"DON’T DRINK water, drink beer" is a phrase you might see on the latest hip brewery’s catchy bumper sticker. But this is a line attributed to Saint Arnulf (that’s Arnold for our purposes), Bishop of Metz, who died in 640 AD.
With that phrase and a pretty impressive miracle, St. Arnold has become the Patron Saint of Brewers. His feast day, St. Arnolds Day, is July 18.
Born around 580 AD, St. Arnold was born into a family “sufficiently elevated and noble parentage, and very rich in worldly goods” according to the book Vita Sancti Arnulfi (Life of St. Arnold) which was written soon after his death. In fact, he was likely a distant relative of the kings he later served.
Being of noble birth Arnold received a full education. After distinguishing himself at school he was sent to serve at the court of Theodebert II, King of Austrasia. Austrasia was a huge post-Roman kingdom that stretched from the modern Spanish/French border east to the Rhine River, thus encompassing modern France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria and much of Northern Italy.
At court Arnold was educated further in military tactics and statesmanship. Arnold was eventually elevated to the point where he was in charge of six provinces.
While he was becoming a revered statesman, first-line advisor to the king and military leader, he also married a noblewoman by the name of Doda. This relationship yielded several sons, the first of whom also became a Saint known as St. Cloud.
The second went on to form his own family and founded the lineage that would yield Charlemagne, making St. Arnold Charlemagne’s great-great-great grandfather.
Eventually Doda decided to leave Arnold and join a nunnery. Already very spiritual, Arnold took this as a sign to also join the priesthood.
His education and noble status allowed him to skip a few steps however ,and he was offered the appointment of Bishop of the Episcopal See of Metz.
As Bishop, Arnold continued to serve as advisor to the king, but he used his position to educate the people on the dangers of drinking water. And that is where beer comes into the picture.
After becoming disenchanted with life in the royal court, Arnold traveled, preaching the power of beer over water.
Arnold saw beer as a saving grace to the people. A quote attributed to Arnold is “From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.”
It was in Oudenburg, Belgium, where he had founded a monastery, that Arnold proved his teachings to be true. Oudenburg suffered and outbreak of the plague. Arnold directed the locals to stop drinking the local water and only drink beer. They followed his directive and soon the plague disappeared from the region.
OK, it was probably cholera and not plague that the saint helped end, but it’s still a good story. This story may be what solidified Arnold as the Patron Saint of Brewers, but it is not the only beer story associated with him.
Arnold retired to a monastery near Remiremont, France, where he died on August 16, 640 AD. A year after his death the City of Metz, over which Arnold had served as a well-loved Bishop, requested that his remains be exhumed and moved to the Abbey of Saints Apostles which later became the Abbey of Saint Arnold in Metz.
When the parishioners of Metz were returning with Arnold’s remains they stopped in the French city of Champigneulles. Hot and tired, they all visited a pub only to find that there was no beer to drink.
One of the parishioners prayed, “By his powerful intercession the Blessed Arnold will bring us what we lack.”
With that prayer the mugs were miraculously filled with beer and never ran dry until the thirst of each was quenched.
While I doubt you’ll find a bar with an ever-filling beer mug even on July 18, I do hope you’ll remember the story of Saint Arnold, a good leader and the original advocate for drinking local.