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.
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. Indeed, the alcohol in wine killed some of the bacteria in water and made it a safer substance to drink.
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.
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.
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.
Want to read more about wine? Try reading these books!
Bible Wines: On Laws Of Fermentation And The Wines Of The Ancients
- Beer, Wine & Spirits. (2018, Mar 25). Stack Exchange: https://alcohol.stackexchange.com/questions/6714/what-is-the-largest-winery-that-supplies-sacramental-wine-to-the-catholic-church
- Bell, E. (2015, Sept 18). What Is Sacramental Wine And Where Does It Come From? Vinepair: https://vinepair.com/wine-blog/the-popes-coming-to-town-drink-some-sacramental-wine/
- Winemaking During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. (2018, Apr 1). The Inquisitive Vintner: https://theinquisitivevintner.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/winemaking-during-the-middle-ages-and-the-renaissance/?fbclid=IwAR2s4bPbz24WuaHNEDS7abSURoh2PwAhyHWLx9n6XLkEs2yY3nQ8ePwRxIk
- Eucharist, Wine in the,” Oxford Companion to Wine, ed. Jancis Robinson (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994).
- Image by sabine oesterlin from Pixabay