Another book about Rosslyn? It’s amazing the amount of words that have been written about this small chapel, which lies in the countryside a surprisingly short distance away from the centre of Edinburgh. Not just words though, but memes. In our heads, it has become a Templar strong-hold, a bastion of treasures from the Holy Grail to the body of Jesus himself.
However, this little book – rather than adding to the already confused situation – might just flush all those previous words and memes right down the drain. Mark Oxbrow and Ian Robertson are dedicated Rosslyn researchers. They have spent more than ten years investigating the various histories and myths surrounding the enigmatic chapel (and associated locales such as Rosslyn Castle). What they have discovered in this decade long journey is that there is truly a hidden dimension to Rosslyn Chapel. But it has nothing to do with everything you’ve heard. A quote from the pair in the introduction sums it all up:
"Without careful research, it is easy to make serious mistakes."
This book is about undoing many of those ‘serious mistakes’. Never mind the disclaimer that their aim "is not to debunk the myths or to explain away the magic and mystery of the chapel and castle," because that is exactly what the book does, and in a methodical way. Each chapter is devoted to one particular myth about Rosslyn, and within them Oxbrow and Robertson detail the actual history – derived from in-depth research – versus the claims made by alternative historians, or in some cases the local folklore.
Much of this will be tough going for romantically-minded readers. The authors might feel correct in saying "the odd thing is that the actual history of Rosslyn is far more incredible and spell-binding than any of the theories and fantasies," but I personally doubt that readers will agree. It’s hard to top hidden treasure, the quest for the Holy Grail, and the burial place of Jesus for incredible! However, this book is a necessary read. The revelations are eye-opening, even if it is in a debunking vein. For instance, the sculpted "Masonic angels", often trumpeted as proof of a secret connection to early Freemasonry, are revealed to be 19th century additions carried about during controversial restoration work by architect – and Freemason – David Bryce.
The various myths and fantasies upon which the chapters are based include the murdered apprentice, the haunted castle, Robert the Bruce and the white deer, the secret crypt, the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code. The first chapter, "Amidst the Woods", provides an historical introduction to the area while also making a claim for a connection to Arthurian myths (which the authors say was coopted by English monks in Glastonbury during the 12th century). From there Rosslyn and the Grail alternates between sentimental expositions of local folklore, and attacks on alternative historians. Andrew Sinclair in particular comes in for some savage treatment, while others criticised include Tim Wallace-Murphy, Knight and Lomas, and Baigent and Leigh. Strangely enough, the only mention of Henry Lincoln is a short passage praising him for his courage in taking on new ideas and admitting to being wrong...some Rennes le Chateau critics might wonder at this treatment compared to the others.
Amid the myths to be exploded is the identification of aloe and maize carvings within Rosslyn Chapel (said to be strawberry leaves and wheat), that the crypt hides some great secret, that the chapel is based on the ground-plan of Solomon’s Temple, and that the Templars had a hand in its construction. The attribution of pagan worship via the Green Men within Rosslyn is also debunked, with Robertson and Oxbrow pointing out that the Green Men are a decorative feature first used by the Romans which flourished in medieval churches – although they later acknowledge a link to vegetative cycles, when they point out that the Green Men ‘age’ as you walk around the chapel clockwise...yet another fascinating revelation amongst many to be found in Rosslyn and the Grail.
The sheer amount of facts and historical references which the authors have turned up sometimes actually detracts from the book a little. Reader interaction often takes a backseat to the listing of facts, and some may feel they are being preached to, more than taught (always a bad thing in a debunking book). This problem extends to a number of clumsy segues between topics; at times it took me more than four paragraphs to realise I was reading about a different topic. The authors’ warning of serious mistakes arising from lack of careful research is not something which readers should forget about when reading this book either. A number of times the reference is made to the official ‘start date’ of Freemasonry (when addressing alternative historians’ claim for Masonic influences at Rosslyn), when there are obvious historical footnotes which suggest speculative Freemasonry arose – in some form – well before this date. Small items such as this detract from the presentation in Rosslyn and the Grail, as it sounds like the authors are all too keen to support their own beliefs uncritically.
Overall though, that simply can’t be said of the book as a whole. The research is first rate, the revelations often startling. Readers will also be fascinated by much of the local lore which hasn’t turned up in the ‘popular’ literature on Rosslyn, such as the tales of the ghostly White Lady, and the treasure in Rosslyn Castle. The fourteen chapters are supplemented by six appendices (almost half as many pages in the appendices as in the rest of the book) which provide a timeline, historical writings supporting their research and associated myths.
Curiously enough, the authors seem to continually hint at a real connection between Rosslyn and the Arthurian myths and legends of the Holy Grail (also seen in the title of the book). However, they never really develop this idea as they promise – perhaps the scene is being set for a sequel which moves from debunking mode to providng fresh insights. Whatever the case, this is simply a must-have book for Rosslyn enthusiasts.