Samui Wining & Dining
Ye Gods!

Alcohol seems to have been totally intertwined with religion throughout history.


14Drinking alcohol is a cultural and social pastime for many, just look around you. But it’s nothing new. For eons it’s been an intrinsic part of many religions. Celebrations, rituals and festivals have always included copious amounts of free-flowing booze. But is it a gift from the Gods? It certainly seems so!

      Throughout the first 1,800 years of church history, Christians consumed alcoholic beverages as a common part of everyday life and nearly always used wine in their central rite, the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. They held that both the Bible and Christian tradition taught that alcohol is a gift from God that makes life more joyous and that overindulgence, which leads to drunkenness, is a sin. In the mid-1800s, some Protestant Christians moved from this historic position of allowing moderate use of alcohol, to either deciding that not imbibing was wisest in the present circumstances, or prohibiting all ordinary consumption of alcohol because it was believed to be a sin. Today, all three of these positions exist in Christianity, but the historic position remains the most common worldwide.

      Alcoholic beverages appear repeatedly in the Bible, both in actual usage and in poetic expression. And, on the whole, the Bible is ambivalent towards them, considering them both a blessing from God that brings merriment and a potential danger that can be unwisely and sinfully abused. Since nearly all Christians base their views of alcohol, in whole or in part, on their understanding of what the Bible says about it, the Bible is the single most important source on the subject, followed by Christian tradition.

      And in general terms the bible also speaks of wine as a bringer and concomitant of joy, particularly in the context of nourishment and feasting. Wine was commonly drunk at meals, and the Old Testament prescribed it for use in sacrificial rituals and festal celebrations. The Gospels record that Jesus himself miraculously made large amounts of wine at the wedding feast at Cana. And when he instituted the ritual of the Eucharist at the Last Supper during a Passover celebration, he says that the wine is a “New Covenant in [his] blood.” That said, many Christians have differed on the implications of this statement.

      History tells a similar story of mythical gods closely associated with alcohol. Bacchus was the Roman god of wine. Dionysus was credited by the Greeks with bringing wine to mankind. They still celebrate a three-day festival in his honour each year in Athens. Ninkasi was the Sumerian goddess of alcohol and known as the ‘Lady who fills the mouth.’ Osiris was the Egyptian god of agriculture and two of its most important products, beer and wine. Aegir was the Norse god of the sea and brewed beer in a kettle. Spenta Armaiti was a Persian goddess charged with guarding the vineyards. Mayahuel was the Aztec goddess of alcohol. And Mbaba-Mwanna-Warsea was an African goddess who produced rainbows to signal celebrations and was also the goddess of beer.

       Then there are the Christian patron-saints that keep those who make, serve and consume alcohol safe. And there is a near legion of these fine folks. Saint Luke (1st Century), Saint Barbara (d. 235 AD), Saint Medard of Noyon (470-560), Saint Adrian (b. 303), Saint Lawrence (d. 258), Augestine of Hippo (354-430), Nicholas of Myra - also known as Santa Claus (4th Century), Saint Veronua, Boniface of Mainz (680-754), King Wenceslas (907-929), Arnold of Soissons (1040-1087) and Arnou of Oudenaarde (11th Century) are all recognized as patron-saints of brewers. Wine, winemakers and vineyards have their protectors, including Vincent of Saragossa (d. 304), Urban of Langres (d. 390), Martin of Tours (316-397) and Walter of Pontnoise (d. 1099).

      Distillers have Louis IX of France (1214-1270), canonized for leading crusades. Merchants selling beer and wine, vine growers and bartenders claim Amand of Maastricht (584-679). Saint Brigid (475-525) was credited with turning dirty bath water at a leper colony into thirst quenching beer (she’s welcome to come and visit me any day!). Saint Benedict (480-547) established the Benedictine order, whose rules include hospitality as a key element. This allowed monks to start brewing beer and selling it to locals and travellers. Medieval monks were renowned as the finest creators of beer and wine and were allotted about five litres of beer per day. They were allowed to drink beer (but not wine) during fasts, and it is said of the customs of England in the day that at least a gallon of beer per day was the usual allowance per person, even for nuns. That’s a lot different from the nuns that taught at my school; you couldn’t even get away with chewing on a wine gum!

       Saint Columbanus converted Swiss pagans about to sacrifice a large kettle of beer by telling them God wanted them to enjoy the drink in his name. Saint Arnold of Metz (580-640) is accredited with saving countless lives during the plague by telling people to drink beer instead of impure water. It quenched many thirsts and was definitely preferable to the Black Death. King Gambrinus is not an official saint of the Catholic Church, but brewers claim him as their patron-saint. It is said that Gambrinus, King of Flanders, was the first to use hops and malted barley in beer. Historians argue that Gambrinus may actually have been Jan Primus (John I, 1251-1294) who was the Duke of Flanders, Brabant, Louvain and Antwerp. Others say he was Jean Sans Peur (John the Fearless, 1371-1419).

         A gift from the gods you ask? Well a quick walk around some of the bars here after midnight and you might consider alcohol a curse. On the other hand, I know there have been a number of times I would have nominated a talented brewer, distiller or vintner for sainthood after trying one of their finer creations. Certainly those who turn grapes and grains into enjoyment for the masses deserve it.


Johnny Paterson


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