- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2006

ROSLIN, Scotland — There’s no mystical rose line running through it, no star of David carved into the floor or hidden vault where the fabled Holy Grail may rest. And the brutal veil of metal scaffolding shrouding the chapel doesn’t help either.

Reality at Rosslyn Chapel is very different from the portrayal in Dan Brown’s hit thriller “The Da Vinci Code,” but the novel has been a welcome boost for a church in desperate need of repair.

The book suggests the medieval stone building perched in a gentle fold of the Pentland Hills outside Edinburgh could be the repository of the fabled Holy Grail — and with it the secret of whether Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene founded a dynasty.

Many visitors, although drawn by the novel, are skeptical of its theories.

“I loved the book, but at no time did I come here thinking I should look for the Holy Grail,” Chicago psychologist Margaret Silberman said as she emerged into the chapel’s blossom-splashed garden.

“It didn’t disappoint me that it’s not just as Brown described — it’s fiction, after all.”

Myra Pruitt from Atlanta also didn’t support Mr. Brown’s theories, “but even without that, this is a spiritual, fascinating place,” she said.

Rosslyn hosted 117,000 visitors in 2005 — more than three times the number three years ago — and another 145,000 are expected this year, according to church director Stuart Beattie.

Hoping to swell those visitor numbers, VisitScotland, the official tourist agency, has invested $54,000 on a DVD, “The Rosslyn Enigma,” which it is using to promote the destination in North America.

After “The Da Vinci Code“‘s international release this month, “I guess more people will come, but the rush is already with us,” Mr. Beattie said.

Guides inform visitors that the chapel, which was built in the shape of a cross, was founded in 1446 by Sir William St. Clair, a grand master in the Knights Templar, an order of benevolent knights founded in the 12th century.

The chapel is probably just the back end of what was conceived as a much grander building, but Rosslyn is famed for its profuse and exuberant — some would say over-the-top — decoration.

“The architecture within is exquisitely beautiful,” Dorothy Wordsworth, the poet’s sister, said after visiting in 1807, though she feared that “as nothing is done to keep it together, it must, in the end, fall.”

Guides focus on the intricate stone carvings of angels and green men (a sign of rebirth) and the imposing “apprentice pillar” with its twisting wreaths of stone leaves, named for a young worker supposedly killed by a boss jealous of his skill.

With a bit of imagination, guides say, you can glimpse the ancient Jewish six-pointed star implicit in parts of the architecture that Mr. Brown posits as a sign of mystical goings-on.

But there is no star of David on the floor, no rose line leading to the grail, and no vault that could be hiding the legendary relic, said Mr. Beattie.

“People come to Rosslyn with a great raft of different reasons and theories, all of which we enjoy, although we don’t necessarily agree with them,” he said.

Director Ron Howard brought Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou here to film scenes from the book. The crew paid the chapel for four days of lost tourism revenue, a figure reported to be upwards of $36,000, though Mr. Beattie won’t be specific. “We are making a net profit,” is all he will confirm.

The chapel needs $23 million to correct damaging repairs inflicted in the 1950s; visitors are charged $12.50 to enter.

The influx has meant recruiting five extra staff — there are now 14 — and the new parking lot above the pretty sloping churchyard is taking a pounding from tour coaches.

There’s very little that is specifically Christian in the gift shop, which offers Less Templeur chardonnay (“a dry white that comes from vineyards planted when the Knight Templar roamed the southern French countryside”), Masonic symbols, a Da Vinci board game and books about the Holy Grail theories, including Mr. Brown’s.

Across the road from the chapel, an enterprising farmer markets “Da Vinci manure” at 90 cents a bag.

Mr. Brown’s thriller claims that Jesus Christ fathered a child with Mary Magdalene and their descendants became the kings of France. It contends that the Roman Catholic church, keen to play down Mary’s role, suppressed this truth.

The book follows fictional Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Mr. Hanks) and code expert Sophie Neveu (Miss Tautou) as they investigate the murder of an elderly member of an ancient society that guards the secrets of the Holy Grail and the story of Jesus Christ.

• • •

Rosslyn Chapel is in Roslin, Scotland, about eight miles from Edinburgh; www.rosslynchapel.org.uk. Adults, $12.50; children free up to age 16. Open 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to 4:45 p.m. Sunday (closes at 5 p.m., Oct. 1 to March 31). The Web site recommends a number of nearby accommodations.

Free “Da Vinci Code” movie map with information on locations in London, Scotland and Paris, available from VisitBritain by calling 800/462-2748.

Guide books include “Fodor’s Guide to The Da Vinci Code: On the Trail of the Best-Selling Novel,” which lists a 12-day themed itinerary for France, Italy, England and Scotland.

The Web site, www.BudgetTravelOnline.com, offers a printable do-it-yourself itinerary of “Da Vinci Code” sites in France, England and Scotland.

A variety of guided and audio tours are available for major “Da Vinci Code” destinations, such as a “Step Inside the Da Vinci Code” tour of the Louvre Museum in Paris that you can get for $13 from iTunes, from www.louvre.org or at the museum.


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