Rosslyn Chapel & Thirlestane Castle

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On our third day together, exploring in the Borders, Clan Maitland toured two magnificent structures. Rosslyn Chapel and Thirlestane Castle are each impressive in their own right, and full of historical significance. One intrigues visitors, due to its many mysteries and connection to popular culture. And the other, well it is my family’s ancient home. I felt excited to see both!

Rosslyn Chapel & Thirlestane Castle title meme

History of Rosslyn Chapel

This beautiful place is another that I’ve had on my list of places to see in Scotland. Honestly, I didn’t know exactly where in the Borders Rosslyn Chapel was located. How exciting to receive our Clan Maitland Gathering itinerary and realize the chapel was a planned stop.

Founded in 1446 by Sir William St Clair, the chapel, originally called the Collegiate Church of St Matthew, took forty years to build. The chapel today, located in the village of Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland, is a portion of the intended structure. Building stopped and the larger church was never completed.

After the Scottish Reformation in 1560, the chapel closed to the public. It reopened in 1861. Since the 1980s speculative theories have connected Rosslyn Chapel to the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail and Freemasonry. These speculations continue to circulate due the chapel’s feature in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code and the film adaptation by the same name.

Rosslyn Chapel remains privately owned by the St Clair family.

Rosslyn Chapel
Rosslyn Chapel exterior. Photography was not allowed inside.

Touring Rosslyn Chapel

The Maitland group arrived on our coach, just before the chapel opened. And shortly after we gained admittance, a wonderful guide shared some of Rosslyn Chapel’s mysteries and stories with us. She had a wonderful Scottish brogue and spoke with passion and humor about the chapel. I could have listened to her all day!

The chapel contains 14 pillars that form 12 arches around three sides of the nave. One of these pillars is called the Apprentice Pillar and has a good story associated with it.

Legend says that in the 18th century, a master mason, in charge of the stonework in the chapel, traveled to see an intricately carved column. He left his young apprentice behind while he sought inspiration. Upon his return, he discovered that the apprentice had created a gorgeous carved column on his own. Enraged and jealous, the master mason struck and killed his apprentice. As eternal punishment, the master mason’s face was carved into a corner opposite the pillar, to forever gaze upon his apprentice’s work.

Rosslyn Chapel Doorway
Such a beautiful 15th century structure.

Carvings in Rosslyn Chapel

One of the most intriguing features in the chapel is the collection of carvings throughout the building. There are nods to Celtic and Norse mythology. Hundreds of cubes protrude from the pillars and arches and carved stars adorn the ceiling. Stone angels, including one playing the bagpipes, share space with dragons, flowers and a figure known as the Green Man. In fact, there are 110 carvings of the green man, depicted as a human face with vines coming out of his mouth, in the chapel.

Over the years there have been many theories about the symbolism behind Rosslyn Chapel’s carvings. No one really knows. They do seem to tell a story, however what that tale is remains open to interpretation. I could spend days in Rosslyn Chapel, studying those fascinating carvings.

My sister and I concluded our explorations of the chapel by going down into the crypt. There are burial chambers beneath Rosslyn Chapel. The entrance to those was sealed off many, many years ago. However the crypt, or lower chapel, is open to the public. Debbie and I had our own mysterious experience while in the crypt. While looking around, we began to feel short of breath accompanied by a tightness in the chest and throat. Climbing the stairs back to the upper chapel, both of us suddenly felt very dizzy. A walk through the gift shop did not ease the dizziness. We headed back to the coach and only when we reached its interior did the strange feelings pass. What caused it? We don’t know! It’s our very own Rosslyn Chapel mystery.

Rosslyn Chapel Mystery
I love the moodiness of this photo.

Thirlestane Castle History

The majority of the day, for Clan Maitland, was spent at Thirlestane Castle.

Maitlands originally occupied a tower, built in the 1400s, near the present location of the castle. In 1586 John Maitland, Lord Thirlestane, bought land just outside the village of Lauder. The large house built in 1590, with its corner towers and turrets, now forms the core of the present castle.

The Duke of Lauderdale remodeled and expanded Thirlestane in the 1670s, adding on wings and creating a new front entrance. The ninth earl added more wings, to the south and north, and installed modern living accommodations.  However, by the 1840s the grand old castle showed signs of age and decay.

In 1972 the castle passed to the grandson of the 15th Earl, Capt. Gerald Maitland-Carew. He assumed the huge task of restoring the castle and preventing further deterioration. He also opened the castle to the public and created the on site café and tea room. Eventually the castle and its contents became a part of a charitable trust that brought in much needed funds to help with the upkeep of the gorgeous structure. The Maitland-Carew family occupy one wing of the castle as their personal residence.

Gerald’s son Edward Maitland-Carew and his wife Sarah now continue the care of Thirlestane Castle. They host events such as weddings, car shows and outdoor plays, and created five apartments for guests to lease for short term stays.

Clan Maitland at Thirlestane Castle
Our Clan gathers on the front steps of Thirlestane Castle. That’s the Clan Chief in the middle, next to me, and Edward Maitland-Carew in the blue jacket on the far left, front row.

Touring Thirlestane Castle

I’ve visited the family castle three times. However, this was the first time I’ve explored the castle with members of my clan, listened to Ian tell family stories and met Edward. Truly, it was a magical experience.

We began with a wonderfully prepared lunch in the former castle kitchens and then walked outside to begin our tour at the entrance to the castle. How amazing this place is and how full of history. I marvel at each room, study the paintings of long ago ancestors on the walls, smile at the familiar tingles of energy that tickle my scalp.

This tour, this time, seemed surreal. Ian entertained us with memories and stories handed down through time. Edward shared his experiences growing up in a castle and playing hide and seek in the corridors and secret passages with his brother and sister.

Edward is passionate about being “this generation’s caretaker” of the castle. I appreciated his earnestness about his role and his obvious love for this place.

Thirlestane Castle Grand Dining Room
The grand dining room at Thirlestane Castle with family portraits on the walls.
Thirlestane Castle Sitting Room
Exquisite plaster ceilings in one of the sitting rooms.

Tea at Thirlestane

After wandering through rooms in the castle and viewing the new apartments, we all met in the tea room for afternoon tea. I didn’t even take photos. We simply gathered in small groups at the tables and enjoyed chatting together as we sipped hot tea. Edward introduced us to his lovely wife and then moved around the room, telling more stories and answering questions.

As I have on previous visits, I felt a bit sad leaving Thirlestane Castle. I’m so appreciative of all the measures that have been taken, to keep this historical treasure standing and thriving. It’s no small feat. I’m deeply grateful for Ian and Edward, for sharing their wealth of information about the castle and the family. And I’m thrilled that I spent time at Thirlestane with kinsmen who feel the way I feel about this place. Strong connections now existed with these dear people who were strangers only a few days before. The afternoon was a shared experience I’ll cherish always.

What a day, between the mysteries of Rosslyn Chapel and the beauty and connection at Thirlestane Castle. One more day together, and our Clan Maitland Gathering would draw to a close.

The cranes of Thirelstane Castle
Posing with the Thirlestane Cranes. I have my own crane story that connects to these Scottish counterparts.

Learning more:

Discover more about Rosslyn Chapel HERE. And pick up a copy of The Da Vinci Code below or order the film on DVD.

 

Learn more about Thirlestane Castle and accommodations  HERE.

And read about other Clan Maitland Gathering fun with these posts:

Clan Maitland Gathers

Maitlands in the Borders

 

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