Of the enigmas hidden within the walls of Rosslyn Chapel, builders have discovered yet another one that is creating quite a buzz. What is the meaning behind the strange stone bee hives that were hidden in the Chapel’s roof? With the public’s interest in Da Vinci Code style mysteries at an all time high, experts are pressured to answer the questions surrounding what is fast becoming an ever deepening mystery.
The stone hives, the first thought of their type ever to have been built by human hands are estimated to be somewhere around 600 years old, and installed as the chapel was being built. When renovators began dismantling and rebuilding the tip pinnacles for the first time in several centuries, they were discovered with an intricately carved flower serving as the entrance. Interestingly, the bee hives were built away from where the general population would have frequented, meaning these flowers were a secret even to several within the Chapel. The stone hives were the first such ones ever seen.
Though honey has been used for human consumption for quite some time, domesticated bees were normally kept in logs or large baskets. The stone structures, however, were unique in their permanence. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics showed workers in an apiary blowing smoke into hives and then harvesting the honey within. In the bronze age, hives were often in rows and columns three hives high and 100 deep. But though there has been a long history of beekeeping, the motivation for the hives at the top of Rosslyn Chapel are completely unknown. There was no known way for the hives to actually be harvested, meaning these hives were simply a place of refuge for the insects and had nothing to do with a potential service they could perform for those within the chapel. The hives discovered had no evidence of any tampering after they were built.
When the hives were discovered, it was mystery enough, but by the time all four hives had been discovered the mystery had deepened. For reasons inexplicable, the southern beehive did not have an entrance to it, meaning that though it served the symmetry of the other four cardinal directions it was unusable.
The over ten million dollar renovation was given to Page Park, an architecture firm based in the United Kingdom that is best known for its work on the David Hume tower and the Page Park facility. The United Kingdom based firm also received the 2010 Civic Trust award for their work on the Fraser Building.
William St. Clair, the acting Prince of Orkney ordered work on Rosslyn Chapel to begin in 1446. It was left incomplete in 1484 when William St. Clair died, and has remained unfinished ever since. After almost 40 years of building the structure stands today as a classical example of fourteenth century architecture.
The hives were kept in these structures unlike the straw structures traditionally used by aviaries of the time and several years afterward. Still, many historians are saying it is likely that the structures were merely a sanctuary for bees rather than a structure intended for use in farming. And what they mean is a complete mystery.