What does ancient smell like?
I am first hit with a wall of smell throwing me back in time upon entering the Rosslyn Chapel. This smell has a message and the message is O L D. The chapel was built before Columbus sailed for the New World in 1492, for goddess sake.
Layer upon layer of ancientness floats between notes of stale lavender, blue-blooded mildew, tree sap related to frankincense, medieval apothecary formulas, alchemical experiments and the smell of sacredness: all without too much tampering over the centuries. It is a Temple of Non-Tampering which gives it a top note of secrecy still taking place, right under my nose.
In the crypt at the bottom of the descending stairwell the smell crescendos into a “we just opened up someone’s tomb and thank god they were well preserved” smell. However, the bodies are long gone, unfortunately tampered with.
Rumored to be buried below the crypt and sealed shut is the mummified head of Jesus Christ, the Holy Grail which is the treasure of the Templars and the original crown jewels of Scotland.
To get here, I took a bus (double-decker!) 30 minutes outside of Edinburgh through Scottish postcard farmland and then walked up a quaint village lane. I spoke with the little old ladies of the chapel running the tiny gift shop before approaching the dark chambers of the chapel.
Once inside I realize I am in a very dense, symbolically-laden, aesthetically pleasing and puzzling monument: an epic poem in stone. It is strangely intimate, cozy and grand at the same time; the scale and siting of the chapel being ridiculously perfect. It must have been designed on the golden mean in every possible iteration.
It is Pagan, Christian, Medievil, Masonic and Mysterious all at once.
There are ears of corn carved into an arch even though corn was not yet discovered, because like I mentioned, Columbus had not yet sailed. Did the Earl of Orkney travel to the Americas before Columbus? Were these people secret masters ?
There are music boxes carved into the ribs of the two groin vaults near the front alter. The most recent research claims that the music boxes are actually cymatic patterns and that altogether they make a piece of celestial music. As a side note, I was later that evening going to have dinner with a physicist who has recently done extensive research in the field of cymatics.
Other marvels include a life sized Templar Knight with a greyhound curled at his feet carved into a floor stone and 110 carvings of Green Man, the pagan symbol of renewal and fertility throughout the Chapel. It is exhausting to list all the marvels, so I leave that to the scholars.
But I will say that this Chapel is now a part of me. It has left a personal, sensual and intimate imprint on my relationship to the existence/non-existence of time: a physical portal accessed through the sense of smell. As another side note, supersmell is a supersense which is a quality of a superbeing which I am writing about elsewhere.
I could have been a Knight, bent down on one knee, conducting a Templar meeting and designing hidden vaults with masons, one of the reasons for the chapels’s existence, or gathering the masters, thinkers, saints, alchemists, wizards, wisemen, and powerful sages of the time for secret meetings to exchange secrets of the universe which we could have been killed for knowing.
After leaving the Chapel at sunset, I walk to an Inn with a picnic table under a tree to wait for my dinner companion. Across the street I notice a man drinking a beer at a café table. We wave and he eventually saunters across the street to join me. We begin a conversation discussing the mysteries of the universe as if we were picking up an old conversation from centuries ago. Apparently the Templars are still gathering….