Sunday, 21 April 2013

Edinburgh Day 2 - Rosslyn Chapel

Touching Low Hanging Groin Vaulting. I Hope that the Hamish is for Sale. 'X' Marks the Spot. Whittling Down the Bucket List.

 11 °C

We took the bus 15A at a stop not far from the Scott Monument on Princess St. We bought a Day Pass for £3.50 (the adult single bus fare for Roslin Village (not Rosslyn Village) is £1.50. We may as well buy the Day Pass as we didn't know if we need to take any bus ride later).

Needless to say, like most buses in major cities, you need exact change for your rides. The group of 5 wide eyed young Thai girls had to be turned away. They were inexperienced with the bus service, and didn't carry enough small change. I feel sorry for them, seeing their sad puppy eyes as they left the bus. Especially the one who picked her nose with great relish. Our eyes met, she looked at me looking at her nose picking with great curiosity; but she didn't stop her nasal housekeeping service. I'm no Karl Malden or George C Scott, but I'm nosy, so I don't need to pick my nose.

The bus 15A runs every half hour and took about 45 mins (depending on traffic) to get to the Rosslyn Chapel. Get off at the Original Rosslyn Hotel, and just at the intersection up ahead is a road sign - yes a sign! - that points to the Rosslyn Chapel. Just don't read too much into it.

The Original Rosslyn Hotel, Edinburgh, UK
Alight here @ the Original Rosslyn Hotel
(Open any photo in another window for a larger view)

William Sinclair, the founder of Rosslyn Chapel
William Sinclair, the founder of Rosslyn Chapel
Without exaggeration, the Rosslyn Chapel is unquestionably the most well known chapel in the Christendom. At least, after The Da Vinci Code popped into the popular consciousness like a whack in the back of our heads.

When you peel off all the thin and transparent layers of amusing conspiracy theories, entertaining flight of fancy, hearsay, heresy, Dan Brown's obscenely profitable artistic license, and excellent overstretched extrapolation, what you left with in the core is a chapel with an impressive showcase of the carving skills of the Medieval artisans. The terms 'exquisite' are used frequently and accurately to depict the huge concentration of carvings in this chapel.

I was impressed. This is high praise from a jaded traveller who's blase about cities of great cathedrals like Paris and Rome. I'm so impressed that it spurs me to rhyme:

(in modern font for better eligibility)

I see London, I see France,
 Never a chapel looks so grand !

Anyone who reads all my travel diary entries (really? Thanks!) would grow tired of my talk of travel weariness. It's very unseemly to be this excited. Very unbecoming of me. That's what Rosslyn Chapel is doing to me. Hard to explain really.

Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus, Rosslyn Chapel, Edinburgh, UK
Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus
Here's one explanation after some self-reflection while watching the tube (TV, not London underground train. I'm no train spotter). I always like cute things. Aye, I could really relate to the Japanese kawaii phenomenon. So desu ne. While it's the Japanese thing, it's spreading globally, thanks to globalisation. Which one do you like more, a dog or a puppy? Puppy, of course! That's the kawaii factor.

The Rosslyn Chapel is the kawaii version of grand Gothic cathedral like Saint Chapelle in the Île de la Cité, for example. It's so cute that I feel like putting it in my backpack and smuggled it home. While most chapels may have this kawaii edge, they tend not to wow you because they can't afford the fancy works. At least, if they're this diminutive size.

Chapel is the poor city's cathedral (in Medieval Europe, a place is qualified to be called a city when it has a cathedral. Today it's based on population). But there's nothing poor about Rosslyn Chapel. Its richness in carvings actually outshines great many greatest cathedrals of Europe if you ask me. Certainly most if not all the chapels of similar dimension.

Hamish, the Highland cow, Scotland
Hamish, the Highland cow

Hamish, the Highland cow, Scotland
and son, baby Hamish
Tell me which one is cuter? Papa Hamish or baby Hamish? Don't you want to put a chain around baby Hamish's neck and use it as a keychain? Or put him in your cupboard next to your teddy bear?

Rosslyn Chapel, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Look at the ceiling and see how it's
decorated each section with different motifs
(open photo in new window to see a larger view)
How much is that hamish in the highland?
the one with the exuberant fur
How much is that hamish in the pasture?
I do hope that brown cow is for sale

Let's look at an example of how the Chapel might outshine even the large cathedrals, the decoration on the ceilings, every section has its own motif: stars, lilies, 4-petalled flowers, double roses, multilobed leaves and 4-petalled flowers.

Similarly, every pinnacle that sits on top of the flying buttress is unique. To name just 2 categories of examples. This is very unique among cathedrals, or chapels for that matter.

Its variety is bewildering. It's as if the masons and artisans who built this chapel used it as advertisement for their proudest craftsmanship.

While it's tiny in dimension, it has all the structures and trappings of any decent Gothic cathedral: flying buttresses, pinnacles, stained-glass windows, vaulting, crypt, etc. It even has a baptistery, which I don't often see in large cathedrals.

the Lady Chapel is a small chapel within a small chapel. It's tiny and yet its ornate ceiling is richly decorated with exquisite pendant bosses hanging down from groin vaulting (keep your mind out the gutter please. We're in a chapel). They hang so low that you can touch it if your arms are long enough (stop it already!).

Lady Chapel, Rosslyn Chapel
Lady Chapel, Rosslyn Chapel

Pendant Bosses and groined vaulting, Lady Chapel, Rosslyn Chapel
Pendant Bosses and groin vaulting of the Lady Chapel

Pendant boss carved  in the shape of a Green Man in the Lady Chapel

Pendant boss in the shape of a lion head, Rosslyn Chapel
Pendant boss carved in the shape of a lion head (or is it Dick Van Dyke?)
A simpler explanation of my zeal would be that there's a mind/mood altering machine being buried in one of them pillars. Maybe inside the famous - I should say notorious -  Apprentice Pillar. Anyone comes close to the machine will be inexplicably drawn to this chapel, making them gaga about the chapel. Dan Brown was probably touched by it (ok, punch drunk by it. Boink!). I feel so ashamed sounding like a Bible salesman, who sells this chapel. I can't take back what I said. All sales are final and non returnable.

Symbologist is somebody who reads too much into things. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and a pillar is just a pillar. No, it's not a launching pad of rocket for ET. Fortunately, symbology is a study, like professor Robert Langdon, is quite fictional (and so is the word 'symbology'). But Rosslyn Chapel isn't imaginary, it's erected in concrete masonry.

It was all the wild speculations that bring us to this Chapel. Without it, we would easily overlook this gem. Take for example, the carvings of the American Indian corn, which was carved before the Columbus voyage to the New World. Or the much speculated Masonic connections. Many carving had worn out considerably, and its vague features given the opportunity for those with the active imagination to conjure up all kinds of possible images (like seeing faces in burnt toasts).

Marking on one of the pillar, Rosslyn Chapel
Markings on one of the pillar
Here's a marking I spotted on one of the pillars. It seems to contain secret messages, could only be deciphered by the intended. What does it mean? It looks like a Masonic symbol. Is it a mark of possible secret treasure buried inside this column? 'X' marks the spot, as it were.

I bought the official guide book from the souvenir shop written by the Earl of Rosslyn (at a reasonable RRP of £5). I pored over it from cover to cover. While it discussed all kinds of speculations and various intrigues about Rosslyn Chapel (such as the more down-to-earth explanation of the origin of pre-Columbus American Indian corn carvings), it makes no mention of this odd marking (unless I've missed it). Is it just a graffiti?  An idea of a hoax made by someone who has too much time on their hands? The answer to the deepest mystery of life?

I won't tell you which pillar this marking is on. I don't want to spoil the mystery. I can tell you it's a pillar close to one of the doors. Have fun looking for it!

If you do find the treasure - may it be mind altering machine, rocket launching pad, or UFO - I want a cut or my finder's fee to be paid in full. I take bullion and cash (no USD, it depreciates too quickly while Bernanke is on the helm). I don't take cheques, unless it's American Express traveller's cheques with the words "Not Negotiable" printed across it. Oh, they don't make them anymore? Never mind...

"And now for something completely different" - Monty Python.

I ordered a haggis sandwich for lunch at the Chapel's cafeteria. This isn't the traditional haggis stuffed in sheep's stomach. I doubt you would be able to order that in a coffee shop or indeed a restaurant. Another alternative is haggis pie, which is available many places including the frozen food section in a supermarket. Thought I just try out the local traditional favourite.

Haggis sandwich and tomato soup
Haggis sandwich and soup of the day

The humble haggis wasn't fashionable until the national poet Robbie Burns wrote Ode to Haggis. And suddenly, every Scot and his hamish is eating haggis.

What's in the haggis? You wouldn't want to know (animal entrails are involved). But it isn't anything more gross than your run-of-the-mill sausage. I didn't really know what I was eating with so many ingredients all mixed up in it. It looks yucky and tastes so-so. I guess I just don't have the stomach (pun fully intended) for it.

Another item checked off in my bucket list. I still haven't checked off egg-nog on my Bucket List, believe it og not ¿¡


  1. This is so much more than i needed!!! but will all come in use thanks!!I am a china tour lover,You can learn more: China travel packages | Asia tour packages | China city tour packages

  2. The mystery mark is a masonry mark made by none other than my father. Each stone mason marks their work to make it easy to identify each piece. I am very proud of my dad and this has made my day. Thank you :)