The construction of Rosslyn Chapel, located north of Edinburgh in Scotland, was commenced in approximately 1446 by William Sinclair, who was reputed to have been a Knight Templar that was likely engaged in warfare in the Holy Land. While neither of those facts has been confirmed, the chapel he constructed is filled with images of stone that when viewed as a whole leaves the distinct impression that the site is religious. However, it is definitely not a Christian site and does not easily fit into any current well-known religious motif. It is, in a word, unique revealing evidence that the architect was very much involved with initiatory mysteries.
One of the stone images carved into the interior of the chapel symbolizes a Green Man, which in certain religious studies has been associated with so-called pagan religions. After carefully studying those images, it appears more likely that the Green Man is consistent with a more Masonic interpretation of the Deity than of any other religion or philosophy. The depiction is clearly that of a man’s head with leafy vines growing from inside extending outward through the mouth and traveling upward forming a dense bushy vegetation.
While the figure certainly could symbolize the never-ending cycle of seasons and regeneration commonly found in other clearly defined pagan symbols, its origin is Greek and Roman. To them, the Green Man represented the full flowering of education and thus was inspirational to those contemplating the pursuit of knowledge. The Green Man later found his way into Christian symbolism where he represented the immortality of the spirit and the resurrection of Jesus. Regardless of whether the Green Man represents Jesus linking Heaven to Earth, or the more simplistic pursuit of knowledge, it is undeniably the case that he also represents the growth of man’s spirit.
Art is a seed of man’s spirituality, for from a simple sentence in a masterful work of literature, or from one line drawn in a painting flow messages and ideas that those who either read, or observe may interpret for their respective personal improvement. It is the basis for mankind’s regeneration, or transmutation from a state of unknowing to a state of knowing – much like the ancient alchemists transformed tin into gold. Thus, the Green Man symbolizes the wisdom which man acquires from the knowledge he has gained as a direct result of his growth in spiritual matters commencing with the mustard seed, or smallest particle of spiritual knowledge imparted to him.
It is fair to inquire at this point about what art a Mason should explore. Should it be an examination of the Da Vinci painting The Last Supper, which excited so much interest in the recent titillating books and movies about the legend surrounding the ancient Knights Templar? Is it the full and complete absorption of all literary works written by Albert Pike? Or, are you expected to absorb other types of art and discern the messages about God from those? While the answer that all art is important to man’s growth is inexact, it is the truthful answer.