Articles

Rosslyn Chapel

by Kate Lau

Though I had held my breath through nearly all of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, it was admittedly strange that I held my breath as I stepped through the arched doorway of Rosslyn Chapel.   After all, as Da Vinci’s code had led Langdon to Rosslyn, Langdon’s adventures had brought my family and me here to Roslin, Scotland.  Intrigued and as caught up in the mysteries of cryptex, code, and location as Langdon himself, we had journeyed to Scotland to see the Chapel ourselves.  I had envied Langdon’s special one-hour flight by jet more than once during my seventeen hours of travel from the States to London to Edinburgh to Roslin.  But I was finally here.

Langdon had been in search of the Roseline and an answer to ancient mysteries of Christ.  Those of us who seek Rosslyn in Langdon’s wake search for the mysteries themselves and perhaps a little truth in the story.  I know I had certainly come for both.

And Rosslyn can’t help but deliver, with its rich history, so full of stories and mystery.  The enormity of the 510-year-old history before me was almost intimidating. In characteristically thick Scottish, my guide, Margaretanne Dugan of Rosslyn Tours had told me, we wouldn’t even have been able to come through this door long ago.  We would have had to go do round to the other side, where there was a smaller door for the ladies. But now the old males’ entrance welcomes all visitors (especially since the door for the ladies is sealed shut).

It was nothing like I had expected when I had followed Brown’s words that traced Langdon’s steps through the chapel. I had imagined it all wrong.  No paintings adorned the walls, only a pale green left from a battle with algae gave the limestone any hue; no elaborate decorations covered the chapel in glittering gold, only carvings in the stone gave the objects life; no candles gave the interior a soft yellow glow, only occasions of natural light from the classically overcast and misty Scottish morning lighted the architecture.  The chapel was not soft and warm, as I had imagined, but striking and cold.  In fact, the cold air inside seemed as solid as the surrounding limestone.  Yes, cold and limestone dominated the physicality of the building, but history, mystery, and excitement somehow softened both, making them inherently beautiful.  I eyed the carvings, whose delicacy reminded me of words in a poem or a carefully crafted story.  Each line, each symbol unable to stand alone to convey meaning; but taken together, they created an intricate network of significance.

As Margaretanne began to reveal the significance of the chapel’s contents to me, I forgot my initial chill.  The symbolism of Masonic and Christian religious carvings, stories, such as the Master Mason’s sinful murder of his Apprentice for carving a pillar too beautifully, and the life-line of The Green Man, (a face carved at all stages of life, connected throughout the entirety of the chapel by a vine) wrapped me in a blanket of mysteries, stories, and symbols.  I forgot to be cold in the wake of legends that had kept this place alive for so long and in appreciation for the literature that had brought me here now.

Furthermore, without my guide, I might have missed everything.  While Brown’s imagination had brought me to Rosslyn, Margaretanne made sure I didn’t miss a single secret, like the location of the seven deadly sins or Robert the Bruce’s death mask in the crook of a pillar and the ceiling in the front of the chapel.  However, while she allayed many curiosities, she also left the mystery that enlivens Rosslyn unbroken.  While Langdon’s discovery rested in the house behind the chapel (for which Margaretanne said Hollywood used the remains of Rosslyn Castle) Margaretanne spoke of an undiscovered treasure beneath the Chapel.  The treasure, however, is unable to be explored, as the walls of the underground chamber threatened collapse when the Chapel’s keepers tried to open it. No one knows what’s in there, Margaretanne said. We may never know, but that’s sort of the fun of it isn’t it?

Beyond ancient mysteries, Margaretanne even pointed out where Hollywood, had used specific portions of Rosslyn Chapel, Rosslyn Castle, and the surrounding glen to film the long-awaited cinematic version of The Da Vinci Code.    Ultimately, whether inspired by book or movie, a trip to Rosslyn Chapel is well worth the journey.

Rest (or travel) assured, in the end, whatever sends you to Rosslyn will undoubtedly satisfy any need for mystery and truth all in one.  As we discovered alongside Langdon in The Da Vinci Code, not much is as we would expect, and Rosslyn Chapel is something of that sort. Nothing like I had expected, the chapel managed to blend detail and uncertainty, truth and imagination in a way I have only elsewhere seen in literature.