Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Rosslyn Chapel Crypt

The Rosslyn Crypt: A Place Apart

The simultaneous arrival of a coach load of tourists as we pulled into the carpark, did not bode well for our visit to Rosslyn Chapel, nestled in the shadow of the Pentland Hills, just south of Edinburgh. The glass edifice of the new “visitor centre” only increased the sense of foreboding – to be surrounded by an overwhelming mass of tourists at this holy site did not bear thinking about. It was of course our own fault: since first becoming aware of chapel and its occult/ esoteric significance, it had taken us some ten years to finally get here; in the intervening period the inclusion of the Chapel in the Da Vinci Code (novel and film) had multiplied the annual visitor rate one hundred fold. But wherefore this sense of superiority? Our pilgrim’s tour had been motivated by a desire, a need, to be here – the motivation may have differed very slightly from our fellow travellers – but forget not that the original pilgrimages to such places as Canterbury, were the original “package tours” – pilgrim/ tourist: not that different really!

In Fear of a Green World

But then a very strange thing happened: just as I stepped across the threshold, the anticipated noise and distraction in this hive of activity, created by so many animated bodies in so small a space, did not materialise! Yes, there was a mass of people, many of them pushing through non-existent spaces, talking at the upper limit of their voices, illuminating the sacred with their profane i-phones – but none of this mattered as it was as if I was hermetically sealed within a personal all-surrounding invisible shield: all spatial and temporal influence suspended. As I meditated under the stars and flowers (“Every Man and Every Woman is a Star”) which arched in ribs over the choir, I was oblivious to all but the moment and the space: nothing else mattered. 

A Fiery Ouroboros

The paganness of the place, of which I was aware having done my research, was still overwhelming. A proliferation of Green Men leered and glared from every nook and cranny; a Tree of Life (identified, perhaps misleadingly, as the Apprentice Pillar) with its actual bee-hives hidden far above – from which at some early point honey must have dripped, filling the Lady Chapel and Sacristy with a mind-blowing sweetness; Lucifer falling, his wings fully extended, entwined in a snake-like coil of rope, very reminiscent of the Tarot hanged man; knights conversed with angels, eight dragons writhed in a fiery ouroboros  at the foot of the tree – an alchemical reminder that everything is cyclical and transcends duality. And this walled forest is deliberately placed on the edge of Rosslyn Glen, like a mighty megalithic stone circle, with a backsight that is positioned towards a cleft in the hills, through which the sunrises on both the Spring and Autumn equinoxes.1
 Oh holy, holy, holy sacred visitations!

Lucifer Falls

And then, with all synapses firing in attuned harmony, I descend the steep flight of steps into the crypt. Half-way down I am overcome by an almost palpable sense of deja-vu. I stumble… and whatever it was is gone. But a lingering sense of the connection stays with me in this underworld. A threshold, the second today, was marked and crossed – and I feel decidedly out of kilter, the suspension of temporal and spatial influence evident above is now, paradoxically, magnified and distilled. This lower world is a place apart, almost devoid of decoration and with no evidence of any entombment, it seems to oscillate on a high frequency of otherness. The air down here seems denser, clotted with vibrations, accumulated over centuries. This is a mind-altering location. I long to explore its mystery properly, to meditiate and journey – but the threat of being trampled underfoot means that this undoubted pleasure must be postponed.  I return above ground with the growing awareness that the ornamentation visible up here is a manifestation of what is below; and what is below fuels this space like a mystical battery. Believe the hype and prepare to enter inner space at Rosslyn: but come early in the morning, as I plan to do next time.

Blessed be!

 1. See Rosslyn Chapel Decoded by Alan Butler and John Ritchie

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