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Arnold of Soissons: the patron saint of beer

Tijana Radeska
Arnold of Soissons

Arnold of Soissons was born in the town of Brabant near Brussels around the year 1040. He trained to become a soldier since his youth and later served under Henry I of France for a few years.

Then he settled at the Benedictine St. Medard’s Abbey at Soissons in France, where he served as a hermit for the first three years. Then he was honored with the title of abbot of the monastery.

St. Arnold of Soissons is often depicted with a bishop's mitre and a mash rake. Photo credit

St. Arnold of Soissons is often depicted with a bishop’s miter and a mash rake. Photo credit

According to his hagiography, Arnold refused the title and went away.

As stated, he was forced by a wolf to go back to the monastery and to accept the honor. So he did return and became the abbot. Later, around the year 1080, he was again honored, this time with the position of bishop. And as modest as he was, he tried to avoid before being forced by divine intervention.

When another bishop intervened to take Arnold’s position, instead of fighting he willingly left the monastery and decided to live more quietly, so he founded the Abbey of St. Peter in Oudenburg.

There he finally found his real passion – brewing beer. In medieval times, beer was an essential, as many places did not have access to clean drinking water. Arnold gladly brewed the beer for the local peasants and encouraged them to drink it instead of water.

Ruins of the Abbey in Oudenburg. Photo credit

Ruins of the Abbey in Oudenburg. Photo credit

At the time beer was considered as “gift of health” due to the spent yeast it contained and to its very low dosage of alcohol.

This beer recipe was spread all around medieval Europe and was a common drink at breakfast and during the day.

The level of alcohol was enough for relaxation and sufficient for the body to stay hydrated, and on the other hand, the yeast provided vitamin B which just added to the healthy effect of the drink.

Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin with the picture Arnulf. Photo credit

Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin with the picture Arnulf. Photo credit

When the plague arrived in the town of Oudenburg, Arnold was still an abbot there and prevented the Christians from drinking the water. Instead, he served them with his alcoholic brews and many of the people in the town survived the plague.

The same happened with the outbreak of cholera, only this time, the epidemic was all around Belgium and Europe except in Oudenburg. Nobody in the town got sick.

Like old wine stories? Here’s another story from us:  Tasting wine from 150 year-old Civil War shipwreck Mary-Celestia – hints of crab & gasoline

Hence, Arnold is a real saint. He brewed medicine, not alcohol. St. Arnold is honored in July with a parade in Brussels on the “Day of Beer.”

Tijana Radeska

Tijana Radeska is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News