The priest of Rosslyn Chapel has resigned amid widespread speculation that he is no longer prepared to tolerate the worldwide hype generated by The Da Vinci Code.
The Rev Michael Fass, who has previously spoken out against the “sensational speculation” surrounding the chapel, will leave his post in July.
Ever since the author Dan Brown identified the historic Midlothian church as the hiding place of the Holy Grail in his best-selling book, visitor numbers have soared.
It is understood Mr Fass, 61, has told friends all the fuss over the phenomenon of The Da Vinci Code had made his position unbearable. They say the Episcopalian priest found his work among the 300-strong congregation in the village of Roslin was being undermined and the chapel was becoming a “Disneyland” for fans of the novel.
The chapel, also known as St Matthew’s Collegiate Church, has seen a rising congregation under Rev Fass and a busy schedule of baptisms and weddings.
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It is open to visitors seven days a week; they are asked not to enter only when marriages are taking place. Since 2003, when the book was first published, the number of people visiting the church has rocketed from 9,500 a year to 117,000.
Following the recent release of the film starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, which climaxes with scenes shot at the 15th-century chapel, numbers are expected to rise further.
Source: Dismantling The Da Vinci Code By Sandra Miesel, Crisis, Sep. 1, 2003
A friend of the priest, who has been at the church for nine years, said: “He became sick of the church and congregation becoming some kind of Disneyland tourist attraction.
“The Rev Fass is a very serious and committed man. I think he finally thought it was becoming unbearable when religious services were interrupted by tourists who had little idea that the chapel is actually a functioning church.
“What everyone seems to have forgotten is that this is a place of worship and has been for hundreds of years.
“You cannot just trample over that because of a book of fiction and a film.”
The friend claimed Mr Fass had expressed his concerns to the Rosslyn Chapel Trust, which runs the site on behalf of its owner, Peter St Clair-Erskine, the seventh Earl of Rosslyn and the man in charge of the police’s Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Department.
“Concerns were raised with the trust. The Rev Fass felt as though he had done as much as he could but was simply swimming against the tide,” the friend said.
Mr Fass has spoken previously of his disdain for the myths surrounding Rosslyn Chapel.
In a series of sermons entitled “Faith and Place”, which followed the publication of The Da Vinci Code, he wrote: “I am passionate that the promotion of this place should not be based upon mystery, paganism, Masonic or Templar secrets; such an approach is, I believe, profoundly misguided.”
He went on: “I am passionate that this should be a place not of unhealed or false memories, not of secrets and sensational speculation or ‘esoteric’ inquiry … but rather it should be a place of healing, reconciliation and prayer.”
The Scottish Episcopal Church confirmed last night that Mr Fass was leaving but could not comment on whether it was the impact of The Da Vinci Code which had made him go. A spokeswoman said: “Michael Fass has indicated that he will be leaving at the end of July.
“He has tendered his resignation and the vestry and the congregation have been notified. It is my understanding that he wishes to concentrate on his role as a minister development officer which he holds with the Scottish Episcopal Church.”
She added: “The Da Vinci Code has brought greater numbers into the church and means many visitors now join in with prayers.”
Yesterday, staff at the chapel said they were extremely busy and no-one from the trust was available to speak.
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