Standing on the shoulders of giants: Arnold of Soissons tagged: , ,

Standing on the shoulders of giants: Arnold of Soissons

Posted by in Beer, Theology

Right, I think its about time for another in our series looking at some of our heroes of the faith – the great brewers in Church History. This week its St Arnold of Soisson (also known as Arnoldus), one of the many patron saints of brewers and more particularly, the patron saint of hop pickers.

Arnie was born in Brabant c. 1040 and was in the armed forces for several years before jacking it in to become a monk (living the dream!). He tried the old hermit thing for a few years but he couldn’t be doing with all the sage and onion stuffing and so he ended up becoming the abbot even though he tried his best to refuse the job and did a runner. But a wolf convinced him to change his mind. If you read the hagiographies, blokes did that all the time (the refusing honour bit, not the wolf bit – thats quite original). It underlines their humilty.

Anyway, Arnie ends up becoming a full-on priest and in 1080 gets the gig as Bishop of Soisson. I don’t think he was that fussed about this job either because when another priest muscled in on his turf, Arnold just let him have the see and took the opportunity to pursue his retirement project.

He founded an Abbey in Oudenburg and immediately set about brewing. He encouraged the local people to drink beer instead of water because of its “gift of health”. That wasn’t just marketing guff – the water in those days was pretty rank and liable to give you something nasty llike dysentry, choleria, or the squits. Because it was boiled during the brewing process and the alcohol preserves it, beer was much better for you.

One of the miracles attributed to Arnold of Soissons relates to the time his abbey was badly damaged in a fire. Beer supplies were drying up and the locals were going mental. Things were getting bad and some of them had even started drinking water! Arnold prayed and the beer stores were miraculously multiplied. Everyone was was so chuffed, they wanted to canonise him there and then.

Arnold is also given credit for a technological advancement in the art of brewing. Goodness only knows why, but Arnold started using the the abbey’s bee hives to filter his beer. The hives were made of woven straw, and he realised that the straw cones could be used as filters to clarify the brew. In recognition of this contribution, Arnold is sometimes depicted surrounded by bees resting a hand on a hive (as on the certificates of the Belgian Brewers Confederation). More often, St Arnold is depicted holding a mashing fork and a bishop’s mitre.

During his gap year in the States, he also established the St Arnold Brewing Company in Houston which still brews some of the best ale in the state of Texas.

Arnold is celebrated in Brussels in July with a festival called the “Day of Beer”. The celebration includes a parade of brewers led by a robed “King of the Mashing Fork” and accompanied by brewing trucks, stilt walkers and dancing monkeys. I must see if Fendog fancies a trip to Belgium this summer…