Rosslyn Chapel

Chapel of the St. Clairs of Scotland, former princes of Orkney. It was originally built by Sir William St. Clair in 1446 as the Collegiate Chapel of St Mathew; unfortunately, by the time Sir William died in 1484, the chapel itself was unfinished, and never would be. His son, Sir Oliver, had the roof finished, but nothing else was completed. What currently stands is what was to be the choir of a large cruciform church. Foundations were found in the 19th century, confirming this.

The St. Clairs remained Catholic, yet during the Reformation they were forced to destroy the altars. From 1592 onward, the building lay in disuse. In 1736, James St. Clair worked to restore the building to its former state. Since then, the Earls of St. Clair have worked to keep the building in good condition.

There are a few intersting things to mention about Rosslyn Chapel. First, the town Roslin was founded as a home for the stone masons who worked on the original church. This is the same Roslin where scientists produced the first cloned animal, Dolly the sheep, in 1996.

Secondly, the chapel's design is quite eccentric. There are 32 different arch designs, which is strange enough, and some are even hollow. There are numerous carvings, including the "Dance of Death" motif, Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, Samson destroying Philistines, David killing a lion, the Prodigal son, the Crucifixion, and scenes of the St. Clairs. The building is oriented east-west:

marked out by the solar ray, according to the ancient tradition. A geometrical figure is usually used to regulate the proportions, and a double equilateral triangle is used in Rosslyn.
--The Rosslyn Chapel website
Then there is the case of the Apprentice Pillar and its possible significance. The story associated with it is somewhat reminiscent of the Widow's Son of the Freemasons, and there are numerous claims--unsubstantiated--which say that the Knights Templar worshipped here after escaping from the Continent, and that they brought the Holy Grail and hid it in the pillar.

All in all, an unusual place.


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Mary Jones 2003