The ABC Tour in Scotland

One thing you notice in the cities of Scotland is the abundance of steeples. Perth is no exception.

One thing you notice in the cities of Scotland is the abundance of steeples. Perth is no exception.

Dear reader, in case you are not familiar with the ABC Tour, this is the part of our travels when we visit Another Blessed Cathedral. The ABC Tour is a series of mini-tours we have been doing for over two years, and we have witnessed some of the most spectacular art, architecture and antiquities imaginable.

We can see the Perth Cathedral steeple from our flat.

We can see the Perth Cathedral steeple from our flat.

Florence, like all her ancestors, was raised Catholic. She even attended a Catholic boarding school, which accounts for her exceptional preparation for post-secondary school. Upon entering a cathedral, Florence observes reverent moments of contemplation and dutifully lights a candle in remembrance of those who are the subjects of her prayers and blessings.

The Perth Cathedral, St. Ninian's, up close

The Perth Cathedral, St. Ninian’s, up close

I also stand in awe of the size, scale and sophistication of the art and architecture of the sites we visit, albeit from a different perspective. The symbols of Christianity are not new to me. I learned enough in my Protestant upbringing to comprehend both New and Old Testament teachings, enough so that I can appreciate the imagery in all of its glory. I am awestruck by the creations of artists and craftsmen who designed and built these great cathedrals. One cannot help but be moved by the grandeur or the works.

The Gothic ceiling towers over the crucifix above the altar.

The Gothic ceiling towers over the altar.

There is so much history behind each cathedral we visit. For example, here in Scotland, the Catholic Church rivaled the great monarchs and land barons in its wealth and power. After The Reformation when the Anglican Church broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, the church still shared the power and wealth of the country. In order to have a place in the church, one had to purchase a seat in the congregation. So it was that the poor were left out.

The Perth Cathedral interior is spectacular.

The Perth Cathedral interior is spectacular.

During the period of The Enlightenment, when scientific thought supplanted ignorance and superstition, the common folks in society demanded a say in how they were governed in the wake of the French Revolution and the introduction of parliamentary rule. This was true also in the way people worshiped. In 1843, there was The Disruption, when over 400 ministers and their congregations broke away from The Church of Scotland. When these congregations had the means, they erected their own churches as The New Church of Scotland. By 1929, a compromise of sorts reunified the divided churches. However, neither church regained its former stature.

The North Church behind our flat is only open on Sunday.

The North Church behind our flat is only open on Sunday.

The Church of Scotland used to preach from the pulpit the principle of Sunday as a day of worship. However, the schism in the church led more and more people to find other things to do with their time. With the advent of radio, television, organized sports and even Sunday shopping, church attendance in Scotland continued its decline. Contributing to this decline was the fact that women formed the majority of church membership, and women were denied the right to be ordained until 1968.

Even though we are not able to enter every church, like the Church of the Nazarene, it is still an interesting building.

Not every church is open to us, like the Church of the Nazarene. Still, it is an interesting building.

The decline in church attendance is why you now see many church buildings in Scotland that have been sold to private businesses housing restaurants, night clubs and offices. I was surprised to learn that today in Scotland, the largest denomination of churchgoers is Roman Catholic. I have learned a lot of interesting history on the ABC Tour.

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.