Thursday, April 1, 2010

The ancient Rosslyn Chapel

The ancient Rosslyn Chapel, beloved as the key to mysteries surrounding The Da Vinci Code, the Holy Grail and the Knights Templar, has thrown up another unfathomable puzzle: what lies behind the secret of the bees?

Builders renovating the 600-year-old chapel have discovered two beehives carved within the stonework high on the pinnacles of the roof. They are thought to be the first man-made stone hives ever found.

It appears the hives were carved into the roof when the chapel was built, with the entrance for the bees formed, appropriately, through the centre of an intricately carved stone flower. The hives were found when builders were dismantling and rebuilding the pinnacles for the first time in centuries.

Malcolm Mitchell, from Page Park, the architects on the £7 million restoration, said it appeared the chapel had been a haven for the insects as long ago as the 15th century.

“From the research that we have done, this is a unique situation in Europe. We haven’t found any precedent of this type of hive before. We were quite taken aback. It’s very unusual.

“In Scotland, hives are so often made of baskets which can be lifted and moved around. It was particularly a surprise because the hives themselves are the ideal size for bees to inhabit — hollowed out to the size of a gas cylinder — but they were constructed purely as a haven for the bees. They weren’t built to harvest honey,” he added.

“It was just out of kindness and respect to the sacredness of these insects. Reverence to bees insects goes back historically to Egyptian times.”

Although human beings have collected honey from wild bee colonies since time immemorial, at some point they began to domesticate wild bees in artificial hives, made from hollow logs, pottery, or woven straw baskets. The Egyptians kept bees in cylindrical hives, and pictures in temples show workers blowing smoke into the hives, and removing honeycombs. Sealed pots of honey were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Bronze Age hives made of straw and unbaked clay have been dug up near Jerusalem. They were found in orderly rows, three high, each one accommodating around 100 hives. The Greeks also developed bee-keeping as an art, and celebrated it on gold rings and ornaments.

Honeycombs were found abandoned inside the hive in the north pinnacle, but, equally strangely, the hive on the south pinnacle did not have an entry hole for bees and therefore had not been occupied.

Mr Mitchell said: “It’s just another of Rosslyn’s mysteries. The north pinnacle was full of honeycombs which had been abandoned for some considerable years. The honey had all dried up.”

The experts believe the interior of the hives were lined with a coating to prevent the wild bees from gnawing away at the stonework.

Allan Gilmour, from Hunter & Clark stonemasons, the main contractors on the chapel, said: “I’ve never heard of man-made stone beehives. What I have seen is bees creating hives in stone. When we restored the Irvine Town House we found that bees had burrowed into the sandstone and created honeycombs. They had weakened the stone.

“Maybe at Rosslyn the monks had the same problem in the past and created the hive as a sanctuary.”

There is anecdotal evidence that visitors to the chapel, which dates back to 1446, used to be disturbed by bees. Mr Mitchell said some of the staff at the Rosslyn Trust were aware some years ago that there had been bees going into the cavity. The hives have now been reinstated within the rebuilt pinnacles on the roof of the chapel.

Rosslyn Chapel was built on the orders of William St Clair, Prince of Orkney. Begun in 1446. work ceased in 1484 when William died, so that the building was then in the form it remains in today.

Members of the Scottish Beekeepers’ Association said yesterday they had not heard of beehives created from stone. Mrs Una Robertson, the organisation’s historian, said: “I’m not an architect, but it’s the sort of thing that might have come my way. Bees do go into roof spaces and set up home, and can stay there a long time, but it’s unusual to want to attract bees into a building.

“Traditonally, bees were kept in a skep — made out of straw or dried grass. Skeps have been around for centuries. Wooden hives only came in since the 17th century. Bees have been kept in all sorts of containers , but I have never heard of stone.”

1 comment:

sarasmith101 said...

there is a ghst in this pic look at the lady sittin down