You probably know that St Valentine is the patron saint of love, especially if you’re giving flowers or chocolates to a special someone today.
But that’s not the whole story. Amongst his eclectic portfolio, he’s thought to be responsible for epileptics, plague victims – and beekeepers.
Although beekeepers have a number of patron saints, including St Bernard and St Ambrose, they never make an appearance in the Bible. John the Baptist famously ate a diet of honey with locusts, but this was made by wild bees. And Cain never asked, “Am I my brother’s beekeeper?”
However, a beekeeper does occasionally appear at St Mary’s. Colin Agness cleans the hives in the grounds of the church, along with checking them for diseases and harvesting honey.
A few years ago, his partner bought him a weekend course in beekeeping: “I have been hooked ever since,” he says.
The hives are owned by Colin, but he was encouraged to locate them at St Mary’s by Beryl and William Darling. Two hives are currently in place, and they should be joined by two more by the end of the year.
Beryl also hopes to improve the site and put up an information board, though this will need “some hard work and some carpentry.”
In contrast to the nearby mortuary, the hives are teeming with life. They hold around 5,000 Carniolan honey bees: by the summer that number could grow tenfold.
Bees work throughout the warmer months to gather nectar, from which they create honey. Beekeepers can feed them with sugar water as a substitute – this doesn’t happen at St Mary’s to ensure a purer batch.
Not all bees make honey, however. The queen is the only member of the colony to lay eggs, and as for the drones (male bees), Colin says they simply “eat and mate” before they “get kicked out and die” at the end of the summer.
“The males have the best job,” he believes. But on Valentine’s Day, at least, it sounds like the beekeeper should be counting his blessings.