Several miles south of Edinburgh sits the gorgeous Rosslyn Chapel, made famous by Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. While it is the scene of the movie’s climax, Howard hardly shows the true beauty and artwork of the 15th-century chapel.
The history of the chapel is complicated and intriguing. It was originally constructed in 1446. The founder’s plans included a full church with a steeple high enough to be visible from Edinburgh several miles away. The choir took a full 40 years to craft, all hand-hewn from local sandstone. Upon the founder’s death, the project was scrapped, either from lack of funds or lack of interest. The choir that remains is impressive enough with more artwork than you can easily see in an afternoon. So how does it compare to the movie?
Rosslyn Chapel Exterior
In the movie, the Da Vinci Code’s Rosslyn Chapel scene begins with an aerial view of the chapel on a terraced hill in the Scottish countryside. The scene looks realistic enough. Upon visiting the location, you realize that the town of Roslin is missing from the background, not to mention the chapel’s administrative buildings. The forest in the movie is far denser than in real life, and there is no terraced hill.
However, the biggest difference is the exterior of the chapel. While the movie shows a mostly accurate representation of the building, this was not visible at the time of filming. A huge metal roof had been erected to keep out the elements while the chapel underwent extensive renovations. To show the chapel, Ron Howard had a 1/6th scale replica made and then filmed a fly-around of that.
As the movie’s two protagonists approach the front of the chapel, two ornate windows are visible to either side of the entrance during a one-second shot. In reality, the front enclave was a later addition to the chapel during the Victorian age. In the movie, the windows look like they would belong but they were added to make the entrance look grander.
Rosslyn Chapel Interior
As the duo enter the chapel, the camera pans down from the ceiling to show the Victorian stained-glass windows at the back of the chapel. The beautiful artwork on the ceiling is heavily under-exposed, and the movement is too quick to see any real detail.
The camera continues to move around the chapel, but at angles and apertures that prevent any actual artwork from being seen. Only a single relief of a face is shown briefly. Beyond that, the “Dance of Death” arch, the master and apprentice columns, the dragons and other mythical creatures, and even the ambiguous North American plants (brought to the Old World 50 years after the construction of the chapel) are all woefully missing from the movie.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the movie, this is the point to do so. While the location of the movie’s climax is a spoiler of sorts, what comes next will really ruin the story if you haven’t yet watched.
Entering the Crypt
Before entering the climactic location of the movie, Robert and Sophie see their final clue. Above the entrance to the “crypt” is a Star of David, integrated into the decorations of the chapel. As the second actual piece of artwork shown from the interior of the chapel, it doesn’t actually exist in reality. Howard added it to the chapel to match the book, and his spraypaint left a green circle on the stone which is now referred to as the Hollywood Circle. Perhaps not as devastating as what The Beach did to Phi Phi Leh Island in Thailand, but nonetheless a small mar to the beauty of the chapel.
Robert and Sophie continue down into the “crypt.” It’s actually the lower chapel and was the first constructed part of the building, potentially on the ruins of an even older castle. The actual crypt of the chapel is beneath the main choir, although it was filled with rubble centuries ago and the entrance blocked up. Rumor has it that a very real treasure could be buried in the crypt, but it has yet to be excavated and discovered.
From there, the characters duck under a chain labeled “Private” and into…Paramount Pictures 323 miles south in London. Sorry, the tiny anteroom in the chapel is really just a storeroom without any stars on the ceiling or rug on the floor. Any other spoilers would be unnecessary, as they were filmed at the studios. The next few minutes have nothing to do with Rosslyn Chapel.
The Apprentice’s Column
Finally, as Robert and Sophie leave the crypt, we get several views of the Apprentice’s Column, perhaps one of the most beautiful works of art in the chapel. It’s significantly more intricate than the nearby Master’s Column, which is not shown in the movie. For the full story about the two columns, you’ll just have to visit Rosslyn Chapel yourself.
In my opinion, the chapel is far better than the movie portrayed. Tom Hanks was quoted saying “Rosslyn Chapel was all one could imagine or hope for,” and Dan Brown said, “When I decided to write The Da Vinci Code, I knew that its finale would have to take place at the most mysterious and magical chapel on earth — Rosslyn.”
Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in the chapel so perhaps the movie is a good way to see the interior. A far better option would be to visit the chapel yourself.
Also, (barely) shown in the movie are the remains of Rosslyn Castle. Situated behind the chapel, down a woodland path, across a bridge and atop a steep hill are the remains of a castle originally built around the end of the 14th century. Although it was destroyed in 1544 and rebuilt shortly after, it surprisingly has been continuously occupied all the way into present time. A part of the castle is currently the holiday accommodations of the Earl of Rosslyn.
The film shows Robert and Sophie on the bridge to the ruins, although the scene jumps back and forth between two spots several feet apart. The chain with a “Private” sign blocking the path which leads up to the Earl’s accommodations is clearly seen in the scene. Two brief wide-angle shots show one of the two ruined walls from the original castle.
The remaining landscape around the castle is simply stunning, with a small creek on one side of the hill and a large river on the other. Several trails weave through the forest, and one tree climbs out of a stone wall, reminiscent of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
No story about Rosslyn Chapel would be complete without mentioning Mr. William, the resident cat. Although he belongs to a family in the nearby town of Roslin, he has been spending all his time at the chapel for the past 13 years. He is often found sleeping on one of the pews or posing for pictures outside the chapel.
Visiting Rosslyn Chapel
Rosslyn Chapel is open all year except for Christmas Eve and Day, and New Year’s Eve and Day. Tour guides give a story about the chapel every hour on the hour for about 20 minutes. You can either sit in the pews and listen or explore the chapel during the story. Expect to spend 1-2 hours in the chapel. If you want to see the castle too, plan for another hour or so.
To get to Rosslyn Chapel, take the 37 bus from Princes Street or South Bridge in the city center. The ride takes about 50 minutes and the bus driver can help you with which stop to disembark from. There is a large parking lot if you plan to drive. The visitor center has a cafe for food and drink, toilets and a large shop with every imaginable souvenir for the chapel.
- Location: Chapel Loan, Roslin EH25 9PU
- Sept-May: Mon-Sat 9:30 to 17:00; Sun 12:00 to 16:45
- Jun-Aug: Mon-Sat 9:30 to 18:00; Sun 12:00 to 16:45
- Admission: Adults – £9.50; concession – £7.50; children – free with an adult ticket
- Phone: (+44) 0131 440 2159
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: Rosslyn Chapel
- What to bring: A camera for the chapel’s exterior, money for souvenirs and boots for hiking down to Rosslyn Castle.
- Best time of year to visit: Jan-Dec. The chapel is great for rainy days, but sunny is better for a hike around the castle and forest.
Click to Pin It
Looking for other attractions in my favorite city in the world? Here are some more articles you might like.
- There’s a Cat Cafe in Edinburgh!
- Enjoying the Happiest Place in Scotland at Edinburgh’s Chihuahua Cafe
- Camera Obscura in Edinburgh Brings Out the Kid in You
- Experience the Underground Preservation of Mary King’s Close
- Are You Brave Enough for a Ghost Tour in Edinburgh?
- 9 Free Attractions to Visit in Edinburgh
- 10 Activities for The Perfect Day Trip from Edinburgh
- Locked In Edinburgh: Can You Escape From an Old Gin Distillery
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.
This post may contain affiliate links. These links help give me the wherewithal to continue traveling at no additional cost to you. For more information, click here.
Hey! I love the book Davinci’s Code! I was reading it with such a passion that it was hard to make breaks for sleeping and eating. I hope to make it to Edinburg and to Rosslyn Chapel, would be pretty exciting to stand there and imagine the scenes from the movie! Thanks for detailed information about the history, the Chapel looks like an exciting place to visit even if it was not for the film.
Thanks. You go get a taste of the chapel in the movie, but visiting in person is so much greater! Hope you can make it sometime.
I wont lie – the movie is definitely what has inspired me to want to visit Rosslyn Chapel, so it’s interesting to hear about some of the reinventions and adaptions they made for film purposes. But it’s fabulous to hear that you enjoyed the real experience of being there even more than it was portrayed in the films. Sad that photography isn’t allowed inside – I guess I’ll just have to get there myself! The remains of Rosslyn Castle look like a stunning walk around, and I can definitely see the resemblance to Angkor Wat with the tree roots taking over the ruins. Thanks for sharing your insight!
You’re welcome. I certainly do hope you can make it someday. With the photos ban, it’s basically the only way to really experience it.
Sadly I haven’t seen the movie. But your description is vivid, almost as if I was a part of the scenes myself. I love chapels more than cathedrals. And how did you get the cat pose for you? Candid pic?
Thanks! Yeah, I got really lucky with that photo. I was actually told the cat very rarely poses like that, and usually spends his time sleeping.
I love Rosslyn Chapel. My first visit was to see a concert by a traditional Scottish folk band – it was quite magical seeing it for that purpose! You do a great job of explaining the shots of the film in relation to the chapel itself – I always thought it looked different in the movie – that explains why!
Thanks! I did have to do quite a bit of research to get all the data, and I also have a friend who works at the chapel. Seeing a concert there must have been incredible. They also had a showing of the Da Vinci Code there last year for the 10-year anniversary. Would have loved to see that too.
I love visiting places that have been featured in films. And to know that Rosslyn Chapel has a lot more to offer than what’s been shown in the Da Vinci Code, makes it even more appealing. Pity Mr. William didn’t get his 5-minute of fame. He’s got the looks of a movie star.
Haha, you make me want to rewatch the movie and see if maybe was in the background, but honestly, it was only a few actual seconds of footage in the real cathedral. And I think it was also around the time when Mr William first appeared there.
Now you have me wanting to rewatch the Da Vinci Code so I can see the interior. Did you know in advance that photos were not allowed? I recently visited a historic museum in Singapore and was super disappointed that interior photography was not allowed. But.. why is that?
I didn’t know about the photo ban before the first time I went, although this was the second time. I’ll have to admit I was able to sneak in a couple photos (with the guide’s permission) my first time there, as I was the last to leave. The main reason there are no photos are just to respect the other visitors, so people can just go an observe without the distraction of all the photography.
We have never visited Scotland. It was fascinating to read your walk through of the movie against the reality of the Rosslyn Chapel. My husband loves to do this when he sees movies set in our home town Toronto. It would be great to explore the Rosslyn Chapel. Maybe Mr. William will be my escort! I will have to go back and watch the Da Vinci Code to watch for more views of this beautiful chapel. And then finally maybe get to Scotland to visit Rosslyn Chapel myself.
I certainly hope you can make it here yourself someday.
Ok, I been to Edinburgh a few times and even worked at Waverley station on the intercity trains to Kings Cross in london and I have never heard of Rosslyn chapel. I am back that way soon so maybe I will check it out.
I hope you do! Prepare to be blown away. I’d consider the chapel on par with (albeit smaller than) Gloucester Cathedral.
This is no doubt, an interesting post, specially for those who have seen Da Vinci Code. Now that I am in Leeds, am definitely, going to check Rossyln Chapel, when I head out to Edinburgh.
Excellent. Glad you had a chance to read this when you’re so close! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Wow, I’m seriously thinking of moving to Edinburgh (both my brothers live in or nearby) and I’ve been plenty of times – but never to Rosslyn Chapel. Love Mr William – worth a trip just to meet him!
I certainly hope you do move here. I’d love to see Edinburgh become one of the next big digital nomad centers in the world. It is my favorite city after all. Rosslyn Chapel is one of the lesser-known attractions, although I think it’s also one of the most beautiful. Hope you can make it there this year.