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Brewed In America: The History of Beer and Ale in the United States
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Saints of Suds ("When The Saints Go Malting In")

by The Brews Brothers (Steve Frank and Arnold Meltzer)

Steve Frank and Arnold Meltzer. Reprint by permission only.

How did important religious personages become the patron saints of suds? The bishops of brewers? The apostles of ale? Both universal and local Saints have reportedly performed miracles, either during their lives or afterwards, that involved the working class people and beer. Other saints were designated because they represent beer producing and consuming regions.

Centuries ago beer was the daily drink of the people, both because plain water was often polluted and due to beer's inexpensive, nourishing qualities. Monks brewed beer for themselves as a safe source of hearty sustenance. Monk's meals were frugal at best, particularly during fast periods. However, consumption of liquids did not break the fast. Without widespread hotel chains, monasteries served as inn's for travelers who shared the monk's provisions, especially their robust, sustaining beers. Eventually, the monk's were able to also sell their beers at pubs called klosterschenken, and a flourishing trade developed. To build brand loyalty, the names of the monastery's patron saint was used. To this day many beers bear the name of a saint.

The procedure which the church uses to name a saint, called canonization, has only operated since the tenth century. Prior to that, since the first century, saints were chosen by public acclaim. While this may have been fairer to the general public, it included information that was both legend or fictitious, and eventually the Vatican assumed the authority for approving saints. Among the patron saints of brewers, four are extremely well known: Augustine of Hippo, Luke the Apostle, Nicholas of Myra (also known as Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus) and the Good King Wenceslas, the latter two also providing a linkage to the winter season of merriment.

Augustine of Hippo, now part of Tunisia (born 354 AD, died 430 AD) was known for wild living and significant alcoholic beverage consumption prior to his conversion. His complete turnaround and life of moderation contributed to his becoming a patron saint of brewers.

Nicholas of Myra, Turkey is believed to have lived in first half of 4th century, and died between 342 and 350 AD. St. Nicholas is associated with the legend of the Three Clerics, a drama about 3 church scholars who stopped for lodging at an inn, where the innkeeper slew them for their money. A disguised Nicholas invoked God's help to resurrect them and, by doing so, became a protector over travelers and brewers.

Saint Luke (first century) is widely regarded as a patron saint of brewers although there is no obvious reason. Possible connections include his being a physician and knowing that the beer of the time was healthier than the water of the time, and his ability to mix various herbs together for medicines just as they were mixed for beer.

Other saints who are considered patron saints of brewers but for which we have not found any apparent connection are Saint Barbara (d.235); Saint Medard of Noyon (b. 470, d. 560); and Saint Adrian (b. 303) who is widely recognized as a patron saints of beer and his feast day is celebrated with reveling throughout Europe. St. Veronus reported to be a patron saint of Belgian brewers, does not appear in the church liturgy. St. Veronus, the patron saint of Lambeek, a town famous for a unique style of beer, is a local saint who gained national appeal.

Saint Wenceslas (b. 907, d. 929) promoted the spread of Christianity in Czechoslovakia. Wenceslas became famous through a Christmas carol by J.M. Neale, "Good King Wenceslas", which has little to do with history but more with Victorian ideals. Because Bohemian hops were so valued, Wenceslas ordered the death penalty for anyone caught exporting the cuttings and obviously endeared himself to the local hop growers and brewers. He became the patron saint of Bohemia and Czechoslovakia and his crown became the symbol of nationalism for the Czechs. By extension he became a patron saint of Czech brewers. There also was King Wenceslas II in the 13th century, who convinced the Pope to revoke an order banning the brewing of beer, again endearing the Wenceslas name to local brewers.

King Gambrinus is revered by many brewers as a patron saint. According to folk tales, Gambrinus was King of Flanders. Reputed to have invented hopped, malt beer, the legendary Gambrinus may have actually been Jan Primus (John I, 1251-1294), Duke of Flanders, Brabant, Louvain, and Antwerp. Primus, according to the Encyclopedia of Beer, is credited with introducing the toast as a custom. Some others attribute Gambrinus to Jean Sans Peur (John the Fearless, 1371-1419) , known as Ganbrivius. Although there is no evidence of him among the church listings of saints, Gambrinus, called the "King of Beer", continues to be celebrated by brewers as a patron saint.

Probably the best known Irish saint after Patrick is Saint Brigid (b. 457, d. 525). Known as "the Mary of the Gael," Brigid founded the monastery of Kildare and was known for spirituality, charity, and compassion. St. Brigid also was a generous, beer-loving woman. She worked in a leper colony which found itself without beer, "For when the lepers she nursed implored her for beer, and there was none to be had, she changed the water, which was used for the bath, into an excellent beer, by the sheer strength of her blessing and dealt it out to the thirsty in plenty." Brigid is said to have changed her dirty bathwater into beer so that visiting clerics would have something to drink. Obviously this trait would endear her to many a beer lover. She also is reputed to have supplied beer out of one barrel to eighteen churches, which sufficed from Maundy Thursday to the end of paschal time. A poem attributed to Brigid in the Brussel's library begins with the lines "I should like a great lake of ale, for the King of the Kings. I should like the family of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal."

Saint Amand (b. 584, d. 679) primarily operated in the regions now considered northern France and Belgium. He established a score of monasteries, many of which probably produced beer. Considered the father of Belgian monasticism, he is associated with the centers of wine growing and beer brewing. Because of his reputation for hospitality, Amand also is a patron saint of beer and wine merchants.

Another patron saint in Belgium, Arnold of Soissons (b. 1040, d. 1087) is specifically considered the patron saint of hop pickers. He often is confused with Saint Arnold of Metz and the same miracles, therefore, are associated with both of them depending on the source. Other names for the various Arnolds include Arnulf, Arnou, Arnulphus , and Arnoldus, depending on the language in which the name is spoken.

Following the collapse of the roof of an abbey brewery in Flanders, the good Saint Arnold of Soissons asked God to multiply the stores of beer which were left for the monk's consumption. When Arnold's prayer was answered in abundance, the monks and townspeople were prepared to canonize him on the spot. While Arnold of Soissons is best known for his miraculous provision of beer, he is also credited with a most practical improvement upon the brewing process. While weaving bee skeps for the abbey's apiary, the abbot realized that the straw cones could be used as a filter to further clarify the brother's beer. In remembrance of this contribution to the brewer's art, the good saint is often portrayed--as on the certificates of the Belgian Brewers Confederation--in the company of bees with one hand resting upon a bee skep.

Arnold of Soissons also is considered the patron saint of hop pickers because of the region in which he preached. Hops originated in Brabant region of Belgium. They became more widespread when a Belgian princess married a Kentish prince and the dowry included land across from the Affligem brewery. Belgians reportedly sent the first hops to England for use in making beer.

"Don't drink the water, drink beer" warned Saint Arnold of Metz (b. 580 AD, d. 640), concerned about the dangers of drinking impure water. He believed that the polluted water caused illness, while the boiled and processed water used for beer was a safer alternative. According to legend he ended a plague when he submerged his crucifix into a brew kettle and persuaded people to drink only beer from that "blessed" kettle. He is reported to have said "From man's sweat and God's love, beer came into the world".

There are multiple versions of a tale about his providing beer to the people. The story is told of porters moving his body after building a tomb for his relics/bones for people to visit. A tired porter overcome with heat uttered a plea to God for a cool refreshing beer. No sooner had this request been made than copious amounts of cold beer shot out of the casket they carried, drenching all and quenching their thirst.

The third Saint Arnold connected to beer is Arnou of Oudenaarde. St. Arnou's main claim to beer fame is that he successfully appealed to God for cold beer for the soldiers to drink during a battle in Flanders in the 11th century. Certainly a person we would want on our side. He also is said to have been able to multiply beer into vast quantities through blessing and prayer.

Saint Benedict (b. 480, d. 547), the father of Western monasticism, is best known for establishing the Benedictine order and monasteries, and for a set of rules which defined the standards for life in a monastery. These rules, which were followed by most European monasteries, included providing for visitors or passersby who would eat or drink what the monks did. Eventually many of these monasteries sold their beers to the public, and retained the names of the saints from the abbeys.

Saint Boniface of Mainz (b. 680, d. 754) is also known as Wynfrith or Winfrid. He was born in Devonshire, England but spent most of his religious life teaching and preaching in Germany, especially in the areas of Bavaria, Thuringia, Franconia, and Hesse where he founded a number of monasteries. He became a patron saint of Germany and, by extension, of brewers.

A missionary to the Germans in the areas near the Lake of Zurich, St. Columbanus (b. 612) came upon an assembly of pagans making ready a sacrifice with a large tub filled with beer in their midst. He asked them what they intended to do with it and they answered that it was an offer to their god Wodan. St. Columbanus blew upon it (possibly with a beer breath), and immediately the vessel burst into splinters with a great noise and all the beer was spilled. The barbarians were surprised, and said he had a strong breath. He then explained to the assembled that they were wasting good ale and his God loved ale, but only when drunk in his name. He exhorted them to forsake their superstitions and return to the faith. Many were converted and baptized; others, who had been formerly baptized, and had apostatized, returned to the obedience of the gospel. He is known for saying "It is my design to die in the brew-house; let ale be placed to my mouth when I am expiring so that when the choir of angels come they may say: 'Be God propitious to this drinker.'"

While not yet considered a patron saint of beer, Saint Cuthbert (c. 636, c. 687), Bishop of Lindisfarne, may be the best option for a patron saint of maltsters. During his final years, in retreat on the Island of Farne, Cuthbert was only able to sustain himself by growing barley. He also became a protector of the barley by invoking the name of God to disperse the birds who hungered to consume the barley.

Saint Florian (b. 700) is reputed to have saved Nurnberg, Germany from burning in a great fire in the 8th century. It is not clear if he used the beer or the stored water from a brewery to extinguish the fire. Fires often happened at night, when people made fires for warmth. A nearby brewery would have been an obvious source of liquids, both water and beer, since water would have been drawn to settle out for the next day's brewing.

Hildegard von Bingen (b. 1098, d.1179) was a benedictine nun, the Abbess of Diessenberg, and a well known herbalist, mystic and musician. Although she has not yet been canonized, she has been beatified and is considered a saint by many people. Hildegard was a highly enlightened woman who overcame social, cultural, and gender barriers and became an advisor to bishops, popes, and kings. She used the curative powers of natural objects for healing, and wrote treatises about natural history and medicinal uses of plants, animals, trees and gemstones. Her writings include the earliest known reference to using hops in beer "(Hops), when put in beer, stops putrification and lends longer durability."

Saint Lawrence (d. 258) was an archdeacon of the Roman church during the reign of Pope Sixtus II in the third century. According to the Brewery Museum in Bamberg, Germany, which has Lawrence as its patron saint, his putative method of martyrdom is the reason for his relationship to brewers. Lawrence was strapped to a gridiron and slowly roasted over an open flame. This made him a patron saint of various occupations that use fire including cooks, bakers, innkeepers, laundresses, and firemen. Brewers have a particular affinity for Lawrence because his method of martyrdom reminds them of how malt is dried. In Bamberg, the brewers' guild required young brewers to carry his likeness in processions and make donations to the church on his feast day. Saint Dorothy (d. 311) of Cappadocia, now part of Turkey, is another patron saint of brewers who was similarly tortured by being stretched on an iron bed over flames.

For many centuries, brewers have invoked the names of patron saints to bless and protect their beers. Since the early brewing process was not well understood, often times the batch of beer was not fit for drinking. The poor quality was mystically blamed on evil spirits and specifically on "brew witches" or "beer witches." The last known burning of a beer witch was in the late 1500s. Now that we have vastly improved beer quality, when you quaff your next pint, consider the saintly company with which you are associating and who may be looking over you. May the Saints bless your pint.


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