The Thousand-Year Rose of Hildesheim Cathedral

Aug 9, 2022 1 comments

Climbing the outer wall of Hildesheim Cathedral’s apse is a rose bush, said to be one thousand years old. According to legend, as long as it blooms, Hildesheim will never decline. Indeed, when the cathedral was destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War in 1945, the rosebush was badly burnt but parts of the roots survived. Eight weeks later, new shoots appeared from under the debris and the hardy rose regrew, and so did the cathedral.

Photo: bph/Wikimedia

The Hildesheim Cathedral, in Hildesheim, Germany, serves as the seat of the Diocese of Hildesheim that was founded by King Louis the Pious in 815. Initially, the diocese had a small basilica with two round towers near the chapel dedicated to Saint Cecilia. This functioned as the original cathedral, until the current structure was built in 872.

According to the legend, King Louis the Pious was hunting in the Hercynian Forest when he got 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 a river and walked all day until he arrived at a mound covered with a wild rose, the symbol of the old Saxon goddess Hulda. The king drew from his bosom a casket containing relics of the Holy Virgin, and prayed before it for rescue. Shortly after, the king fell into a deep sleep.

The thousand-year rose, circa 1883. Photo: Wikimedia

When he woke up, he found the mound was covered with glittering white snow despite it being the middle of summer. The roses on the sacred mound were blooming more brilliantly than ever. He looked for the reliquary and found it frozen fast amid the thorns of a great rose-bush. The king’s interpretation of this miracle was that the goddess was sending him a sign by "shaking her bed" that the Virgin should in future be venerated instead of her. Hulda is depicted as a maiden in snow-white clothes. She is the protector of women's crafts but also associated with wilderness and winter, and when it snows, it is said that Hulda is shaking out her feather pillow. When his followers finally found the emperor he pledged that he would construct a cathedral to honor the Virgin where the mound with the rose was. And to this day on the apse of the cathedral, that very rose-bush is still in bloom.

According to a different version of the legend, the emperor 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.

The rose, a variety of wild dog rose (Rosa canina), is now around 10 meters tall. Documentation verifies it is at least 700 years old, making it the oldest living rose in the world.

Photo: Stefan Schäfer/Wikimedia


  1. Okay, it's a very old wild rose, and that's very interesting. The legends about it being the oldest known rose is cool, too. But . . . it's a ROSE. What color are it's Flowers?!?


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