Rosslyn Chapel

A Rosslyn Chapel day tour from Edinburgh

Rosslyn Chapel is located 7 miles south of Edinburgh and is the ideal attraction for an enjoyable day tour, by bus, especially if you've heard or have an interest in locations used in the Da Vinci Code book.

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Early start for Rosslyn Chapel tour

Your tour starts in Princes Street, Edinburgh's main street where you get Lothian bus 15 at roughly 8.45am. The bus gets you into Roslin roughly 30 minutes before Rosslyn Chapel opens at 10am. Getting there early means you have some peace and quiet to explore Rosslyn Chapel by yourself before coaches full of Da Vinci Code fans start pouring in later in the day.

Another bus you could take for your Rosslyn tour is First bus 62 from the bus station in St. Andrew's Square at 9.25am which gets you into Roslin just before 10am. Buses 15 and 62 are the only ways to get to Rosslyn Chapel by public transport.

There is only one bus stop in Roslin, at the hotel, so you can't miss it. Once you get off look for the sign at the crossroads indicating 'Rosslyn Chapel'. There is a 3-4 minutes' walk from the Roslin Hotel to the chapel.

Wear something warm, especially if it's quite cold outside. The chapel is entirely made of stone and it feels quite humid and cool inside.

Getting to the chapel

One thing surprising most visitors is that Rosslyn Chapel is protected by a high wall going all around it, so you can only see the top of it from a distance. Another unexpected surprise for visitors is to find the exterior of the monument undergoing major restoration work, although this does not affect the enjoyable tour of the interior of Rosslyn Chapel.

Buy tickets from the chapel's visitor centre and most importantly, buy yourself the guide book to Rosslyn Chapel by the Earl of Rosslyn. This is the single most useful piece of reading material for a tour of Rosslyn Chapel.

A comprehensive tour of Rosslyn takes approximately 2-3 hours.

A tour of the inside of Rosslyn Chapel

Visitors are often amazed at how small Rosslyn Chapel really is. The explanation is that Rosslyn was never meant to be a chapel, but a larger cruciform church with a tower in the middle. What you see on your tour is simply an unfinished monument, which took, however, 40 years to build.

Having entered the chapel via the North door, pause for a moment and look towards the barrel-vaulted roof. This is the first point of interest in your tour of Rosslyn Chapel.

The roof is divided in 5 parts, each featuring different patterns: daisies, lilies, flowers, roses and stars. It also features a keystone engrailed with the Sinclair cross.

Continue your visit of the chapel by walking along the North aisle and examining the sculptures one by one with the aid of the tour guide book. Of particular interest is the burial stone of William St. Clair, the founder of Rosslyn Chapel.

Two of the most interesting sculptures in Rosslyn's North aisle are the devil with the kneeling couple and the angel holding a cross. The devil frowns in disappointment as the couple look away from him and glaze towards the angel holding the cross. Other religious scenes represented here are angels rolling away a stone from Christ's tomb, lamb of god and the crucifixion.

Without a doubt, the most impressive part of the Rosslyn Chapel tour is the Lady Chapel, a lace-like stonework, an array of carvings and symbols. The most interesting pagan symbol in Rosslyn is without a doubt the Green Man, with over 100 carvings counted throughout the chapel.

The finest example of a Green Man carving is in the Lady Chapel, between the altars to the Blessed Virgin and St Andrew, slightly above head level, on the end of a boss. It's often missed by tourists mainly because of its size. The Green Man is far smaller than it appears to be in photos.

Other carvings of interest include Lucifer, the fallen angel, an angel facing upside down and bound with ropes, Scottish themes such as the angels playing the bagpipes that decorate the top of the Mason's Pillar and the carving of the death mask of Robert the Bruce.

The highlights of the Rosslyn Chapel tour must be its two famous pillars: the Mason's Pillar and the Apprentice's Pillar. They not only represent the most beautiful stonework you've ever seen but their story is compelling.

Legend says that the Master Mason who had previously worked on the Mason's Pillar had received from the founder "the model of a pillar of exquisite workmanship and design" but did not feel confident enough to carry it out until he had seen the original.

The Master Mason went abroad and in his absence, an apprentice set to work and carried out the design as we see it today, "a perfect marvel of workmanship". Upon his return, the Master Mason felt so envious that he killed his apprentice on the spot.

The South aisle is similar to the North aisle but features some unique symbols and carvings. Some of the most interesting ones include the "seven virtues" and the "seven deadly sins". According to the Rosslyn tour guide book, avarice and charity were reversed. Avarice was included in the seven virtues and charity in the seven sins, perhaps by mistake.

The baptistery is the latest addition to the chapel, dating back to the 19th century and features two stained glass window and chapel organ.

A tour of the exterior of Rosslyn Chapel

A steel roof structure has been built to protect Rosslyn from the elements. The steel roof has been in place for years and it will be some time yet before the stone has completely dried out and the structure can be taken off.

In the mean time, however, the walkway below the steel roof provide visitors with the unique opportunity to tour the exterior of the chapel and explore its carvings from close quarters.

Although many of the exterior carvings are now indistinct, the marvelous stonework becomes more apparent as you take a step back and admire the chapel from a distance.

Rosslyn Chapel Museum Exhibition

The final part of your Rosslyn Chapel tour is a visit to the museum exhibition on the top floor of the visitor centre. The exhibition features a large collection of Guild, Templar, Rosicrucian, Gypsy, Black Madonna, and Celtic artifacts, regalia and symbolism.

Expert guide presentation of Rosslyn Chapel

Every two hours or so one of the Chapel staff comes in and tells tourists about the Rosslyn Chapel's history, architecture and demystifies the unfounded claims the Da Vinci Code book makes about it being the resting place of the Holy Grail. The guide then does a tour the chapel and points out things of interest such as carvings, symbols, religious scenes, etc.

Getting back to Edinburgh

If you intend to make your tour of Rosslyn Chapel as comprehensive as possible you'll likely to complete it around lunchtime. At this point you can either travel back to Edinburgh by bus or spend some more time in Roslin. You can have lunch at the Roslin Glen Hotel, The Original Rosslyn Hotel or the Royal Bar, all in close proximity to the bus stop.

Buses back to Edinburgh are Lothian bus 15, 18 minutes past every hour and First Bus 62, 15 minutes to every hour.

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