Bees, honey and love

Since the beginning of time, honey and bees have been associated with love. Honey, long considered the food of the gods and an aphrodisiac, is also the key ingredient of mead, the tipple of lovers; it’s not called a honeymoon for nothing! But honey’s romantic credentials go much further than that.

St Valentine

Valentine lived in the third century, when the Roman Empire was at its peak. At the time, it was thought that single men made better soldiers and marriage for them was banned. Valentine was found guilty of secretly marrying soldiers to their sweethearts.

Most people know that St Valentine is the patron saint of romance, but did you know he’s also the patron of beekeeping? He’s charged with ensuring the sweetness of honey and the protection of beekeepers.

Whilst in jail, awaiting execution, he began to convert his jailers to Christianity. To prove his faith, the head-jailer asked Valentine to heal his blind daughter, which Valentine did by praying with his hands over her eyes. After his execution, a letter addressed to the jailer’s daughter was found in Valentine’s cell, it was signed ‘Your Valentine.’

Protector of Beekeepers

Keeping bees successfully is a special calling; it needs knowledge and experience, but it’s said it also requires a kind and gentle heart. To protect these protectors of bees, St. Valentine was made the patron saint of Beekeepers in 496A.D.

Then there’s Cupid, he too had a taste for honey. Drawing on the mythology of the Greek god of love Eros, Cupid is sometimes said to dip his arrows in honey before firing them at soon to be love-struck individuals, filling them with the sweetness of love. But beware, he could choose to dip his arrows in bile condemning his miserable victims to a lifetime of unrequited love.

Bees symbolize love and beekeepers symbolize the protection of marriage and family. By managing their hives and caring for bees, beekeepers are said to ensure that bees flourish and honey continues to flow.

Eros taking aim at his victim

The National Gallery’s collection includes the famous painting Cupid complaining to Venus by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553)

The picture shows Cupid complaining to his mother Venus having been stung whilst stealing honey from a hive. The moral of the story – you can’t have the sweetness of love without the danger of getting stung. You can read more about the painting at The National Gallery

Myths from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome highlight the powerful romantic effect bees have on humans; from Cupid dipping his arrows in honey, to Ra, the sun god; his tears becoming bees to help him woo back his lost love.

Before a wedding in some cultures, the bride and groom walk through a swarm of bees. If neither are stung, their love is meant to be. Anybody getting married this year?

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