For many people and for many centuries the Collegiate Church of St Matthew in
Midlothian, commonly called Rosslyn Chapel, though never completed and existing
now only after a history of neglect, near ruin and restoration - sometimes too casual, at
others too thorough -, stands as the most romantic and picturesque monument of late
medieval Scotland. In a sense the building has become an icon of its age yet it is a
monument which, as a piece of architecture that is unique, has been interpreted and
understood in different ways at different times.
The primary intention of this study is two fold: to examine and record the range of
historical and visual evidence that exists to sustain the perception of Rosslyn as a
uniquely valuable and evocative structure; and to evaluate, through the discussion of
this evidence, the changing cultural climate and understanding of the `meaning of
architecture' as expressed by the various images that the building has generated as an
The study proceeds in four chapters, each investigating a different category: 1, an
historical and descriptive account; 2, the visual evidence which amplifies our
knowledge not only of the Chapel but also of the cultural preferences existing at
different times and at different moments in British and Scottish taste; 3, the changing
conceptions of the Chapel from antiquarian and picturesque perspectives; 4, the conflict
of values on aesthetic, historical, or technical grounds, occasioned by the conservation
of the fabric.
In such a critical analysis Rosslyn Chapel becomes a changing cultural icon for
succeeding generations of architects, architectural critics and amateurs and a touchstone
for essential value judgements, made both in European and in national, Scottish terms.