The Online Darkroom Store

Saturday, October 8

The Rosslyn Chapel Experience

That's Rosslyn up on the skyline.

Dan Brown's book, The Da Vinci Code, and the Tom Hanks' film of the same name were probably most people's introduction to Rosslyn Chapel, the ancient church sitting atop a hill about seven miles south of Edinburgh.

The church features towards the end of the film and is, supposedly - at least according to Brown - where the remains of Jesus's wife, Mary Magdalene, lie interred in a sacred vault. Brown's theory, in a nutshell, is that Jesus married, had a family and his line can be traced right up to the present. A secret order was charged with the job of protecting the offspring of the sacred line.

I've known about Rosslyn for a lot longer through Baigent  Leigh and Lincoln's controversial book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. They advanced a similar theory, only 21 years earlier. Baigent and Leigh sued Brown whom, they claimed, had nicked their idea. They lost. Having read both books and being unwilling to be subjected to an expensive court case, I can only say that there is no way that Brown pinched the theory from the earlier book. Wait a minute, I can hear you say. Are you really trying to tell us that Brown's theory is so similar to the Holy Blood that it's blatantly obvious he stole it? No comment.

Anyway, our daughter Freya had to be in Edinburgh early on Saturday morning so I suggested that Cath and I take her through and go on to visit Rosslyn Chapel, something I'd been meaning to do for years but never got round to. By 10.30 a.m., then, we were turning into Chapel Loan and then into the chapel car park about 60 yards from the church. I was getting a bad feeling already. I like visiting ancient places on my own or at least without crowds of people around. I'd imagined the two of us walking up to Rosslyn Chapel the way Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu did in the film.

There were early signs that this was not going to happen. The first was the small group of Japanese tourists milling around the car park. Then I caught sight of a line up of cars all with German number plates. Yes, the Deutschland Subaru Owners' Club was on it's annual outing! Looking ahead, I could see the white roofs of a coach or two. Brilliant. I could have easily imagined this sort of situation at the height of summer but I'd imagined the tourist season might have been winding down by now. We left the car park and joined a gaggle of people all headed for the chapel. Then there was the sight to strike terror into the heart of all anti-social loners - a modern glass building near the chapel. Rosslyn, it appeared, had become an "experience".

Call me weird - plenty have in the past - but I cannot fathom how a visit to an ancient monument or place can possibly be enhanced by a visitor centre selling loosely related cheap crap. When I visit a site like this, I want to feel as if I've stepped back in time - not as if I'm in the middle of a virtual reality tour. Did they have smoked glass, computers and snazzy keyrings when Rosslyn was built in the 15th century? I think not.

That was it for me. I turned to Cath and said I'm not visiting the church just to have the experience ruined by commercialism. And, for the record, that was before I realised they wanted £9 per adult for it! Then, as if to add insult to the kick in the Tetenals they'd just administered, I read a small notice saying visitors could photograph the outside of the chapel - you're so generous - but not the interior. That's the most interesting part, for Foma's sake. What a bunch of absolute Barfens. Sorry for the bad language but this sort of thing really gets my goat.

If this is such an important building - not least in Dan Brown's eyes - then the Scottish Government should take responsibility for its maintenance and provide the funding. That's all that's needed. OK, taxes might have to rise by 0.0001% or something but at least we'd have a chance of experiencing Rosslyn Chapel the way generations of native Brits and tourists have in the past: as an ancient part of the country's built environment and not as a crass money spinner.

The topography of the mount upon which Rosslyn Chapel sits is also problematic from a photographer's point of view. It's the highest spot for miles around so you can't find an overlooking vantage point. And the slopes are so heavily wooded that it's a devil of a job catching a glimpse of the chapel almost regardless of where you go.

The pic at the top of this post was about as good as I could get. It's another iphone shot. I couldn't even be bothered to get the Contax SLR out to commit it to film. Our day was complete when, with a few hours to kill before we were due to pick Freya up, Cath had the "brainwave" (it seemed more like a stroke to me) to visit nearby Ikea. Great. Just great. But, at least, it was commercialism in the right place.


DcAnalogue said...

Yep.... unfortunately nowadays we have to live in this kind of "business" world... and this is not the only case. I live in Rome and I know what does it means! At least, there in Great Britain, the "visitor centers" are nice and well built, have good parking places, good "services" and a nice coffee shop.... ;-) I still remember some nice experiences on remoted sites in Skye or so...

Anonymous said...

I have had a name for this sort of thing for many years...

For me, it all started with the Chatham Dockyard 'experience".

I call it "Smell-o-vision".


mono4me said...

Sorry to hear of your bad experience at Rosslyn Bruce :( That's why I'll not return to the Tower of London, went there as a kid in the early mid '50's and can still remember the experience now. But approach the Tower now and you just join the inevitable queue of Americans, Germans, Japanese etc. etc. at 'any' time of year :(

And as for 'Ikea' . . . thank gawd I'm single!! Give me the countryside under heavy cloud any day!

DavidM said...

Congratulations! I knew Barfen.

A very remote parallel here. This is the sort of thing that got up Jesus' nose, when he visited the temple. He went for a bit of direct action, you may recall.
If your shot had been in B&W, it might have been almost like a Fay Godwin

Herman Sheephouse said...

You'll never escape crowds of tourists simply because it is a big, populated world and we have a huge amount of stunning cultural sites. As for photographing - use a rangefinder like your M2 - the snick is often hidden by crowd noise AND, if you pre-focus and try the Leica snapshot sort of thing you can be done and away before anyone notices . . So, I would say to you, please abandon your preconceptions about how a place should be (nice and quiet with no one else except you and Cath) it will rarely be like that, and more so when it has been brought to the attention of the world by a book and a film! Just go with the flow and take what is there - you might get a pleasant surprise.

Oh and Ikea Edinburgh - you can get a very passable cheap lunch there - yeah it is a shed full of furniture, but I quite like it actually.