Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Wednesday 20 October |
Saint of the Day: St. Paul of the Cross
Aleteia logo
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

The meaning of bees and beehives in Christian Art


Slovenian Ethnographic Museum

Daniel Esparza - published on 10/09/19

Christian symbolism is filled with sweet metaphors.

“Because of its industrious habits,” we read in George Ferguson’s classic Signs and Symbols in Christian Art, “the bee has become the symbol of activity, diligence, work, and good order.” Also, some ancient legends claim bees never sleep, and so their image was often used “to represent Christian vigilance and zeal in acquiring virtue,” Ferguson explains.

However, not all the bees we find in Christian art necessarily represent these virtues. There is the case of the Barberini, for instance, a noble Italian Italian family that rose to prominence in the 17th century, and to which Pope Urban VIII belonged. His papal coat of arms includes that of his family, showing three bees surmounted by the papal tiara and the crossed keys of St. Peter. Some of the great monuments in Rome, including the Baldacchino in St. Peter’s Basilica, feature this emblem.

Read more:
Hidden symbols around the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica

But bees are one thing, and beehives quite another one. Why do we find beehives in Christian art?

It seems St. Ambrose is to blame.

A legend claims that, when he was but a small child, a swarm of bees settled on Ambrose’s face while he was resting in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey. His father, the legend continues, understood this to be a sign of his future eloquence and “honeyed” tongue. In fact, Ambrose grew to become a prolific writer and an eloquent preacher.

But there’s a bit more to that: it was Ambrose who compared the church itself to a beehive: “the beehive,” we read in Ferguson’s book, “is similarly the symbol of a pious and unified community.” The Christian, then, is compared to a bee, working for the common good of the hive to which he dedicates his work and life.

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
difficult people
Zoe Romanowsky
How to love people you don’t really like
saint teresa of Avila
Zelda Caldwell
Now there’s a computer font based on St. Teresa of Avila’s handwr...
Agnès Pinard Legry
Three brothers ordained priests on the same day in the Philippine...
Philip Kosloski
How the violence in ‘Squid Game’ can impact your soul
Philip Kosloski
A scientist describes the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima
Kathleen N. Hattrup
A martyr’s last letter to his mother
Theresa Civantos Barber
How following Christ is like falling in love
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.