If conspiracy theories are your thing or you’ve read Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, then chances are you’ve heard of Rosslyn Chapel. Construction on this small church located on the outskirts of Edinburgh began in the 15th century, but the lore surrounding it continues to present day.
Full disclosure: I did read the Code, but it was simply entertaining fiction for me. I do enjoy a juicy conspiracy theory now and then, but I don’t indulge too often because my mind goes wild with possibility. However, neither the book nor the legends led me to Rosslyn Chapel.
When we arrived at the modern visitor’s center, its petite presence startled me. THIS is what all the fuss is about?! Sure, the speculation surrounding its possible connection to the Knights Templar and Freemasons is intriguing. But, I couldn’t help but think what must have drawn the theorists to Rosslyn Chapel in the first place was the beauty of the structure itself (because it certainly wasn’t sheer mass…).
The interior walls are brimming with intricate carvings: devils, angels, flowers, snakes, historical figures, virtues, vices, and more. Gorgeous patterns weave the different scenes together. The compositions straddle the line between frilly and fantastic. Prepare yourself for visual overload. Unfortunately, photographs aren’t allowed inside the chapel; I wish I’d brought a sketch book!
Our travel modus operandi rarely includes guided tours or talks. However, we just happened to arrive at the beginning of one of Rosslyn Chapel’s scheduled chats (in English! oh, right, it’s Scotland after all..). I enjoyed picking up bits and pieces of the chapel’s history while keeping an eye on the three amigos. The most fascinating? Apparently 200+ statues that were originally part of the chapel have vanished.
Some folks think these sculptures are in the crypt (along with the Holy Grail and the real crown jewels of Scotland, naturally). The original crypt has been sealed, and excavation is forbidden (of course). A smaller, less mystical crypt is open to visitors and houses a modest collection of stones.
A more believable story revolves around the creation of two of Rosslyn’s fourteen pillars. Pride, jealousy, revenge, and retribution – you can read the legend here.
The exterior of the chapel is equally as stunning as the interior. One can easily see the architectural difference between the original (chapel) and later construction (baptistry). More carvings, gargoyles, pinnacles, flying buttresses, stained glass.. wow.
While I knew Doc Sci and I would love this place, I wasn’t sure about the boys. Would they be bored stiff or entertain themselves with a game of who-can-break-the-most-appendages-off-the-carvings? This story haunts me because it could easily have been my kids..
Fortunately, Rosslyn Chapel is surprisingly kid-friendly, provided they don’t touch the carvings, of course. Inside the chapel itself, the boys were given activity sheets with simple questions to answer, a word search, a maze, and a space to recreate their favorite carving in 2D (find more fun stuff for kids to do in advance or after your trip here).
Since we visited nearly 8 months ago, I decided to dig out my trip file. I found our activity sheets and on one of those Alpha had written, “The CHAPEL is SO COOWL.”
And that was before he even went inside the new visitor’s building…
The visitor center features the obligatory gift shop (mostly uninspiring except for an amusing assortment of Scottish books), a slightly expensive cafe, clean toilets, and several children’s activity stations. Bravo went to town demolishing and rebuilding the arch. Alpha found three brass plates, paper, and metallic crayons set up for brass rubbings.He’d never seen anything like it. The thrill of coloring fast and furious and ending up with a finished image of a knight was almost too much. Only after plying him with promises of a bus ride to the beach (more on that in a later post) would he step away.
Despite the 45-minute bus ride from Edinburgh, our morning at Rosslyn Chapel was one well-spent. I think often of the carvings and patterns and the quiet rural beauty surrounding the church (the associated bullhonkery, not so much).
While theme parks and cheesy children’s attractions have their purpose, I believe it’s so worthwhile to intentionally expose the littlest travelers among us to some of the biggest architectural treasures of our world. And those conspiracy theories? Well, it might take a few years before those are also considered COOWL..
For all the particulars in planning your own visit to Rosslyn Chapel, see the official website.
Have you visited or heard of Rosslyn Chapel? If not, would it make your Scotland itinerary? Thoughts – and conspiracy theories – welcome below.