Now 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?