Ever wonder why you are drawn to certain things and certain times? I wonder why, all the time, and I have yet to find an answer. For some reason, I have always been drawn to Childeric’s Bees, and feel compelled to tell their story. Why they were made? What was their purpose? Who was the artist that crafted such delicate gold and garnet objects in the late fifth century?
There’s a lot of mystery surrounding Childeric I (440-482). He lived during that fascinating (and my personal favorite) time period at the waning of the Western Roman Empire. The rise of the “barbarian” kingdoms in Europe is often called the Dark Ages, but the exquisite artifacts found in Childeric’s tomb prove that this age was anything but dark. Childeric just happens to be the father of Clovis I, founder of the Merovingian Dynasty. Childeric’s daughter Audofleda went on to marry Theodoric the Great, whose mausoleum sill stands in Ravenna, Italy today.
Childeric’s tomb was discovered in 1653 and contained spectacular gold artifacts, including over 300 beautiful gold and garnet cloisonné bees, as well as a gold and garnet sword hilt. The find was documented and illustrated by J.J. Chifflet in 1665. The treasure was passed down through the ages, first to Louis XIV, and then to to Napoleon. Finally, Childeric’s hoard was unceremoniously stored in a back room in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, where remained, largely forgotten. In 1831 thieves broke into the library and stole Childeric’s treasure, along with hundreds of pounds of gold artifacts. Most of the treasure was eventually recovered, but a significant portion had been melted down, including almost everything from Childeric’s tomb. In the end, all that was left were Childeric’s two little bees.
A Note on Childeric’s Bees: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/hydrionoframes/bees.html
Bibliothèque nationale de France’s Collection of Childeric’s Artifacts: http://gallica.bnf.fr/Search?ArianeWireIndex=index&q=childeric&lang=EN&n=15&p=1&pageNumber=197