Rosslyn Chapel’s musical cubes silenced?

In previous posts I have offered criticism of the Rosslyn Chapel “musical” code theories, specifically that put forward in Thomas Mitchell’s frankly bonkers book, and the end product; his son Stuart’s “Rosslyn Motet” piece of music. Both are, of course, for sale, as are tickets to live performances at the chapel itself. The whole exercise relies not upon quality research, reason and evidence, but rather assumption, speculation and assertion. Paradoxically, this makes it fairly immune to active debunking; the carved “cubes” might still represent notes, and there’s nothing that outright contradicts that (burden of proof be damned). Or is there?

There are many assumptions underpinning the Mitchell’s work. One that is that all of the cubes that we see in the chapel ceiling today are original to the 15th Century. The Mitchells have confidently accounted for the two missing cubes, but clearly the fewer original ones, the fewer the “notes” with which to reconstruct any underlying musical code. The chapel has a long history of neglect and repair, and real expertise is required to spot the more subtle alterations today. Could the Mitchells be working with the wrong notes? As it turns out, historical evidence shows that it’s very likely that they are. I found this, of all places, in a recent issue of the esoteric magazine “Atlantis Rising“, buried amongst pieces on secret Nazi flying saucers and “Intelligent” Design. An article by Jeff Nisbet of, as well as accusations of sneaky appropriation of the work of others, reproduces pieces of art by Samuel Dukinfield Swarbreck and dated to 1837, which show the accumulated damage of over 200 years of neglect. Not only are lots of cubes missing from the arches, but those vital first few “notes” in particular have been obliterated from the first pillar or “stave” in the “motet”. In fact, whole blocks of cube-carrying masonry are absent, revealing the bare arches beneath (Rosslyn’s carvings were mostly appliqué). If this artwork is accurate, it blows any musical code hypothesis out of the proverbial water.

So, in the absence of period photographs, can we trust these sources? Or could one legitimately play the “artistic licence” card to keep the claims alive? Certainly some artists opted for a romantic or idealised impression of the evocative but visually complex interior. As documented in the wonderfully illustrated Rosslyn: Country of Painter and Poet however, Swarbreck was there to document the dilapidated original interior of the chapel prior to the first major restoration effort, due to begin that year. But how good a job did he do? Take a look at another of Swarbreck’s series, from the opposite side of the church. This shows just how many individual cubes, and how many supporting appliqué masonry blocks, were missing.


Artistic licence? Perhaps as far as individual cubes go, but it’s clear that until the restoration, a great number were missing. This second engraving by J & J Johnstone (1825), shows the same damage – missing cubes, even entire swathes of arch rib that would have held original cubes:

Just how many of the cubes are Victorian creations?

Finally, a work by J.A. Houston, again depicting loss to the stonework around the Apprentice Pillar, from a different angle, as it was in 1854:

Detail of print by John Adam Houston, 1854

Perhaps in over-eagerness to discredit the hypothesis, Nisbet attacks the historicity of Mitchell’s “stave angel”. This is supposedly the “Rosetta Stone” key to the sequence and interpretation of the cubes, hence a prime target. However, his claim that it is “not holding a musical stave but is, in fact, playing an instrument“, is by my estimation wide of the mark. Take a look at these two images:


A modern photo (left) and the same view in 1837 (right)

All of the salient features are there, save for the missing cubes and, in the case of the middle upright arch, the very blocks of stone they would be attached to. The “stave angel” is there, and given the limitation of scale, the artist has done a great job of representing it, even down to the fingers that Mitchell claims are pointing to specific lines on the stone. Now, whatever the angel is supposed to be holding (book, lectern, musical instrument, or even “stave”), it’s the same thing in both images.


Though it might suit my argument to be able to dismiss the angel as a modern piece, I’m not about to do so when the evidence suggests otherwise. In fact this serves only to further validate the artwork as an historical source vis the missing/replaced cube carvings. There are only two real get-out scenarios that I can conceive of. One is to assume that the 1837 restoration team was able to locate each and every missing cube and piece of masonry, either repair or create exact replicas of them, and finally somehow correctly relocate them at the correct place. Not impossible, but not likely either, especially not in the 19th Century, when rigorous authenticity in architectural and historical restoration had yet to appear on the radar. Just look at the radically different 1861 replacement east window – and that was intact when they started! The other possibility is that Swarbreck’s lithographs were commenced after the restoration had begun, and that the missing stonework had actually been deliberately removed for repair or copying for replacement. The work above by Houston suggests otherwise, at least as far as the individual (missing) cubes are concerned – they are still gone seventeen years later, making it rather unlikely that their original positions and carved faces could have been faithfully recreated. Finally, if this were the case, one has to wonder why the restoration team would removed some blocks whole, and simply knock other cubes from their blocks in such haphazard fashion. At this point it would take impressive intellectual gymnastics to explain how today’s sequence of cube patterns could possibly bear meaningful relation to that originally intended by William Sinclair and installed by his successor some time in the late 1400s/early 1500s.

In conclusion then, my opinion was that there was never any reason to believe that the Rosslyn cubes ever held a secret piece of music, or indeed any other code (though I will approach any new evidence for such a thing with interest). Now, thanks to contemporary artwork, we can go further and say that the pattern of cubes seen today is not 600 years old, but a composite of Renaissance and Victorian work. Anything resembling intent or design in the sequence (as well as individually) is therefore nothing more than co-incidence, with no more intrinsic meaning than the pattern of your nan’s kitchen wallpaper. Lovely church, though, isn’t it?

Edit – note that Jeff Nisbett of Mythomorph suggests the various designs on the cubes, like other elements in the chapel (notably the whole east window) may well have been introduced in their entirety by the restoration crews. In other words they may originally have been identical. Even if there is original variation, the original pattern of this is forever lost, whether or not it once contained hidden secrets.


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34 Responses to “Rosslyn Chapel’s musical cubes silenced?”

  1. Jeff Nisbet Says:

    Hi BS Historian.

    The object that is held or played by the so-called “Stave Angel,” whatever it is, is not “the same thing in both images.” The top of the object, as it appears today, is level with the angel’s thumbs, which are in fact resting on it. Swarbreck’s 1837 depiction shows a distinct shadow next to the angel’s right hand, which indicated to me that there was no object between the hands. One would expect to see a line across Swarbreck’s Angel’s breast, level with the tops of the hands, marking the top of the object, but one does not. And I do not attack the historicity of the angel, rather merely suggest that it was “restored” in a way that was not true to the original.

    It is not surprising that J.A. Houston’s 1854 depiction shows the same state of disrepair in the area of the so-called Apprentice Pillar as Swarbreck’s. If you check page 51 in your copy of Rosslyn: Country of Painter and Poet, you’ll read that the EXTERIOR of the chapel was repaired “between 1837 and the mid-1840s,” while the restoration of the INTERIOR did not commence until 1860. On that same page you’ll find a full colour version of the black and white Swarbreck you show above. I had submitted that litho to accompany my article, but it sadly did not survive the final edit. I would be happy to send that version to you if you do not have a scanner.

    These small objections to your blog entry aside, I am glad to see that you have taken a skeptical view of what the Mitchells have called “The Holy Grail of Music,” and thanks so much for the plug. In the month since the magazine first hit the newsstands, the silence has been deafening.

    All Best!


  2. bshistorian Says:

    Hi Jeff, and thanks for your comment. I appreciate your input.

    I do see and take your point re the apparent difference between the two angels. I took the absence of horizontal grooves to be down to lack of “resolution”, as it were. But this does include what would be the top edge of the rectangular instrument/book/thing, making it appear that the angel’s hands are hovering above the thing, rather than draped over it as today. Given the level of detail Swarbreck seems to have used it is odd that the object (whatever it is) is not quite the same. Your interpretation may well be correct. The question is, is this a mistake by Swarbreck (ie omission of horizontal lines) or was the angel in fact replaced (and his rendition accurate)? Could go either way on that one, but in any case I think the prints are quality evidence suggesting that the basis for the music hypothesis is unsound. Then of course you have the problems I’ve covered elsewhere, primarily that the cubes bear only a superficial resemblance to sound visualisation techniques not discovered for three hundred years.

    Your point about the Houston is interesting. In citing it, I was taking it as read that for whatever reason, the cubes still hadn’t been replaced by the 1850s. I hadn’t quite twigged re the restoration tackling the exterior first; that ties that up quite nicely!

    What do you think about the idea that the “mix n match” medieval/Victorian nature of the cubes might actually account for the Mitchells (and others before them) seeing intent where (in all likelihood) none exists?

  3. Jeff Nisbet Says:

    Hi BS Historian (Jeez, I hate having to call you that).

    Thank you for looking at the so-called “Stave Angel” through my eyes, and seeing what I saw.

    I am a trained editorial graphic artist by profession, and have been for over 30 years. I have studied many photographs and paintings over the years, and I can tell you that Swarbreck was a meticulous recorder who was less interested in the niceties of his composition than in its accuracy.

    To prove this I draw your attention to something few notice in the black and white Swarbreck you posted above. There is something hanging from the second large pendant in towards the south end of Rosslyn’s Lady Chapel – something that is not part of the architectural fabric of the chapel. Whatever is hanging there actually detracts from Swarbreck’s depiction of the window on the south wall (above the entrance to the crypt). Swarbreck could have easily left it out, but chose not to. It was there, so he left it there. On my last trip to the chapel I looked up at that pendant and, lo and behold, the holes from which the object hung are still there. I have no doubt that Swarbreck accurately depicted the angel as it appeared in 1837. To make the sort of mistake that turns today’s Stave Angel into a musician Swarbreck would have had to compound the mistake by rendering in a shadow where there would have been none.

    As far as your question about “seeing intent where (in all likelihood) none exists,” I will just say this: We all see things in different ways, and I am certainly not the one to say that “gut intuition” is not as valid a research tool as source documents are. But intuition can lead one down some merry garden paths, with nothing to be found at the end but the garden wall. Still, I’ve found, it’s sometimes worth the journey.

    Sometimes, with nothing more to go on other than that you smell a rat, you will find one.

    While there is more evidence not put forth in my article that, for the time being, I prefer to keep close to the vest, it is nevertheless mind-boggling how many respected news outlets around the world have not seen fit to look beneath the surface of the Rosslyn Motet story to find what you and I have. It would not have been so hard, as you know.

    The Mitchells have also, it seems, found some pretty strange bedfollows willing to advertise on their website. Here is a link to Stuart Mitchell’s page:

    In the final analysis, I guess, it’s all commerce.



  4. bshistorian Says:

    Hi again Jeff. You make a convincing argument there, especially given the shadow and the example you give of his attention to detail even where it compromises aesthetics. I wonder what that black sliver hanging from the pendant actually was?

    I don’t expect to hear from the Mitchells again any time soon; all of the other problems aside I’d still love to see each of the cubes matched to their vibration pattern to see if the matches for the remainder are as superficial as the ones I have seen so far (i.e. lines ignored/imagined where convenient).

  5. Jeff Nisbet Says:

    I shall try to find out what the sliver is (although I suspect it’s a wider thing depicted more or less edge on) from someone who may be knowledgeable about such things as they may pertain to Rosslyn in particular, or old churches in general, and I’ll let you know how I get on.

    You say that you “don’t expect to hear from the Mitchells AGAIN, any time soon.” I didn’t know they had contacted you AT ALL, and am interested in what they had to say. Is their communique someplace on your site that you can link me to?

    I suspect, though of course cannot prove, that many of the cubes had been broken off during the Reformation, when a mob of townsfolk and other Protestant zealots are reported to have done some considerable damage to the interior of the chapel, smashing anything that might have smacked of “idolatry” or, indeed, anything easy to knock off. The so-called cubes, with their relatively slender stems, would have certainly fit the bill. The mob would have shown up with sledgehammers and the like, no?

    If such was the case, I do not believe it likely that the cubes were then gathered and stored away so that, over 300 years later they could be “repaired” and reassembled according to some carefully preserved master blueprint.

    Over the ensuing centuries, as Rosslyn increasingly became a site of interest to the well-heeled and/or famous, that a few of those cubes might have walked off in someone’s pocket, never to return.

    Again, you have piqued my interest. Please let me know what you heard from the Mitchells.

    All Best,


  6. bshistorian Says:

    Hi again Jeff – it seems plausible that some of the damage would have been caused by the rabble that Father Hay mentions, though some quite concerted effort, not to mention equipment (ladders, or farming implements swung perhaps?) would have been needed to reach the cubes. Innocuous stylised foliage seems an odd target for a religiously motivated mob given some of the more obviously Old Testament iconography they seem to have left intact. Then again it’s difficult to imagine how the cusps might otherwise have been detached like that.

    The whole blocks are a rather different proposition, I would suggest. I would think that these missing false (i.e. non load-bearing) arches are more likely to simply have fallen over time.

    We can of course never know to what extent the damaged pieces and arch-blocks were retained, recorded, and subsequently restored, nor how accurately this might have been done if so. As you imply it’s rather unlikely that all cubes were kept and correctly replaced or copied so many years later. Such conscientiousness in historic buildings restoration was pretty rare at that period – they regarded the bigger picture as more important than the detail (in this case, the baptistry and east window to name but two additions/modifications that you will be well aware of yourself). Even allowing benefit of the doubt, your astute observation of the Swarbreck lithographs is the final nail in the coffin of this story as far as I’m concerned.

    As to the Mitchells, I had a brief exchange of Youtube messages and emails with Stuart Mitchell, asking him pointedly several of the questions posed by my original blog post. Most crucially, I wished to know about the correlation between sound patterns and the carving patterns; questions of historicity aside, if the patterns were an objectively verifiable near-100% match, the hypothesis would be deserving of serious attention and, I daresay, would be attracting academics hoping to write a thesis or journal article about such an important discovery. However, as my comparison of the first three “notes” shows, the matches they chose to reveal are wholly speculative – some lines sort-of-coincide, others are ignored. All I received in reply were assurances that the pair were not making anything up, and would not have invested so much time and effort in the project if they didn’t believe it and have evidence for it. He then went quiet on me, without directly answering my questions; I don’t think he saw the need. I’m not in fact questioning Mitchell’s sincerity; as far as I can tell he believes it. But the evidence, as you have seen, is sorely lacking. He seems to have moved on to making music based upon other natural/not deliberately designed phenomena – a cloud formation on Saturn and some dinosaur DNA. Once again any characteristic or “haunting” results will be overwhelmingly down to the interpretation and arrangement. Ironically, by claiming higher significance behind his work, Mitchell is actually doing down his own talents, even if he is tapping into a more lucrative (and credulous) market.

    I’m calling this one “busted” for now, and continuing to look for blogging inspiration elsewhere. But if you come across anything more on the “cubes”, or the chapel full stop, by all means let me know.

  7. Jeff Nisbet Says:


    I have just posted my Rosslyn Motet article on my website for you and any of your blog’s interested readers. All of the graphics are “enlargeable” now, so you will be able to see things that were not evident in the original print version.

    All Best,


  8. bshistorian Says:

    Many thanks Jeff. The article is even better in that expanded format, and of course more accessible to anyone looking into this whole mess.

    I await the next Rosslyn revelation with interest. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was something verifiable?

  9. Lawks-a-lordy, it’s more Da Vinci cobblers! « The BS Historian Says:

    […] of a hidden image in da Vinci’s Last Supper with the concept of hidden music as claimed for Rosslyn Chapel. In doing so, he’s made it easier to slip under the radar as “plausible” – even a […]

  10. Jeff Nisbet Says:


    9,710 Google hits on “Giovanni Maria Pala”, and counting.



  11. Stuart MItchell Says:

    hi all,

    well, I expect you’ve been waiting on some kind of answer to your criticism of our work, although I, myself, don’t personally think you deserve one based upon the evidence show herewith but I am in the mood to tell you from the HIP. I will be as straight with you as possible…

    If so many researchers KNEW it was Cymatics , it only proves that it was their lack of musicianship that held them back from the final result.

    You say the cubes have been ‘re-arranged’? And are not in the order first presented in 1446 and your evidenced,(taken from Lithographs which are artworks and artistic interpretations) is this??


    This chapel had a BLUEPRINT, look at the design, detail and infrastructure. There was a plan and any restoration would naturally stick to the original…WHO would NOT STICK TO the original designers intentions??

    You are proposing then that Rosslyn Chapel is a ‘Sham’? A ‘re-invention’???

    I would think their are many people who would dispute that based upon your evidence.
    Secondly, the music PROVES itself. I see absolutely NO difference between your print of the stave angel and todays representation.
    In fact, (being a graphic designer and Flash/Photoshop expert myself) I spotted ‘your modifications’ immediately compared to the original Litho’s!! They were amateur and hopelessly noticeable. To the point of embarrassment on your part. I confirmed this with digital artists who are personal friends of mine.

    How or even WHY would anyone want rearrange the fingers of the Stave Angel to ANY order on the stave. Even in restoration, you should visit Amsterdam, they stick rigidly to the design of the original in restoring a painting or sculpture.

    The quality of the restoration in the 18th AND 19th century proves my argument alone. What see now is what was always construed!

    IF…you want to make a name for yourself on our back by being argumentative and jealous of our fame, thats cool!! Im all for debate.

    But your arguments hold no substance, except for the prsonal insult to the years, money and devotion my father and I spent arriving at this final musical outcome.

    I would also go as far to say, this IS the first response you have had to your rather feeble argument in at least (let me look….)

    ONE MONTH????

    Allow me one request…Can I here YOUR EXPERT interpretation of the Rosslyn Chapel ceiling, even based upon cubes you see in the lithograph??


    As my little 9 year boy would say “Daddy, embrace what you fear, because everyone runs away from the truth..”

    with all sincerity and gratitude for your devotion to undermining our project,

    best regards and bright future to you,
    Stuart Mitchell

  12. Stuart MItchell Says:

    “Sometimes, with nothing more to go on other than that you smell a rat, you will find one….”

    As my granny would say Mr Muskateerwang..”maybe yer nose is too close to yer ain aerse”

    People like you must have very little to think about, we are WAY ahead now, the music amounted to very little considering the real prize of understanding involved. Im afraid it might just blow you both away. ALL 2 of you.

    Its sad that you resort to a graphical re-fabrication of the truth just have some kind of voice in your normality of SILENCE.

    In your argument, you even suppressed your ‘great pioneers’ in your re-fabrication.

    Have you even bought ‘Rosslyn and the Grail’ yet??….no?….I thought not…

    Muskateerwang….you really have a CHIP up your….well…kids might read this so I will leave it to your un-attentioned body parts to decide where that chip IS!…


  13. bshistorian Says:

    It’s very simple Mr Mitchell. There’s one, very easy way to shut me up, and it’s what I requested of you those months ago via Youtube.

    Just show your working. Not just three symbols that don’t in fact match up. The whole thing. If the symbols do indeed match, I will retract all of my criticism and apologise to you on these pages.

    Until then you’re just whistling Dixie.

    By the way, if you’d read my few other comments, you’d know that I have indeed read “Rosslyn and the Grail”. It’s rather good.

    Good day.

  14. bshistorian Says:

    As to your other comment, I’m not sure you’ve read and understood either my, or Jeff’s criticism correctly. I was of the opinion that the angel was the same. Jeff thinks otherwise, and I take his point. The overriding issue here was that MANY of the cubes are shown to be missing in the lithographs. You cannot wriggle out of that one unless you point-blank claim that they are not faithful representations of the chapel of the day. Unfortunately for you, all evidence points toward them being exactly that.

    And why on earth should I be expected to offer my own “interpretation” of the cubes? If you’ve read my ramblings, you’ll know that I am of the opinion that they are stylised naturalistic decoration, and nothing more. That’s kind of the point, in fact.

    I wasn’t expecting that you would make any comment here. In fact, I have been moving away from criticism of your project onto subjects of more general interest to any readers. You are quite right to suggest that I have had few comments thus far. Given that I have had well over 5000 hits to this site in six months, I would suggest that the majority of visitors here either agree with my assessment, or simply do not care (for which I don’t blame them). Jeff agrees, you disagree, Mark Oxbrow did not offer comment but suggested I read his book. I did; it was by and large lucid and historically sound. You know what I think of your own work.

    As for me trying to make a “name” on the back of your work, I hardly think an anonymous blog page qualifies for this. With respect, you are the man who is making money and a name of sorts based upon something that he has been unable to show evidence for. I don’t blame you for this, and you probably believe that you have achieved something here. To me, you are simply the latest in a line of people jumping on the Rosslyn cash wagon.

    I say again – if you really have discovered this secret code, *prove it*. Show your working. In fact, I would invite you to post your proof not here, where discussion would be restricted, but in the Science section of the James Randi Educational Foundation forum, where thousands of sceptics and believers alike will be able to find and comment on it.

    I hope to see you there, if you have something new to bring to the table. If you don’t, or you’d rather not in any case, that’s fine. I’ve said what I thought needed to be said.

  15. Stuart MItchell Says:

    QUOTE: “I’ve said what I thought needed to be said.”


    There is only one thing worse than being talked about…

    Have a nice Christmas and dont drink too much.
    Happy 2008 when it arrives,


  16. Jeff Nisbet Says:

    Hi Stuart.

    It’s been nearly a month since I checked in on this thread, and see that you have now chimed in. I am not happy that no one has alerted me of your post, and must apologize for the long delay. The guilty parties will know who they are. I hope you have not been confident in thinking that my long silence has meant I have not response. Far from it.

    I would like first to refer readers who are new to the subject to read my article about the Motet on my website at . I will be re-emphasizing points I made therein, and also putting forth some new ones.

    Nowhere in my article do I say that the cubes were, as you say, “rearranged.” They would have actually had to have been there during the restoration in order to have been rearranged, but the fact is that very many of them were missing at the time, not just the two that are now missing, and there is no knowledge that a “blueprint” of the chapel existed that could have been followed.

    Further, it is a well-known fact that quite a few elements of the chapel HAVE been changed over the years, as the reading of previous accounts of the chapel’s architectural design elements will show. I am not saying, as you imply, that “Rosslyn Chapel is a ‘Sham’ or a ‘re-invention.’ What I am saying is that certain elements of a chapel that did not need to be tampered with to make it more mysterious than I believe it is, have indeed been tampered with. I doubt that Mark Oxbrow, Ian Robertson, and Robert Cooper will argue with that.

    If you see, as you say, “absolutely NO diference” between the Swarbreck “stave angel and today’s representation,” then why do you say that you and other digital artists have “spotted” modifications you charge that I have made? I find it difficult to believe that neither you nor your father, living as you both do in Edinburgh, visited the city’s National Galleries’ Spring 2002 exhibit on Rosslyn, and would not have purchased the Galleries’ catalog. I would like you to ask your digital artist friends to look at the Swarbreck lithographs that appear on page 51, compare Swarbreck’s angel to yours, and then compare it to the angel I show in my article. You will see differences between Swarbreck’s and yours, because there are some, but not between Swarbreck’s and mine, because there are none.

    You and they will notice, too, that the three cubes above Swarbreck’s angel are missing in his litho. These are the same three cubes that you say account “for 70 percent of the entire cube sequence.” In fact, the three cubes above the angel to the immediate South of the so-called stave angel are also broken off (just compare it to the fourth cube). These last three are the only three cubes in today’s layout that are the same as the ones that are so important to your theory, but they don’t exist in the Swarbreck litho, either. All you put forth to defend today’s layout is that the restorers were working with an original “blueprint” – a blueprint that has no record of existing – one you say they would have no reason for deviating from. There are, however, records that those same restorers did, in fact, make significant changes in the architectural fabric of the chapel.

    Nowhere, in any of the articles I have read about the “discovery” of the Motet, or anything I have since heard you say, do you give Mark Naples credit for mapping today’s layout of the Cubes. On the contrary, you do say that you, yourself, mapped them. Naples’ 24 November 2001 layout can be compared to yours on my website, accompanying my article. Skeptics and seekers of truth, alike, will be able to see that Naples’ misspelling of the word Altar has been replicated in your layout, and that you have made more than that faux pas in the layout in your rush to publish.

    You also do not say that the photographs you use in your “Stave Angel” YouTube piece were taken from Mark Naples’ website. Anyone who views (and counts during) your YouTube presentation will notice that of the 13 separate and distinctly different patterns now existing in the ceiling of Rosslyn’s Lady Chapel, you show only 11. I suggest that’s because Naples has made only 11 photographs available on his website, so there is only 11 you could have found there.

    Why is it that the 1 Oct. 2005 Scotsman article gives YOU credit for cracking the code, and not your father? Why is it that the same article says that it was YOU who “took photographs of the cubes and broke them down into sections,” and not Mark Naples? Why is it that the Scotsman, on it’s five-part video podcast on Rosslyn, credits YOU with the composition, and not your father?

    Why is it that you do not address THESE arguments and questions raised in my article, and instead choose to point to a nonexistent “blueprint” of the chapel and accuse me of digitally altering the fingers of Swarbreck’s angel? Those who have read my article, and this conversation in its entirety, from the first post, will see that you have not so artfully avoided the larger issues involved here, and instead focused on those you thought you’d have some sort of chance at handling. You accuse Swarbreck’s lithos of being “artistic interpretations,” implying that he did not mean them to be exact records of the pre-restoration chapel. I successfully defend Swarbreck’s meticulous visual record of the state of the cubes, AND his representation of the “stave angel”, readable in an earlier post to BS Historian, and he agrees with my defense. Please go back and read it.

    Please also allow your digital artist friends to revisit the angel, in light of that defense, and see what they then have to say about the graphic veracity of the artwork I have posted on my website. Don’t forget to show them page 51 of your copy of the National Galleries’ catalog when you do. I would be happy to send any of them hi-resolution images of that artwork (if you have misplaced your copy) to anyone who asks me nicely, without resorting to the name-calling that you have felt required to.

    As far as your “one request” is concerned: I do not have an expert interpretation of the cubes. What I believe, though, is that if there was ever a pattern built into the layout of the cubes in 1446, it is not there now. The ceiling of Rosslyn’s Lady Chapel, wherein the cubes are located, was restored by two carvers working under the supervision of architect David Bryce, beginning in 1861. Even then, the name of the game was economics (something that has not since changed). Cubes would first be created at ground level, based on patterns that still managed to exist above, depending on the individual skills of those two carvers, and then affixed, above, by the two of them, according to their skills at that, too. By virtue of human nature (at least one of them had a home and family in Edinburgh), they would leave the hardest part until the end, when the choice of still-available patterns had become more limited than at the beginning.

    Ask yourself WHY, working from left to right (and top to bottom) as we are wont to do in lands where we have learned to read that way, there is an entire rib of the ceiling with only ONE pattern of cube evident along its length? Might it not possibly be that the two carvers had left the area over the Sacristy steps for last, because special scaffolding provisions had to be made to compensate for the fact that there was no floor above the steps, and that they only had one pattern left? Do you find it odd that at least one of them might have wanted to get home in time to kiss the children goodnight?

    Finally, an article with a pre-determined 2,500-word limit must necessarily leave some stuff on the editing floor – and my article is no exception. There was much more I could have said, but didn’t.



    PS to BS: Since you didn’t tell me that Stuart was here, perhaps you’d be so kind as to tell Stuart that I am now here. Let me know if you would rather not, and I will.

  17. Brian Kannard Says:

    Me thinks someone protests too much…

  18. Jeff Nisbet Says:

    Hi Brian,

    Happy to see you, and glad you have swelled our number to THREE …

    All Best,


  19. bshistorian Says:

    Jeff, please accept my apologies. I should have thought to let you know; I will blame the madness of the season. I was hoping that you would chime back in, as it happens, but it did not occur to alert you right away – perhaps because of Stuart’s apparent unwillingness to engage in meaningful debate with either of us.

    Nonetheless, I have notified Stuart of your reply as requested.

  20. Jeff Nisbet Says:

    I have just been told that Stuart will no longer be participating in this conversation “due to the blatant and obvious doctoring of graphics created to undermine our project.”

    While I of course knew that I had not doctored the graphics, I nevertheless decided to scrutinize those graphics to perhaps discover what, if anything, had made Stuart and his graphic artist friends think I had, and am still scratching my head.

    While doing so, though, I discovered something very interesting – something that should bring this debate, once and for all, to an end.

    I noticed that the designs on the cubes that still existed when Swarbreck recorded them were uniformly the same, and it’s my opinion that the cubes, as originally carved in the 15th century, WERE ALL OF AN EXACTLY SIMILAR DESIGN.

    If you will go to the page on Mark Naples’ website that shows the photographs of the cubes that Stuart used in his YouTube presentation …

    … you will note that the designs on cubes E and G are VERY similar.

    I then compared Swarbreck’s two lithographs to Naples’ layout of the cubes and found that 13 of the “E” cubes and two of the very similar “G” cubes are still hanging where they hung in 1837. Nowhere in the lithographs is there any evidence of the more elaborate ABDF & H designs that hang among the cubes today, and the CIJ & K designs, as shown on Naples’ web page are, as you’ll notice, very similar to the E & G designs, and exhibit very little graphic wiggle room to justify a “cymantic” note change. The photos of the L & M (12th and 13th) cubes are not shown on Naples’ page, so are not shown on Stuart’s YouTube presentation, either, but in any case appear only once each in the entire layout.

    You will also notice on Naples’ web page a chart showing that by far the most regularly appearing cube in today’s layout is the “A” cube, with 78 appearances, and yet it seems that in as much of the ceiling as we can view in the two Swarbreck lithos there is not a single cube hanging where an “A” cube hangs today. Not surprisingly the cube that seems to appear most regularly, with the longest unbroken lines, is the “A” cube, which did not exist in any of the areas we are able to view in the 1837 Swarbreck lithographs. The laws of distinct probablility dictate that of the 15 designed cubes I was able to find in Swarbreck’s lithos that still hang there today, one of them would have been of a design other than an E or a G – but today’s layout says otherwise.

    So, it seems that architect Bryce and his two carvers DID make an extra-special effort to build more mystery into the cubes of Rosslyn’s Lady Chapel than the original builder intended. They did it by carving designs they had no examples of, and then randomizing their placement along the ribs of the ceiling, knowing that active minds would eventually try to make something out of nothing.

    Or were they simply trying to make the day to day drudgery of restoration work more interesting?

    In spite of Bryce’s and his St. Clair employer’s ill-considered attempts to raise the mystery level of Rosslyn Chapel by changing many of the carvings, and in spite of recent attempts to nullify virtually all of the chapel’s mystery by pointing those changes out, there are things about the chapel that ARE truly mysterious, and were incorporated into the original architectural fabric of the chapel in ways that would escape the relatively childish agendas of the past 156 years. The Rosslyn Motet, in my very well-considered opinion, is not one of them.

    I would be remiss, however, were I not to say that whatever opinions or theories I presently hold about the chapel, in spite of all I’ve said above, could be absolutely wrong, and certainly would not want to dissuade those who have found some hope and solace in The Rosslyn Motet theory from finding personal peace and comfort there.

    All Best,


  21. bshistorian Says:

    I concur, Jeff; I hadn’t quite realised the significance of the near-identical nature of many of the cubes, and hadn’t considered that some of the more complex ones were the ones replaced by Bryce et al. As a hypothesis, it makes infinitely more sense than a musical code as utterly well hidden as this one would have to have been.

    This covers the how, and you address the why of it also – ironically it’s quite plausible that the 1860s restorers created some sort of special code, and *that* is why we seem to see pattern in the arrangement of cubes. Unproven, without evidence, but at least plausible. Unlike Mitchell’s claims.

    In my effort above I say that “Anything resembling intent or design in the sequence (as well as individually) is therefore nothing more than co-incidence”. I stand by this, but it may be more complicated. The apparent design in the overall sequence is probably the result of someone trying to give the *impression* of randomness. People aren’t very good at this, and the result is usually something that looks to be designed with intent – witness war photographer Fenton’s attempt at a random distribution of cannonballs in his famous “Valley of Death” photograph;

    The cubes, even more so than the cannonballs, are limited in terms of where they can placed. Thus we have something that appears neither truly random, nor fully designed. That’s just my take though. Perhaps one day a (19th century) Masonic code will be deciphered in those cubes, in a reproduceable and falsifiable way? Who knows. Currently there’s no evidence for this. But it’s still inherently more plausible than the medieval Rosslyn Motet, which amounts to nothing more than wishful thinking.

  22. Jeff Nisbet Says:

    I would like to add that the patterns on Cubes I, J, and K, differ from Cube E only by what has been inscribed (or added) in the center of each — a dot, an X, and a cross, respectively. The visual crispness or sharpness of these elements indicate that they are contemporary with the Victorian restoration of the chapel, and had not survived to be duplicated from the original structure. I suggest these additions may have been a way of showing which mason did what work, because they would be paid accordingly.

    Once again, these cubes can be seen and compared on Mark Naples website at the following link:

    All Best,


  23. bshistorian Says:

    Agreed Jeff. Your point about the crispness of the carvings is well taken. For me, the lack of similarity between any of the proposed patterns and the actual carvings has always been the biggest sticking point. The fact that most of them vary only slightly is part of this fundamental flaw in the hypothesis.

    Of the variations you specify, only one – the presence of a dot or not, ties in with the sort of changes seen in Chladni and Eidophone patterns as the frequency is increased. Other technical and historical problems with the idea aside, sand on a metal plate is simply not capable of rendering x’s and +’s.

    Likewise more complex outer parts of some cubes – leaf shapes in one, scalloped edges on another – do not appear in such organic, curvilinear patterns.

    I suspect this is why the “note 1” in the book is lacking the leaf-shapes – they have been conveniently ignored to achieve a “fit”. Again, the remaining disclosed notes, 2 and 3, are essentially identical, differing only in 3 having scalloped edges and a central dot. *And yet*, the sound patterns illustrated are far more different from one another than the carvings are from each other. Note 2 is a diamond shape, whilst 3 actually does resemble the carving it is ascribed to.

    Unfortunately it also resembles the carving given for Note 2 just as much. Not to mention the near-identical ones you mention that are shown on Mark’s website. Looking at that site, I would go further and say that cubes C (Note 2), I (Note 3), E, J, G, and K are all functionally identical for the purposes of this exercise – all match any Chladni or Eidophone pattern you care to demonstrate, at around 400hz. By my assessment this makes many, if not most, of Mitchell’s notes indistinguishable from one another.

    This (and more besides documented on your and my respective sites) makes a nonsense of the whole exercise. Which is why I have repeatedly asked Stuart Mitchell to show his working for the remainder of the notes. On the available evidence, his hypothesis is nothing more than faith-based.

  24. Rosslyn and the Loch Ness Monster « The BS Historian Says:

    […] that it reported on rather uncritically in 2005 and that I’ve debunked in series of posts (see also Jeff Nisbett’s definitive article). Pleasingly, the latest media mention as linked […]

  25. Jeff Nisbet Says:

    Hi Jon,

    I have just acquired the large format Swarbreck lithographs (before the colour was added). They are too large for my scanner, but I have scanned in as much as I could at 100 percent of the original size. I am forwarding that scan to you in an Email.

    The portion I have scanned shows, within a much larger area, the so-called Stave Angel immediately below the area where the three cubes that were so all-important to the Rosslyn Motet theory were obviously missing, in 1837, when Swarbreck completed his piece, and the entire balance of the arch above the fourth missing cube is itself missing.

    You’ll note that the Stave Angel has no “stave” between his hands, as I noted in an earlier post.

    You’ll also note that there are as many as 20 missing cubes in the area I was able to scan, and that there was no variation of design among the cubes that existed in 1837. They were all, in fact, the same. The variatious designs we see in the cubes nowadays were introduced by the architect in charge of the 1860s restoration of Rosslyn’s interior, David Bryce, high-ranking member of Edinburgh’s Grand Lodge of Scotland.

    As far as the “musical code” is concerned, case closed.

    On another “note,” however: Upon close inspection of Swarbreck’s other large-format lithograph of Rosslyn’s Lady Chapel I notice that the strange diamond-shaped object hanging down from one of the arches, mused about in a previous post, shows a slight reflection in it. It is highly probable that the object is a moveable mirror that was able to reflect outside light to areas where restoration work was being carried out. Even on one of Scotland’s rare sunny days, the chapel is a dark and gloomy space.

    All best, and thank you for hosting stimulating and illuminating conversation.


  26. Early in the hi… « The BS Historian Says:

    […] Cooper’s ‘Rosslyn Hoax’ book, Jeff Nisbet’s research, and some of my earlier posts e.g. this). Many of these chunks of masonry were restored or replaced in the 19th century. I don’t know […]

  27. confused Says:

    theres alot of differing oppinions and i can see that the chapel had a number of changes made during restoration,maby mitchel should do a lot more reserch,and try again to produce a piece of music that could be a fraction of the original layout of the cubes.that would be interesting,and maby the money hes making atm,should go into this reserch.or into prooving otherwise,and give his father equal credit.

  28. Robert Wilton Says:

    Have I come to the conclusion that those cubes upon those archways high really do speak with a different meaning than any of the so called experts have indeed suggested over the years. Might you be interested in another explanation that has not yet been considered? If so, then I suggest that you read this. Begin with stepping forth within this most wondrous place that came to the mind of William Sinclair. Must now you ask yourselves, from who or what did William Sinclair gain his inspiration? An answer there most certainly is. Be it only now that the cubes can be truly identified for what they are and why they were so carved in stone for all to see in the first place. Look around within the chapel, what indeed do you see? Yes, you see time, faith and nature in abundance so carved in stone. Biblical scenery throughout, biblical connections everywhere so carved in stone to express such an historic path as thought to be. Time, indeed is also so placed and captured to tell all that the ways of Christianity so came forth and into the light shall its significance be witnessed. Assuming then that every detail within the chapel tells its own piece of history, must then you consider the cubes up above. Indeed, what do you see now? Do not you see that the cubes are representing a biblical sentence for all to see? Do not you see that the cubes are really speaking the way of Genesis? With ease can it be understood that the cubes should be called, the “creation cubes”. As you look up above, what do you see? Yes, you see a multitude of cubes coming together, a multitude of ‘building blocks’ coming together for the creation of the world. At the centre of this wondrous gathering is the imagery of the ‘Green man’ which represents the birth and rebirth of Nature. Hence, the “creation cubes” speak clearly of Genesis. It matters not if certain sections have been lost or replaced over the centuries. Indeed, as is the message of the cubes still kept in stone for all to see. This explanation can be dismissed if you wish but upon the mysteries of the chapel do I have further information. Until I decide to reveal such information, continue with your thoughts of musical messages or fancy folly. Alas, it seems that experts know not everything but shall they now have to consider this simplistic explanation as part of the final chapter that truly states what the cubes actually do represent. Many thanks for reading this and please feel free to bring forth your views upon this matter. Questions many indeed there are, answers few might now come to light. In anticipation… Mr Robert Wilton.

  29. Jeff Nisbet Says:

    Please expand a little more upon your theory that the Rosslyn cubes are “creation cubes,” Robert, and why you say that they “speak clearly of Genesis.” I have also found a reference to Genesis in the chapel — specifically the legend of Noah’s Flood. I found it in the most westerly section of the chapel’s five-course vaulted ceiling. That Rosslyn’s carvings show, in great part, themes of the natural world, there can be no doubt. Also in anticipation … Jeff Nisbet.

  30. KTI Says:

    Noah’s flood is no legend , by modern geological researches and archeological findings.

    • bshistorian Says:

      Not so, sorry to say:

    • Jeff Nisbet Says:

      There are many legends spread around the world about a cataclysmic flood — entrenched in the mythologies of societies that should not have been in contact at the time the legends were first written or began to be orally transmitted. The legend of Noah’s flood is just one. Those many far-flung legends lend plausibility to the idea that all of these legends found their Genesis (sorry) in a single cataclysmic event that actually did happen. While I have not as yet taken the time to study these many legends, the Biblical Noah legend shows that the legend was most likely meant to be used as a morality tale — a flood sent by the God of Abraham to punish the wickedness of mankind — in order to keep the often-fickle populace toeing the straight-and-narrow path of righteousness. Perhaps many of the other flood legends were created for that same purpose …

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