Monks and Beer

Medieval Monks of Bicester Drank 10 Pints of Beer a Week

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Archaeologists have discovered an ancient brew house which was visited daily by monks of the former Bicester Priory in England. The holy men drank beer daily to kill off bacteria and would have drunk around 10 pints of beer each week.

Researchers digging under the site of a former care home St Edburg’s House, social services offices and Bicester Library, have found five different types of tile and pottery as well as what may be the brew house.

“Monks would get eight to 10 pints of ale a week. It had a small amount of alcohol that killed bacteria – it was safer than drinking the water,” said Andrew Weale, manager of Thames Valley Archaeology. “Up to the 18th/19th century, part of your salary would be in beer.”

While monks led a solitary life of work and prayer, they also believed in hospitality and charity.  Monasteries were renowned as places of refuge for travellers seeking a safe, clean place with decent food and drink.  The monks grew or traded for their food and made their own drinks, thus beer and wine were readily available at the monasteries. 

The Rule of Saint Benedict says monks and nuns should live by the labours of their own hands and not accept charity. One way monks have traditionally raised funds is through brewing and selling beer.  The practice of monastic brewing began in medieval times.

The brewing process means water must be boiled before fermentation takes place, making beer safer to drink than water as drinking water at the time was unsanitary and carried a whole host of diseases. The act of brewing beer also added many important nutrients into the beverage and so it became an important part of the everyday diet.

By April Holloway

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