Dan Brown may have brought this chapel into popular culture in his book “The Da Vinci Code”, but this chapel was famous in its own right long before that. Rosslyn Chapel has been loved for both its amazing decorative artwork as well as the mystery that surrounds it with people for decades.
History of Rosslyn Chapel
Located 45 minutes outside of Edinburgh, Rosslyn Chapel, properly named the Collegiate Church of St. Matthew, was founded on a small hill near Rosslyn Castle in the mid-15th century. The chapel was founded by William Sinclair of the Sinclair family, a noble family descended from Norman knights who moved to Scotland when they fell out with William the Conqueror in the 11th century.
The purpose of the church was to celebrate the Holy Mass for all the faithfully departed, including the deceased members of the Sinclair family. It was thought that a fast ticket into heaven was to have people constantly praying for your soul. The Sinclairs did what many wealthy families did – they built the church in hopes of winning points with the guy upstairs. After the Scottish Reformation, Roman Catholic worship in the Chapel was brought to an end, although the Sinclair family continued to be Roman Catholics until the early 18th century.
The chapel is quite small. It was originally built to be a full style Gothic cathedral in the shape of a cross, but when William Sinclair died, his son stopped construction, closed up the “top”, and made that the chapel.
Rossyln Chapel Mysteries
Though small, the chapel is filled with stunning architecture and sculptures that you normally wouldn’t think would belong. In this Catholic church, you’ll find Pagan fertility gods, supposed Masonic imagery, upside-down devils, biblical reliefs, references to Norse mythology, and the death mask of Robert the Bruce – all pretty unusual stuff for a Gothic church. There are literally hundreds of individual figures and scenes, including the Green Man, historically a pagan figure. The vines sprouting from his mouth represent nature’s growth and fertility. Pagan imagery!
You can spend hours looking over all the reliefs, statues, and images. They are fascinating. The most fascinating one is the American maize (corn), which was not discovered at the time this church was built. Over one of the windows, there is clearly maize, leading many people to theorize the Sinclairs had contact with North America years before Columbus did. (Though that isn’t exactly revolutionary as it’s well documented that Columbus was not the first person to discover America.)
Yet what intrigues people about this place is the mystery that surrounds it and the mysterious connections of the family. Because of the family’s connection to the Knights Templar (and the stone that says “Knight Templar” in the church), it has long been theorized that much of the imagery in the church has some secret meaning and that the mysterious treasure of the Templars is actually buried underneath in the church’s vaults.