Sweet buzzing

07 February 2014

IN ONE of the windows at St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford, is a picture of St Ambrose holding a beehive. The traditional story is that, when he was a baby, a swarm of bees landed on his face and then flew off, leaving just a drop of honey on his lips, said to foretell the sweetness of his future teaching and preaching.

Whether the hives that have been in the churchyard have sweetened the preaching of the Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Jonathan Beswick, I have not been told, but he is certainly delighted with his bees, which produced 100 lb of honey in their first season. He has wanted to keep bees since he was a boy, and the churchyard at St Thomas's has proved ideal: "It is like an acre of the most gorgeous countryside. It feels like a village churchyard in many ways."

He says that he lived in a monastery for five years when he left school, where some of the older Brothers  kept bees; so he learnt from them. Bees and the Christian faith go hand in hand, he says, from the beeswax traditionally used to make church candlesto parallels between individual bees' forming colonies and individual Christians' making up the Body of Christ.

He has found bee-keeping a life-changing experience since putting his hand into a friend's hive and "feeling all those tiny feet tickling but going about their business". He admits to a few stings in his first months as a beekeeper, but believes that the pain has been worth it.

Today, as the Bishop's representative, he will be at the Oxford Friends of the Earth Bee Summit, whose participants will be discussing how seriously the number of bees is declining. Fr Beswick will be hoping to keep his bees happy and healthy in Oxford.

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