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"We will be looking very carefully at how we manage our visitor numbers as we get into next year." - Stuart Beattie, the chapel's director

Da Vinci Code effect 'could spell disaster' for Rosslyn
The book and film of The Da Vinci Code have fuelled interest in the historic chapel.
Picture: Rob McDougall

Da Vinci Code effect 'could spell disaster' for Rosslyn

RECORD crowds of tourists being drawn to Rosslyn chapel by the incredible success of the bestseller The Da Vinci Code could "spell the end" of the historic building, a former curator has warned.

Judith Fisken, curator of the 15th century chapel from 1981 to 1996, warned that interest generated by the Dan Brown novel, coupled with a forthcoming Hollywood movie of the book starring Tom Hanks, would lead to unmanageable numbers of people packing into the building.

In a letter to The Scotsman, Mrs Fisken said predicted estimates of 120,000 visitors next year touring a chapel measuring just 69ft by 35ft would create a situation "nothing short of madness".

However, the trust that runs the chapel responded by signalling there could be a move to control the huge visitor numbers expected in the wake of the film's release, with pre-booking for visits as one option.

In her letter published today, Mrs Fisken warns: "The headache will not simply be crowd control and concern of footfall through the building.

"It will be souvenir hunters removing pieces of stone, taking rubbings, carving their initials and generally leaving litter, all of which is part of living in the 21st century."

The ex-curator, who has also worked for the National Trust for Scotland, said a balance needed to be struck between earning income from the huge interest in Rosslyn Chapel and safeguarding the fabric of the building through measures like capping visitor numbers and banning coach parties.

"The Rosslyn Chapel Trust has to decide whether it has money or conservation at its heart," she said. The chapel, six miles south of Edinburgh at Roslin, has seen visitor numbers almost double from 38,000 in 2003 to over 68,000 in 2004 due to its portrayal in The Da Vinci Code as "the Cathedral of Codes". The chapel is to get a new entrance and will recruit more staff to cope with the anticipated flood of extra visitors.

Stuart Beattie, the chapel's director, said the protection of the building was "always under review" and discussed with organisations like Historic Scotland. "We are constantly looking at risk management," he said.

He said the famous carvings were largely shielded by pews and the problems encountered in the building had related more to the environment, for example, condensation, rather than damage to its fabric.

However, Mr Beattie added: "We will be looking very carefully at how we manage our visitor numbers as we get into next year." The chapel director said pre-booking to visit the building could be one option, although no decisions had yet been taken.

Rosslyn Chapel will close its doors to tourists between 26 and 29 September for filming on the film, which will star Hanks as Harvard professor Robert Langdon. The Hollywood actor has visited Scotland before and his 23-year-old daughter, Liz, went to St Andrews University.

Founded in 1446 by Sir William of St Clair, the third and last St Clair Prince of Orkney, Rosslyn Chapel is said by some writers to have been used by the Knights Templar as a hiding place for dozens of holy relics taken from Jerusalem.

Its sand-filled vaults, as deep as the chapel is tall, have been claimed to contain early Gospels, the Ark of the Covenant and even the mummified head of Christ.

The chapel's trust has a 99-year lease from its owners, the St Clairs of Rosslyn, and earlier this summer advertised for a full-time visitor services manager and a fundraising director. It is seeking funding for the final stage of a 4 million conservation programme.

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Related Story: Vatican appoints official Da Vinci Code debunker

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