Sacramental Wine Through the Years

Two thousand years ago, many people in the Mediterranean believed that gods lived in the grapes of wine. They also believed that drinking the wine would allow them to transcend their everyday lives and live with the divine. The spread of Christianity from the first century CE brought a dramatic change to wine’s role in European culture because of its importance in the sacrament of communion.[1]

Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine. – Thomas Aquinas

In other words, they began to make distinctions between sacred and secular wine. Secular wine was also important in the early Middle Ages (400-900 ACE) when it was consumed both for its calories and to quench thirst. It was also one of the safest beverages to drink at the time, as the alcohol in wine killed any bacteria, making it much safer than water to drink.  

Wine has been used in religious ceremonies for centuries

Wine has been used in religious ceremonies for centuries and continues to play an important role in many faiths today. For Christians, the history of sacramental wine is a symbol of the blood of Christ, and it plays a central role in communion. In Judaism, wine is used in Kiddush, a blessing over bread that is recited before meals. And in Islam, wine is forbidden, but grapes are considered to be a sacred fruit. While the specific interpretations of these traditions may vary, they all underscore the importance of wine in religious ceremonies. For many people, wine is a way to connect with the divine and celebrate their faith.

The type of wine used can vary depending on the religion

Religion often dictates what type of wine can be used. For example, Catholic churches use red wine during mass, while Jewish synagogues use red wine for Passover. In Islam, grape juice is typically used instead of wine. These restrictions are based on religious beliefs and traditions. Red wine is seen as the blood of Christ in the Catholic Church, so it is used during mass to represent the Eucharist. In Judaism, red wine is used for Passover because it is seen as a symbol of mourning. Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol, so grape juice is used instead. These different wines represent each religion’s different beliefs and traditions.

Did you know? When somebody inquired whether, when a sick person wished to have the sacrament but could not tolerate wine on account of nausea, something else should be given in place of the wine, the doctor [Martin Luther] replied, “This question has often been put to me and I have always given this answer: One shouldn’t use anything else than wine. If a person can’t tolerate wine, omit it [the sacrament] altogether in order that no innovation may be made or introduced.

Wine is often seen as a symbol of joy and celebration

Wine has been a part of human culture for thousands of years and plays an important role in many social customs and traditions. Throughout history, wine has been associated with luxury and status and is often seen as a symbol of joy and celebration. Today, wine is enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds and is an important part of many special occasions. Whether you are sharing a bottle with friends or enjoying a glass of your favorite vintage, wine can add an extra touch of class and sophistication to any event.

wine day shirt

Supplying sacramental wine to the masses

Priests, monks, and nuns of the Catholic Church cultivated the grapes to supply sacramental wine for the masses and distributed extra throughout their regions. They were also responsible for propagating the first quality grape varieties. For example, over the course of the twelfth century, approximately 120 Cistercian institutes were established in Portugal and taught local congregations viticulture. Medieval kings also owned vineyards, and serfs were largely responsible for the labor. Ordinary people had vineyards as well. Since many people lived in the countryside, harvesting and processing grapes mobilized everyone, including children.

After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror and his successors quickly established viticulture to supply church services in England. At the same time, wine production in the English-controlled areas of France developed a prospering wine industry focused on export to England. An ice age in the 1500s drastically reduced the yield of the vineyards in England, and French and German regions emerged as the centers of European winemaking. Since the wine was scarce, it atoned for sins that brought forgiveness rather than transcendence.

Wine in Christianity

Sacramental wine production

Sacramental wine is produced under strict conditions and rules informed by the texts of both the Jewish and Christian Bibles. For example, sacramental wine must be “natural,” which means that it must be made from the juice of fermented grapes, not allowed to turn to vinegar, nor heavily diluted.[2]

Although most sacramental wine is red, it can be white, dry, sweet, and even fortified, but not to more than 18%. For a vineyard’s production to be “sacramental,” it must receive the approval of the bishop, but many of these vineyards also sell their products on the open market. If you have grape-based wine, you are potentially drinking the exact wine used at Sunday mass. 

There it is, 2000 years of the history of sacramental wine in less than 2,000 words! 

Want to read more about wine? Try reading these books!

The Spirit of Wine- Finding Religion in the Fruit of the Vine Bible Wines: On Laws Of Fermentation And The Wines Of The Ancients book


  1. Beer, Wine & Spirits. (2018, Mar 25). Stack Exchange:
  2. Bell, E. (2015, Sept 18). What Is Sacramental Wine And Where Does It Come From? Vinepair:
  3. Winemaking During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. (2018, Apr 1). The Inquisitive Vintner:
  4. Eucharist, Wine in the,” Oxford Companion to Wine, ed. Jancis Robinson (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994).
  5. Image by sabine oesterlin from Pixabay
  6. Luther’s Works, vol. 54: Table Talk (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (54:438). Philadelphia: Fortress Press. No. 5509: A Substitute for Wine in the Sacrament? Winter of 1542–1543

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