The Barberini bees of pope Urbabus III


This story is a summary of an article in 1997 written by Paul Adriaensen in the Dutch language. Published in the magazine of the Flemish beekeepers V.I.B.

The original article is a so called 'tourist beekeepers guide' for Rome and counts 24 pages with 47pictures. If you would like the whole story, you can ask Jan de Crom for a copy.

The surname of Pope Urbanus VIII was 'the Attic Bee'. Not because of the bees in his family coat of arms, but because of his excellent knowledge of the old Greec language. 

Pope Urbanus VIII - his secular name is Maffeo Barberini - was born in 1568 at Florence as a descendent of a rich Tuscan noble family. The founder of the family, Francesco Barberini, moved around 1550 to Rome. He made a fortune by high positions at the papal court.

Originally the Barberini family descended from the family Tafani, which most likely is native to the village of Barberino near Siena. 'Tafano' is the Italian word for horse fly. So at first horse flies were pictured on the family arms. Probably in the 14th Century when the family moved to Florence, the family name changed from Tafani into Barberini. The horse flies transfbrmed, first into wasps and later into bees. Thence the three bees on the papal blazon of Pope Urbanus VIII.


Pope Urbanus VIII and his coat of arms; Vatican City 1999

The heraldic device of Urbanus VIII was: "Sponte Favo Aegre Spicula" Translated:' willingly I give honey, unwillingly the sting".

For the most part the pontificate of Urbanus VIII was dominated by the Thirty Years War (1618 - 1648). This war was caused by the Reformation that split Europe into a catholic south and a Protestant north, Consolidated by the power politics of the Bourbon dynasty in France and the Habsburg dynasty in Spain and Austria.

For Pope Urbanus VIII this war was a delicate situation: it was difficult to make choices. A wrong decision could be the end of the independence of the papal state. This situation led to the following nice anecdote.

The papal device inspired a French soldier to write under the blazon of the Pope: "Gallis mella dabunt, Hispanis spicula figent" (For the Frenchman the honey meal, for the Spaniard the sharp sting). A Spanish soldier answered: "Spicula si figent, emorientus apes" (Will you prick Spain, yourself will go to your death).

Displeased about such a misuse of his device Urbanus VIII reacted: "Cunctis mella dabunt, nulli sua spicula figent" "Spicula rex etenim figure nescit apum" They will go for honey for everyone and in no manner sting somebody. Because the Pope, the king of the bees, cannot permit his people to suffer.

by Jan de Crom  
taken from "The Postal Bee" 1/2001 
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