by C. Bruce Hunter
From an English publication, The Square
- March 1998
The beehive, though a significant symbol of the Craft, lies
mainstream of Masonic icons. The beehive is a rather curious symbol, and it has
always posed a problem for the Craft. The problem does not lie in what the
beehive symbolizes, industry and cooperation, two perfectly good Masonic
virtues. The thing setting the beehive apart is its variance with the main
categories of Craft symbology. The first of these categories is a group of
architectural objects: the square, compasses, level, etc. They come from the
age of Gothic cathedrals and illustrate manís place in the universe by the
working tools of operative masons.
The other is a group of Biblical symbols: Jacobís Ladder, King Solomonís
Temple, etc. They tap more directly into the worldís spiritual heritage and
bring the fruits of ancient wisdom to the Craft.
Curiously, the beehive does not fit either category. Although it promotes
cooperative labor, it is not really an architectural
symbol; and while the Bible occasionally mentions milk and honey, that scarcely
qualifies the beehive as a Biblical symbol. This
places it among a small group of Masonic icons that lie outside the mainstream.
So where did this peculiar item originate, and
what does it have to do with Freemasonry? The answer may lie in an obscure
piece of church symbology: the beehive has long
been associated with St. Bernard of Clairvaux, representing the sweet eloquence
for which he was justly famous.
At first glance, St. Bernard seems far removed from the modern Masonic Lodge,
but they are connected, albeit by a tenuous
thread, and that thread extends all the way back to the early years of the
Shortly after the start of the twelfth century, a French knight named Hugh de
Payens approached Bernard, then serving as
Abbot of Clairvaux, France, for help in promoting an order of knights he had
just organized. The project grew from de
Payensís grand vision of leading an armed force to patrol the road from Joppa
In those days, many pilgrims made a heroic effort traveling to the Holy Land,
only to die of thirst or fall prey to bandits on the
last 50 kilometers of the journey. Hugh de Payens saw the need for protection
on that final, short leg of the pilgrimage, but he
had only a handful of followers and no financial resources. To make his plan
work, he needed official recognition from the
church, money for munitions and supplies, and new recruits. To secure all
these, he needed help from high places.
Thatís where Abbot Bernard came in. When the issue was presented to him, he
welcomed its challenge. He had always longed
to be a crusading knight and might have been, had it not been for his
chronically poor health. While that aspiration still eluded
him, as one of the most influential men in the church, he could now have the
vicarious pleasure of sponsoring a band of knights.
So he gave de Payens his complete support, using his eloquence to its fullest
in arguing the knightís case to the church
hierarchy. They naturally gave weight to Bernardís words. The cause that he
brought to their attention was certainly a righteous
one, and his eloquent presentation spurred them to act quickly.
The new Order, now universally known as the Knights Templar, became one of the
most famous organizations in the world. It
held sway in both church and military circles for nearly 200 years. Even now,
centuries after its demise, it remains a centerpiece
in the romance of the Crusades.
The details of the Templarsí story, their heroism, and piety, later tainted by
pride and corruption; their glorious rise and tragic
fall; and the epic struggles that spanned their careeródramatically combine
best and worst of the human condition.
Vignettes of Templar history depict virtues to which everyone can aspire and
lessons everyone should heed.
The Templar heritage has been claimed by more than one fraternity. However,
none of that would have happened if they had
not got off to a good start. Surely it is no coincidence that the beehive, the
emblem of Bernardís eloquence, the very key to the
Templarsí initial success, entered the symbology of the Masonic Fraternity
that, centuries later, would claim descent from the
Of course this is far from proof that Freemasonry descended from the Templars.
At most it shows that some long-forgotten
Mason introduced the symbol to commemorate a legendary connection, which he
himself might not have thought historically
sound. But as the beehive is neither architectural nor Biblical, we must look
elsewhere for the basis of its association with the
Craft. In that regard, its subtle connection with St. Bernard provides a
satisfying answer. It explains why the beehive belongs
among the Fraternityís symbols. And his connection with the Templars shows
this curious symbol has to do with virtues
that Masons have always held dear.
Illustrious Ralph A. Herbold, 33į, member of the Valley of Long Beach,
California, and Editor of the Southern California
Research Lodge F.&A.M., appended the following note to Brother Hunterís
In an interesting addition to the above
article, there is a Degree within the Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests
known as the Master of the Blue or Knight of
Solomon. The main symbol of this Degree is the beehive, and it contains a
legend woven around the Queen of Sheba, King
Solomon, and a beehive. The fact that it is a chivalric Degree is, in my
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