Northants Bee Keepers Association

Northamptonshire Beekeepers' Association (NBKA) Registered Charity No. 295593


Northants Bee Keepers Association

Copyright © NBKA 2007-2018

Northants Bee Keepers Association

A member organisation representing beekeepers in the County of Northamptonshire

Bee-Lines (A selection from our quarterly magazine)

February 2011



There are many legends from many countries associated with bees - far too many to be covered in any detail. The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is rich in quotations.


“A land flowing with milk and honey ... “ (Exodus)


“Go to the ant thou sluggard. Go to the bee, and learn how diligent she is. What a noble work she produces, whose labour kings and private men use for their health! She is desired and honoured by all, and though weak in strength, yet since she values wisdom she prevails.” (Proverbs)


Samson’s wedding feast riddle concerned bees that had made a nest in the ribcage of a lion: “ ... out of the strong came forth sweetness.” A well-known brand of golden syrup has an illustration of this on the container!


Christian tradition contains numerous legends involving bees. According to legend, the bee was blessed on leaving the Garden of Eden with the title “the handmaid of the Lord”. In another story, Christ made bees and the Devil, trying to compete, made wasps. In a French legend, the drops of water falling from the hands of Christ, washing in the River Jordan, became bees - Christ ordered them to stay and work for mankind. A Breton legend tells of the tears of the crucified Christ turning into bees and flying away to bring sweetness into the world. A Polish story tells how Jesus took the maggots from a wound in St. Paul’s head, put them in a tree and

they became bees.


The Christian Church has strong links with bees. Monasteries kept bees to provide honey for sweetening and mead made from fermented honey - wax was in great demand for candles. Honey and mead were used to make herbal remedies more palatable! Brother Adam of Buckfast Abbey is well-known today.


The saints are well represented. St. Gregory is responsible for opening the flowers on 12th March - a few weeks later on 21st March, St. Benedict summons the bees to search for nectar. St. Ambrose, 4th Bishop of Milan, is the patron saint of beekeepers. In the Ukraine, the patron saint of beekeepers is St. Sossima, who brought bees from Egypt. According to legend, St. Bartholomew was martyred by being flayed alive and because of this fate he became the patron saint of tanners. In many parts of Britain, the apostle was also patron saint of beekeepers, probably because his feast day, 24th August, coincided with the gathering of the honey crop. Indeed, until the 1950s, the village of Gulval in Cornwall celebrated St. Bartholomew’s Day with a ceremony for Blessing the Mead, while the annual St. Bartholomew’s Fair in London was famous for its honey-coated apples. St. Dominic started beekeeping in Wales and, when he returned to Ireland, gave his hives to St. David - the bees followed him to Ireland! Another Irish saint St. Gobnat changed a colony of bees into an army to drive away a local marauding chieftain.


Bees were believed to be the souls of the dead returning to earth or on their way to the next world. This probably led to the widespread custom of “telling the bees” when the owner died. If the bees were not asked to stay with their new master or mistress, it was believed that they would die or abscond.


“Childhood, people say, is the time when nobody dies. Something went from mine the day I saw Uncle Sam at the hives and heard him say, ‘Bees, your master’s dead. I am your master now’. With that he knocked on each hive, and from within came a stir and commotion. ‘They know’, said my uncle, and we went indoors to send for the relations and find some strips of mourning for the hives.” (Bees are People by Ada Jackson - The Countryman - Autumn 1967)


Less commonly, other family events were told to the bees:

Marriage, birth or burying,

News across the seas,

All your sad or merrying

You must tell the bees.

In case it be thought that the only references to bees are Christian, one quote from the Koran must represent the many legends, stories, folklore and poetry showing the importance of bees in the history of the world:


“Eat honey, my son, for it is good, not only to eat but against all kinds of illness.”


And finally - how bees came by their stings:


It happened a long time ago when the bees became frustrated by the way bears, squirrels and birds kept helping themselves to their honey. At that time the bees were not equipped with stings at all and so had no means of protecting themselves. All they could do was to hide their honey in the hollows of trees and in the clefts of rocks, which didn’t do much good because time and time again their stores were discovered with the result that many colonies died of starvation during the winter. In the end, they got so desperate that they decided to put the problem to Wakonda, the Great Spirit. He promised to give the matter some thought and told them to return at a later date. Wakonda had the reputation of never failing to meet a challenge so the bees were certain their troubles would soon be over. Indeed, they

couldn’t keep the news to themselves and dashed off to inform their cousins the wasps and hornets. Consequently, when the date for reporting back to Wakonda arrived, the wasps and hornets went along as well. Wakonda told the bees that he was a great admirer of their industry and had decided to fix them up with stings. And because he felt in a generous mood, he offered the wasps and hornets the same equipment!


Brian P. Dennis.