Excerpt from the book Travels through History : Northern Ireland and ScotlandBelfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides.
Before the book, the Da Vinci Code, was first published in 2003, Rosslyn Chapel received between 5,000 and 5,500 visitors per year. After the release of the film of the same name in 2006, 176,000 visitors arrived in the next six months. This figure is now the average number of tourists the chapel receives each year, meaning there will be quite a crowd of people there whenever you arrive.
Rosslyn Chapel was founded in 1446 by Sir William St Clair, 3rd Prince of Orkney, as the Collegiate Church of St Matthew and was completed 40 years later. Sir William died in 1484 and never saw the completed masterpiece he’d initiated the building of. Excavations in the 1800s indicated there had been plans for the chapel to be 30 metres longer. The village of Roslin probably began as a worker’s village for the chapel with the masons, blacksmiths, and quarrymen all needing somewhere to stay whilst they crafted the chapel.
The most famous features of the chapel are the two pillars carved by the master mason and an apprentice mason. The story goes that the master mason carved his rather simple column and then went on a tour of European cathedrals, looking for inspiration for the other major pillar in the chapel. While the master was away, an apprentice had a dream and was inspired to carve his pillar. When the master returned, he was so jealous of the apprentice that he hit him over the head with a heavy implement, killing him straightaway.
St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey aren’t the only sights in London for people interested in churches and cathedrals.
Visitors to the main sights in London should always be aware that there is a historical church close by. These smaller churches aren’t as famous as St Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey, but you won’t have to pay to go inside and you could well be the only person there. However, these churches will give an insight into London’s unique history and bring you closer to local legends and characters. Take a moment here to gather your thoughts and to reflect upon what you have seen, before dashing off to the next sight.
The 590-foot Swiss Re building is an eye-catching structure even in a city like London. “The Gherkin”, as it’s sometimes called, sits on the site of the Baltic Exchange, which was badly damaged by an IRA bomb in 1992 and eventually demolished in 1998. The nearby church of St Ethelburga, which survived both the Great Fire and the Blitz of WWII, was destroyed in 1993 by a bomb. Today, the new church has become a centre for peace and reconciliation, which is open to visitors on Fridays. In 1607 Henry Hudson, of Hudson River fame, and the crew of the Hopewell took their final communion here before setting off to find the North-West passage to India.
In an island in the middle of The Strand near The Royal Courts of Justice and Twinings Tea Shop sits the Church of St Clement Danes. Destroyed during the Blitz, the church was given to the RAF in the 1950s and commemorates the 120,000 Air Force personnel who died during the conflict. Though not the St Clement’s church mentioned in the nursery rhyme, the church bells play “Oranges and Lemons” at various times of the day.
A further 100 yards towards the City is found the Temple Church, built by the Knights Templar. The Church is in two parts: the Round and the Chancel. The Round Church was consecrated in 1185 by the patriarch of Jerusalem. Its recent publicity in relation to the Da Vinci Code has meant more visitors to this church, but it’s still an incredible oasis of calm not fifty yards from the busy streets. A column outside the church marks the point where the Great Fire of London was finally extinguished. Atop the column is a small statue of two knights riding a horse, showing that the Templars couldn’t always afford to own a horse and had to share. Nearby is the Inner Temple Hall, where Mahatma Gandhi studied in the late 1880s.
Visitors to the Victoria and Alberta Museum or Natural History Museum in South Kensington should make sure to visit The Brompton Oratory, which is also close to Harrods. The Oratory was built in 1884 and thus became the first Catholic Church to be built in England after the Reformation. The style is Italianate Baroque and is an exact imitation of the Gesu church in Rome. Some beautiful, exported genuine Italian fittings predate the building. A colourful ceiling curves up a dome that’s 50 metres in diameter.
On the way back to Yerevan I stopped at Saghmosavank (“Monastery of Psalms”) another Armenian sight close to a spectacular gorge, this time the Kasakh Gorge. The monastery has a large gavit to the west of the Zion church. A gavit serves as a narthex, mausoleum and assembly room for the church, but at Saghmosavank the gavit was built after both the Zion church and the smaller Mother of God Church.
I’d been told two Apostles brought Christianity to Armenia, namely St Bartholomew and St Thaddeus (or Jude). This seemed like a lot of apostles for one small country, and only left 10 for the rest of the known world. However, it may explain why Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity, traditionally in the year 301. The church in Armenia is sometimes referred to as the Armenian Orthodox Church or Gregorian Church. The latter is not preferred by the church itself, as it views the Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus as its founders. St. Gregory the Illuminator is regarded as merely the first official governor of the church.
Anyway, at Saghmosavank, a priest from the Armenian Church had just conducted a service and I took the opportunity to ask two questions translated by a guide: The first question was “Why did two apostles travel to Armenia when everywhere else just received one?” When the priest heard the question in Armenian he smiled and gave a short reply, translated as “God willed it.” This was also his answer to my second question, which was “Why was Armenia the first country to adopt Christianity?” I suppose God had willed it that I was able to ask those two questions on this day, but his replies were still not very satisfying.
According to Catholic legend, both Bartholomew and Thaddeus are buried in Rome, and yet there are many local Armenian stories that they are buried in Armenia or places that used to be in Armenia. I’d like to know more about the apostles’ lives and why they were allocated different parts of the world to spread the word of the gospel. I believe that a human being decided where each of the apostles should go – “God willed it” is too convenient an answer.
The priest partially dipped the consecrated bread into the consecrated wine and then placed it in my mouth. By the time the priest was at the end of the line of kneeling communicants, the candelabra on the altar had become blurry and the wall had started to sway in front of me. I took the picture with my camera phone before crawling back to my pew. I think some people thought I was devout.
Sitting at the back of the church, I could only think the communion wine must be stronger these days. Or perhaps the spirit of the Lord was inside me?
The Churches Conservation Trust is developing a scheme offering B&B accommodation in historic churches and has plans to expand its ‘congregation’ of properties if it proves popular with guests (or worshippers, if you prefer)