I don’t remember much about Dan Brown’s potboiler The DaVinci Code, other than it posited that Mary Magdalene absconded to France pregnant with Jesus’s baby, and that was some kind of big reveal. Not for me, of course, who had been studying women’s spiritual writing, and reading books like Merlin Stone’s When God Was a Woman or Charlene Spretnak’s The Politics of Women’s Spirituality while I was working on my Ph.D. I had also read The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which indicated as much, and I wrote poems about her, including one about her pregnancy. Just call me a heretic.
I also don’t remember how The Rosslyn Chapel fits into Brown’s story, but it does, apparently, and so I took a trip out to see it. It was an interesting place, because while it was erected in the the 15th century, there was a big gap between when it got a lot of use as the chapel for the Earls of Rosslyn, and when it was closed down for being a house of idolatry, on account of all of the carvings (though from what I can tell, most seemed religious in theme to me). For two and a half centuries, the chapel sat vacant, windowless, and was basically given over to the damp and plantlife. Then along comes Queen Victoria, and she falls in love with it. So begins its restoration. It gets a new narthex (a shallow foyer) and they install a pipe organ. It gets cleaned up and looks pretty good for a while, but the damp comes back. So long about the 1950’s, someone has the “good” idea to cover EVERYTHING in the church with a cement slurry, which paints over the colors and details till everything is a muted gray mush, but stops the damp. To my mind, the carvings weren’t all that because you couldn’t really see the relief anymore—although there are tons of them. They were probably quite amazing before this “restoration.”
But I enjoyed the chapel. I even went down in the crypt where there was a brilliant stained glass window, though not much else. I would have taken a lot of photos, but there was a sign saying no photography, and me being a (mostly) goody-goody, I complied. I did take a sneak picture from my purse, which just got a boring part of the ceiling, and I snapped one of the stained glass window because there were only two people down in the crypt with me to object, and they were busy taking their own photos (but it came out kinda bad). Turns out I was like the only person on the tour who didn’t take lots of pictures. I feel sheepish. I should just have taken the pictures of the inside and beg forgiveness if I got caught. Oh, well.
This is the first tour I took where we actually went south, to the rolling hills of the Scottish borders. Earlier in the day, we stopped at a couple of places. One was a favorite look-out and writing spot for Walter Scott, which overlooked three hills, which at one point had Roman occupation, and they named the hills “Trimontium”—not a particularly originally name for “three mountains.” The air was fresh, and sweetened with wildflowers. There were many bees!
Then we drove a little further to see a statue of William Wallace. Our tour guide was unimpressed with the statue for its many inaccuracies. For one thing, the statue’s gear is wrong—he wouldn’t have had an oval shield, his sword was too long, his armor on his arms wouldn’t really protect. For another, and most egregiously, he was wearing his kilt backwards! The front of a kilt is supposed to be flat; it’s the back that’s pleated (where here you can clearly see pleats in the front). But what I liked about the statue of Wallace was that it faces nothing but a treed valley. Like, if you didn’t know the statue was there, you’d miss it. It’s a hidden monument, which you can only get too by taking a walk in the woods (danger! danger!) scented with wild garlic and heavy with cow parsley. Fortunately, I did not come to any mishap on my walk. The ground was level.
We stopped in a little hamlet called Melrose for lunch. I had a cheese and tomato toastie that I bought for breakfast but then didn’t eat, and I found a bench facing the Melrose Abbey so I enjoyed quite the view. Melrose Abbey is famous for being the site where Robert the Bruce’s heart relics are buried, a heart which he wanted carried to the Holy Land during the Crusades, to expiate the sin of killing another king on sacred church grounds.
After I ate, I went around to the side entrance of the Abbey, paid my entrance fee (which was only half the usual cost since the Abbey is undergoing renovations—everything in Scotland seems to be undergoing renovations!), and wandered the cemetery and took pictures. I really liked Melrose Abbey because it’s also ruins, and it must look quite wonderful to walk through when the fencing is down. Apparently, when it was being built, there were masons who decided to make carvings of naked women in lascivious poses which weren’t discovered till much too late, just because the masons could and they weren’t being closely supervised. I don’t know, I thought that was pretty hilarious, because when this was a whole church, it must have been spectacular and holy. So a few sexy statues would really amp up the ambiance. 😊
I found a graves stone with the date of 1695 on it, and another of 1810, but most of the stones were lichened over or too weathered to read. The place was still and peaceful, and the tour guide let us have an hour and twenty minutes for the stop, so I could leisurely gaze at the Abbey and walk around as I pleased.
I was really happy with the tour guide in general. He regaled us with lots of interesting information, and seemed really happy to be on the tour—like night and day from last weekend.
Oh! And I forgot to mention that two of the people on the tour—Bob and Linda—were from Marietta! That’s too crazy! I would have liked a chance to talk with them more but we all went separate ways at the various stops. Still, can you believe, running into people living in the same town as you? It really is a small world sometimes.
Tomorrow I’m off to Hadrian’s Wall, so be sure to tune in for my next post if you’re curious about that.
Enjoy the photos!