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Back to Rosslyn

With Dan Brown's Angels and Demons currently posessing the box office, I was reminded of when I was researching a Scotland book a couple of years ago. In the midst of the 'Da Vinci phenomenon', Roslyn Chapel, just 10 miles south of Edinburgh, was on every tourist map because it played a crucial role in the film's climax.

After much map-muddling, I found the humble 15th century church near the village of Roslin. I should have just followed the tourist buses that formed a determined scrum around the ancient building. The first thing I noticed about Rosslyn Chapel was the scaffolding exoskeleton as the worn old nugget was renovated. The church reputedly pocketed £7000 a day as a location fee and it looked like much of that was being used to make sure there's something for the tourist throngs to see. Apparently it's still going on today with plans to re-open completely in 2010.

'Oh man!' an awed Canadian exclaimed as he walked through my photo of the entrance arch. 'This is all so freakin' quaint.'

The Chapel is massive, possibly freakin' massive, but anything this size is hardly quaint. Construction began in 1456 as the Scottish Earl, William St Clair, sought to build a church that could serve as a priestly college for the area. Another William St Clair was buried in full armour below the chapel in 1650, which would certainly have caught the imagination of author Dan Brown when he was researching his story of Knights Templar guarding the sacred relics of the church. The vault beneath the chapel became something of a Christian lost-and-found office through the church's history, so when Tom Hanks cracks the code at the movie's conclusion it's possible that he could have found the grail in this regional church.
When I visited, however, it was a challenge to even get a peek at a stained glass window as a thick wall of tourists shuffled in front of every relic. With the noise of so many accents and a lightning storm of digital flashes it was hard to believe Rosslyn could actually function as a chapel. There were still services on Sundays and tour buses were turned away for local weddings.

I tried to light a small taper up the back of the church and found myself the subject of a movie tie-in photo. Up on the gantry that curls around the chapel's roof, things were quieter. The crowds were wary of heights. I looked out onto the moist green country and the ruins of another castle yet to feature in a bestselling novel or blockbuster film.
The current sequel film might drag the odd extra tourist to the Vatican, but it certainly won't have anything like the effect the Brown's first bestseller had on this small town. I'd like to go back and visit to see if the film fuss has died down. If you're passing through, check it out for me and maybe even light that candle.

This blog is based on an earlier blog for Lonely Planet.


  1. In the seventies I went to beautiful Rosslyn chapel in winter with no-one else around.

    I loved it.

    I can't laugh at the Rosslyn tourists because I loved the Sound of Music tour in Austria.


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