Some consider Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to be the “thinking man’s Pope”. A theologian and scholar by training he wrote three encyclicals, many apostolic letters, two popular books about the historical Jesus and numerous other publications; a Pope as industrious and prolific as his bees.
In September 2011 eight beehives containing more than 500,000 bees were given to then Pope Benedict by the Italian agricultural organization ‘Coldiretti’ to celebrate the Day for the Protection of Creation. The group promotes agricultural education and lobbies to protect agricultural land and encourage farm-friendly policies. The half million bees were transported to the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo and were expected to produce more than 600 pounds of organic wildflower honey each year pollinating the orchards and flowers of the pontifical farm that is also the home to 25 dairy cows and an assortment of hens and roosters.
Bees have always found favor with the fathers of the Church. St. John Chrysostom explains that the bee is more honored than other animals, “not because it labors, but because it labors for others”. Pope Pius XII called them “fascinating little creatures of God” writing that there can be many lessons drawn from the “holy wisdom in these tiny humming insects”. Urban VIII, a 17th century Pope whose family coat of arms featured three bees, was particularly partial to l’ape. We might go so far as to designate him their papal patron. Bees seem to have found so much favor with him that there are architectural monuments all over Rome swarming with bees including St. Peter’s Basilica where bees can be found decorating the baldachin altar.