Roslin, Scotland

11 03 2011

We started out from Musselburgh at about 7 am, bustling to get suitcases repacked and ourselves bundled for the long day.  It was a cold morning, but thankfully no snow for once.  The wind still seemed to be able to find every possible nook and cranny of our outerclothes to be able to tear at our skin.

The drive to Roslin was thankfully away from the evil place called Edinburgh, but there were plenty of roundabouts for me to scream and yell about.

Here, no not here, there, follow that red car, no not that red car, damnit you missed the right turn, no don’t turn off here, just follow it around, get to the inside, no the inside of the circle, fucking roundabouts!

(The above conversation probably happened about ten times a day each day between Glenn and I.  I’ve no idea how the British stay married to one another if they have to ride in a vehicle round a roundabout with one another.  Any more roundabouts and I think we’ll both just amicably file for a divorce.)

The quaint town of Roslin, I don’t think it’s actually considered a city, was very old.  Serene I suppose would be a good description.  The mountains surrounded us all about and little homes on narrow lanes abounded.  We followed Billy’s directions until we saw signs for the Chapel Trust, and we moved along at a small pace til the road began to change to something you might expect cattle to be guided along.  Hardened sod and uneven.

There was a large tour bus in the parking lot and he gave us a number of perplexed looks as we tried to get around him to make our way into the lot.  After parking, he blared the horn at us and shooed us towards a pile of construction materials.  Glenn went up to speak to him and was directed to park near the lumber piles.

We piled back into the car to drive over the small distance and once again park.  The “coach” driver blared his horn again and we thought it wise to not even bother to get out this time as Glenn went once more to get directions.

The parking lot for cars was across the cow path so we relocated a third time and the driver shook his head as if to say stupid Americans as we went past.  We unloaded and absorbed the impressive view of the valley and the staggering mountains around us.  Glenn wandered off to grab a few scenic pictures and we huddled around the car, waiting for the opening time to arrive.

I was surprised at the number of signs posted about thieves operating in the area.  The church was right there!  How could anyone with any convictions at all, dare to rob someone in a church parking lot?!  I cannot adequately explain how surprising this was to me, and still is.

Suddenly, from nowhere, the snow began whipping around and covering everything and us.  Just when I thought we for once would escape its fury.  By the time I finally located my hat and gloves and got the girls to bundle up better – it stopped.

We took our time walking over to the church, which you literally could not see any of without being in their yard, due to the trees and such.  I looked for the scaffolding which would enable us to climb up and see the outside buttresses and roof of this church, as shown on their site.  I couldn’t find them.

Rosslyn Chapel, probably better known nowadays as the church of the Rose Line in the Da Vinci Code book.  But it’s so much more than that.  This church was built by the Sinclair (or St Clair) family from Orkney.  It was constructed entirely of stone and reflects a multitude of religions and beliefs spanning hundreds of years.  There has always been a great deal of mystery about the place – its possible connection to the Templars, the Holy Grail, the heart of Robert the Bruce, the original cross of the Crucifixion…all of which are supposedly buried in some fashion here.

A kindly woman opened the doors and a kleenex of Kayla’s fell out of her pocket, which the lady immediately went to clean up, telling Kayla not to trouble herself with it.  It was very strange to have someone waiting on us in that manner, in America we’d likely have heard an earful from a shop keeper if they saw us littering (even by accident), or at very least mutterings about how kids these days and parents these days and so forth.

The woman advised me that cameras would not be permitted to be used within the chapel, a surprise to me seeing as their website had not noted any such thing and there was a plethora of images online.  We could keep our cameras on our persons, if we would just be certain to be so kind.  Please and thank you.  (Again, not typical of what we would have encountered at any random tourist dive in the US.)

We wandered through their museum first, complete with hands on exhibitions for the kids to test out their restlessness on and it pacified them for a short while.  We then caught a small movie about the attempts to save the chapel before making our way into the gardens.

Breathtaking.  (I know I use that term a lot, but I am at a loss for other words.)

To our right was a burial cross with the representations of the angels of Mercy, Love, Hope, Charity, Kindness, so forth.  On the chapel front were more angelic statues of Justice and Faith and so on.  Then some of the saints looked down on us from their holy cubbies.

The most interesting thing to me at this point was how Christian the exterior of the church was as compared to what I knew would be within.  To the eyes of anyone passing by, they would think it a typical Catholic or Protestant chapel and likely not give it much more of a glance.

(Right or wrong, damn me to hell – at this point I turned on the record feature of the camera around my neck and I began my journey inside – hoping for the best.)

Though quite large, it was considerably small for a church.  And to think that Cromwell used the interior as stables for his army’s horses during his campaigns, bleh.  Enough to make you sick to think anyone could approve the stowage of filthy animals in a place such as this.

The ceiling looked incredibly better than what I had seen in images, it was crisp and white, the flowers and stars and fleur de leis patterns on the ceiling in a mysterious pattern.  They had grown quite mildewed over the centuries and the caretakers had recently decided to cover the whole of the outside of the chapel with watertight tarps to work to remove the mildew and prevent further damage.  It appeared to have worked.

Inside, in each cubby and corner was a mysterious carving.  A horned man here (which the church would have us think is Moses) and an angel being hung by a noose over its feet (this is supposedly Lucifer), skeletons doing battle in a dance of death and so forth.  Creatures known as Green Men are goblin-esque and carved in as well, more than a hundred in the whole of the place.

Picture, if you can, a room perhaps forty feet wide and sixty feet long, packed full of carvings of all types of interpretations.  And that doesn’t even begin to explain the paned glass – which is all relatively new and was of little interest to me.  The room’s front is supported by three pillars, two of which are named.

The Master’s Pillar stands to the left as you face the altar and over your right shoulder is the face of the mother of the apprentice – wrought with the most agonizing face one can picture being carved into stone.  The Master’s Pillar is impressive, not overtly so.  Just a typical column of stone, but obviously took a great deal of skill and work to achieve.

To its right stands the Apprentice’s Pillar and over your left shoulder is the face of the master, distraught and angry, almost devilish.  The Apprentice’s Pillar resembles the Yggdrasyl tree of Norse history (which makes sense to me when one thinks that the Sinclair family hailed from Orkney, a Scandinavian land by history).  Vines trail up out of the mouths of beasts, winding their way up the stone pillar like ivy up a tree.  Each leaf has detail, each beast as well – complete with eyelashes.

The story goes that the Master carver had several apprentices at his disposal as they set about to carve this chapel, which is carved entirely of stone blocks.  He completed the first of three pillars, the Master’s one, and he was impressed with his work, but wanted to do better.  So he set out on a trip to France to learn the works of other carvers in the land.  He left instructions to the apprentices to work only on the buttresses and menial work in his absense, which took over a year.

While he was gone, one apprentice had a vision, from God, that showed him the finished pillar and taught him how to achieve the pillar.  Believing his dream had been a direction from God, the apprentice then set about carving the pillar, the Apprentice one.

When the Master returned from his trip and he saw the pillar, he was outraged.  Not only had the apprentice disobeyed his orders and ruined his own chance at showing off his handywork of the past year’s studies, but he had also been bested by his own apprentice.  Angrily, he grabbed a carving mallet and bashed in the head of the apprentice, killing him instantly.  The master was charged for the crime and then hung for his sins.

The chapel designers decided to put the image of the master across from the apprentice’s work, so that for all eternity he would be unable to take his eyes off of it; the apprentice’s mother is permitted to languish the killer of her son by staring at the master’s pillar; and the apprentice’s face sits in between the two, staring across at the third (middle) unfinished pillar, to dream of what he could have achieved.

Glenn and the girls opted to allow the guide to tell them about the history of the chapel while I decided to take my running video camera and try to align myself with areas I wanted to get images of.  I moseyed down the stairs into the catacombs and came face to face with grave tombs of mysterious individuals – whom no one is quite certain the identify of.  One had the most eery image of a skeleton with a scythe chasing two crouched figures and the inscription I couldn’t make out well.  Another stated something about the Templar Knights, again very unclear.

There was a small door that led further down but was enabled with an alarm, so I chose not to go down.

All in all, it was quite an impressive chapel, even if the images do not come out when I try to pull stills from the video.  (I write this after I’ve already visited Westminster and I can say in earnest, that this chapel is far more eloquent and moving than any other church we’ve visited in all of the UK.)

We finally left the chapel, made a few small purchases from the gift shoppe and made our way back to the car lot.  Thankfully for us, the thieves chose not to operate today and we were ready to be on our way.

We drove back into Roslin, and tried to grab a bite at the Roslin Glen Inn.  We entered the building and took in the lush decor as we waited for someone to appear.  We called out for assistance and waited a bit longer – needlessly, as no one came.  Crossing the stone road to another B&B serving breakfast, we found that once more no one was in.  The registers were sitting out, items of value all about, and no one in sight or yelling range.  Obviously very trusting.

We set out southbound and hoped we would find food down the road a ways.

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