As part of the lead up to the new season of America Unearthed, which has been pushed back to a November premiere date, H2 has begun posting trailers featuring Scott Wolter’s trip to France. The first clip features new graphics with glowing lines forming spidery webs of “connections.” At Troyes Cathedral, Wolter and his friend Steve St. Clair (identified in the on-screen graphics as “Scott Wolter’s friend” rather than as an expert) discuss the fleur-de-lis, the lily which symbolized royal France. The clip, which is only two minutes long, is so jam-packed with misinterpretations and falsehoods that it will take several paragraphs to untangle.
Wolter explains that the fleur-de-lis, despite its clear derivation from a stylized image of a lily (and hence its name) instead could be a symbol of the Trinity. St. Clair adds that the fleur-de-lis was used by French royalty, which is true though incomplete. It was associated with a wide range of royal and noble families across Europe and indeed even beyond. Wolter then asserts that the fleur-de-lis is possibly a stylized bee, but this is not something that has wide support. Instead, the claim was most famously made by modern Rennes-le-Chateau speculators, derived from the work of the seventeenth-century French antiquary Jean-Jacques Chifflet. In his Anastasis de Childeric (1665), he fancifully argues that the French symbol derived from the heraldic device of Childeric, based on evidence of 300 gold “bees” found in the Merovingian king Childeric I’s tomb, opened in 1653. However, Bernard de Mauntfacon, in his Monumens de la Monarchie Françasie (1729), demonstrated a few decades later that the so-called bees were in fact studs used in the clothing of horses. According to other heraldic authorities, bees were not used as a heraldic device until the 1600s, long after the fleur-de-lis was in wide circulation.
All of this is complicated by the fact that Mauntfacon was probably wrong and the bees were in fact used on Childeric’s cloak, though not likely as a symbol of the king since heraldry had not yet developed in its medieval form. All but two bees (or cicadas—it is unclear) were destroyed by thieves in 1831. However, there is no evidence that bee symbols were used consistently (or at all) between Childeric and the first royal French use of the fleur-de-lis in 1336 on a coin of Philip VI de Valois—two decades after, incidentally, the suppression of the Templar order.
Udo Becker, writing in the Continuum Encyclopedia of Symbols (2000), endorses the bee theory of the fleur-de-lis, but most other experts in symbols do not, except for the cranks who write about Merovingian conspiracies, citing Chifflet. The bee had been an early Mediterranean symbol of the female divinity in the Mycenaean period (Potnia) and was associated with death and resurrection among the Mycenaeans (tholos tombs) and the Hittites (Telepinu myth), and prophecy as well for the Greeks (Homeric Hymn to Hermes 555f.) and Hebrews (Josephus, Antiquities 5.205). But this seems to have fallen out of favor before the end of the Classical period, and certainly after Childreric, not to be revived in France until Napoleon struck upon the bee as a substitute for the fleur-de-lis upon his assumption of the imperial dignity, though prominent on the arms of the Barberini in Italy.
Wolter says that the fleur-de-lis “does kinda look like” a bee when thinking of a bee facing head downward, and St. Clair vocalizes a “mm-hmmm” in agreement, followed by a “very much.” I don’t see it myself. It looks a lot like a lily to me.
Following this Wolter points to a statue on the cathedral of Bernard de Clairvaux, who the on-screen graphics bluntly and falsely claim “founded the Templars to keep the secret of Jesus’s bloodline.” Not only is this the most explicitly false statement that the show has yet made—no facetious qualifiers here!—it also flagrantly violates the old publishing rule that classical and biblical names ending in “s” do not take an extra “s” after the apostrophe in the possessive.
Wolter claims that Bernard used the beehive as his symbol and thus ties it to the fictitious beehive of the fleur-de-lis. The beehive had been a metaphor for all monks and for the church itself since the time of St. John Chysostom in the fourth century CE (see Homilies on the Statues 12). As far as I know, the beehive symbol was applied to Bernard after the fact, as a visual reminder of the Latin adjective used to describe his rhetoric--mellificuus, or honey-sweet. Steve St. Clair asserts that the “queen bee” of Bernard’s hive was Mary Magdalene, which goes against the explicit medieval identification of the beehive with the sweetness of the Virgin Mary, the heavenly queen—as, for example, in the fourteenth century writings of St. Bridget of Sweden, who in the years after the Templar suppression explicitly has Mary say “when you greeted me, you compared me to a beehive” and call Jesus the “Blessed Bee” (Liber Caelestis 6.12, trans. Denis Searby). So, if the bee is a “secret” symbol of Jesus, the Church certainly failed to “suppress” it since its saints wouldn’t shut up about it. But sorry Mary Magdalene, the beehive isn’t your symbol.
This leads to a discussion of Rosslyn Chapel (“of Da Vinci Code fame,” Wolter helpfully reminds us) in which St. Clair asserts that the top of the chapel contains the “oldest known example of a manmade beehive” which the bees entered through a hole in the center of a decorative stone rose. This is only partially true. As the BBC reported in 2010, the beehive itself was constructed by bees, but the tiny space they filled had been thoughtfully carved for them by stonemasons in an inaccessible part of the chapel’s roof. As the article itself reported, beekeeping had been going on for centuries. (The Egyptians had the first known artificial beehives around 2500 BCE, according to Egyptian wall art depictions, though the combs within were built by the bees. Similarly, actual remains of clay and straw artificial hives were found in the Levant dating back to 900 BCE.) What made this hive different was the fact that the space for the bees was inaccessible and impractical—it was for the bees, not for humans. For the record, the first artificial honeycomb, which I think is what Steve was getting at, was invented in the 1700s.
Wolter says that the Rosslyn five-petal rose represents a five-ray star and thus is the symbol of “the goddess, i.e. Mary Magdalene.” Wolter then asserts that the fleur-de-lis ties into this as an “important” symbol, despite not being a bee and despite the ancient goddesses not using a five pointed star. Ishtar and Astarte, for example, had an eight-pointed star—the famed Star of Venus—which was only stylized into a five-pointed star relatively late in the Islamic period, where it appears alongside the crescent moon as a symbol of Islam. The eight-pointed version was still current as late as 1963, when it still appeared on the Iraqi flag.
By contrast, the pentagram—five pointed star—was associated with the cosmos (Pherecydes of Syros), was a symbol of Pythagoreanism, served as a Christian symbol of the five wounds of Christ, and served as an alchemical symbol of Solomon (see Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 2.27—another fourteenth century work that makes problematic the claims of Scott Wolter!). It is pointedly not associated with goddesses or women.
Frankly, he should have stopped while he was ahead—real research rather than reading conspiracy books would have uncovered the old Mediterranean goddesses like Potnia and the Thriai and the priestesses of Apollo, Artemis, and Demeter who were all associated with bees, a much stronger connection to Wolter’s imaginary Magdalene-goddess conspiracy than a fanciful carving of a rose atop Rosslyn Chapel.
Of course, the rest of the episode might well make mention of these things, but H2 chose not to include them in its clip to promote the supposed truth the show is uncovering.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.