Reprinted courtesy of The Telegraph
Archbishop of Canterbury: I talked to the bees about my day at school and pretty girls
The Most Rev Justin Welby has disclosed how he would talk to the bees about his innermost secrets growing up, as the bees “were reasonably confidential”
In the case of the Most Rev Justin Welby, though, it was not flowers and shrubs, but bees in whom he would confide his innermost secrets.
The cleric has told how he became interested in beekeeping as a child through his grandmother, and would use the time when he was tending to their hives to talk to them.
He added that he started off by telling them about his day at school, but that as he grew older, he moved on to more mature preoccupations – the birds and the bees.
Interviewed as part of a new BBC programme, The Wonder of Bees, he said he used to talk about the “pretty girls” he had encountered, adding: “The bees knew more than anyone else.”
The Archbishop said his grandmother had introduced him to Rudyard Kipling’s encouragement to “tell bees the news”, from his poem, The Bee-Boy’s Song, and had embraced it.
“I assume they were reasonably confidential,” he added.
The Archbishop will appear in the second of four programmes presented by Martha Kearney as part of her new series beginning tomorrow . In it, the broadcaster will explore the science and history of beekeeping.
At one point, she will visit Lambeth Palace, which is currently home to six beehives, to the “delight” of its incumbent. In the programme, due to be broadcast on BBC Four on April 21, the Archbishop said: “My grandmother took to keeping bees and grew up with the information from the beekeepers that you must always tell the bees all the news.
“It’s in Kipling. So we had to tell them, she took me down and I’d say how school had been and what I was doing.
“And then as I grew up and, ‘I got a boat’, and ‘there’s this pretty girl here’ and that sort of stuff.”
When asked by Kearney whether the bees knew “all his secrets first”, he added: “The bees knew more than anybody else. I assume they were reasonably confidential.”
He also discussed the significance of bees in Christian thinking, where hives are used in religious art to symbolise people living harmoniously together in a monastery.
“Clearly the people who picked up on those had never lived in a monastery,” he said.
“Religious community life was, and to this day remains, not always that easy but then I suppose hives aren’t always as harmonious as we like to imagine.”
Reflecting on the symbolic use of bees in religion, he went on: “The ancient legend was that they were the only creature to escape untainted from the Garden of Eden so they were particularly innocent.
“The great preachers in the era of the eastern Roman Empire, Constantinople, would be referred to as ’honey tongued preachers’ and it was a sense of smooth and sweet and with words that carried real conviction and power and life changing impact.”
The remainder of the Wonder of Bees series will see Kearney working on her own beehives, in the hopes of producing honey to sell.
Programmes will also see her try to combat disease in the hive, visit scientists putting bees in tiny ’straitjackets’ to demonstrate the damaging effect of chemicals and filming the “waggle dance” that helps the insects communicate.
The Wonder of Bees is part of BBC Four’s spring season, intended to explore the nation’s “deep relationship with nature and our inimitable love of gardens”.