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  • Writer's pictureMary Allen

World Bee Day

White male wearing a beret and overalls with a trowel in his hand held over a brick wall
Fr Derrick Maitland (1924-2015) building the bee hut at Heythrop, 1961 (ref. SJ/PH/762)

The 20th of May is World Bee Day. In the UK, and globally, bees are facing many threats, including loss of habitat, climate change, toxic pesticides and disease. The future for bees and many other pollinators is uncertain, and human activities have led to nearly 1 in 10 of Europe’s wild bee species facing extinction. To raise awareness of the importance of pollinators, the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development, the UN has designated 20 May as World Bee Day. The date coincides with the birthday of Anton Janša, the 18th century pioneer of modern beekeeping techniques in his native Slovenia, who praised bees for their ability to work hard while needing little attention. You might be surprised to learn that there is, in fact, material relating to bees in the Jesuits in Britain Archives.

In 1926, the theologians and philosophers relocated from St Beuno’s and St Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst respectively, to Heythrop College, Oxfordshire, an early 18th century country house built by Charles Talbot, Duke of Shrewsbury. At that time, the philosophers and theologians were in two separate wings, and Latin remained the language of instruction. After Vatican II, philosophy and theology was integrated into a single course and lectures were given in English. In Michael J Walsh’s Heythrop College 1614-2014: A Commemorative History, there is a brief description of the grounds and the activities of the scholastics:

[The estate] was maintained by gardeners and, to some extent, by the students themselves. This was supposed to be particularly true of the nine-hole golf course, the maintenance of which fell upon those who wished to use it, but some students who were eager gardeners leant a hand with other parts of the property. They also kept the ‘nature walk’, a wooded area with streams and small waterfalls, in good order. Within the nature walk there were a number of small huts, used on days free of study, to gather, drink tea, eat … whatever might be scrounged from the kitchen and generally potter, either as amateur woodsmen or to look after the hives: bee-keeping was a popular hobby.

White male wearing beekeeping suit about to remove the lid of a bee hive. A smoker sits on top of the hive with smoke billowing out of its spout.
Michael Bailey SJ (1928-1990) with bees at Heythrop, March 1961 (SJ/PH/25)

As part of a recent accession from the Heythrop library, the Archives have acquired a series of manuscript volumes produced by the Juniors at Manresa House in Roehampton, known as Juvenilia. The volumes were created between 1909 and 1955. In them are essays, poems, and illustrations, and they make a fascinating and eclectic read.

Title page of the 1909-10 volume of Juvenilia, illustration by Aloysius Parkinson SJ. ‘Ludetque favisemissa juventus’ is a line from Virgil’s fourth Georgic, ‘The Bees’

In the 1910-11 edition of Juvenilia, a Belgian Jesuit called Polydor DeMaertalaere wrote an essay on ‘The Head of a Honey-Bee’:

When we look up at night at the starlit vault of heaven, we admire, we praise, and we thank our Creator, Who made those millions of shining and glittering orbs for the sake of man. But it seems tome His divine works are greater still in His almost infinitely small creations, if I may call them such.

He then goes on to describe the component parts of a bee’s head, as identified in the illustration below. For example:

The compound eyes (b) occupy the sides of the head. They are oval in form and of a rather dull than bright black, which are hexagonal in shape, in consequence of their mutual pressure. Each of these facets constitutes by itself a perfect eye and its form most regular.

Illustration of the head of a worker honey bee, by Polydor DeMaertalaere SJ, Juvenilia 1910-11

For this topic we can also return to the Blandyke Papers, which were compiled by philosophy students at St Beuno’s and later at Heythrop College. In the October 1891 edition, H Horn wrote a poem entitled ‘Bees: A Satire’. In it, he describes a tale told to him by the bees as he sat upon the heath pondering philosophy. The protagonist of the tale suddenly finds herself capable of conscious thought:

… Within the bee’s small breast unbidden rose

A hundred questions. “What are these and those”?

Then came an awful question, “Who am I”?

Two which she heard an inward voice reply

“Thou art a Bee.” A Bee beyond doubt

She was, and she alone had found it out…

She felt a yearning to investigate

The ultimate foundations of her state,

(A truly bold and risky undertaking

For one small mind and that but just awakening.)…

First page of H Horn’s poem in Blandyke Papers, October 1891

If you are interested in any of the sources mentioned in this blog post or in the work of the Archives, please contact us.

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