Headache or enlightening? Whatever you think of the new genre “history thriller”, there’s no denying The Da Vinci Code brought a lot of things to attention; artworks, details of history, modern day ideals, and, lucky for us Scots, buildings. Midlothian’s beautiful historic church has gained from the simple act of Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou walking in, with visitation and profits rising as a result of the controversial movie.
In celebration of The Da Vinci Code’s 10-year anniversary and its affect on Rosslyn, the chapel is hosting two showings of the film in the garden. Picnic blankets and garden chairs are welcome for an outdoor showing of Tom Hanks’ pursuit of legend, the second of which comes with a tour of the chapel and its many stories.
Finally done with its facelift that was the scaffolding, Rosslyn is a chapel not like the cold, scabby hall you visited for the annual primary school’s production of the miniature nativity story. Built by the St Clairs family in 1446, the building’s incredibly detailed sculpting exposes countless stories, morals, myths and history inside and out, causing the latter two to become almost indecipherable.
Virgin Mary keeping a watchful eye over the front entrance is but one aspect of the cosy chapel. Biblical and Scottish history is intermixed when knights like William the Seemly who escorted Queen Margaret to her wedding sits amongst Lucifer, the first fallen angel and is said to have become the devil.
Also amongst the legends of far and recent history are the many unexplained faces of The Green Man. A baby’s scowl decorated with leaves pops up all over the masterpiece of the arches, walls and roofs. Over a hundred faces are squeezed into every spare space. Why? Who knows? Maybe an apprentice mason could only do faces and wanted to be helpful? Maybe it’s another legend not yet understood. The point is there are many mysteries unknown about the chapel.
As ludicrous as The Da Vinci Code’s conclusion may seem to you, there is no denying the chapel’s links to Knights Templar, who were sworn protectors of the Holy Grail therefore, if you believe, Mary Magdalene’s crypt.
Such links include the Seal of The Lamb of God, which was the Templars’ signature, moulded into a high arch.
“Many believe that this order of knights found something wondrous buried beneath the temple which made them extremely powerful.” – Rosslyn Chapel virtual tour
Sound familiar? Or would it if Tom Hanks had said it?
On visiting Rosslyn, those of us with a Brown-esque curiosity will politely ooh and aah at the sculpted arches, then head for the crypt.
Okay, so there’s nothing down there and that’s a disappointment. The scrolls and records of the ‘blood line’ merely props and now gone to reveal the aptly bland room for the workies of the 15th century.
However, there are bodies down there. I spoke to Ian Gardner, the director of the chapel about the details of the historical building.
“The building is said to be as deep as it is high. There is a description by Walter Scott. He describes twenty barons [of Rosslyn] being laid out in their armour under the chapel. The fifth earl of Rosslyn wrote about going into that area and seeing tombs so we think that there are members of the [St Clairs] family buried underneath the chapel which was probably quite a common thing at that time.”
“Everything that you’ve ever lost will be underneath Rosslyn Chapel…”
In other words Rosslyn is the Holy Grail of Holy Grails?
But finding out for sure isn’t going to happen any time soon…
“…and before you ask we’re probably not going to know because if it is a burial area then we think those people should be left to rest in peace. It may well destabilise the building if there is a lot of digging underneath and actually, quite a nice reason is that it’s sometimes better just to wonder.”
However, Rosslyn is a place of many secrets.
“In the year 1546 Mary of Guise, who was the mother of Mary Queen of Scots, wrote to the [St Clair] family at the time thanking them for sharing their secrets of Rosslyn. We don’t know what those were but something was shown or told to her.”
Fans of the film will no doubt look for the blade and chalice in the form of a six-pointed star above the entrance to the ‘crypt’. It’s said to be a symbol ‘guarding’ the location of Mary Magdalene’s tomb, and it is now gone.
“It’s our sort of ‘Hollywood memento’. They [the characters] were following clues and that clue they were looking for didn’t exist so they had to temporarily add it and it was sprayed to fit in. So now you don’t see anything other than a circle, which shows that Hollywood was here.”
Crowds naturally gathered around the shooting area of controversial Ron Howard movie, which in turn drew more people in.
“To begin with there was an aerial view of the chapel, which was actually based on a model because the actual chapel was covered in scaffolding at the time. And the team that were here actually made wooden replica walls to hide the scaffolding. So when you see it on screen it looks as if it is the real stonework but actually it’s hiding the scaffolding, which is protecting the stonework. When they come into the chapel that’s all very much here. They walk down the south aisle, they walk into the crypt and that’s where things change and at some point they move from being in Rosslyn Chapel to being in a film studio down south.
“It is controversial. Some churches refused for the filming to take place because they didn’t want to be endorsing it.
“Tom Hanks after the filming wrote a letter saying that very few locations live up to your expectations, but Rosslyn was everything he could have expected. I think they did see it as more than a location but as somewhere they could have an interest in.”
Strong opinions on religion are scarce in Scotland unless you’re wearing a football shirt. The director of Rosslyn Chapel, above any religious views, is loyal to the chapel and keeping it upright. This means giving a political on-the-fence answer to my question of whether there’s any merit to the theory, despite his eyes sparkling whenever he mentions another legend centred in the chapel. Plus, selling Brown’s novels in the gift shop, which could be seen as ‘banking on blasphemy’.
Outside Rosslyn, trying to get an opinion from a clergyman or woman was difficult; since many told me they hadn’t seen the movie or didn’t care.
Predictably, the American church is a lot more vocal.
“Jesus isn’t God but Mary Magdalene is a goddess? I mean, what does that mean? If he’s not God, why is he married to a goddess?” – Chicago archbishop Francis Cardinal George
A demonstration of someone who hasn’t listened. According to the book Mary was worshipped, but not a goddess, just like her “husband”.
“But she always had her knights, brave men sworn to defend her. You see, to worship before her sarcophagus, to kneel before the bones of Mary Magdalene, was to remember all those who were robbed of their power, who were oppressed.” – Sir Leigh Teabing
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop of Genoa, broke the church’s official silence to say, “It astonishes and worries me that so many people believe these lies.”
So was Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail but it didn’t get this response. But that’s the difference: everyone’s mad because everyone’s curious.
With opinions like that, the idea that The Da Vinci Code theory has no support is laughed out. Would you want to tell men like that that what he followed and dedicated his life to was wrong?
Putting aside Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou’s characters, Dan Brown’s mystery thriller is supposed to be based on historical facts. Of course this is widely debated between scholars and the religious with the latter calling the alleged ‘facts’ blasphemous.
From a purely literary standpoint, the book poses a new viewpoint of an old story – a very old, very overly-told story, which uniquely poses a punishment to those who question it. From a purely literary standpoint it’s no different from the countless movie reboots we’re getting this decade. Dan Brown is no different from Danny Boyle telling the story of Frankenstein from the monster’s perspective.
Of course the blasphemous controversy is a big part of the appeal as the curiosity as to what are the facts. Trying to figure out where Jesus ends and Tom Hanks begins deserves a Nobel Prize.
One argument against him is if all Dan Brown’s theories are true, then why did he put them in a fiction novel?
This demonstrates a lack of understanding of the point of literacy, which is to make you interpret and think for yourself by laying out a story. Did Orwell’s political theories also become redundant when he wrote 1984? Is the idea of the American dream simply a joke because F. Scott Fitzgerald used people as metaphors for it in The Great Gatsby? Does Kathryn Stockett’s The Help mean that the class system, and by extension, slavery didn’t exist because it depicts the separation of classes in a novel? Can you name an academic book about Marxism off the top of your head? Fiction spices theory, packages it and brings it to the masses.
Rosslyn stands not only on a cliff with breath-taking views, but also on the fence.
“We see it as a story. You’ll see it on our bookshop shelf but you’ll see lots of other books about different theories about Rosslyn Chapel as well. We’re not necessarily endorsing any of those we’re saying that there are lots of these theories and legends around and it’s actually up to visitors to make up your own mind.”
Much like religion – or life itself.
The release of the third instalment, Inferno, in October will no doubt reopen these curiosities especially considering Inferno is the basis on which we imagine Hell, written by a 14th century poet. Not to mention Dan Brown’s love of turning religious ‘fact’ on its head.
I’ll put my cards on the table: I don’t believe it, but I want to believe it. I think therein lays the problem and describes my religious upbringing so far.
My religious beliefs go no further than knowing (or rather, hoping) there is a soul and something after death, but not Heaven. That is an important distinction overlooked about the Da Vinci Code. Brown never once questioned God, only what man says of God.
Considering how many other things man gets wrong, if it turned out the theory was true, would you really be surprised?
Tickets are on sale from 1 June and are available at www.rosslynchapel.com
Screenings are on the 23rd and 24th of September.
Fact or Fiction
I’ll leave it up to you to decide, knowing what we know – or as much as could be found on Wikipedia.
Priory of Sion – Fact
A secret society with grand masters including Leonardo Da Vinci and Isaac Newton. They were part military arm and financial branch, which supports the crusade and the ‘limitless power’ suggested. The BBC Two documentary series Chronicle concluded they do in fact keep tabs on the possible descendants of Jesus; they do consider the Holy Grail to be Mary Magdalene’s womb; and the church is believed to have murdered grail descendants.
Opus Dei – Fact and Fiction
Facts are that Opus Dei is a catholic sect, and it has been known to promote self-harm and is considered one of the most controversial aspect of the Catholic Church.
Fiction is the idea of monks in Opus Dei. Silas wouldn’t have existed since Opus Dei doesn’t use monks. As for hunting down Jesus descendants, that appears to be Brown’s creation.
Fact: Part of the Crusades of the Holy Land. Non-traditional Christians apparently hid their practices by secret codes sent in letters. A common phrase found was “The Holy Grail”, which adds to the idea that they worshipped Mary Magdalene.
Fact: Emperor of the Roman Empire. The first Roman emperor to claim conversion to Christianity and spread it across his empire.
Council of Nicea
Fact: All aspects of Christendom were represented at an assembly to determine the rules and teachings of Christianity. Mainly, the nature of the Son of God.
Leonardo Da Vinci
Fact. Renaissance artist who hid clues of his religious beliefs in his work. The Last Supper isn’t the only example. Madonna of the Rocks was initially rejected by the church due to its “disturbing un-Christian anomalies”.
Fact: These gospels are available and are from, among others, Mary, Thomas, Phillip, the latter of which does in fact mention Jesus kissing Mary often – and calls her his ‘companion’.
Mary and Jesus are royalty
Fact: Mary Magdalene was a royal Hasmonaean princess from the Jewish lineage of Sumer/Israel. Jesus was a royal Davidic prince from the Jewish lineage of Egypt/Judah. Even if he wasn’t divine he still wasn’t just a man. Sounds more like Game of Thrones.
Fact: Copies are sold on Amazon. The Witch Trials are well documented throughout the world, from Edinburgh to Salem, to the birthplace of the book, Germany.
Knitting these facts together in a theory was what Dan Brown did. You can come to your own conclusion.