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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Saints Preserve Us!

St. Valentine of Terni

Beekeepers who don't get into the candy hearts and flowers still have a reason to celebrate Valentine's Day as he is the patron saint of beekeepers! It's a distinction he shares with a few other saints, including:

St. Ambrose of Milan

  • Saint Ambrose. As an infant, his father discovered him with his face covered with bees, which was interpreted as a sign of his future eloquence. In fact, he was described as having a "honeyed tongue," and his symbols are bees and skeps.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

  • Saint Bernard, who bears the epithet "The Mellifluous Doctor." Spiritual sweetness and religious eloquence seem to be a running theme with these saints.
St. Gobnait

But back to St. Valentine, since today is his day. His symbols include roses and birds. (Birds are known for pairing up, often monogamously. In medieval England, Feb 14 was the day that birds selected their mates. Roses symbolize the beauty and fullness of love, but they are also connected with Aphrodite who stepped on one, cut her foot, and dyed them red with her blood.) What's this saint's connection to bees, though? Honestly, I can't tell. Perhaps it has to do with the sweetness of the love that is celebrated on his day. Maybe, his symbolism has absorbed bees since Cupid, who has a strong connection to our little girls, is also so strongly identified with Valentine's Day.

Cupid and bees
According to mythology, the infant cupid stole some honeycomb and was stung. He ran crying to his mother, Venus, who chastised him saying, "My infant, if so much thou feel the little wild-bee's touch, how must the heart, ah, Cupid! be, the hapless heart that's stung by thee!" (quote from Myths of Old Greece By William Adams, 1900.)

The Greek poet Theocritus, tells a version in which Aphrodite laughs and says "Are you not just like the bee - so little yet able to inflict such painful wounds?"

As Eros/Cupid (the god of love) lay fast asleep once, "tawny bees were sprinkling on his dainty lips honey dripping from the comb."1 (Tawny bees, eh? Must have been Italians.)

He was also said to have dipped his arrows in honey to sweeten the sting.

So... Valentine's day... the birds and the bees... It all starts to come together now.

In any case, it's fun knowing that beekeepers have a quite a few saints watching over them especially as there have been a few times when I've felt I could really use some supernatural assistance. Usually after dropping a comb. LOL!

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

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1 This quote comes from a book called The Sacred Bee and is linked to a free online copy. I actually have a hard copy of this book (quite cheap on Amazon), and I love it.

2 comments:

  1. NIce post. Yes, Deborah/Dvorah is Hebrew for bee, and dvash (which doesn't look that different than "Debs" is Hebrew for honey.

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    1. Thanks for pointing that out. Hebrew is such a cool language (one I wish I knew more about), and Judaism has some very interesting traditions regarding honey. For a logophile like me, Hebrew is endlessly fascinating because each letter in a word represents and idea (which you probably already knew). You might like this article that talks about the meaning of the word "bee": http://www.meru.org/coast/Devorah-Bee-Speaker.ReprintA10may06.pdf

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