A Sweet Link to Wales – St Aidan’s Bees
One of the most beautiful stories about St Aidan relates to his love of bees – and bees’ love for him.
While he was in Wales studying with St David one of his responsibilities was to care for the monastery’s bees. Bees were hugely important then as now, but particularly so for a monastery where honey was used in medicine and to make mead, and where beeswax was essential for making church candles. The story goes that, on leaving St David, Aidan was followed by David’s bees three times to the ship as he attempted to return to Ireland. Each time St Aidan dutifully returned the bees to the monastery but on the third occasion Saint David, seeing St Aidan’s kindness, agreed that the bees should accompany him to Ireland. Even today, 1,400 years later, Ferns is famous for the quality of its honey.
Inspired by the story of St Aidan, St David and the bees, the artist Bedwyr Williams has created a series of giant beehives, three in the grounds around the Cathedral in St Davids in Wales and three in the grounds around the Cathedral in Ferns. These giant bee hives are part of a cross-border community project with our friends in Wales, created through the EU-funded Ancient Connections Project which ran from 2020 to 2023. These evocative structures are modelled loosely on the kind of traditional straw skep hives that St Aidan might have used in the care of St David’s bees. Though much larger in scale and simpler in form, these skep sculptures are designed to be living sculptures with real live bees. Beekeepers in both communities are taking care of the bee colonies. In time, both Ferns and St Davids will produce their own honey, which will be harvested and jarred for sale at both sites and shared across the Irish Sea between the neighbouring communities.
You can find our giant beehives in the southeast corner of the old graveyard beside the Cathedral. And don’t worry – although the hives are huge, we can assure you all the bees are normal sized!