Rosslyn – the mystery of the human bones now revealed


What on earth were the remains of three skeletons doing under the central aisle at the Scottish chapel of Rosslyn – featured in the Dan Brown book, the Da Vinci Code?  Archaeologists have been trying to get to grips with this conundrum – could they be Knights Templar or medieval knights?   Well, it now seems they are from slightly later in history – the 17th century – when the chapel was abandoned during the Protestant Reformation.

In a report in Scotland on Sunday – it appears the bodies were found when the authorities were instaling a new heating system in the church and had dug up some slabs in the aisle.  The bodies were placed there when locals took to burying their dead within the church to ensure they were interred in consecrated ground.  This may seem odd to us but burials under church floors and in the walls were standard practice up to the nineteenth century.  Most old churches in London are absolutely jam-packed with bodies under the floor and in the ground immediately around the walls.  The creation of out of town cemeteries in the nineteenth century – a return to Roman practice if one thinks about it – largely put an end to this practice.

 

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3 thoughts on “Rosslyn – the mystery of the human bones now revealed

  1. My reply to The Scotsman read as follows: 6
    jnisbet
    Sunday, December 4, 2011 at 11:27 PM
    After almost two years of absolutely no information at all, this article is welcome, but does not tell us much, except perhaps for a highly speculative opinion based on “anecdotal stories” that the bones were deposited where they are when “the chapel was abandoned during the Reformation, in the 17th century, by local people who wanted to bury their relatives on consecrated ground.” In an article I published a few months ago, “The Rosslyn Bones,” I cite an 1846 lecture at London’s Institute of British Architects, during which William Burn, architect in charge of the chapel’s 1830’s restoration, claims to have dug trenches up all three of the chapel’s aisles, finding only one vault with a wooden coffin (presumably the vault long known to be accessed under flagstones in the north aisle, towards the rear of the chapel). Burn does not report finding any other bones. In case anyone thinks I have pulled that information out of thin air, let me say that I found it published in “Rosslyn: Country of Painter and Poet,” written by none other than Lady Helen Rosslyn and Dr. Angelo Maggi in support of the National Gallery of Scotland’s 2002 exhibit of artwork connected to the chapel. It is far more likely that these particular bones were deposited where they were, in 1880, by the 4th Earl of Rosslyn and his architect, Andrew Kerr, when they added the baptistery to the chapel’s west end. That one of the skulls has a hole in it shaped suspicially like the business end of a mason’s stone-trimming hammer, and the remains were found below the carved heads attributed, by local tradition, to the Rosslyn Chapel legend of the slain apprentice, is a joke perhaps only they could fully explain.

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