Not since the Barbarini will there have been so many bees around the Pope.
This is from VIS:
BEES FOR THE PONTIFICAL FARMS AT CASTELGANDOLFO
VATICAN CITY, 20 SEP 2011 (VIS) – As part of its initiatives to mark the Day for the Protection of Creation, the Italian agricultural organisation “Coldiretti” has given Benedict XVI eight beehives containing more than 500,000 bees. The beehives will be kept at the pontifical farm of Castelgandolfo where they will be used in pollination and the production of honey (some 280 kilos a year). [Some of which will probably be sold in the Vatican PX.]
Coldiretti explained that bees play a vital role in the planet’s ecosystem and their disappearance would have disastrous consequences for health and the environment: a third of human food production depends on crops pollinated by insects, eighty percent of which are bees.
The “Campagna Amica” Association will provide technical assistance to the pontifical farms to oversee the protection of the bees and the production of honey. Castelgandolfo is considered to be a model farm because it unites traditional production methods with modern technology. It has 25 dairy cows, 300 hens and 60 cockerels as well as an ancient olive grove producing three thousand litres of oil a year, an orchard of apricot and peach trees and a greenhouse of ornamental flowers.
In years past I have visited the farm at the villa and seen the holy cows and papal bulls. It will be interesting to track what happens with the pontifical bees, with the theological implications of having queens in charge of their hives. I hope that heraldic Corbinian bear doesn’t get at them.
Honey is remarkable stuff, by the way. It is bacteriostatic and lasts practically forever.
Bees were also thought in the ancient world to reproduce parthenogenically, and thus became symbols for virginity for the Fathers of the Church, such as St. Ambrose. There was a pious, hagiographical account of Ambrose’s infancy in which it was said that, as little Amby slept, bees would fly in an out of his mouth. Most mother’s would probably freak out a little about that, but when you are a mother in a hagiographical account of a future saint, you take it all in stride. The obvious implication of the bees and little Ambrose was that he would be a great defender of virginity as a state of life and an eloquent preacher with honeyed words. Filippo Lippi made a painting of this. For a large version go here.
I am delighted to discover, by the way, that the St. Ambrose College teams are the “Fighting Bees”. The women’s volleyball team are the Queen Bees. I wonder if they know why they are called that.
Finally, this story brought firmly to mind the great episode in Post Captain when Dr. Maturin brought the glass hive filled with bees aboard HMS Lively.
‘Stephen,’ he said, ‘how are your bees?’
‘They are very well, I thank you; they show great activity, even enthusiasm. But,’ he added, with a slight hesitation, ‘I seem to detect a certain reluctance to return to their hive.’
‘Do you mean to say you let them out?’ cried Jack. ‘Do you mean that there are sixty thousand bees howling for blood in the cabin?’
‘No, no. Oh no. Not above half that number; perhaps even less. And if you do not provoke them, I am persuaded you may go to and fro without the least concern; they are not froward bees. They will have gone home by morning, sure; I shall creep in during the middle watch and close their little wicket. But perhaps it might be as well, were we to sit together in this room tonight, just to let them get used to their surroundings. A certain initial agitation is understandable after all, and should not be discountenanced.’
Killick didn’t take to well to the bees.