This is the second of a small series of sporadic entries dedicated to saints who loved beer. While there are a number of authentic accounts of saints who personally imbibed, praised or otherwise promoted beer, they are a minority when compared to the number of saints who went on record condemning our favorite beverage. Of course to me this makes them only all the more interesting. But enough of the prologue… let’s get to the saint.
Saint Columbanus (543-615) was an Irish-born saint who helped bring Celtic monasticism to the continent. There are two associations connecting him with beer. The first is a story and the second, a quote. Legend has it that Columbanus came upon a group of men in the town of Bregenz (in modern day Austria) who were sacrificing a vat of ale to the god Wodan. Angred by this act of idolatry Columbanus breathed upon the vessel which promptly shattered and spilled the beer upon the ground. Columbanus is then reported to have then told the now frightened Wodan worshippers that good ale is wasted on false gods. He then explained that the Christian God also loved beer but only when it was drunk in his name. The result of the miracle and Columbanus’ attractive (and beer-friendly) theology brought about many conversions.
Even more famous is this quotation,
“It is my design to die in the brew house; let ale be placed to my mouth when I am expiring, that when choirs of angels come they may say, ‘May God be propitious to this drinker.’”
While this may bring a chuckle, its real significance lies not in its humor but in the fact that for Columbanus did not see any disconnect between love of beer and a life devoted to God. For too long in the country we have suffered under the weight of our Prohibitionist legacy. It is high time we recognized that it does not represent all of Christianity. Indeed the Celtic strain of the faith emphasizes the goodness of creation and so naturally fosters a love and appreciation of the blessings of life, beer included.