Documents from Rosslyn Chapel publicly available for the first time

A significant collection recently acquired by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) will offer the public the opportunity to discover further secrets of the famous Rosslyn Chapel, which has long inspired artists and writers such as John Ruskin, William Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott and more recently The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

The collection of drawings, manuscripts and engravings assembled by the eminent architectural publisher and antiquarian John Britton (1771-1857) reveals the contemporary reflections of architects such as William Burn and George Meikle Kemp on the restoration and history of the Chapel.

Rosslyn Chapel, established in 1446, is renowned for its Gothic architecture and the wealth of intricate carvings that make up its beautiful interior, which have long given rise to speculation about its association with the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail. To date, there are legends of a hidden underground crypt also discussed in the articles of this new collection.

By the 19th century the chapel had fallen into picturesque disrepair; after succeeding as 3rd Earl of Rosslyn in 1837, James Alexander St Clair-Erskine, ordered exterior repairs, overseen by Edinburgh architect William Burn, with restoration of the interior from 1861 under the direction by architect David Bryce. Queen Victoria, after a visit in 1842, expressed her admiration for the chapel and her support for its preservation.

This restoration of the magnificent medieval chapel has become the source of disagreement and debate, revealed in HES’s newly acquired collection, which includes evidence of correspondence between artist David Roberts and John Britton on the restoration and the history of the Rosslyn Chapel.

The articles also contain the views of Britton’s circle of correspondents, including George Meikle Kemp, architect of the Scott Monument, and Sir Walter Scott himself, highlighting the passion of architects and artists for the building and the consideration in which the Rosslyn Chapel was held.

The collection will be available to visitors by appointment in the research room of the HES archives. HES then plans to carefully curate and catalog the collection, with the digitization process taking place in 2022-2023, to create a digital copy that will be accessible to a wider audience using the Canmore online catalog.

The acquisition of this album was made possible by a grant from the Friends of National Libraries and the support and advice of the Rosslyn Chapel Trust.

Veronica Fraser, Head of Acquisitions and Loans at HES, said:

“This collection is of particular significance as it relates to one of Scotland’s most renowned and fascinating historic buildings and shows how it has invoked so much inspiration and strength of feeling in the past and continues to intrigue people around the world to this day.

“HES is delighted to be able to make this wealth of information available to researchers and members of the public and we are grateful to the generosity of the Friends of National Libraries and the support of the Rosslyn Chapel Trust in bringing this material into our archive. and offer people the opportunity to learn more about this exciting chapter in the chapel’s history.

Ian Gardner, director of the Rosslyn Chapel Trust, said:

“It is wonderful that this important collection of material relating to Rosslyn Chapel is now in the care of Historic Environment Scotland and can be viewed by the public.

“Since its founding in 1446, the Chapel has attracted, intrigued and inspired debate among artists, writers and visitors, as this collection clearly shows, and it continues to do so today.”

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