Rosslyn Chapel Carvings
Although ostensibly, like other collegiate churches, Rosslyn Chapel was
intended as a place of Christian learning, there is much to suggest that Sir William St Clair's intentions
were, to say the least, unorthodox.
Although there are many Biblical scenes depicted in the Rosslyn Chapel carvings, it
has been remarked how little directly Christian imagery there is. There are scenes such as the Crucifixion, but
they are not given any more prominence than the other images. The majority of Biblical scenes relate to the Old
Testament rather than the New. In addition, there is Celtic, Norse and even Hermetic and Islamic decoration. If
anything, given the preponderance of vegetation and the number of Green
Man carvings (over 100), the overriding imagery is pagan. It has been suggested that the intention was to
create a kind of sacred grove inside the chapel.
It seems that Sir William intended to create a chapel that represented ALL learning
and knowledge, not just exclusively Christian teaching. At that time, even this - the idea that learning of any value existed outside of Christian dogma - would have
been deemed heretical. But it fits with what is known of the St Clair family, who seem to have treated all
cultures with respect - they are known, for example, to have protected gypsies, at a time when doing so was
punishable by death, and to have sponsored pagan plays on their lands. It also fits with the ideals of the
Knights Templar, who also sought knowledge and information - practical, spiritual and esoteric - wherever they
could find it.
The sheer number of stone carvings - made, like the building itself, from
local sandstone - mark the chapel out as unique. Taken together with the care with which Sir William St Clair
personally supervised their creation, many have concluded that they are not merely there for decorative or
aesthetic reasons, but are part of a grand design intended to convey something of great significance. It is
recorded that all the Rosslyn Chapel carvings were first made in wood and submitted to Sir William for
approval or modification before being cut in stone (which accounts for the number of carpenters employed on a wholly stone
building, as well as the inordinate length of time it took to construct the relatively small chapel). And
although there are many images that we would expect to see in a place of worship - scenes from the Bible and
(a few) from the life of Christ - there are many more that seem distinctly out of place.
There are also Masonic images, along with Templar
symbolism - although according to conventional history the chapel post-dates the end of the Knights Templar by a century and a half, and predates
the origins of Freemasonry by a similar period.
There are many Rosslyn Chapel carvings that are clearly of a symbolic nature, but
whose meaning is obscure.
The angels on the east wall of the Lady Chapel are making gestures that are clearly
symbolic - it is said that they are Masonic.
The chapel also includes a carving of an angel, bound with
ropes, suspended upside down. Researcher Andrew Collins has identified this 'fallen angel' as Shemyaza, the
leader of the Gregori or 'Watchers' of the strange Book of Enoch. According to legend, Shemyaza was cast out
of heaven and suspended upside down between Heaven and Earth in the constellation Orion. Like the fallen angel
of Rosslyn, Shemyaza is said to have one eye open and one shut.
Another puzzle surrounds the cubes on the ceiling of the Lady Chapel, which may bear
musical notation - but if so, what significance has their tune?
A lot of attention has focussed on the three beautiful and ornate pillars that
separate the main body from the Lady Chapel, known as the Mason's Pillar, Journeyman's Pillar, and Apprentice
Pillar. The pillars represent, respectively, wisdom, strength and beauty (or life). And of the
three, it is the Apprentice Pillar that has attracted most attention.
The pillar represents the Yggdrasil, the World Tree of Norse mythology, as confirmed
by the intertwined the serpents - the dragons of Neifelheim - around the base. In this, we can see a residue of the
St Clairs' Norse ancestry. The family was of Viking descent, having settled in northern France around 800, some
members being among the Norman nobles who came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. The Scottish St
Clairs rejoined their Norse lineage when they married into theEarldom of Orkney (then part of the Kingdom of
Norway) in the 14th century.
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