BEER, ACCORDING to the adage that has been attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. ”
If that’s true, it was the product of an extensive lobbying effort.
No other pastime has more saints advocating on its behalf than beer drinking. A definitive list compiled by my beer-drinking associate Jay Brooks of the San Jose Mercury News lists 29 saints who’ve been employed to represent our interests. They range from St. Arnold of Metz, whose casket spewed suds during his funeral procession, to Gambrinus, who falsely claimed to have invented beer.
In some instances, the case for sainthood is dubious at best.
St. Lawrence, a third-century cleric, earned his badge not because he ever quenched anyone’s thirst. Rather, his standing is due to his slow, agonizing, skin-searing execution over an open fire, which apparently reminded the locals of the aroma of freshly roasted malt.
Then there was St. Brigid, who supposedly turned bath water into beer. Heck, the makers of Keystone Light perform that “miracle” daily.
Why so many beer saints?
“My sense is partly that, because beer was so important throughout history, naturally many holy people were associated with beer simply due to that importance,” said Brooks. ” . . . The church had to acknowledge all of them. “
Well I’m not a Holy See, but I think I speak with a measure of authority when I say that beer drinkers have way too many heavenly intercessors.
Honestly, with the likes of Arnold of Metz, Augustine of Hipp, Medard of Noyon, Veronus, Floran, Hildegarde, Boniface and Columbanus all jabbering into his ear, the Pearly Gates must be as noisy as a $2 happy hour at Hooters. In that environment, I have real doubts that my heartfelt prayers for a magic kitchen beer spigot are being heard.
Worse, with all those saints to be honored, there’s a feast day every other week. Sure, I enjoy raising a glass in praise of St. Adrian of Nicomedia as much as the next guy. But after a while, all that veneration tends to be a bit of a buzz-kill.
So, it’s time for beer drinkers to settle on one patron saint. I’m going to make the case for St. Wenceslas.
First, he’s already got his own song, “Good King Wenceslas. “
And second, this guy actually did some good for our cause. While still a mere mortal, he established the all-important hops industry of Bohemia. He did this by ordering the execution of anyone caught smuggling hop plants out of his domain.
Admittedly, by today’s standards that’s a bit harsh.
But back in the 10th century, it served notice that Bohemia valued its beer and, especially, hops. Succeeding rulers would continue the bloody edict for hundreds of years thereafter, a form of protectionism that ultimately enabled the Czech region to evolve into one of the world’s great beer-making centers, one that would develop what is now the most widespread style of beer, pilsner.
The good king (who was actually only a duke) was martyred when his own brother, Boleslav, had him murdered so he could take over the throne. A thousand years later, nobody remembers Boleslav. But Wenceslas is now the patron saint of the Czech Republic and his feast day, Sept 28, is a national holiday.
On that day, Czechs fill Wenceslas Square in Prague and drain ample glasses of the original, Pilsner Urquell.
Does St. Wenceslas deserve to be the one, true patron saint of all beer drinkers?
In truth, I’m not a praying man. But just in case, St. Wenceslas, about that magic kitchen beer spigot . . .