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A priest, an archangel, and a swarm of honey bees


Fred de Noyelle / Godong

Anne Bernet - published on 08/25/21

This delightful story about a holy French priest is a reminder of why we should go the extra mile to protect the bees.

They buzz around, dive into our jam, try to drown themselves in our fruit juice, rush to the steaming roast, and get drunk in the fruit basket or at the bottom of a glass of wine. We don’t always know the difference between wasps and bees, but we can’t stand the presence of these little creatures that sting. So seeking to silence our panic, we knock them away with a wave of the hand or a swipe of a cloth, crush them, and feel like a hero.

And yet in the absence of screams, gesticulations, and attacks that panic them, these insects probably would never sting us. In most cases, there are gentler ways of avoiding conflict with these creatures of God—especially considering that bees, in particular, play a key role in the ecosystem. Any life needlessly destroyed by fear or stupidity is a mistake.

Carrying flowers for Our Lady

This is the lesson that the Archangel Gabriel taught, a century ago, to Fr. Jean-Édouard Lamy, the parish priest of La Courneuve—a marvelous figure of sanctity whom the Archbishop of Paris used to call “a second Curé d’Ars.” Marvels abound in the story of this priest from the Champagne region of France, and they’ve given rise, under the pen of his first biographer, Count Biver, to some delightful anecdotes. One of those stories may help convince us that we should never kill bees.

It was August 1923. For years, Fr. Lamy—an old man by then, worn down by age and almost blind—had been toiling during his vacations to build a chapel to Our Lady of the Woods, from the ruins of a hunting lodge near the village of Violot in the Marne. The task was superhuman, in spite of providential interventions and the help of the angels, who had been the priest’s habitual company since childhood.

That day, Fr. Lamy, eager to adorn the statue of Our Lady as best he could, given the approach of the Assumption, had gathered an enormous amount of flowers. He bore them on his back, bent under roses, lilies, and sweet peas and half hidden by the immense bouquet. Thus he proceeded, like a giant walking bouquet, on the Langres plateau where beehives abounded.

The foraging insects were inevitably attracted by this array of colors and perfumes. They arrived from everywhere, and soon a whole swarm of honey bees surrounded Fr. Lamy, who was suddenly a little panicked at the thought that they might attack him.

“Don’t sting him!” 

But then a beautiful, deep, and familiar voice rang in his ear: that of the Archangel Gabriel, whom Fr. Lamy saw and heard often. Gabriel wasn’t addressing the priest, but the buzzing insects, and did so in a tone of tenderness: “Please! Don’t sting him! Our Queen would not be happy, and his guardian angel and I would have to take human form to take him home …”

Immediately, the bees, obeying the Queen of Angels’ wish, scattered. None stung the old priest.

Gabriel, the Archangel of the Annunciation, “one of the Seven who always stand before God,” had such great respect for Creation that he stooped to speak to these insects with kindness and in a language within their reach, whereas we humans often crush them without a thought. Shouldn’t we rethink our approach? (A simple search online will turn up many practical, natural tips for supporting these indispensable pollinators.)

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