Last week I shared a bit about Beekeeping and early Celtic lore because every March I feel called to connect to my Irish heritage in lieu of St. Patrick's day. I also love that beekeeping is very deeply connected to Ireland. There is so much celtic folklore and history around bees and beekeeping.
Now, I knew the Irish loved their folklore; I had no idea how much of it is connected to so many saints. Though I was born Irish Catholic I clearly don't have much knowledge of the many saints. So far I have discovered 4 patron saints for bees and beekeeping.
Besides the fact that March reminds me of my Irish roots is also known as National Women's month and a few days ago we celebrated International Women's Day. Of course, I think, bees naturally should be celebrated as part of National Women's month because they are so often associated with women, fertility and femininity. The many stories around ‘bee goddesses’, priestesses, women in beekeeping and the symbolic divine feminine predate written text in many cases. This includes stories about St. Gobnait. While I was researching Irish women and beekeeping folklore, I discovered St. Gobnait.
Not only is St. Gobnait an Irish woman but she is also another patron saint of beekeepers and iron workers. I think she is the only female patron saint of beekeepers.
According to the Irish examiner, “If Feb. 11th happens to be your birthday you may be called either, Abigail (brings joy) or Deborah (queen bee) which are the English forms of the name. St Gobnait is one of the best loved local saints in the areas to where her history is tied, yet she remains relatively unknown in many other places.(1)
However, she is among a group of Irish saints whose feast day has been given national rather than just local recognition.” (1)
The stories around St. Gobnait are as abundant and diverse as a well managed summer beehive. Whether history or folklore, it seems the traditions around celebrating St. Gobnait are still alive and well today over 1400 years later. Despite being somewhat undiscovered,"... she is among a group of Irish saints whose feast day has been given national rather than just local recognition.” (1) From just a bit of reading about her it is clear the honor is well deserved.
St. Gobnait came to Ireland because she was fleeing her feuding family. According to folklore she was guided by her angel to seek a place to do God's work. She was instructed that she would know the place because she would find 9 white deer there. When she finally found the 9 white deer she had arrived in Baile Bhuirne. It was here that she began her work as a beekeeper and a healer.
She was heralded as a calm, strong woman, dedicated to helping the sick, especially with honey. She also not only helped build a women's community, but she was known for her skills as a metal worker, for her smithing and smelting.
In fact, perhaps that is why in one commonly told tale she is also said to have turned her beehives into a bronze helmet that turned her bees into soldiers that she released upon invading forces that were attempting to invade and steal cattle among others. In some versions it is just the stinging bees that chase away the intruders.
Bees however are more than just stinging threats or honey-makers and medicine providers in the Irish tradition. The soul of the body is said to leave as a bee at the time of death. When St. Gobnait was guided by her angel to seek Baile Bhuirne; she was also instructed this would be the place of her resurrection. For this reason she is also associated with the bees.
In my opinion, to be not only a beekeeper, but a healer, a caretaker, a community leader, a possible summoner of bees, as well as a woman in the 7th century with skills in ironworking makes St. Gobnait worthy of recognition as a woman in beekeeping you should know for National Women's month.