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Days out: Chapel has carved out itself a piece of history; Dorothy and James Young paid a visit to Rosslyn Chapel.

What is Rosslyn Chapel?

It's been called "a book in stone". A chapel filled with strange and symbolic carvings, it's a world-famous, mysterious and magical enigma.

So why don't we know much about it?

Some things we know, but others are still a puzzle lost in the mists of time. It was built in 1446 by William St Clair, the last Prince of Orkney, "for God's service" but it is unique in mixing Celtic and Norse mythology and pagan symbolism with carvings of biblical stories.

It has connections with the Knights Templar and in the chapel is the burial stone of William's ancestor, a knight who was chosen to carry Robert The Bruce's heart to Jerusalem. He was killed by the Moors but his body and Bruce's heart were returned home for burial.

It's said that another ancestor carried back a piece of Jesus's cross to Scotland, and theories abound that Rosslyn Chapel held everything from the Holy Grail to the Stone of Destiny.

What can you see today in the chapel?

As well as the largest number of Green Man pagan carvings found in any medieval building, almost every inch of the chapel is decorated with carvings of angels, dragons and symbolic figures. A window arch is decorated by Indian corn carved in stone - made 100 years before Columbus discovered America.

The Apprentice Pillar is a wonder of intricate stone carving, and legend has it that when the apprentice's master saw it he was so jealous that he killed him.

Downstairs in the crypt, which may be older than the chapel, are thought to be buried three princes of Orkney, and working plans for the chapel above are scratched into the walls.

Restoration continues, but one advantage of building work is that you can climb temporary stairs and see the carvings on the roof close up.

Is it still used for worship?

Yes, it's now also known as St Matthew's Episcopalian Church and has a service on Sundays and prayer sessions during the week.

Who would this strange place interest?

It gets its share of kooky types from all over the globe, but also people interested in history, architecture or religion, as well as anyone interested in its fascinating history.

As well as walking in the footsteps of knights and monks of old, the old inn nearby, open from 1660 until the 19th century, served Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Dr Johnson, James Boswell and William Wordsworth. Many of the royals have paid Rosslyn a visit and Prince Charles opened the visitors' centre in 1998.

What does the visitors' centre offer?

A chance to warm up - inside the stone chapel feels colder than outside so bring an extra jumper.

There's a shop, an exhibition and a small tearoom serving hot drinks and cakes. The village of Roslin has a couple of hotel bars which serve food all day and, like Burns would have done, we went there after our visit, although there are plenty of lovely walks in the surrounding area.

Is there anything for shopaholics?

The shop offers more than the usual Scottish tat. There's model copies of the various carvings and features, so you can take home your own gargoyle or Green Man brass door knocker. Intricate prints of the chapel and CDs of the audio guided tour are there if you want to absorb more of your visit later and there's a big selection of books, from historians writing about the Knights Templar to mad conspiracy theories.

What's in the exhibition?

All sorts of freemason's artefacts, and, surprisingly, gypsy artefacts too. The St Clair family were helpful to the gypsies when the church was hounding them and there has always been a strong link with Romanies and the area. The last ever king of the gypsies was crowned not far away.

What did you think of your visit?

Totally fascinating. Rosslyn Chapel was built to spread spiritual and intellectual knowledge and nearly 600 years later that's what it's still doing.

Details...Rosslyn Chapel, Roslin, Midlothian

Tel: 0131 440 2159


Open: Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm; Sunday, noon to 4.45pm

Entry: Under 12 years, free; 13 to 18 years, pounds 1; Adults, pounds 4; Concessions, pounds 3.50
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Title Annotation:Travel
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 2, 2002
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