chapel. It was built by Sir William Sinclair, Baron of Rosslyn and the last Prince of Orkney. He started in 1446 with the construction of the church.

He was probably a descendant of Gange-Rolv, also called Rollo, a Viking who became the Duke of Normandy after signing a peace treaty with Charles the Simple in 911. 

On the same occasion, Rollo was Christianized. All of this took place in the town of Saint Clair-Sur-Epte. Therefore, Rollo decided to adopt the name of Saint-Clair

Rollo was also the owner of the Orkney Islands, which explains the name “Prince of Orkney” that Sir William Sinclair was allowed to add to his name.

It goes too far to sort out the family history here, but through the invasion of William the Conqueror in 1066, the Sinclair family ended up in England. Through connections with Margaret of Scotland, the family came into possession of Roslin.

Roslin had been in his family for almost 400 years when Sir William Sinclair decided to build Rosslyn Chapel.

Rosslyn Chapel - it should have been a cathedral!

Sinclair intended to build a cathedral. Excavations have shown that the foundations continue for another 28 meters from the western entrance. The recent restoration of the chapel also indicates statues on the outside of the church should be inside.
There are also connecting pieces, probably for towers. In short, William had big plans.

But, William died in 1484. They placed his body in the church’s not yet completed burial chamber. His son Oliver was to continue the construction, but he limited himself to finishing what was there. 

The church, therefore, has a long wall without any purpose. Some believe it is a copy of the wailing wall in Jerusalem.

Stonemasons from France

For the church’s construction, Sinclair brought builders from France. 

That would not have been easy because it was a time of large construction projects in Europe. However, the chapel is so richly decorated on the inside that you have to conclude that William must have hired the best. He paid them very well, as evidenced by the bills.

The church’s interior suggests that real masters have been at work here. If you visit the crypt, you can find the stonemasons’ marks.

Difficult times for Rosslyn Chapel

As a church, Rosslyn Chapel had a difficult time. The Catholic Church had to remove its altars during the Reformation. As a result, no more services could take place.
In the second half of the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell’s troops used the chapel as a horse stable.
The windows were installed again in 1736. Finally, at the end of the 19th century, the chapel was put back into use.

A restoration from 1954 almost destroyed the chapel because restorers sprayed a layer of lime over the statues. In 1995 new repairs were carried out. An extra roof was placed above the chapel to expel the moisture from the church. This additional roof is now removed.

What should you look for in Rosslyn Chapel?

Exploring Rosslyn Chapel is fun. Take your time to explore the church. It takes a while before it reveals its secrets. 

1. The tombstone of William St Clair

To the right of the northern entrance, you can find the tombstone (more memorial stone) of the most famous heir of the Sinclair family, also called William. This William Sinclair joined Sir James Douglas in 1330 to bring the heart of Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) to Jerusalem. 

It was Bruce’s last wish that his heart would be buried in Jerusalem. However, in Spain, the knights who accompanied the heart got into a fight with the Moors.
The story goes that Sir Dougles hurled Bruce’s heart at their opponents and then ran after it to fight the battle. But unfortunately, everyone was killed, except for one knight, Sir William Keith, who brought Bruce’s heart and the bodies of William Sinclair and Sir James Douglas back to Scotland. 

The heart of Robert the Bruce was buried in Melrose Abbey.

As for the tombstone at Rosslyn Chapel, the center seems to be a key. Next to it a sword and on the other side the name “Willhm de Sinncler”. The ER doesn’t fit and is written in the ward of the key. In front of the name, a small Templar cross. 

I find the stone very enigmatic. 

2. The lovers

On the right, you will find the image of the two lovers. They share the pillar with the devil, from whom they clearly turn away. Instead, they focus on the angel, who is holding a cross. In doing so, they turn their backs on sexuality and choose spiritual love, the love of the Divine.

3. The Lady Chapel

Walking east, you will immediately enter the richly decorated Lady Chapel. The balustrade, which separates the chapel from the rest of the church, is fairly new. In older images, there was no separation.

4. Corn and cacti

Above the altars, you will find images of corn cobs. This stone-hewn decoration is the source of persistent speculation. An ancestor of William Sinclair (Sir Henri St Clair) is said to have sailed to America in 1398 (100 years before Columbus). Corn was an unknown crop in Europe at that time, and it is strange it is depicted in the chapel. 

The aloe cactus, also depicted, is of African origin and was not unknown in the Middle Ages.

5. Robert The Bruce's Death Mask

Earlier I wrote about the heart of Robert the Bruce. More or less in the middle of the eastern wall, you will find a death mask. It is attributed to Robert the Bruce. In itself, a plausible thought, although the similarity is not significant according to experts.

6. Green men

There are over 100 of Green Men in Rosslyn Chapel. The green man is a Celtic symbol, not uncommon in Gothic churches. Branches and leaves grow from his head, symbolizing that the divine man has a bond with nature.
If you consider Rosslyn with all its pillars to be a forest, then the green men are the protectors.

7. The Hanging Archangel

The archangel hanging upside down is Samyaza. 

The book of Enoch speaks of fallen angels; these are angels who had sexual relationships with women.

Samyaza had summoned a few angels to participate in the orgy. In the book of Genesis, it is written that giants (Nephilim) had arisen from this. Eventually, it would all end with the great flood. Samyaza was so sorry that he allowed himself to be hung upside down between heaven and earth.

8. Other angels

There are more angels to be seen. However, one image stands out because the angel points to his chest and left knee. This would be a direct reference to a masonic ritual.

9. Dance Macabre

A Dance Macabre is not a strange image in a church. You often come across them in churches, but this dance, carved in stone, is perhaps one of the first images. 

The dance is an expression of death, the only certainty in our lives. Also, death makes no distinction between rich and poor. Death makes us all equal.

10. The cubes

The ceiling of the chapel is richly decorated with cubes. They are of different sizes, and some believe it represents a musical code. It is not surprising given the fact that the chapel is decorated with angels playing musical instruments.

The music might be connected to another secret. Check out my Review about the Wealth DNA Code, if you want to know more. 

Roslyn Chapel cubes
Roslyn Chapel cubes

11. The three pillars

The ‘Apprentice Pillar’ or the Pillar of the Pupil is the highlight of the church. You can see him in most of the images of Rosslyn Chapel. Until the 18th century, it was called the pillar of the prince. Probably the name of the pillar changed under the influence of the Freemasons. The story goes like this:

The master mason had a design for this pillar. Unfortunately, the original was in Rome, and the master did not dare to start construction until he had seen the original in real life. So he traveled to Rome. During his absence, one of his students finished the pillar and delivered a beautiful and impressive piece of work. When the master mason returned and saw the work, he became so angry that he killed the Apprentice.

The Apprentice Pillar consists of a foot with eight snakes or dragons. This results in 4 double spirals, which circle upwards around the pole. The pillar is so intriguing that it is the source of many myths. Unfortunately, this also makes the pillar the target of deliberate destruction; there are those who believe it is the repository of the grail or coded messages from the Templars.

The three pillars are called the pillars of the Master, the Journeyman, and the Apprentice. These would refer to the three degrees in Freemasonry.

Apprentice pillar

12. The only inscription

Next to the pillar of the student, you will find the only original inscription. It says:

Forte est vinium
Fortirior est rex
Fortiores sunt mucheres
Super omnia vencer veritas

Strong is the wine
Stronger is the king
Even stronger are the women
But above all, the truth prevails

13. The Seven Virtues and the Seven Deadly Sins

7 sins

The church was badly damaged in reformed periods, but the images of the seven virtues and the seven deadly sins have remained intact. Probably for the teaching of everyone who came to visit the church.

14. The knight on horseback

On the west side, near the rear window, you can see the image of a knight on horseback. He wears a spear and behind him is a figure with a raised cross. According to some, it references the Templars, who were often depicted as two persons on a horse. 

But it can also be a knight with a maiden. In that case, it might refer to knight Leslyn and Margaret – a story that would have to do with the arrival of the Sinclair’s in Scotland.

15. The ceiling

Rosslyn Chapel - ceiling

The ceiling consists of five parts. The first four parts represent flowers, and the last part consists of stars. In this part, you can also distinguish the sun and moon and the face of Jesus.

One possible explanation could be:

Daisies, referring to innocence
Lilies, referring to purity
Sunflowers, referring to worship
Roses, referring to peace and love
Stars, referring to the sky

16. The crypt

The entrance to the crypt is next to the student’s pillar. It has virtually no decorations, which makes the toothed cross (weapon of the Sinclairs) eye-catching. If you look closely, you can see the stonemasons’ marks on the south wall. Because of this, the crypt is also called the office of the stonemasons. That it may not be a real crypt also explains the large fireplace which is installed in this room.

Striking are the bleeding angel and Saint Peter with a key in his hand.

The angel’s tears were first discovered in 1999 and probably come from an iron-rich stream of water.

The image of Saint Peter inspired the writers of “Hiram’s key.” Peter looks so intently at a spot on the wall that there must be a secret behind it. Scans have shown that there probably is a metal box behind the wall Peter is looking at.

Rosslyn Chapel - Peter

Practical information

Visiting Rosslyn chapel is absolutely worthwhile. Keep in mind that taking photos or videos is forbidden inside the chapel. You are allowed to photograph outside.
A ticket is valid all day. You need about two hours to see everything.
As far as I know, you don’t get a discount if you have an Explorer Pass or a Scottish Heritage Pass.
You might consider booking a full-day tour from Edinburgh to visit Rosslyn Chapel and other highlights in the region.

Staying in Roslin

Roslin is a charming town in the vicinity of Rosslyn Chapel. If you enter the dates you can check below if there is a hotel available. You can zoom out if you need more options.

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