Friday, 31 May 2013

Rosslyn Chapel

Today whilst driving to Tantallon Castle to the north on the coast we stopped at Scot's View where Sir Walter Scott used to like to sit and perhaps was inspired to write some of his poetry.

Sir Walter's View

We then drove onto Tantallon Castle a formidable stronghold set atop cliffs on the Firth of Forth, Tantallon Castle was the seat of the Douglas Earls of Angus, one of the most powerful baronial families in Scotland. Tantallon served as a noble fortification for more than three centuries and endured three sieges. The mighty stone curtain wall – absolutely the best 14th-century castle architecture anywhere in Scotland was built in the 1350s by a nobleman at the height of his power. In 1354, William Douglas came into possession of all his father’s lands, as well as those of his uncle, ‘the Good Sir James of Douglas’, a close friend of King Robert Bruce. The estates included the barony of North Berwick. In 1358 William was created Earl of Douglas, by which date the builders may already have begun to build his new stronghold.
Tantallon Castle

Bass Rock

Often described as a sentinel guarding the Firth of Forth Bass Rock or 'auld crag' has served as a retreat, a fortress and a beacon.


Dovecot highly valued in Scotland in the late Middle Ages for the meat they provided. This example is 17th century lectern type with two chambers for nesting pigeons.

Dovecot outside the Castle walls
We then drove on to Rosslyn Chapel founded in 1446, as the Collegiate Church of St Matthew, Rosslyn Chapel with its unique and mysterious carvings. The chapel took some 40 years to complete and its ornate stonework and mysterious symbolism have inspired - and intrigued – artists and people ever since. Today, there are countless theories, myths and legends associated with the Chapel, many of which are impossible to prove or disprove conclusively - from its 15th century origins, through the Reformation, to the Da Vinci Code. Rosslyn has survived turbulent times and has recently been undergoing an extensive programme of conservation to ensure its long-term future.  

There are so many curious figurines carved from the sandstone such as the farmers wife rescuing a goose from the jaws of a fox. Surrounding a window are carvings of maize or Indian Corn. The presence of this plant carving in the Chapel raises many questions: not only is it an exotic plant but it originates from North America, a country traditionally thought to have been discovered by Columbus in 1492, almost 50 years after Rosslyn Chapel was built. Lucifer the fallen angel one of the many Masonic carvings in the Chapel, hanging upside down and bound with rope. It is one of the depictions of angels in unusual positions in the Chapel which are significant in the rites of Freemasonry. Rosslyn is renowned for its many carvings of the Green Man, historically a pagan figure. The vines sprouting from his mouth represent nature’s growth and fertility, illustrating the unity between humankind and nature. The carved angels in the Lady Chapel are celebrating Christ’s birth with music. Bagpipes first appeared in Scotland from the mid-1400s and this is thought to be one of the earliest depictions of the instrument. Carved cubes that protrude from the arches of the Lady Chapel. Each one of these cubes is unique, carved with individual symbols made up of lines and dots. Various theories suggest that these may represent keys to a secret code or be musical notes. The Rosslyn Motet has recently been composed as one 'solution' to the code. A string of figures caught in the 'Dance of Death'. Characters from all walks of life are each accompanied by a skeleton, Death. The dance springs from the skeletons pushing and pulling the reluctant people off to meet their fate and symbolises death’s inevitable triumph over life. The Apprentice Pillar is the most elaborately decorated pillar in the Chapel. This pillar contains one of the most famous and fascinating riddles of the building. An apprentice mason is said to have carved the pillar, inspired by a dream, in his master's absence. On seeing the magnificent achievement on his return, the master mason flew into a jealous rage and struck the apprentice, killing him outright. 

The Chapel took some forty years to build and required a large number of workmen and it is thought that the village of Roslin grew up to house them. All kinds of craftsmen would have worked on the building: quarriers hewed the stone, masons carved it, blacksmiths sharpened tools, and carpenters modelled designs in wood before they were sculpted in stone by the masons. What you see of the chapel is thought to be only one part of a larger scheme. Excavations in the 1800s uncovered foundations stretching a further 30 metres (91 feet) beyond the west end of the Chapel, suggesting that a cruciform building was intended. However, William died in 1484 and work on the Chapel seems to have ceased after this time. But nearly 600 years after it was built, the Chapel still stands testament to the fascinating mind which conceived this extraordinary design scheme. William’s plan for a building of ‘curiosity’ and ‘splendour’ has clearly been fulfilled.

Unfortunately photos are not allowed to be taken in the chapel however they can be found on the internet, the green man carving in particular was amazing it was so detailed and clear with no deterioration showing at all which is unbelievable. The chapel survived the reformation then it was actually abandoned and trees where growing on the interior during this time, so to have the carvings still in the wonderful condition they are is a true blessing to be shared with everyone.

This is the lady rescuing the goose.

Outside in the yard stood this monument 

We walked down the lane beside the chapel to Rosslyn Glen a lovely area with a creek running through it, towering over it was the ruin of the Rosslyn Castle the home of William who commissioned the building of the chapel. The plants and rocks where covered in moss and small flowers carpeted the ground among the greenery a truly wondrous place where I am sure the fae are living.

Showing the moss even on the small branches of the trees

Flowers carpet the ground

Part of the ruins of the Rosslyn Castle

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