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Oldest rose

The oldest living rose bush has been growing on the side of Hildesheim Cathedral for several hundred years.

Paulis, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a legend that Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious got lost in 815 CE, found a rosebush, and pledged to build a cathedral next to it. Hildesheim Cathedral – in Hildesheim, Germany – was first completed in 872. That cathedral burned down in 1046 and was rebuilt; Allied bombing in World War II destroyed the cathedral and it was rebuilt again between 1950 and 1960. Today, a rose bush climbs the side of Hildesheim Cathedral’s apse; it is believed to be the oldest living rose bush in the world.

If this is the same rose bush from the legend, it would be at least 1,206 years old now. This is where the bush gets its name, Tausendjähriger Rosenstock: the thousand-year rose. But is it the same rose bush from the legend?

Probably not. Sorry – it’s highly unlikely that even dog roses last that long. One source suggests that the current rose is 700 years old, but it’s one of those dead-end citations that appeals to older sources without naming them, so I’m pretty sceptical of that too. The oldest reliable descriptions of the rose go back a little over four hundred years… which is still a really long time.

The thousand-year rose was actually destroyed in the 20th century bombing that destroyed the cathedral, but the roots survived and threw up new shoots pretty quickly. Just as in the legend, the modern cathedral was built next to the rose bush. There’s poetry in that parallel.

[Thanks to Siobhan L. for suggesting this topic.]

Categories: Europe History Medieval history Places Plants & animals Sciences

The Generalist

I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and am curious about most things.

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