It was first built as a private chapel by William St. Clair, an ancestor of the current Earl of Rosslyn. He meant it as a place of learning and also a burial place for himself and his family.
It is in use as a church now, but outside of services it is a huge tourist attraction and the admission fees support the continuing restoration and maintenance of this beautiful building. They have a very nice visitor's center and guides who give talks and answer questions. It is full of carvings and stained glass windows that tell stories from the bible. The guides pointed out that this was very important at the time it was built, when many people were illiterate.
I wondered when we went there how the family and guides would feel about the action movie that inspires such a large percentage of their visitors, but they had a very sensible attitude. I listened to two of the hourly talks and both guides mentioned Da Vinci Code at the end and said that while there were rumors of a connection between William St. Clair and the Knights Templar there is no evidence in Rosslyn of any of the further claims of the book. However, visitor numbers at the chapel increased by a factor of 5 after the movie came out and show no signs of going down and this has meant the restoration of the chapel could proceed at a much faster pace than originally planned. So the Da Vinci Code has helped them out a lot and they welcome people who come to see the place for any reason. They even point out the location of the room where the main characters discover the critical evidence at the end of the book -- although in real life it is just a large sort of closet and they assure us there is no trap door or hidden space below it. The movie filmed a lot of the Rosslyn sequence in the actual chapel, but the door to that room opened into a much larger room in a Hollywood studio.
Rosslyn Chapel is near to the town of Roslin, which is in the country about a 40-minute drive away from where we are staying in Edinburgh. When we saw advertisements for Roslyn Chapel and David proposed visiting I thought it would be very difficult and expensive to get to. It turns out there's a city bus that goes out to the town. We didn't even have to transfer; it goes right by the house where we're staying. The bus service in Edinburgh is really wonderful.
When we got on the bus David asked the driver if he'd let us know when it was time to get off for Rosslyn Chapel. He smiled and promised he would. When we finally got out there he announced "Rosslyn Chapel" and most of the people on the bus (30 or 40 of us) got up and filed off. We had to laugh at worrying we wouldn't know; we hadn't realised the popularity of this place!
They don't allow visitors to take pictures inside the chapel, so if you want to see what it looks like you'll have to visit the Rosslyn Chapel's web site. We spent hours wandering around looking at all of the carvings and windows. The detail is amazing! They give visitors a leaflet listing and explaining some of the items to look for and it was a lot of fun. There were even some humorous things to be found, including an angel with a bagpipe :-)
I did take some pictures on the outside. Here is the sign you see when you go in:
Here is a view of the front of the chapel:
The chapel was originally intended to become a large cruciform cathedral. The part that was actually built would have been the "choir" portion of this building (the part of the cross shape above where the horizontal and vertical lines of the cross meet). The long walls going out to the side were included in this expectation but there's nothing behind them. The lighter stone section in front of those walls is the "bapistry" and was added in the 1800s when the chapel started to be used as a regular church.
Here is a side view showing some of the windows and carvings that make the chapel so beautiful:
The glass in the windows was added in the 1800s; there are no surviving records about what the original windows might have looked like.
These statues on the "bapistry" section are also from the 1800s.
Visitors enter from the visitors center into this pretty side garden:
It included a resident cat named William who graciously allowed visitors to pat and admire him. I was sure I got a picture of him, but it's not in my camera -- oh well....
This ornate tomb is in front of the church:
After spending hours exploring the chapel, we continued on to talk a walk to "Rosslyn Castle". The official material warns that much of the castle is in ruins but that there is a part of it which is occupied by the Earl of Rosslyn and his family and occasionally rented to visitors but is not open to the public. There are signs directing visitors to a short walk leading to the castle and we decided to go take a look. It was a lovely walk:
Before long we reached some mystifying stone things:
We wondered "could this be the ruins of the castle?" We also found a large wall with a car parked beside it and a large stone house beyond the wall.
and that was it. No more path. No sign of the remaining part of the castle. We figured we'd gotten it wrong and walked back to the visitors centre to ask. It turns out that the large stone house IS the remaining part of the castle and the ruins are what remain of the rest of it. I'm sure it's a nice house, but it didn't look like a castle to me....
When we were all done sightseeing we walked back to the bus stop and had about 20 minutes before the next bus. So I took a walk down the street and snapped some pictures of this adorable village:
It is so quaint but so near a big city. I wonder what it would be like to live there!