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Rosslyn: the Chapel, the Library, the Sinclair Search

You, too, help to convey the feelings which people have for Rosslyn Chapel.

The mystery, the mystique, the esoteric has always been there but there is
also something much deeper which goes far beneath the foundations of reason
and experience.

Earl William wanted to leave a message for posterity so, knowing that books could               be banned or burned, he had it chiselled out in stone hoping that the day would come
when someone somehow would find the clue which would give us a view of his amazing
insight and knowledge.  The answer may be staring us in the face.  It may be contained
in the symbols which are engraved on the cubes which hang from the underside of the

I have always seen the famed Apprentice Pillar as a decoy.  The story of the skilled
Apprentice and the jealous Master Mason is the stuff which legends are made of but
it is an invention and it, too, may be a deliberate distraction.  In the army, we had to
guard against the feint attack and, when we are studying the myriad of carvings within
Rosslyn Chapel, we have to keep our mind on the stifling religious influences which
were keeping the masses in bondage to the Mother Church.

Earl William Sinclair saw God and Nature as ONE.  The Chapel reflects this.  He knew
that the teachings of Jesus had been hi-jacked, debased and distorted.  He knew that
there had been far too much lip service paid to the Father on High with too little attention
being given to Mother Earth from which all bounty flows.   (The Cornucopia is in the
Chapel to remind us of this).  He knew that there had to be an essential balance between
Man's spiritual and physical needs and that that balance could more readily be found
in the middle of a field than in the aisle of a great Cathedral.  This is a feeling which we
have all experienced at some time or another when we find our own 'special spot' which suffuses  our entire body with a sense of well-being and contentment.   Earl William
built his Chapel on a such a special spot - a spot which had been sacred long before
the advent of Christianity.  The Chapel also reflects this with its green men and with
the Yggdrasil - the Nordic tree of life.

Earl William also wanted to get back to those ideals of chivalry and fraternity
which had bonded the Knights Templar so he, with the Duke Burgundy and Brabant,
formed a new Chivalric Order known as "The Order of the Golden Fleece" with the
motto: "Autre n'auray" which, being translated means: "I will wear none other".
One assumes that they took the name of the Golden Fleece from Jason, the

Whilst on the subject of Earl William, I have just received from the Bodleian
Library in Oxford the copy of Geoffrey Chaucer's work (1345 - 1400 which made
him a contemporary of Prince Henry Sinclair) which was amongst the many books
and manuscripts stolen from Rosslyn Castle by General Fairfax at the time of
General Monk's Cromwellian attack on Rosslyn in 1650.

It makes copious references to the interest which the Sinclairs had in books, in book
binding and illustration, and in their translation from other languages.  It demonstrates
that  Rosslyn was a seat of learning.  The library was situated beneath the Chapel
which was within the Castle Precincts i.e. before the present Chapel was built but
there is evidence that the library was in regular use up to the time of Cromwell's
bombardment because it also contained some of the work of John Selden (1584-

Some of the books to be translated from French by Gilbert de la Haye on behalf
William, the 1st Lord Sinclair, were:

                        the buke of the law of armys
                        the buke of the ordre of knychthede
                        the buke of the gouernaunce of princis

The spelling in these early documents leaves a lot to be desired but this was the
first attempt at writing in a form of English which became known as Lowland Scots.
William Drummond of Hawthornden, who was a contemporary of William, Lord Sinclair,
was the first poet to write his verse in Lowland Scots.  Hawthornden is adjacent to
Rosslyn and, thanks to the generosity of Mrs Heinz (of the baked bean family) it is
still a place where writers can finish their manuscripts in the peace and quiet of
Rosslyn Glen.

The books were written by scribes and were adorned with such 'decorative
elaborateness' which suggested a highly organised scriptorium at Rosslyn.  (I have
some of the examples in front of me and, although it takes some time before one's
eyes become accustomed to the strange script,  the production is exemplary).

The manuscript (albeit a facsimile) is made all the more interesting because of
the signatures of various signatures of members of different generations of the
Sinclair family.  A particular William Sinclair's signature appears no fewer than
six times as if to indicate the point at which he left off reading so that he would
know where to start again.  Reading such manuscripts must have been a slow
and painstaking affair.  (I can manage about one page per day).

The foregoing is something of a digression from Rosslyn Chapel but it serves to
emphasise the Sinclair thirst for learning.  They had knowledge when knowledge
was power.  And, when Earl William Sinclair found that books could be banned or
burned, he resorted to writing in "the indelible language of the stones" which makes
Rosslyn Chapel the most unique library in Scotland.

I had intended this e-mail to be a specific reply to Bruce Carylon in Australia but,
as the news about the material from the Bodleian Library in Oxford may be of more
general interest, I have decided to copy it to the general Discussion List.

For me, life has never been more exciting, more exhilarating, more rewarding. 

I am glad my father was a Sinclair.

Niven Sinclair