7. Mysterious “Masons’ Marks” Line Much of the Uncarved Surface
Very little is known about the masons who carved the intricate designs that line the entire interior and much of the exterior of Rosslyn Chapel. We don’t even know what their names were, not even the legendary master and apprentice whose story is immortalized in the Apprentice Pillar. However, some clues as to their identities may lie in tiny etchings that can be seen on some of the uncarved areas within the chapel. They are simple designs, usually basic geometric forms, that have a picturesque quality. These marks may be types of signatures as to the masons who carved those particular brick of stone.
Some people believe that there may be more to these marks than mere signatures; they are clues meant to be deciphered as to the true meaning of Rosslyn Chapel. After all, leaving behind a name was uncommon for masons, particularly at the time of the building of Rosslyn Chapel. They believe that the Masons were trying to carve their messages – possibly about the Templars or the Freemasons – into stone so that they could not be lost to posterity. Given that there are approximately 24 masons’ marks but were probably many more than 24 masons, and some of the masons’ marks may be repeated, there may be some truth to this claim. However, no one has managed to decipher what those messages might mean.
As you can see, there is no shortage of theories as to the meaning that may be embedded within the enigmatic symbology carved into the stones of Rosslyn Chapel. One particularly interesting theory claims that some of the rocks, particularly the hundreds of cube-like boxes, were designed to write down a musical score. In essence, Rosslyn Chapel is a piece of music waiting to be played. Tommy and Stuart Mitchell, a father-and-son team of musicians, are the chief architects of this particular theory. They think that they have uncovered what the actual sounds were that are carved into the stone and explained that it was like listening to a CD from the Middle Ages.
One piece of evidence that the Mitchells point to is the carvings of musical angels found throughout the chapel. They are carrying instruments, such as lutes and harps, which are designed with such precise detail that even the tuning knobs are realistic. Between them can often be found asymmetrical, seemingly arbitrary, placements of the cube-like boxes. The idea that the arrangement of the cubes indicates a particular location on a musical scale – probably a pentatonic scale – explains the seemingly arbitrary position of the cubes.
Going back to the Knights Templar theme, there are some who believe that the chapel was constructed as a repository for the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus drank from the night before He was crucified. The Knights Templar were believed to be searching for the Grail, along with other relics like wood from the cross; some think that they found the Grail under the Temple of Solomon while they were protecting the city of Jerusalem during the Crusades. However, these claims are highly dubious.
Still, there is nothing like a good story, and Rosslyn Chapel is almost nothing if it is not the central feature of many good stories. The speculation is that in the fourteenth century when the Knights Templar order was officially abolished, and many of its leaders put to death, some of the survivors traveled to Scotland. Their descendants influenced the building of Rosslyn Chapel; in fact, William Sinclair himself may have been associated with the order. It was there at Rosslyn Chapel, probably under the Apprentice Pillar, that they buried the Holy Grail as a means of preserving it. Their descendants formed the organization known as the Freemasons, and the leaders of the Freemasons know the secrets of Rosslyn Chapel and the Grail.
The Scottish Reformation of 1560 was a bloody, tumultuous affair that resulted in the persecution of many Catholic Scots. The Sinclair family, which was of French descent, had long been Roman Catholic, and the denomination was the primary one of the services held at Rosslyn Chapel. The chapel was closed to all but members of the Sinclair family until 1861 to minimize the dangerous conditions brought about by the Scottish Reformation. It was all but completely abandoned as a result of the religious persecution brought by the Scottish Reformation. One result of its closing was that it fell into a state of severe disrepair.
Scotland has a cold, wet climate, and the chapel’s limestone began to absorb large amounts of moisture, thereby damaging them. Mosses, ferns, and other organic life began to grow inside the chapel, causing even more damage to the stones. The chapel turned green from the moss and was considered to be ruined. Queen Victoria visited in 1842 and found the place worthy of repairs to preserve it. Restoration projects began in 1862, the year after the chapel re-opened to the public. When the plans were completed, the services that were carried out were of the Scottish Episcopalian Church.
3. Restoration Efforts in the 1950s Nearly Destroyed the Chapel
By the mid-twentieth century, Scotland’s wet, cold climate had caused the chapel’s stones to absorb so much moisture that the walls appeared to be crying from the water that regularly ran down them. In 1954, Scotland’s Ministry of Works declared that the building was suffering extreme effects of the dampness, and if nothing were done, the dilapidated building would likely be condemned. A restoration project was quickly begun to reserve this condition. Videos of workers carrying out the restoration reveal what happened.
Initially, workers used fine brushes to remove any debris – be it dust or organic matter that had attached to the stone – in the effort to thoroughly clean the rocks. In the next stage, workers used three-inch paint brushes to coat all of the stone with a cement slurry, several layers. This method caused substantial damage to two levels. The first is that rather than protecting the rocks from additional moisture seeping in, the slurry actually sealed inside the stones the moisture that was already in them. The second is that it covered over many of the fine details that could be seen on the original carvings. Additional restoration projects were required to remove the dampness from inside the stones, but so far, there are no cost-effective means of removing the layers of cement.
2. The Da Vinci Code Brought About the “Rosslyn Miracle”
Dan Brown said that when he began writing his breakout novel, The Da Vinci Code, he “knew that its finale would have to take place at the most mysterious and magical chapel on earth — Rosslyn.” Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu’s search for the Holy Grail brought them to this iconic building where, in the story, Sophie meets the grandmother that she had long believed was dead. The story is of course fiction, and almost all of the claims about the Holy Grail are pseudo-history that have long been debunked by historians. However, the effect that the novel had on Rosslyn Chapel was nothing short of miraculous.
Fans of The Da Vinci Code flocked to the chapel to view its enigmatic carvings for themselves and see what they could make of them. The chapel had long been a site for tourists to visit, but with the book’s success, the number of visitors surged from just a few hundred per month to as many as 176,000. The income generated from all of these visitors enabled the Rosslyn Chapel Trust, which is concerned with the chapel’s preservation, to carry out many much-needed restorations. The fortunes of the decaying were completely turned around, and its stone treasures will likely be enjoyed for generations to come.
1. The Sinclair Family Still Maintains Rosslyn Chapel
Rosslyn Chapel today is open to the public and is one of the most popular locations for tourists to visit. It is also frequented by locals and scholars who want to peer more deeply into the secrets that it has held for centuries. Given the chapel’s public nature and global notoriety, one might expect that the Scottish government owns it. However, it is still preserved and maintained by the Sinclair family, the descendants of the first Viking leader of Normandy and later of William Sinclair. It is a private building, and the Sinclair family holds all the rights to it.
This fact has generated quite a buzz for conspiracy theorists. If William Sinclair was a descendant of the Knights Templar, then maybe some of the secrets that he passed on to his offspring have been shared in their original entirety within the family. Perhaps the Holy Grail and other relics can be found within the walls, or possibly under the floors, of Rosslyn Chapel. Maybe some secrets of the chapel’s history will remain within the family, at least for the time being. If nothing else, the chapel will continue to create one hell of a story.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources: