St Valentine’s Day is coming – the day for the Patron Saint of Lovers. February 14th is often celebrated by lovers with gifts and wine. So, how does wine link up with Saints and Gods? It has been going on for a very long time.
Osiris was not only the god of the Dead for ancient Egyptians, : he also had a particular link to grapes and wine.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is more than four thousand years old – one of the oldest literary works known. Winemaking is a significant theme in it, and describes the goddess Siduri in charge of wine (and her picture suggests a link between wine and fertility).
In the traditional Chinese Daoist religion, the God of Wine is called Du Kang (杜康). He is credited in the third century AD with inventing wine, and his story might have been based upon a real court official of that period.
The ancient Greeks had two gods associated with wine and drinking. Dionysus, the god of wine, was first mentioned around 1200 BC, a son of Zeus. As well as being involved in wine drinking and wild celebrations, he also had a violent temper. I suspect something of a link between these characteristics. Ariadne, wife of Dionysus, was a goddess of wine (and the subject of many confusing myths).
Under the Romans, the character of Dionysus morphed into the wine god Bacchus, who was associated with wine, excessive drinking and even orgies.
When Christianity became the dominant religion in wine growing regions, there was no room for a god of wine. Since then we have had to make do with a patron saints for wine. In fact, there are several of these. What a surprise, most are French.
Top of the wine saints list is Saint Vincent of Saragossa. This 3rd century Spanish martyr died for his faith, tortured on a barbeque grill. Since his death, he’s become the patron saint of wine makers (and vinegar makers. too) – but the reasons for this are unclear.
Another wine saint, Urban of Langres, is also a patron saint of wine makers (and barrel makers and vineyard workers). He too was subject to persecution for his faith. He hid in a vineyard, and took the opportunity to convert the workers who concealed him. Afterwards, he became an itinerant preacher to vineyard workers, spreading the Gospel.
Other useful saints include Saint Bibiana, the patron saint of hangovers. According to legend, she was both a virgin and a martyr, and was beaten to death after she refused to be seduced and to give up her religion. And if are concerned that you consume too much wine, you might like to appeal to Saint Monica, the patron saint of alcoholics.
So, lift a glass of great wine from Cavender Creek on Valentine’s day and toast the gods and saints of winemaking!