ROSSLYN Chapel holds many secrets. For hundreds of years experts and visitors alike have puzzled over the carvings in the chapel. Whilst some debate whether they point to hidden treasure, Edinburgh composer Stuart Mitchell thinks he has cracked one part of the enigma.
He believes that the ornate ceiling of carved arches, featuring 213 decorated cubes holds a code for medieval music. His father Thomas Mitchell spent 20 years cracking this code in the ceiling and now Stuart is orchestrating the findings for a new recording called The Rosslyn Motet. They hope that the music, when played on medieval instruments in situ, will resonate throughout the chapel unlocking a secret in the stone.
The breakthrough to interpreting the notation came when Mitchell's father discovered that the markings carved on the face of the cubes seem to match a phenomenon called Cymatics or Chladni patterns. Chladni patterns form when a sustained note is used to vibrate a sheet of metal covered in powder producing marks. The frequency used dictates the shape of the pattern, for example; the musical note A below middle C vibrates at 440 KHz and produces a shape that looks like a rhombus. Different notes can produce various shapes including flowers, diamonds and hexagons - shapes all present on the Rosslyn cubes. Stuart Mitchell believes this is "beyond coincidence" and has assigned a note to each cube.
Ernst Chladni first documented the phenomenon in the late 18th century - yet it appears to be present in a 15th century building. Which begs the question: "Was Sir William St Clair (the man who built Rosslyn Chapel) familiar with sciences far in advance of his time?".
Stuart Mitchell believes a link between the Knights Templar – who may have gleaned advanced Eastern scientific knowledge during their stay in Jerusalem during the Crusades – and Rosslyn could explain the encoded musical notes.
"The symbolism in Rosslyn is reaching back to times of a civilisation that is lost to us now that had sciences that are the roots of all the mechanics of the universe," says Mitchell.
If this science was used in the carvings at Rosslyn, then there needs to be an explanation of how this information came to be lost for centuries. According to Mitchell, the Church suppressed the knowledge as a means of controlling the public. "What it points towards is the church system denying people certain knowledge because knowledge is awareness. People who knew too much were burnt as witches." Interestingly the Devil's Chord - diabolus in musica - makes an appearance in the music.
"In the ceiling is this jump of an augmented fourth, in fact it opens up with an augmented fourth," says Mitchell. The Catholic Church had banned this interval (seven semitones) from medieval music as it was believed to be disturbing and therefore diabolical. Perhaps St Clair was indeed challenging the authority of the church.
The music itself, according to Mitchell is a mix "of Celtic melodies and secular worship crossed with a kind of Christian worship" but not Catholic he says. Perhaps this explains why carvings depicting the green man, essentially a pagan image, exist alongside carvings of Christ in the chapel.
"[Orkney] and the Shetlands had a very big druid, pagan community and they had their own culture of music," says Mitchell. "William St Clair was the last Earl of Orkney and some of the melodies in the ceiling of Rosslyn Chapel are Orkney/Shetland Airs."
Mitchell doesn't believe that the notes were carved there simply to record a piece of music. He hopes that the repeated frequencies in the music will resonate within the building and unlock a medieval secret.
"Hopefully, knowing masons of this period of time were aware of the acoustic properties and the effect of resonance upon stone, we're hoping something falls loose… it's like a safe. This is why we think he [St Clair] has gone to so much trouble." Mitchell has no idea what may be hidden in the church, but believes that St Clair used advanced science to ensure that the music was hidden from prying eyes.
Mitchell, dubbing the project "The Voice of Creation", says the carvings on the cubes are ultimately about sacred geometry.
"What it's saying is we've forgotten more than we know."
Perhaps the music is indeed a key to the past, the physics of the universe and just maybe, played loud enough inside Rosslyn, it will unlock a long lost secret hidden in the masonry.
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