susan smitten (chu_hi) wrote,
susan smitten

The Rosslyn Chapel






Just a few miles south of Edingburg Scotland lies the village of Roslin. It consists of a single street with a parade of shops and houses and at the end, two pubs. The village begins at the edge of a steep wooded gorge, the valley of the North Esk. Seven miles away, near where the North Esk joins the South, lies the former Templar preceptory of Balantrodoch, now simply called Temple.

The valley of the North Esk is a mysterious, seemingly haunted place. Carved into a large, moss-covered rock, a wild pagan head gazes at the passer-by. Further downstream, in a cave behind a waterfall, there is what appears to be another huge head with cavernous eyes, perhaps a weathered carving, perhaps a natural product of the elements. The path leading through the valley is crossed by numerous ruined stone buildings and passes by a cliff-face with dressed stone windows. Behind this window is a veritable warren of tunnels, sufficient to conceal a substantial number of men and accessible only by a secret entrance: one had to be lowered down a well. According to legend, Robert the Bruce found refuge here during one of the many crises that beset his campaigns.

Perched on the very edge of the gorge is an eerily strange edifice, Rosslyn Chapel. One's first impression is that it appears to be a cathedral in miniature. Not that it is particularly small. but it is so overloaded, so dripping with Gothic carvings and floridly intricate embellishments, that it seems somehow to be a truncated part of something greater, like a fragment of Chartes, transplanted to the top of a Scottish hill. It conveys a sense of amputated lushness, as if the builders, after lavishing their most dazzling skills and costly materials upon the structure, simply stopped abruptly.

In fact, they did. They ran short of money. Rosslyn Chapel was originally intended to be part of something much greater, the 'Lady Chapel' of a vast collegiate church, a full size cathedral on the French scale. In the absence of funds, the project was never completed. From the existing west wall, massive blocks of stone jut forth, awaiting others which never arrived.

The interior of the chapel is a fevered hallucination in stone, a riotous explosion of carved images and geometrical configurations pile on top of one another, flowing into one another, overlapping one another. Motifs that anticipate those of Freemasonry abound. One finds oneself in what appears to be a petrified compendium of 'esoterica'.

As one would expect of such a place, Rosslyn Chapel is a focus for secrets and for legends. The most famous of these pertains to the quaint pillar at the east end of the structure, now called "the Apprentice Pillar". An account of this remarkable story was printed in 1774 and speaks of ...

a tradition that has prevailed in the family of Roslin from father to son, which is, that a model of this beautiful pillar having been sent to Rome, or some foreign place; the master-mason, upon viewing it, would by no means consent to work off such a pillar, till he should go to Rome, or some foreign part, to take exact inspection of the pillar from which the model had been taken; that, in absence, whatever might be the occasion of it, an apprentice finished the pillar as it now stands; and that the master, upon his return, seeing the pillar so exquisitely well finished, made enquiry who had done it; and, being stung with envy, slew the apprentice.
Above the west door of the chapel, there is a carved head of a young man with a gash on his right temple. This is said to be the head of the murdered apprentice. Opposite him is the head of a bearded man, the master who killed him. To his right, there is another head, that of a woman, called "the Widowed Mother". It is thus made clear that the unnamed precocious youth was, to use a phrase familiar to all Freemasons, a "Son of the Widow". As we have noted, the same phrase was used to designate Percival or Parzival in the Grail Romances.

In the late fifteenth century, three Sinclairs were serving in the Scots Guard at the same time. In the mid sixteenth century, there were no fewer than four Sinclairs in the unit. Altogether, between 1473 and the death of Mary Stuart in 1587, the rolls of the Scots Guard testify to the enrolment of then members of the family from Scotland. And, of course, there was also the French branch of the family, the Norman Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, which was particularly active in the French politics of the time.

While certain members of the Sinclair family were pursuing military and diplomatic careers on the Continent, others were equally busy at home, as, indeed, they had been since Bruce's time. In the early years of the fourteenth century, William Sinclair had been Bishop of Dunkeld. Along with Bishops Wishart of Glasgow, Lamberton of St Andrews, Mark of the Isles and David of Moray, William Sinclair had been one of the five leading Scottish ecclesiastics to rally around Bruce and his cause. The Bishop's nephew, also named William, had ben one of Bruce's closest friends and retainers. On Bruce's death in 1329, it was Sir William Sinclair, along with Sir James Douglas, who embarked with his heart for the Holy Land, only to dies in Spain.

In the late fourteenth century, another Sinclair was to embark on an even more daring exploit. Around 1395, Sir Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, together with the Venetian explorer Antonio Zeno, attempted to cross the Atlantic. Certainly the reached Greenland, where Zeno's brother, also an explorer, claimed to have discovered a monastery in 1391; recent studies suggest he may even have reached what was latter to be called the New World. According to certain accounts, there is some intriguing evidence to indicate that he intended making for Mexico. If this is true, it would explain why, when Cortes arrived in 1520, he was identified by the Aztecs not only with the God Quetzalcoatl, but also with a blond-haired blue-eyed white man who had allegedly preceded him long in the past.

Henry's grandson, Sir William Sinclair, was also active at the sea. The husband of Sir James Douglas's niece, and brother-in-law to Sir James himself, he had been appointed Grand Admiral of Scotland in 1436, and was subsequently to become Chancellor as well. But his greatest achievement, which was to link him forever with Masonic and other esoteric traditions, lay in the sphere of architecture. It was under Sir William's auspices that, in 1446, the foundations for a large collegiate church were laid at Rosslyn. In 1450, the structure was formally dedicated to St Matthew and work proper began. While it proceeded, another William Sinclair, probably the nephew of Rosslyn builder, became the first member of his family to enrol in the Scots Guard and rose to prominence in the unit.

The building of Rosslyn Chapel was to take forty years. It was finally completed in the 1480's by Sir William's son Oliver Sinclair, a close associate of Lord George Seton, who swore fealty to Oliver Sinclair for life at this time. Oliver Sinclair never proceeded with the rest of the church, probably because, by now, it appears, Sinclair energies were diverted elsewhere. Sir William's grandson, also named Oliver, was a military officer, close confidant and Master of the Royal Household to James V. In 1542, he commanded the Scottish army at Solway Moss, where he was captured. On giving his parole to aid the English cause, he was released, but seems not to have held to his oath. In 1545, he was ordered to return to prison in England, whereupon he proceeded to disappear from history, presumably going to ground in the Scottish hinterlands or perhaps abroad.

Oliver's brother, Henry Sinclair, was Bishop of Ross. In 1541, he was appointed Abbot of Kilwinning, a name which later to figure crucially in Freemasonry. In 1561, he was appointed to the Privy Council of Mary Queen of Scots. Not surprisingly, he maintained intimate contacts with the Guise and Lorraine factions in France, spending much of his time in Paris. His and Oliver's younger brother, John, also became a bishop. John too, was a counsellor to Mary Queen of Scots and in 1565 performed her marriage to Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, at Holyrood.

As noted, the foundations for Rosslyn Chapel were laid in 1446 and the actual work started four years later. These are among the few definitive and confirmed facts. Our information concerning almost everything else, though not implausible and certainly not disproved, we owe to later tradition, later in some cases by a century and a half, in other cases by three or more.

According to this later tradition, Sir William Sinclair, in preparation for the building of his chapel, imported stonemasons and other artisans from the Continent. The town of Roslin itself was supposedly built to house and accommodate the new arrivals. Tradition also has it:

...That in 1441 James II, King of Scotland, appointed St Clair Patron and Protector of Scottish Masons; that the office was hereditary; that after his death, circa 1480, his descendants held annual meetings at Kilwinning,...the nomination of Craft Office-Bearers remained a prerogative of the Kings Of Scotland; that it was neglected by James VI when he became King of England...
It is important to note that "Masonry" in this context does not imply Freemasonry as we know it today. On the contrary, it refers to the guild or guilds of professional workers and builders in stone. As we shall see, these men were not all just simple artisans, unlettered and untutored manual labourers. But neither were they mystical philosophers who, in between construction projects, met in secret conclaves, conducted clandestine initiations with passwords and meaningful handshakes, and discussed the mysteries of the cosmos. In the terminology that was later to arise, these men were held to be practitioners of "operative Masonry", in other words, the practical application of mathematics and geometry to the art of architecture.


THE TEMPLE AND THE LODGE By Michael Baigent & Richard Leigh


"...William St Clair himself masterminded the whole construction of the building from its inception to his own death in 1484, just two years before it completion; furthermore, he personally supervised every tiny detail of the work...William St Clair had brought some of Europe's finest masons to Scotland for this great project, building the village of Rosslyn to house them."
"From the outside, Rosslyn is a representation in stone of the Heavenly Jerusalem as depicted in Lambert's copy, with towers and a huge central curved, arched roof. Inside the Rosslyn shrine, the layout is a reconstruction of the ruin of Herod's Temple, decorated with Nasorean and Templar symbolism. In the north-east corner we found a section of the wall carved with the towers of the Heavenly Jerusalem complete with the Masonic compasses, styled exactly as they are shown on Lambert's scroll." "As we looked directly upwards from the organ loft, we could see that the arched roof had a running series of keystones down its length, just like the one the Royal Arch degree describes as found in the ruins of Herod's Temple!"
- Christopher Knight & Robert Lomas, The Hiram Key: Pharaohs, Freemasons and the Discovery of the Secret Scrolls of Jesus


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