A mix of alcohol and clergy

Tuesday, 23 May 2000

Ever wondered how Four X beer got its name - and it's not the obvious (because Queenslanders can't spell beer) - or what the phrase "Bibamus papaliter" means?

The answers stem from that age-old relationship between alcohol and the clergy, with the latest research from Adelaide University casting new light on just how intimate this relationship was.

Dr Lynn Martin, director of the University's Research Centre for the History of Food and Drink, has examined the history of religion and alcohol in traditional Europe (from about the 8th century to the 18th century).

His findings are interesting, to say the least: the role of alcohol was far more important in traditional Europe than it is today. The figures for average daily consumption or ration of alcohol per person are staggering - a word which would also describe the state of the people on the receiving end of such quantities:

® Priests of Munden's Chantry (Mid-15th century): 18 litres of ale;
® Monks of Austrian monasteries (14th century): 2-4 litres of wine;

® Nuns of S. Maria delle Vergini (Mid 15th century): carafe of wine.

Dr Martin examined the way literature from the time portrayed the clergy in his paper Alcohol and the Clergy in Traditional Europe, and found for the most part that it wasn't a kind portrayal, with priests, monks and friars supposedly drunkards and haunters of taverns and alehouses.

"So widespread was the reputation of clergy for drunkenness that it attained the status of proverbs. "Bibamus papaliter", that is, "Let us drink like a pope," did not mean to drink in moderation," Dr Martin said.

"Medieval monks also perfected ale-brewing techniques and earned a reputation for the quality of their brew.

"In England they produced three grades of ale, weak, mild and strong, and marked their barrels accordingly with one, two, or three Xs. This is of course how Four X beer gets its name, and not, as some people believe, because Queenslanders can't spell beer."


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Dr Lynn Martin
The University of Adelaide
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