THE SOLAR GEOMETRY OF ROSSLYN CHAPEL
Rosslyn Chapel, formerly the Collegiate Church of St. Matthew', founded on 21 September 1446 was elevated to global fame in 2003 when Dan Brown's book The Da Vinci Code presented it as the final resting place of the Holy Grail. For many, the grail is a powerful religious artefact and to others it represents a holy blood line, however, the mythological archetypes represented by the quest for the grail relate to enlightenment acquired through learning and an understanding of nature and the universal cycles of creation and destruction.
Rosslyn Chapel displays iconography of the auld religion, for example green-man heads with foliage sprouting from their mouths representing seasonal change, merged with Christian angels holding musical instruments.
Adhering to the principals of Christian sacred geometry as defined by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio in his De architectura (English: Ten Books on Architecture), written between 30 and 15 BCE, church builders not only encapsulated the annual cycle of the sun within the iconography, but also in the underlying geometric structure and measurements of their stone creations. Rosslyn Chapel was founded on St. Matthew's Day, 21 September 1446. To holy men, this was an important date in the Biblical calendar but to church designers and stonemasons it was the Autumnal Equinox, when the sun rises and sets perfectly east and west, a time when calendars and measuring systems could be calibrated.
The vernal equinox on March 21st conventionally marked the beginning of spring while the autumnal equinox (September) marked the beginning of autumn. Together, with the summer and winter solstices, on the 21st of June and December respectively, these four key solar dates were observed and spiritualised by pre-Christian cultures in the northern hemisphere and later immortalised in stone by the Biblically inspired builders of the medieval era.
Nowhere in Europe is the 'season geometry' of nature encapsulated and expressed in architecture more so than in Rosslyn Chapel. Being located on latitude 55° 51 N, it is situated within a slim band of global latitude where builders observing these four sunrises on the eastern horizon, and measuring their shadows on the building site with staffs and ropes, laid out a perfect square. Even moving 20 miles north or south of this latitude this square solar-shadow phenomena is not observed.
The position of the central pillar in Rosslyn Chapel was once stood upon by a highly trained team of astronomers and geometers with staffs/poles measuring the shadows cast at the two solstices and equinoxes. This fixed zero-point, perceived as a fulcrum or navel, according to Christian sacred geometric principals represented Jesus on Earth, the holiest point within the church from which all other parts were measured out and created. The defined space in front of the central pillar is where the central altar is situated.
From the central pillar in Rosslyn chapel, the percieved point of creation, the underlying ad quadratum (square and octagonal) geometry of the chapel can be extrapolated. This process reveals how medieval stonemasons and rope measuring specialists utilised the solstice and equinox shadows to create a central square pillar configuration from which all pillars and arches within the structure were measured.
This construction principal is known as squaring the circle, or progressive reduction and in the practice of such mathematics the designer essentially created a mandala loaded with esoteric data pertaining to the concept of creation, the four corners of the earth and the circles of heaven and hell. The square and circle design format can also be measured on the horizontal plane of the building and was used to establish the key architectural features on the west wall.
WORDS CANNOT BEGIN TO EXPLAIN
Rosslyn Chapel was built between 1446-48, just before the rise of the printing press, and over 99 percent of Scotland's population was illiterate. To celebrate the building's 571st birthday on 21st September 2017, I undertook a People's History project aimed at utilising the transformative languages of music, geometry and religious imagery - the communication styles used by the stonemasons who built Rosslyn.
At the Autumnal Equinox, harvests were complete and it was a time for celebration and dance and in that old Scottish world arose the cèilidh or céilí - a traditional Scottish or Irish social gathering. I wanted a sound that both embraced the farming origins of Scottish culture but also celebrated the much faster pace of modern Scottish life. I approached one of Scotland's master musicians - drummer Alan Brown - and asked him to choose a single piece of Scottish music to accompany my exhibition of Rosslyn Chapel photographs.
Alan began his rhythmic athletics on snare drum at around 5 years old and went on to study at both Strathclyde University and Berklee Music College in Boston. His international music career has spanned Celtic metal to jazz and bluegrass. Currently teaching in schools across Central Scotland he recently played with the world famous 'Red Hot Chilli Pipers' and Glasgow party band 'The Cartel' and is developing an exiting new project with the fantastic singer Garry Greig from last year's X-Factor.
Alan chose Through the Night by the 'heavy folk'band Bùrach, in which he is the drummer.
If you don't already know, this legendary Scottish band were forged by the extraordinarily talented accordionist Sandy Brechin. He welded together the songs of Andrew Mill and Aly Macrae, the haunting lyrics of Bob NcNeill, the beautiful songs of Coomara and the tribal drumming of Alan Brown. Together they lead the charge in keeping alive modern traditional Scottish music and to me, they have always been true and loyal developers of the auld-sounds, perpetuating the auditory fabric and psychological underlay of Scottish and Irish communities. Alan reasoned with his decision:
Alan reasoned with his decision:
Burach boast a virtuosic line up of great players and writers who are all rooted deeply in the Celtic style and I feel this particular tune lends itself very well to the hypnotic and progressive feeling of the Rosslyn Chapel images.
The word Bùrach is as a magically loaded Gaelic colloquialism meaning a 'a delving in the earth' but used socially across Scotland to define a 'mess'. Formed in Edinburgh in 1994 Bùrach are one of Scotland’s most popular and progressive heavy folk-rock groups. Walking the tideline between enchanted Scottish folk and modern rock their unpredictable drops in tempo are married with raging, thrusting, banging rifts - fit for war, drawing audiences young and old in the lowlands and the highlands.
Great choice Mr Brown! Watch this video and I'm sure you will agree Bùrach and Rosslyn Chapel are two pillars of one Temple, in which Scottish people's relationship with the changing seasons is preserved in a much more intellectually stimulating way than could ever be achieved with a selection of 26 letters. Albeit I have given it a hell of a try!