St. Modomnoc of Ossory

I recently discvovered that the area where Saint Modomnoc died, Kilkenny, Ireland, is where my own Irish ancestors are from. Sometimes it's those little connections that imbue so much more meaning than even the big, flashy miracles.

I first learned about Saint Modomnoc from a children's book which was recommended to me by Amazon. See, sometimes algorithms can be good! The book is called The Saint and his Bees and it's an adorable story with beautiful illustrations. There's not a lot of existing information on St. Modomnoc, so much of my post today will be inspired by this book. Also, as always, I've taken a few creative liberties of my own.

Lifetime: ~500 to ~550
Region: Ireland & Wales
Patronages: Bees & Beekeepers; Kilkenny, Ireland
Iconograpy: Bees or beehive; Green robe; Red or gray hair & beard
Feast Day: February 13

Modomnoc was named Dominic during his life (putting "Mo" in front was an Irish way of adding familiarity). He was born to the powerful O'Neill clan, a long line of kings and royals, but Dominic left his noble family to dedicate his life to God.

As a young monk, Dominic crossed the sea to study in a monastery in Wales. The abbot of that monastery (little did anyone know at the time) would go on to become St. David of Wales, the patron saint of the entire country of Wales.

Dominic learned many things at the monastery in Wales, but what he would become best known for is probably he never expected when he boarded the ship to Wales. This monastery, like many others, required its monks to participate in the daily labor that was needed to keep everyone fed and to keep the monastery beautiful. And so, when he arrived, Dominic was put in charge of the bees.

But there's a reason that this young novice who just arrived from another country was given apiary duties. As the lowest-ranked monk, he was given one of the least desirable jobs, and these bees has a reputation for being particularly aggressive and prone to stinging anyone who got too close to their hive.

Dominic had never seen bees before, so he didn't know to be afraid of their sting. So he rushed to work, excited to be in this new monastery with so much to learn, and ready to take on his task as the monastery's beekeeper. Some of the other monks watched to see whether he would get stung, but to their surprise, the bees didn't attack Dominic.

He walked right up to their hive to say hello to the bees. Some of them came out to see this new monk and they flew around him, but Dominic didn't swat at them or cower. Instead, he started to hum a hymn that he liked, which the bees' buzzing had reminded him of.

The bees appeared to like the song, and they stopped flying around his head. More bees came out of the hive to hear the song, and their flight seemed to bob with the beat of the music.

Dominic was enchanted by these creatures. Each one was an individual, flying out to scout around and find flowers to drink from, then returning to guide her peers to the treasure. And yet, any one of them would sacrifice herself for the good of the hive. They were like their own little monastery.

When he didn't have other work or prayer, sometimes he liked to follow a single bee, to see how far it would travel and which flowers it liked. After a while, he knew all the bees' favorite flowers. He'd wander around, looking for them so he could see one of his friends sipping nectar. But he realized that all their most favorite kinds of flowers were far away from the monastery and they didn't get to fly to them very often. So he started digging up some of those flowers and planting them next to the hives. He made a little garden, just for the bees, of all their favorite foods. It was a bee smorgasbord!

The bees grew to love Dominic, and they never stung him. Sometimes a few of them would rest on his robes so they could join in evening prayers after a long day of harvesting. And none of the monks had ever seen hives produce so much honey.

Eventually, it was time for Dominic to return to Ireland. He was sad to leave his bee friends, and the other monks, but he had learned a lot here and God was calling him back home to start a new monastery of his own. Dominic spent his last night at the monastery singing a lamentation to the bees and making sure the other monks knew just how to best care for them in his absence.

The next morning, it was time to head home. Dominic said goodbye to his brothers and his bees, and got on the boat to take him back across the sea. He took one last look at the monastery that had been his home for years as the boat dipped into the waters.

After a few hours, as the waves were lulling him into a hypnotic sleep, he thought he heard a familiar sound just over the crashing waters. He snapped his eyes back open and turned back to shore. He saw a dark cloud hovering just over the surface of the water, following directly behind the boat but slowly catching up. After a moment of panic, he relaxed. It was his bees!

Dominic asked the sailors to stop the boat and they agreed. Quickly the swarm rushed to the boat and landed in it. The sailors were nervous, but Dominic convinced them to turn back to return the bees to the monastery. Though he would love for his companions to join him back in Ireland, they belonged to the monastery and he didn't want his brothers to miss out on the tasty honey.

When they got back to the monastery, everyone was surprised to see Dominic again, but all the monks agreed that if they bees wanted to go with him, they would go without honey for a little while until they could raise new hives. (Maybe it was because they were afraid of being stung if they told the bees no!)

Dominic was overjoyed at this. His new monastery would bring new brothers, but he had never seen bees before he went to Wales. He laughed and sang to the bees, and even prayed with them the whole trip back.

When he finally got to the place where his new monastery would be, he first planted a garden of the bees' favorite flowers before he laid a single stone.

And that, it is said, is the story of how bees came to Ireland.

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