We have read a lot about the demise of the bee colonies but recently the world’s oldest beehive has been found. Located in the medieval Scottish Rosslyn Chapel, which dates back to 1446, two ancient hives have been found, skillfully carved in the stone work under the roof’s peak. They are thought to be the first man-made stone hives ever found.
The discovery was made while some stone conservation work was being carried out which involved dismantling the peaks of the roof. Apparently the hives were still in use until just recently when the chapel was temporarily covered with a canopy and the bees de-camped.
The only clues to the hives’ existence were flowers intricately carved into the pinnacles — it is charming that there were holes through which the bees could enter and exit. These were visible from the outside.
The architects in charge of the restoration had no idea that this extra historical treasure existed. One said: “The hives themselves are the ideal size for bees to inhabit. It was a big hollow about the size of a gas cylinder and the hive had obviously been abandoned.” The inside of the hive is covered with some coating to protect the stone and stop the wild bees from eating away at it. Honeycombs were also found in the peak.
Since the hive was so high above the ground, it is clear that no one would be able to reach it to get the honey. It is thought that the ancient stone masons who built the chapel simply wanted to provide a safe location for a wild honeybee hive, protected from bad weather.
The hive has been sent to local beekeepers in an attempt to identify the type of insect that made them and it is hoped the bees will return once the renovation works are complete.
The Chapel was featured in the finale of the film of The Da Vinci Code. As a result, tourism has increased from around 25,000 visitors a year to up to 140,000. Hence it has been undergoing restoration work. Apparently there have always been bees in the roof.
According to the Times, reverence for bees dates back to Egyptian times. As depicted in temple pictures, they kept them in cylindrical hives and sealed pots of honey were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. In Scotland, hives are often made of baskets which can be lifted and moved around.