The Rose of Hildesheim, otherwise known as the Thousand-Year Rose, in German Tausendjähriger Rosenstock, is thought to be the oldest living rose on the planet…and It’s likely to hold that title for the foreseeable future, since not even bombs can stop it!
Growing up the side of a columnar portion of beautiful Germany’s Hildesheim Cathedral, the now-bushy flower is thought to have been planted in the early 800s, when the church itself was founded.
Then the hearty plant slowly crept up the side of the apse for hundreds of years, and still continues to bud and bloom each year, producing pale pink flowers once a year, usually around May.
According to the legend, while the rose bush flourishes, Hildesheim will prosper.
A poem about the rose was even published in 1896. In the early twentieth century, after visiting the cathedral and seeing the rose, author Mabel Wagnalls was inspired to write a book, which went on to form the basis of a silent film.
After the Duchy of Saxony had been conquered by the Frankish Kingdom, Emperor Charlemagne in 800 founded a missionary diocese at his Eastphalian court in Elze (Aula Caesaris), a town in the district of Hildesheim, in Lower Saxony, Germany, about 19km west of Hildesheim.
He dedicated the missionary diocese to Saints Peter and Paul, and it became the origin of the Bishopric of Hildesheim. His son, King Louis the Pious, relocated the episcopal bishopric to Hildesheim in 815, dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, which is celebrated on 15 August.
Thus, Hildesheim, one of the oldest cities in Northern Germany, became the seat of the Bishopric of Hildesheim in 815, and the settlement with the cathedral developed quickly into a town.
It seems that the rose dates back to the establishment of the diocese and the buildings were constructed around the area in which it was growing.
History apart, according to the legend, in 815 Emperor Louis the Pious (778–840), son of Charlemagne, was hunting in the Hercynian Forest.
While he was hunting a white buck, he became separated from his fellow hunters and lost his game and horse. He tried to summon help with his hunting-horn, but nobody answered the call.
Disoriented and alone, he swam across the Innerste river then walked all day until he arrived at a mound covered with a wild rose, the symbol of the old Saxon goddess Hulda. The Emperor, who had a reliquary containing relics of the Virgin Mary, prayed for rescue until he fell asleep.
When he woke up, the mound was covered with glittering white snow despite it being the middle of summer. The bush was in full bloom, the grass was lush and the trees were covered in leaves.
He looked for his reliquary and saw it was covered in ice between the branches of the rose-bush.
The goddess Hulda, depicted as a maiden in snow-white clothes, protector of women’s crafts but also associated with wilderness and winter, was sending him a sign that the Virgin should in future be venerated instead of her.
Not by chance, when it snows, it is said that Hulda is shaking out her feather pillow.
Either way, when his followers finally found the Emperor he pledged that he would construct a cathedral to honour the Virgin where the mound with the rose was and now, after more than a thousand years, the same rose bush still blossoms.
According to a different version of the legend, the German emperor Louis the Pious lost his cherished reliquary while chasing game and promised that he would erect a chapel wherever it was discovered. The reliquary was found on the branches of a wild rose and the Emperor constructed the sanctuary beside the rose, with the altar close to the site where the rose was growing.
Another slight variation to the legend come from the Fundatio Ecclesiae Hildensemens, an 11th-century publication: the Emperor had taken the reliquary to use when he stopped to say Mass while out hunting. The artefact was placed in a tree while the sermon was undertaken but not retrieved when the hunt resumed. Later a chaplain was unable to remove the reliquary from the branches. Believing this to be a symbol of God’s will, the Emperor had a church constructed there instead of as originally planned at Elze.
The rose at Hildesheim is a Rosa canina, also called a dog rose.
The Caninae section of the genus Rosa, have around 20–30 species and subspecies, which appear in a variety of shapes and occur mostly in Northern and Central Europe.
Although the rose bush looks as though it’s big enough to have been growing for a thousand years, the plant has been nearly destroyed a number of times throughout its history.
Most notably the bush was nearly completely razed during the Second World War, in 1945, when Allied bombs annihilated the cathedral.
Every bit of the plant above ground was destroyed, but from the rubble, new branches grew from the root that survived.
Today the the base of the Thousand-Year Rose is protected by a squat iron fence and each of the central roots is named and catalogued to protect one of the oldest pieces of natural beauty one is lucky to find. The cathedral and the adjacent St. Michael’s Church have been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since 1985.
Images from web – Google Research