the root of the tree of bland beer in order to convert the
masses to a more enjoyable drinking experience.
Who was Saint Boniface?
Saint Boniface, who was actually christened Winfrid, was born into a wealthy, respected family in Devonshire, England. He disappointed his father by devoting himself to a monastery early in life. By the age of 30, he became a priest. When the abbot of his abbey died, Boniface set out on a missionary journey to Frisia ( a part of Germany) instead of taking over the role of abbot as expected.
After a year of preaching in the countryside of Frisia, he was forced to return to his monastery in England due to a war between Charles Martel and the king of the Frisians. The following year he traveled to Rome where Pope Gregory II renamed him Boniface after a 4th century martyr. He was also appointed missionary bishop for Germania, an area with no church organization.
He never returned home to England.
Saint Boniface is most famous for felling the Donar Oak or Jupiter’s Oak near the present-day town of Fritzlar in northern Hesse. According to an early biographer, as Boniface began chopping the ancient oak with his axe, a sudden, great gust of wind blew the sacred tree down. It was a common custom in that time and place to worship trees considered sacred to the gods. When the revered tree fell and Boniface was not struck down by a god, the people were awe-struck and converted to Christianity. Using wood from the tree, Boniface built a chapel dedicated to Saint Peter on the site.
Still hopeful of winning more converts in Frisia, he returned with a group of missionaries. Boniface established a place of meeting to preach to the people. Instead of converts, a group of armed looters showed up. These bandits killed Boniface and his retinue, got drunk on the wine found among their possessions and proceeded to kill each other arguing over the booty. To the survivors disappointment, instead of gold and silver, the chests of Saint Boniface contained only books.
Saint Boniface’s remains were eventually buried in the Abbey of Fulda.
Patron Saint of Brewers?
Saint Boniface actually shares the title of ‘patron saint of brewers’ with many other saints including Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Arnold of Metz, and Saint Barbara. In past ages, beer was the daily drink of the people due to polluted water conditions, plus beer was inexpensive and nourishing.
Monks brewed beer for their monasteries and as monasteries often served as inns for travelers, outsiders also enjoyed their brews. Over time the demand for the monks’ brews outside the monasteries lead to the development of pubs, first known as klosterschenken. As the pubs flourished, to differentiate between brews, the monasteries began selling their beers by their patron saints’ names.
In these early times the process of brewing was not fully understood so the brewers invoked the names of saints to bless and protect their beers. A poor brew was blamed on evil spirits known as “brew or beer witches.”