Friday, April 8, 2011

Bees and Beehives as Temple Symbols

One interesting symbol occasionally used in Latter-day Saint temples is the beehive (or bee).  Bees and beehives have become a temple symbol for several reasons.  Some early members were masons and apparently the masons like the symbol.  In addition, bees are seen as a symbol of industry and working together.  They are a wonderful symbol of the Law of Consecration.  Bees also are used because The Book of Mormon mentions them.  In Ether 2:3 we read:
And they did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honey bee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees, and all manner of that which was upon the face of the land, seeds of every kind.
That verse isn't overly significant, but it did lead to Utah's first name being the Territory of Deseret.  The early church members liked bees and their symbolism, liked the fact that they were mentioned by a special name in The Book of Mormon, and then used the symbol and name "deseret" a lot.  Today they are used in the names of the church's thrift store (Deseret Industries), welfare companies (Deseret Pasta), a name of a Young Women's class (Beehives), the church's temple clothing manufacturer (Beehive Clothing), a Latter-day Saint themed bookstore (Deseret Book), and is on the Utah state flag and is the symbol of Utah, the Beehive State, just to name of few of the symbol's uses today.  When the Conference Center was built, President Hinckley wanted symbols included, so beehives were etched onto the glass and carved beehives were attached to the pulpit.

As a symbol, bees can also remind us of Israel as a promised land of milk and honey in the bible (see verse 17).  It can also remind us that the manna that sustained the Israelites in the wilderness, a type of Christ (John 6:31-35) tasted like honey (see verse 31).  So, whether originally intended or not, bees can be a symbol of Christ.

Of course there is probably more symbolism dealing with bees, beehives, and honey.  But I want to get onto the architectural examples of this symbol in Latter-day Saint temples, so I'll move on.

The St. George Utah Temple
This was the first temple using beehives.  There are four, one on each side of two exterior staircases at the front of the temple.  You can see pictures here and here.

The Logan Utah Temple
Logan Temple Doorknob Bee
The original Logan Temple door knobs included a honeybee design.  The bee was on the plate below the doorknob.  In the picture you can see the bee on the right (and left) in the middle.

The Salt Lake Temple
Beehives are prominently featured in several spots in the Salt Lake Temple.  Doors throughout the temple have beehives on the doorknobs.  The main exterior doors contain more beehives and bees in the decorative grill work.  The new annex also includes the symbol on glass doors.  Interior doors throughout the temple also have beehives etched onto the frosted glass panels.

The Palmyra New York Temple
When I did a session in the Palmyra Temple two years ago I noticed that the celestial room chairs are upholstered with a fabric with honeybees on it.  Look for it when you go there.

The Manhattan New York Temple
Many symbols were worked into the Manhattan Temple.  The door handles were made to resemble the statue of liberty torches.  On the same doors, carved beehives were also included.

Those are the temples using beehive symbols that I know of.  Please comment and let us know where else they are used, or just what you think.

Addition to the original post-
  Recently, endowment room chairs have been replaced in the Logan Temple (and I think Salt Lake as well).  The chairs now have carved wood beehive medallions at the end of rows of seating.


Unknown said...

I discovered your blog a few days ago looking for symbolic meanings of the sun. After re-watching a session of conference, I noticed a beehive on the pulpit. I came back here and found this post. It's very interesting.

I knew that the architecture of the temples were symbolic (via my institute teacher), but I've never really done much thinking/researching about it.

Your blog is very insightful.

Terry R said...

As I member of the church and a beekeeper, I have been studying bees and beehives to learn why the beehive is an appropriate symbol for our temples. Here are just a few things I have learned:
1. The beehive is biologically a superorganism, which means the entire colony works so closely together than is works as "one". Sounds to me like Zion.
2. Beehives have guard bees at the hive entrance to protect the hive from intruders, including bees from other hives. Each hive (family) has a unique smell (pheromone) that all the members of the hive get from the queen. Bees from other hives who try to enter have to pass inspection by the guard bees before they are allowed to enter. Reminds me of temple workers at the recommend desk checking people's recommends to see if the are allowed to enter.
3. Every been in the colony has a job to do at various stages of their lives. Reminds me of the importance of everyone having a calling in the church.
4. Hives (like wards and stakes) multiple by dividing. With bees it's called swarming.
5. When bees return to their hive, they fly in a straight line (called a beeline). Sort of like the straight and narrow path we strive to follow on our way back home, too.
6. When bees collaborate, communicate, and cooperate, they are able to produce enough honey for themselves to make it through the winter, but hey are also able to produce a surplus (that's what the beekeeper takes). With a Zion society, we can and do produce more than we need so that we can help others in need.

There are so many more reasons why the beehive deserves to be a holy symbol in our temples. These are just a few of my thoughts on the subject.