The real Da Vinci Code: Are the chapel's mysterious stone symbols a musical score?

A 500-year-old message in stone.
May 17 2011 10:08 AM

The Rosslyn Code

Are the chapel's mysterious stone symbols a musical score?

This series is now available as an e-book for your Kindle.  Download it today.

(Continued from Page 1)

Tommy talks about his early quest with the awareness that it sounds a little kooky, but he's unapologetic. "I'm not a conspiracy freak, but I have found that after everything I have studied, I have a very open mind now," he says. Tommy's undiscriminating attitude ultimately guided him to a promising lead, some 30 years after he first came across the chapel. The cubes' placement directly above the stone musicians, he hypothesized, could mean that the carvings had some sort of musical aspect. At this point, he recalled an obscure tidbit he'd gleaned while studying the properties of the musical scale years earlier—something to do with patterns associated with notes. Around 2000, Tommy asked his composer son to have a look, and Stuart soon dug up the name of the symbols. They are called Chladni patterns.

1_123125_123050_2279896_2291940_2291941_110509_im_divider_568

Chladni came up with a simple technique to deduce an instrument's microscopic movements. First, he spread sand along the instrument's surface. Then he vibrated it with a bow and observed where the sand collected. The resulting pattern revealed the material's minuscule oscillations, previously unobservable to the naked eye.

Using modern machinery, it's possible to cycle through a huge number of Chladni patterns in a few minutes.

Watch the video below, in which sand on a vibrating plate transitions from one pattern to the next. Each pattern corresponds to a specific frequency.

It's easy to see what Ernst Chladni discovered during his experiments: The sand patterns grow increasingly complex as the frequencies get higher. For a low note, you might see a simple diamond. Jump up a few octaves, and you get a rosetta. Go up still higher and you see patterns reminiscent of what a piece of paper looks like when you fold and unfold an origami animal.

About 100 years after Chladni's discovery, another scientist named John Tyndall produced a chart of the patterns that's still in circulation today. Finding Tyndall's chart was a eureka moment for Tommy and Stuart Mitchell. Several Chladni patterns resemble the cubes in the chapel, and others are at least fairly similar. The resemblance isn't unmistakable, but it's eerily close.

33_chart2

For the Mitchells, the implication was clear: The code in the ceiling of the Rosslyn Chapel was not a message written out in letters. It was a melody, and each cube represented one note. There was only one problem. The chapel was built in the 15th century. Ernst Chladni wouldn't be born for another 200 years.



The east end of Rosslyn Chapel (on the left) sits under 13 crisscrossing arches, each of which is studded with 17 or 18 small stone cubes. The 213 cubes bear 12 distinct patterns (below) that repeat in irregular sequences. Each color in the interactive diagram of the arches (bottom) represents one of the 12 patterns. Click and hold the mouse over a square to see a photo of the cube in question.

Correction, May 17, 2011: This article originally referred to the wrong John Michell, an 18th-century science writer and philosopher.

TODAY IN SLATE

Jurisprudence

Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

Culturebox

Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 3:24 PM Symantec Removes Its “Sexual Orientation” Filter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 3:30 PM How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 3:04 PM Pogo Returns With Another Utterly Catchy Disney Remix
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.