Peace bee with you.

Not since the Barbarini will there have been so many bees around the Pope.

This is from VIS:


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.

Ambrose and the bees

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Just Too Cool, Lighter fare, O'Brian Tags, Patristiblogging, Preserved Killick and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. We have many bees in our front flower beds. They only seem to like the roses and the rose moss. The only time they appear to be upset is when I have to water the flowers. They fly toward me and then away, but they don’t sting me.

    Last year my granddaughter went to jump on the trampoline and started to scream. She jumped off quickly and came to us saying that there were bees swarming her. My husband and I went to see what the problem was, and there, hanging from the trampoline was a whole hive of bees. I called a bee keeper to see what we should do because we didn’t want to kill the swarm. She said that they were “on the move” and that after their search party finds a new home that they would go away, and if that didn’t happen we should call her back. Sure enough, two days later they were gone.

    It was amazing to see thousands of bees hanging off one another. When they were clumped together, the bunch was about two feet wide and over three feet long. I wonder sometimes if all the bees that are here right now are some of those same bees. The bee keeper said that when bees move, they usually don’t go over a mile away.

  2. Cephas218 says:

    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.

    “Holy cows and papal bulls.” Nicely put, Pater Zeta, very nicely put.

    I’ve always wondered if the English expression “Holy Cow” might not have a Hindu origin.

    As to the Feminism influence in the Vatican, it’s now clear! They have regular queen bees in charge of the honey money makers.

  3. Andy Lucy says:

    “Killick didn’t take to well to the bees. ”

    Neither did the gunroom, as I recall. I found it odd that Dr Maturin used cocoa to flavor the sugar water he used to feed them… maybe it was an experiment in the natural philosophy of chocolate flavored honey. lol

  4. irishgirl says:

    There’s a ‘bee connection’ with St. Rita of Cascia, too. They also swarmed around her when she was born., just as with St. Ambrose.
    ‘Holy cows and papal bulls’-that’s funny, Father Z!
    ‘Amby’ for Ambrose-another good one!
    And I didn’t know that the athletic teams at St. Ambrose College are called ‘The Fighting Bees’!
    Wonder what would happen if Notre Dame’s ‘Fighting Irish’ met the ‘Fighting Bees’ of St. Ambrose College? [as Foghorn Leghorn would say, ‘That’s a joke, ah say, that’s a joke, son!] ; )

  5. Long-Skirts says:


    For centuries beeswax
    In the sanctuary reigned
    Our sacred purpose
    From the first ordained.

    Producing honeycombs
    All that we handle —
    Though our sacred purpose?
    The Holy Mass candle.

    But at the last council
    Of the great Church bee
    Man turned to man
    Birthed sterility.

    Graces for fruits
    Crops and offspring
    Schools, churches shut —
    Can’t pollinate a thing

    Until man again
    On His altars lets towers —
    Candles of beeswax
    Sacred purpose…
    …all ours!

  6. basenji says:

    I guess if there’s a flood they could all set sail in the Bark of St. Peter…

    On a serious note: I wish there were more catechization regarding the parthenogenetic reproduction of bees in regards to the lyrics of the Exsultet and their feeding of the wax that becomes the Paschal Candle. The symbols for virginity hence creating the candle symbolizing Christ. Such sublimity!

  7. FrCharles says:

    And with the new translation, those of us who are at Easter Vigils in English will get the bees back in the Exultet from now on.

  8. digdigby says:

    As Digby notes, one of the rules set down by the church for medieval warfare was that hives not be destroyed nor bees disturbed in any way as they made beeswax for holy candles.

  9. raitchi2 says:

    “In years past I have visited the farm at the villa and seen the holy cows and papal bulls”
    Have these papal bulls become long winded like their paper contemporaries? Lol

    [I hope not. That might contribute to global warming.]

  10. AnAmericanMother says:

    Been keeping bees for a long time, but can always learn something new.

    Whether bees are gentle or not depends primarily on their race. The Italians are the happiest, gentlest bees, they will very rarely sting (the guard bees just sail out, fly around and take a look at you, decide you’re not much of a threat, and go back inside). You can actually work them without a veil or gloves if you go slow and use lots of smoke. But they produce much less honey than some of the other strains. (My husband claims they are too busy drinking wine, singing, and enjoying the sun. I don’t have a problem with that. Let them enjoy themselves.)

    The little native black or brown bees are very temperamental and will sting you as soon as look at you, the Caucasian and Russian strains are somewhere in between. It’s almost a direct correlation — the more aggressive the bees, the more honey they produce.

    The breeders are always trying to hybridize to improve honey production without making the bees unmanageable (unfortunately, that is how we got Africanized bees, thanks to some careless idiots in Brazil) and also improving disease resistance. The Buckfast Bee is a famous hybrid produced by the legendary Brother Adam at Buckfast Abbey — but it is totally unsuited for our hot, humid summers here in the American South. Midnite and Starline hybrids have been popular here for years. We just use Italians because it’s much less trouble, and we get enough honey for us and our friends.

  11. pfreddys says:

    “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.” I had never heard that about St. Ambrose, I have read the exact same thing though about St. Rita; except in her case it was white bees.

  12. pfreddys says:

    BTW, ever try honey on a hamburger with bun…..don’t mock me until you’ve tried it: you’ll thank me!

  13. So from now on, when the Pope is talking about candle arrangements and somebody tells him, “None of your beeswax!”, he can say, “Actually, it _is_ mine.”

  14. JeffTL says:

    This has been going on in the Chicago Loop, our central business district, for a few years now…especially at City Hall and the Cultural Center. There is a little local produce shop on Randolph between Michigan and Wabash that sells the honey, which I understand draws a lot of notes from the garden in Millennium Park.

    I don’t recall that St. Peter’s Church has any bees upstairs, though, just Franciscans.

  15. Father, if you are talking about St. Ambrose University (formerly College) in Davenport, Iowa, there is also a men’s a cappella group called Bee Sharp. I don’t think St. Ambrose College in the UK has any ladies, queen bees or not.

  16. James Joseph says:

    Vatican PX… that is a good reference to the Marine Corps. Nicely done Fr. Z.

  17. Melchisedech says:

    Indeed, Patricia Cecilia is absolutely right! As a current St.Ambrose Univ. student and a member of Bee Sharp the past couple of years, I can say that the mascot is the Fighting Bee precisely for the story above. Lots of things are on campus integrate the Bee into lots of things such as the newspaper, which is called the Buzz.

  18. jflare says:

    I vaguely remember reading that episode in the series. (BTW, when I bought Rules for Radicals, I also bought Desolation Island and Fortunes of War. I WILL catch up sooner or later…) What page was that on?

    BTW, James, I thought Fr Z referred to the Army. I used a PX while stationed with them (the Army), but I spent most of my time in Air Force land. I’m still occasionally prone to a “huh?” moment; I thought it was a BX!

  19. jburdadams says:

    Big fan of Aubrey-Maturin series myself! I’m protestant in terms of background, but enjoy learning new things from your blog. thank you! JA

  20. Brad says:

    Holy Father has too many cockerels! This is a scandal that the German papers will use against him should they find out!

    I know twelve of twelve apostles were men, but our feathered friends are another matter! A good ratio is one rooster to a dozen hens. A denser ratio will annoy, if not stress, if not tear up, the hens. A dense ratio, such as his one to five, is good for protecting a very free range, very exposed, flock, but there are cons to go with the pros. Wonder what sort of setup they use at Castelgandolfo. As Padre Pio would do, I will ask my guardian angel to go have a look-see and let me know! But, no doubt, St. Anthony and St. Francis take special joy in watching over the animals there.

  21. Supertradmum says:

    My son works with the famous Buckfast Bees.

    And, I took my theology and philosophy at St. Ambrose University a long time ago, where the chapel had wonderful mosaics of bee hives, etc. re: Ambrose. I do not know if these were wreckovated.

  22. AnAmericanMother says:

    Now THAT is really cool!
    Of course I have Brother Adams’s books, but I’ve never seen an actual Buckfast Bee in action.
    Much of what he writes is applicable wherever you keep bees, though.
    Note that Br. Adam died at the age of 99. My grandfather-in-law the Methodist minister was a pioneering beekeeper here in the South (he was a queen breeder and bee supplier, and the first to organize truck transport of hives to the orange groves in Florida for pollination and incidentally orange blossom honey). HE lived to be 93 or 94. Beekeeping is GOOD for you!

Comments are closed.