Rubbing Shoulders with the Knights Templar

The journey this time is a very short one in to Edinburgh. We approach what we believe is the Forth Road Bridge. It seems to have some rather disconcerting gaps in it. Ah! Fortunately this is not the Forth Road Bridge, or at least not yet; it is still under construction. I am disappointed that no one is actually in the process of painting the real Forth Road Bridge. There are warnings of a running event in the city but we are aiming for the north of Edinburgh so hope to avoid this. We later discover that this event is not until tomorrow and that it is the Edinburgh marathon. I am quite excited to be directed down Quality Street; this does actually appear to be the Quality Street. It might have been better if we had not been directed down Quality Street as we are in the midst of another sat-nav fail. This time it knows where site is (unlike the last two destinations) but seems to think that our caravan will fit down a road blocked by bollards with the gap between them barely wide enough for a car, sigh.

Today is the first time since we reached Scotland that we have been able to go out in tee-shirts, well Chris is in a tee-shirt; I still have a jumper on. We are trying to find the Chapel of Rosslyn, which has associations with the Knights Templar, always a fascination for me. Wouldn’t you think it would be in a place called Rosslyn? Nope. It is in Roslin, which is not what I was putting in the sat-nav! When we find it, along with four coach loads of other tourists, there are guide leaflets in every language but English. The rationale behind this is that the interpretation boards are in English, so we won’t need a leaflet. I would like to take one home so I opt for French on the grounds that I may understand one word in three. First comes the Old Rosslyn Inn, which was opened from 1660-1866 but is now a private house. It was patronised by ‘celebrities’ such as the future Edward VII, Walter Scott, William and Dorothy Wordsworth and Robert Burns.

The Chapel was begun in 1446 by Sir William St Clair, Prince of Orkney, who owned nearby Rosslyn Castle. What was known as the Collegiate Chapel of St Matthew, was intended as a private chapel so masses could be said for the souls of the St Clair family. The chapel was built in an over the top gothic style using local stone and probably employing French masons. It took forty years to ‘complete’ but was half the size of that which was originally planned, perhaps because the impetus was lost with the death of St. Clair.

One advantage of all the tour buses is that we can eavesdrop on a group’s commentary. A French guide explains, in very good English, some of the symbolism behind the many carvings. She is aided by a green laser pointer. Our attention is drawn to over 100 green man carvings. This pagan symbol is not unknown in chapels but so many of them is very unusual. There are, understandably, carvings that are full of religious symbolism as well as animals and plants. The plants include maize, which is strange as it was carved fifty years before Columbus discovered America. There are angels playing instruments, including bagpipes, a dance of death and depictions of the seven deadly sins. There is a legend attached to two of the carved pillars. One was supposed to be executed by the master mason and a more elaborate one by the apprentice, who was inspired by a dream. The incensed mason then killed the apprentice in a fit of jealous rage. Two of the gargoyles are supposed to depict the mason and his apprentice, complete with head wound. Ironically, the mason is sited so that he stares at the apprentice’s column.

The chapel is associated with the Knights Templar, early twelfth century warrior monks whose role was to protect pilgrims on crusade and to find and guard treasures from the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The chapel came to prominence because it features in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and the visitor footfall increased five fold as a result. After the Reformation, prayers for the dead were no longer customary but the chapel is still in use for regular services. Monck stabled the horses of the Parliamentarian forces in the chapel in 1650. By the eighteenth century it had fallen into disrepair and as a ‘ruin’, become a focus for Romantic poets and artists including Turner. Its initial restoration was inspired by Queen Victoria and now there are 175,000 visitors a year, many of whom seemed to be there on the same day as us. I was a bit disappointed that there was not more information on the Knights Templar but it was fascinating nonetheless.

412 Currie Kirk 28 May 2016On the way back to the van we call in at Currie, where my granddaughter’s ancestors came from but no luck with the graveyard here. There are some very unusual stones there though.

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