St. AmbroseNow that I’m back from my conference at the Franciscan Center, I thought it might be fun to work on a series about Insect Patron Saints.

So, first up: St. Ambrose, Patron Saint of Beekeepers.

Apparently he didn’t have anything directly to do with bees, but had the title “Honey Tongued Doctor” because of his speaking and preaching ability. This led to the use of a beehive and bees as his symbols, as you can see here.

The Catholic Encyclopedia describes him as having an “enthusiastic love of virginity which became his distinguishing trait.” Hmm.

Ambrose also made use of the bee metaphor in some of his writings, comparing virgins to bees:

“40. Let, then, your work be as it were a honeycomb, for virginity is fit to be compared to bees, so laborious is it, so modest, so continent. The bee feeds on dew, it knows no marriage couch, it makes honey….

41. How I wish you, my daughter, to be an imitator of these bees, whose food is flowers, whose offspring is collected and brought together by the mouth….”

I’m really not sure what that second bit is on about with the offspring, frankly. I think he believed that bees spontaneously generated….or something. Given the overwhelmingly female nature of a hive, I guess I can see how the mistake of thinking they reproduced asexually would be made.

There also appears to be a second Bee saint: Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.
He is listed as a patron of beekeeping and candle makers (workers of wax), but for no apparent reason I can determine. His association with bees isn’t mentioned in this longer biography. Maybe he just wanted a candle discount?

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!

8 Comments

  1. I imagine back in the day there were a lot of people in the candle/wax trades. Pretty clever to give ’em their own saint!

  2. Personally, I think a much better candidate for Patron Saint of Beekeeping would be Brother Adam, of Buckfast Abbey. What with his having actually worked with bees most of his life, and all. Of course, he hasn’t been sainted yet, but maybe we could start pushing for that.

  3. Rats, Tim, it looks like your link is broken.
    Do you mean this guy?

  4. HEY! I hiked right past there a couple years ago! Small world :)

  5. Yep, that’s him. I suppose that, to get him canonized, we need to certify some miracles on his behalf, though. Something beekeeping-related would probably be best.

  6. Oh, well, of course he’s the patron saint of bees as he’s got one of those bee keeper bonnets on in the painting there…no, wait, I guess that’s a halo.
    ;-)

  7. If you want more on bees and the lore surround them, come see my blog on bees at beelore.com – though I haven’t got anything on St Ambrose yet!

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