Rosslyn Chapel, founded in 1446, is a mediaeval treasure in stone located at Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland.
Back in 2010, when the chapel was being restored, workers found surprises among its pinnacles. When they took the pinnacles apart for repair, two of them enclosed hollow spaces the size of a gas tank. One of them also had an entrance through a carved stone flower on its exterior. And inside that pinnacle was a deserted bee hive. (The other hollow pinnacle had no stone-flower entrance.)
No-one knows why this sanctuary was purposefully built in a place where the bees and their honey are inaccessible.
One stonemason, Allan Gilmour, said that he had seen bees create hives within soft sandstone. They buried into the sandstone and created honeycombs. This weakened the stone. In the 15th century, hives were usually woven skeps. Did the monks hope that if they provided a haven in the pinnacle the bees would not colonise and weaken other stone in the building?
And did the original builders coat the stone in the pinnacle with a substance to protect it from the bees? Local beekeepers were to investigate.
The pinnacles had been covered for a while and that may be why the bees left.
In early 2105, on the Rosslyn Chapel Facebook page, it was reported that the pinnacle is now restored “and since the construction work at the chapel stopped we’ve seen the bees return”.
This image of two medieval bee skeps accompanied the report.
I’ve never visited the Rosslyn Chapel, but am intrigued by images of its ceiling. It looks almost woven. It’s curved. It reminds me of the medieval bee skeps in the image.
And because of this, and because of the hive with no entrance, I wonder if the pinnacle hives had other meanings for those ancient monks. Rosslyn Chapel featured in the bestseller The Da Vinci Code (2003) and its film adaptation (2006). It seems a mysterious place and the bee spaces remain part of that mystery.
But as I think about bee-centred beekeeping and about bee sanctuaries, I treasure this kind of mystery. Rosslyn Chapel’s hive inspires me.
With warm thanks to Rosslyn Chapel for images and other assistance.