16 March 2008

Holy Hops... What's the Deal?

On this Saint Patrick's Eve, anticipating everyone I encounter tomorrow to have a nasty hungover attitude, I realized I was ashamedly overdue in a beer post. Well fear not. I did some research for everyone! Well ok, I googled a few things, thought one or two individual thoughts, and began to tie it all together. Well, at least I learned a few things.

So, what's the deal with trappist monks, this guy Saint Patrick, and why this day has turned into a freakfest of drunkards and drinking before noon? And who in their right mind ever thought to die the dang drinks green? Ew!? This might be a slightly confusing way of tying them together, but it will make a bit more sense.

Centuries ago beer was the daily drink of the common people. You see, when the world regressed into the dark ages and messed up the public water and sewerage system, 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 meager, pretty much the same as everyone else (thanks freak ice age!), particularly during fast periods. However, consumption of liquids did not break fasting. Eventually, the monk's were able to also sell their beers to travelers who took shelter at their monasteries, 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.

Probably the best known Irish saint after Patrick is Saint Brigid (b. 457, d. 525). Brigid founded the monastery of Kildare and was known for spirituality, charity, and compassion. I thnk me and Brigid would have really gotten along. Check this out. 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." I remember many a moment like that, but alas no Saint Bridie around! Brigid is said to have changed her dirty bathwater into beer so that visiting clerics would have something to drink. TMI, but kind of cool. A poem attributed to Brigid in the Brussel's (ooooh Brussels) 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."

And speaking of Saint Patrick, what's the deal? Why the horrible MySpace photo aftermath with beads, weird shamrock antennae, and, brace yourself, green beer? Well here's some facts about Patrick and lets see if we can make the connection:

Patrick was born in southwestern Britain around 390 A.D. in his wealthy upperclass father's villa. Kidnapped by Irish pirates at sixteen, he spent six years as a slave tending sheep in County Mayo near Sligo. Patrick probably made his escape from Mayo to the coast of Wexford and returned home to Britain. Upon his return, Patrick received his theological training in Britain. Patrick was not sent to Ireland by the Pope, but by church authority in Britain. Patrick did not introduce Christianity to Ireland as this had been done by earlier missionaries and the first Bishop of Ireland, Palladius, who was ordained and sent to Ireland in 431 A.D. by Pope Celestine. There are probably at least two sources for the snakes which Patrick "drove" out of Ireland. A symbol for the goddess worship practiced in Ireland prior to Christianity was the snake or serpent. The conversion of Ireland to Christianity symbolically banished the "snake" from the land. Secondly, the bloody cult of Crom Cruaich in County Caven demanded human sacrifice to a serpent deity and the dismantling of this cult by Christianity is now remembered as the "snakes being driven from Ireland." Upon Patrick's arrival in Ireland, he led a successful mission, anointing clergy and baptizing thousands. An outcast among the stratified classes of Irish society he endured many hardships and wrote "I daily expect either assassination or trickery or reduction to slavery". After returning as Bishop to the land that had once considered him a slave, he never left again, becoming more closely identified with the Irish people than the British.

As a man, Patrick was devastated by captivity. In his years of slavery he developed a deep faith and sense of conviction in his God which provided him tremendous missionary zeal. Perhaps finding more acceptance among the society of his captors, Patrick dedicated his life's energy to the Irish christian mission and he died there around 460 A.D. with no ordained successor.

If you ask me... I think in some kind of time warp mix up...I think those lenten fasting days of the monks got confused with the end of winter (which we all know equals to total cabin fever) and feast day of Saint Patrick. So perhaps a bit of a misleading holiday, but no reason not to get out there and appreciate life. But for heaven's sake, if you do one thing for me, please do not taint your beer with green dye!

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