Today I skipped out of work early (almost with permission) and with a free afternoon I decided to head down to Rosslyn chapel, only a 20 minute ride from Edinburgh. I knew of the chapel prior to the Dan Brown books, but especially after they came out I felt like I had to go see what it was all about. The ride through the country out to the town of Roslin (different spelling but pronounced the same) is spectacular. The bus drops you off a wee bit from the chapel but the walk has great views as well (see the pics on facebook, as always). The chapel itself is depressingly rundown after years of abuse and poor attempts at repair so the entire building is surrounded by scaffolding and a huge canopy. The work at restoring the chapel has been going on for several years now and is expected to take up to another decade. If you look at the pictures you'll see why. I can imagine this building once being an absolute masterpiece and an example of the best craftsman the entire world had to offer at one time. Much of that skill is still obvious but the history of the chapel is full of destruction and neglect, often due to overly zealous religious reform.
Anyway, enough commentary about what was wrong. The experience was amazing and I was thoroughly impressed by what I saw. The Chapel is huge considering the time it was built and that it was meant originally to serve a single family. Even as large as it is the original design apparently was for a chapel 4-5 times larger and constructed in the shape of a crucifix (the current building is just the top of the planned crucifix). The outside is scattered with statues, faces, and stone sconces and the pillars on the sides arch gracefully up to form what looks almost like a rib cage from some giant beast of ages past. Inside every inch of the entire chapel is covered in amazing artwork, much of it almost hidden if there hadn't been signs to direct me where to look. Beautiful flower designs are everywhere but with faces, angels, depictions of the 7 virtues and 7 deadly sins, north american maize (a mystery as it was carved 100 years before Columbus supposedly introduced maize to Europe), scenes from the bible, and graceful pillars scattered amongst them. Unfortunately there are no pictures allowed inside and it costs at least 20 pounds for the cheapest of pictures, so I can't show you how amazing it was. The level of detail inside of the chapel was astounding, and I have trouble imagining the number of different craftsmen who would have had to work on it as each of the pieces listed above is done it what appears to be a different artists. Its no wonder that so much mystery surrounds the place as much of what is inside DOES look like it belongs to some sort of secret code or society.
I didn't get there in time for a tour so I didn't get to hear any more of the history of the chapel than what I could gather from the signs and from listening in to the tail end of the previous tour (and no, before you ask because several people already have, i did not see the famous portion of the chapel where the cup meets the chalice as the rose line. The ceiling is obscured by a scaffold and is under repair, and the floor is covered by a rug to protect the floor from the pews that had been set up there for a church service. I did look though). The most interesting thing I did read is that the chapel has a vault underneath of it that was sealed several hundred years ago, and that is where many of the stories about the chapel come from. The Earls of Rosslyn have nevera llowed it to be reopened, though several years ago the current Earl did allow conservation experts to xray the vault from above to check for structural damage, and the discovered that the vault is as large underground as the chapel is above it. Perhaps one day they'll open it and when they do I'll absolutely be back to see it. All in all it was a worthwhile trip despite the fact that the entire chapel has been commercialized and the signs, movies, and docents make so many references to Dan Brown that it becomes uncomfortable.