St James has a number of rare architectural features by master craftsmen including a carved rood screen and reredos, together with stained glass windows.
Work started on this amazing building in the mid 15th century. It was to be a cruciform church with a central tower, part of the college set up by William Sinclair, 3rd Earl of Orkney.
From the first, it was of a stunning design, and so intricate that by the earl’s death only part of the building was completed. Little has been added since, with the result that we now see a chapel not a church.
The interior is spell binding in its dramatic carving with cascading foliage and flowers, soaring vaulting, angels, knights, gargoyles and green men.
One of the most famous carvings is that of the Apprentice Pillar. The story goes that the master mason was charged to carve the most beautiful pillar based on an Italian design; to make sure it was right, he travelled to Italy to see the original but in his absence his apprentice completed the work. When the master returned he was amazed, and so furious that he killed the apprentice outright.
Rosslyn Chapel has stood on its exposed site for well over 550 years, a tribute to the skills and craftsmanship of its original builders. Nevertheless, centuries of sitting exposed to the Scottish weather on the edge of a hill has had an impact and it was recognised by the Trust many years ago that repair and conservation work was essential to ensure the long term integrity of the building and its survival throughout another century and beyond.
In the late 1990s it was resolved that the cold, damp interior of the chapel, a situation which had prevailed for centuries, must be addressed. The stone was saturated resulting in heavy algae growth within the chapel, the underside of the nave roof being green rather than stone coloured. The original stone had become porous and saturated, the rainwater disposal system was ineffective (and indeed contributing positively to the saturation) and there was no effective heating in the building.
Following major restoration work the chapel is now in a condition which properly serves its worshipping community and the significant number of visitors who are interested in experiencing its atmosphere and seeing the wonderful craftsmanship of the 15th century masons. Most important, the work has ensured the long term survival of the chapel for generations and centuries to come.