The Saints Who Saved Lives With Beer

by March, Saints

Drink to good health!  That has been the cry of saints and popes as they have served mugs of beer to the sick.  In times of plague, members of the church have used beer to fight disease.  

St. Arnold of Soissons

        St. Arnold of Soissons (1040-1087) was the abbot of a monastery in Brussels. He enjoyed good relationships with his fellow monks as well as with the townspeople who lived and worked along the near-by river.  When Brussels was hit by a plague, the monks who lived and dined within the abbey walls were spared while townspeople suffered.  St. Arnold suspected that polluted water from the river was the source of the illness.  The townspeople regularly filled their cups at the river and drank the water as they walked along its banks.  The monks, however, didn’t drink water straight from the river.    They filled their buckets but didn’t take a sip until St. Arnold brewed it as beer.  St. Arnold believed that the brewing process destroyed germs.  

      St. Arnold offered his beer to the townspeople and urged them to drink that instead of water from the river. Lives were saved.  History has given St. Arnold credit for developing a filtration system used in brewing beer.    In the late 1800s, another Catholic, Louis Pasteur, conducted further studies on germs and developed a system to prevent, beer, wine, milk, and other beverages from spoiling.  His system, now known as pasteurization, led to the prevention of disease and lessened world hunger.   

St. Brigid of Kildare

.   St. Brigid of Kildare (c. 451-525) also lived during a time when beer was brewed to sanitize and add nutrients to river water.  Beer was considered liquid bread because it contained many of the same nutrients. Legend holds that St. Brigid quenched the thirst of lepers and gave them nourishment by turning water into beer and that she miraculously supplied beer to churches.  

St. Brigid is believed to be the author of an eleventh-century poem that honors beer by declaring:

I’d like to give a lake of beer to God,

I’d love the heavenly

Host to be tippling there

For all eternity.

I’d sit with the men, the women, and God

There by the lake of beer,

We’d be drinking good health forever

And every drop would be a prayer. 1

Pope Paul V

In the 1600s, Trappist monks, members of the Cistercians of the Strict Order of Observance, brewed ale to sanitize water from the rivers and add nutrients to it. At first, the ale was enjoyed by monks and distributed free to community members in need.  Later the monks began selling the ale to support their monasteries.   

 In 1614, Pope Paul V called beer a “salutary remedy for the human race” when he issued the Rituale Romanum, a manual that contained blessings for many situations.  Alluding to its potential healing qualities, Pope Paul V issued this blessing for a mug of beer: 

We pray, Bless, Lord, this creature of beer, which You have deigned to produce from the fat of corn: that it may be a salutary remedy for the human race, and grant it through the invocation of Your holy name; so that those who drink from it may perceive the health of the body and the protection of the soul. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

When we gather with family for food and drink, we remember the work of St. Arnold, St. Brigid, and Pope Paul V. The saints have shown us that everything, even a mug of beer, can be used to help others.  

Learn more about the Saints and Catholic Culture

Catholicism Everywhere: From Hail Mary Passes to Cappuccinos-How the Catholic Faith Is Infused in Culture

Many faithful Catholics greet God and give Him thanks and praise when they arise in the morning and retire at night. How they stay connected with Him and the Faith throughout the day, however, varies widely. Many forget that He is right there to call upon whenever the need or impulse arises. Others see Him all around, in the flowers of the field, the birds of the air, the smile of a child. Uniquely, Catholicism Everywhere treats the reader to the many expressions of God in the hobbies, foods, structures, and inventions developed by the Catholic Church and her members.

  1. Frater Hibernicus, “Saint Brigid and Beer!”  Franciscan Ponderings (blog), January 30, 2012, http://francisanponderings, blogspot.com/2012/01/st-brigid-and-ber.html.
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