Music, Science, History and Kells…and Templar Knights, too!

Rarely do I get to post about four of my favorite things in one go – but this time I get to include music, science, history and my co-blogger, Kellsbells.

Kells wrote a post about the relationship between music and responses in autistic kids that spawned this comment from me:

I think it is because music represents patterns and the autistic brain, I believe, is a higher functioning brain – so it recognizes those patterns. I’ve seen research that seems to indicate that the autistic brain is running on software version 4.0 and our bodies (the hardware) are only wired for v 2.1.

That got me to thinking about a favorite place of mine and its connection to science, music and history.

Living in Edinburgh means living in the middle of history…the tenement building (a street long block of attached residences) that I live in is part of a section of Edinburgh known as the “new town” – except that Newtown is over 250 years old having been constructed in the early to mid-1700’s. My flat is on the corner of a tenement that was built sometime between 1750 to 1765. At any rate, where I sit right now existed before my own country was founded – hard to wrap my brain around that but there you go…

Edinburgh was a center of science (particularly medicine and the home to the notorious grave robbers, Burke and Hare) during the Victorian age and the surrounding villages are treasure troves of historic sites – one in particular was made famous by Dan Brown in his book, The Da Vinci Code. That would be the purported resting place of Mary Magdeline, Rosslyn Chapel.

Rosslyn Chapel and Rosslyn Castle lie in the small village of Roslin, about 5 miles outside Edinburgh.

The unique thing about Rosslyn Chapel is that it is perhaps the most decorated chapel per square foot of any medieval chapel still standing in the world. I have been to the Sistine Chapel, Saint Peter’s in Rome, St. Paul’s in London, the Duomo in Milan, Italy and many other cathedrals and chapels in the UK and Europe and Rosslyn is the most intriguing of all – not because of the fiction of Dan Brown (most of which was just a good story) – but because Rosslyn was built in 1446 by William St. Clair, Third Baron of Orkney, the descendant of a Templar Knight of the same name and a direct ancestor of my wife.

The St. Clair family has been part of Scottish history since 1066. Sir William “The Seemly” St. Clair came to England with his first cousin, William the Conqueror, and fought with him at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He escorted King Malcolm of Scotland’s bride, the Saxon princess Margaret (another ancestor of my wife’s), from the court of Hungary, where she was brought up, to Scotland.

There are many mysteries surrounding Rosslyn and the St. Clair family. Rumors of Templar treasure being buried under the Chapel, rumors that there are 13 Templar knights interred in the catacombs in full armor guarding the Holy Grail – but one thing is true, the Chapel is filled with symbols and possibly Templar messages transmitted through time in code. Science – and music- has decrypted one of those messages, a message called the Frozen Music of Rosslyn:

The announcement explained that a total of 215 “musical cubes” in the pillars and arches of Rosslyn Chapel were found to match 13 unique geometrical sound patterns, known as Chladni figures or Cymatics. These patterns are produced when a metal plate is sprinkled with salt or powder and vibrated by sound frequencies. Documented first by Ernst Chladni in 1787, the patterns can range from primitive polygons like triangles, pentagons and hexagons to beautiful Mandela-like patterns, depending on which frequencies are used (see Music of the Quantum Lattice). The Mitchells found that each of the cube patterns matched specific musical tones that were organized into vertical groups around the chapel’s pillars. Using these tones to form a melody, the men then composed and staged the premier performance of “the Rosslyn Motet” on May 18, 2007 inside the chapel.

In a plot twist worthy of a Dan Brown novel, there was the hope that this music would unlock something that would help with the other mysteries of the Chapel:

For Stuart Mitchell this goes “beyond coincidence” and he has been arranging and orchestrating the musical patterns unearthed by his father into his latest composition, The Rosslyn Motet. Mitchell sees Rosslyn’s link with the Knights Templar as the likely explanation for the encrypted music, and believes that they may have learned some of the secrets of sound a long time before Ernst Chladni: “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.”

And other proscribed knowledge is present, argues Mitchell, in the Devil’s Chord, which features heavily in the Rosslyn cube patterns: “In the ceiling is this jump of an augmented fourth, in fact it opens up with an augmented fourth.”

The plan is to play the music on mediæval instruments within the chapel itself, where the resonating frequencies of the music will unlock a secret within the stones of Rosslyn itself: “Hopefully, knowing masons of this period 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 [Sir William St Clair] has gone to so much trouble.”

But alas, it did not.

You can hear the Rosslyn Motet here.

Rosslyn is a fascinating place to visit. There is a feeling of something unknown that comes over you as you sit in the pews, you can almost hear the whispers of the Templar Knights beneath your feet, begging you to hear their plaintive calls and beseeching us to release them from their earthly bonds…

Here are some pics of the Chapel (mine from the outside, theirs of the inside – no cameras are allowed inside):

One thought on “Music, Science, History and Kells…and Templar Knights, too!

  1. I LOVE this post! (Had to pull a B. there.) I really dug the piece Mr. Mitchell created. (Sounds similar to Gregorian chants.) It’s funny, because when you said Devil’s chord, I thought, well, he’s speaking on an augmented fourth, and then you wrote that. (But thanks for bringing up the painful memories of Music Theory…..)

    I would love to visit this chapel. Admittedly, my introduction to it was from Dan Brown’s book! (Hey, it’s a great story, and yes, I’ve read all of his books.) 🙂

    So, did you ever think as a kid that you would marry royalty? I really need to do that genealogy thingy. I’m a bit frightened as to what I’ll find out……

    Oh, by the by, I shamelessly stole your comment to me and used it in my comments section (at the other site.) I wish I would’ve incorporated it into my post, though. (Hindsight’s 20/20……) I do believe the Templar Knights knew that music is magical, too.

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