The Beekeepers by Mary Elizabeth Podles

A Thousand Words

The Beekeepers—Exultet Scroll

by Mary Elizabeth Podles

This scene of medieval beekeepers demonstrates that beekeeping has remained virtually unchanged for a thousand years. At the left, a man in a blue tunic and fancy striped hose has opened a box hive identical to ones used today and is cutting honeycomb into an extractor. Beside him, a helper in red catches the honey in a jug. To the right, two barefoot men are capturing a swarm: one cuts the branch on which they cluster, while the other entices them into a box with a jar of honey. Bees as big as songbirds fill all the blank spaces and bury their faces in bright red flowers. The beekeepers all have rosy cheeks, which mark them as the products of an eleventh-century Benedictine scriptorium; presumably the red dots signify the healthy glow that comes of the monastic combination of work and prayer.

The beekeepers are not, as one might suppose, an illustration of secular life, such as one might find in a later Book of Hours. Rather, they are an illustration of a verse of the Exultet, the great song of praise sung after the lighting of the Paschal candle at the Easter Vigil, the apex of the liturgical year. Towards the end of the prayer, the deacon offers the Paschal candle, symbol of the risen Christ, to the Father:

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Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.


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