Scotland’s Inchcolm Abbey and Rosslyn Chapel

Inchcolm Abbey on a perfect Scottish summer day

Inchcolm Abbey on a perfect Scottish summer day

The ABC Tour (Another Blessed Church) continues with a day trip by bus and ferry to the Inchcolm Abbey (‘Inch’ being the Old Celtic word for island). It is unseasonably warm for Edinburgh, so we chose the perfect day to be on the water for the 45 minute boat ride out into the Firth of Forth. As we approach the island a local grey seal bobs his head above the water’s surface to check us out.

Boat dock and the Firth of Forth from Inchcolm Abbey

Boat dock and the Firth of Forth from Inchcolm Abbey

Inchcolm Abbey is where monks lived and studied as far back as the 12th century. Nowadays it is also the favorite nesting place for a thousand seagulls, plus a few puffins and other migratory birds. The grass bordering the pathways along the half-mile long island is strewn with windblown white feathers from the nearby nesting sites just 100 yards from the old Abbey. We do not venture beyond the abbey grounds. It would be unwise to rankle a thousand nesting gulls.

Hallway connecting the chapel with living quarters

Hallway connecting the chapel with living quarters

In both World Wars, the British built artillery emplacements to provide defenses for the war manufacturing in factories further inland. These abandoned bunkers are nearly overgrown and now provide additional nesting sites to the already crowded sandstone ledges on the island. Resident groundskeepers maintain this idyllic site. Children play in the waves of sandy coves and hundreds of people find suitable spots to enjoy picnics, and so did we. Upon our return to the peaceful village of Queensferry, the stroll to catch our bus back to the city makes for a perfect day.

Rosslyn Chapel

Ornate Gothic flying buttresses outside Rosslyn Chapel

Ornate Gothic flying buttresses outside Rosslyn Chapel

The next morning’s brisk air on our faces refreshes us as we head to the tiny town of Roslin about ten miles south of Edinburgh. The Rosslyn Chapel was founded in 1446 by Sir William St. Clair, the 1st Lord of Roslin. The Chapel remains privately owned by the St. Clair family, and regularly scheduled Sunday services of the Scottish Episcopal Church still take place.

Green Men depict foliage growing out of the mouth and around the head

Green Men depict foliage growing out of the mouth and around the head

We are immediately struck by the chapel’s incredibly detailed masonry work both inside and out. It took forty years to build the chapel with its intricately carved details. Originally, there were over 200 statues mounted on both interior and exterior walls. Unfortunately, these statues are now missing. Additional details are evident on every flying buttress, around every stained glass window and on every column and arch throughout the chapel.

The odd faces and symbols evident throughout the chapel have given rise to some interesting myths and legends. For example, there are over one hundred Green Men hidden among the many carved figures on the walls, although we only found two on our own. The significance of the Green Men is open to speculation. One account has it that they represent Adam, whose son Seth buried him with the seeds of the Apple of Knowledge that got him and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden, and that they literally grew out of his body as a symbol that God was gracious and forgiving.

Some say the Knights of Templar came to Scotland and buried priceless treasures like the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant beneath the foundation of the Rosslyn Chapel. No one knows if this is true because the St. Clair family has never allowed excavation of the chapel’s foundation.

The unique spiral design of the Apprentice Pillar Photo credit: Wiki Commons

The unique spiral design of the Apprentice Pillar
Photo credit: Wiki Commons

My favorite story is the one about the Mason’s Pillar and the Apprentice Pillar, which stand opposite one another on either side of the main altar. The Mason created a wonderfully crafted pillar, and then went abroad to study more advanced mason artistry in order to surpass his previous work. In his prolonged absence, his apprentice is said to have seen an image of a spiral pillar that inspired him to create one. Since he did not yet possess the skill and experience to create this pillar, some believe it was divine intervention that gave him the vision and the skill to complete the project. When his master returned to Rosslyn Chapel and saw the finished pillar, he was so enraged with jealously that he struck the apprentice with a mallet and killed him. He was later hanged for the murder.

The downspouts are elaborately carved lions heads.

The downspouts are elaborately carved lions heads.

Fans may remember a scene from the movie The Da Vinci Code that was filmed at Rosslyn Chapel. To aid the film’s plot, a Star of David was mounted over the entrance to the chapel crypt. After filming the prop was removed. However, the adhesive used left a circular mark over the crypt entrance. To this day the chapel guides refer to this mark as The Circle of Hollywood. Prior to the 2006 release of the movie, Rosslyn Chapel received 20,000 visitors per year. Now the chapel receives over 170,000 visitors per year.

We spent a couple of hours taking in the complexity of chapel’s design and its unique history. The thousands of intricate details work together to make Rosslyn Chapel an artistic masterpiece of sculpture analogous to the way Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a master work of art.


19 comments on “Scotland’s Inchcolm Abbey and Rosslyn Chapel

  1. rabirius says:

    Excellent pictures.

  2. My dad would love the ABC tour! He’s been photographing churches for years. Lot’s of interesting info in this post – the hidden Green Men especially intrigued me. As usual, the photos are fab! Celeste 🙂

  3. reocochran says:

    I like picturing the children in the waves, you and Florence having a picnic, sightseeing and enjoying the views! Wonderful photos and historical notes. The gulls prohibited some exploration, huh?!

    • Mike Lince says:

      Ha ha – yes, the brochures and the guides all warn against traipsing off the beaten path on Inchcolm. Although it is not illegal, tourists are warned that the gulls are very aggressive if they feel their nests are threatened. I thought the gulls were fairly aggressive even staying on the paths, probably because people feed them bread.

      • reocochran says:

        That is like the geese here! While driving home today (1/2 days Friday! Yeah!) there was a flock walking across the road (baby chicks are grown now to “teen aged size” I think) and big Advance Auto truck came to a halt in front of me, could not see why, then as he pulled slowly forward, there they were. Glad no one ran them over, cannot for the life of me figure out why they don’t fly across? Did not know that gulls were also aggressive. Up on Lake Erie they are fairly friendly.

      • Mike Lince says:

        Normally gulls are interested in whatever they can scrounge to eat. However, they are extremely protective of their nests when they are rearing their young…like most mothers of any species. – Mike

  4. mkesling63 says:

    Very interesting thanks

  5. LOVE Inchcolm Abbey… SO beautiful!

  6. blade3colorado says:

    Stunning photo of the Abbey Mike!

    • Mike Lince says:

      Thank you, Steve. Florence gets the photo credits. I just write the stories. 🙂

      • blade3colorado says:

        Ahh ha! Well, she did an excellent job on not only that photo, but the rest of them as well. By the by, the first time I heard the architectural term, “flying buttress” was while reading Ken Follett’s book, Pillars Of The Earth. Great book – if you ever get a chance to read it, I suspect you will love it.

  7. […] Tattoo at the Edinburgh Festival.  Among the many churches we visited on the ABC Tour, we saw Rosslyn Chapel, the 500 year old church made famous in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code where some of the movie was […]

  8. Mike Lince says:

    Reblogged this on Applecore and commented:

    Flashback Friday: Two years ago today, we were exploring the countryside in Scotland. This was part of what I still refer to as the ‘ABC Tour’ (Another Blessed Cathedral).

  9. brickthomas says:

    Nice post and video, MIke. I could listen to that sound track again and again.

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