|Gobnait (Gobnet, Gobhnet, Gobnaid, Gobnata, or Gobnatae), was born in County Clare, Ireland, sometime in the 5th or 6th century. Gobnait is Irish for Abigail (“Brings Joy”). As the patron saint of beekeepers, her name also has been anglicized as Deborah, meaning “Honey Bee.”|
Monasteries and oratories in Gobnait’s time would have resembled stone beehives. A Clochán is dry-stone hut with a corbelled roof, dating from the early Middle Ages or earlier. Most archaeologists think these structures were built on the southwestern coast of Ireland since the Bronze Age. An “Oratory” was a small stone Church for reading the Gospels aloud (all 150 Psalms were memorized for use in their daily prayer: praying the hours). Many of the Oratories were only large enough to hold twelve people—the number of monks considered optimal in early Irish monasteries. Some later Monastic communities had hundreds of monks—and their families! Some of the Celtic Monasteries allowed married monks—the position of Abbot sometimes even passing from father to son.
One of the miracles attributed to Saint Gobnait was that she protected a parish by unleashing a swarm of bees.
She was also known for her care of the sick. One story tells how she kept the plague out of the village of Ballyvourney in Ireland by designating it consecrated ground. Saint Gobnait’s Day is February 11th is still celebrated by the community of Ballyvourney, in County Cork. During a Mass at the well, everyone takes water from it. She had a strong relationship with bees and used the properties of honey in the treatment of illness and healing of wounds.
Medieval beliefs about bees: “Bees are the smallest of birds. They are born from the bodies of oxen, or from the decaying flesh of slaughtered calves; worms form in the flesh and then turn into bees. Bees live in community, choose the most noble among them as king, have wars, and make honey. Their laws are based on custom, but the king does not enforce the law; rather the lawbreakers punish themselves by stinging themselves to death. Bees are afraid of smoke and are excited by noise. Each has its own duty: guarding the food supply, watching for rain, collecting dew to make honey, and making wax from flowers.”