Meat-fast, egg-fast, dairy-fast, oil-fast and so-on and so-forth, Lent is a season of denial. It is a season of the mortification of the flesh. It is a season of fasting and of abstinence. Pray tell, how does one survive? Granted the regulations are not strict today but think to the centuries before. Little was allowed but bread and water. How does one cope, how does one survive? There are ways and some of these traditions still exist today.
The pretzel has its origins in medieval Lent. Tradition says that a young monk in seventh century Italy first prepared this Lenten bread. It consists of only of water, flour and salt. Dairy and animal products were not used because of the Lenten restrictions. Remember? To remind his fellow monks that Lent was a time of prayer, the baker rolled the dough into strips and twisted each strip in a distinctive pretzel shape . The design was inspired by the crossing the arms upon the chest during prayer.
Beer, and especially big beer (aka strong-beer, Doppelbock) has been associated with Lent since before the seventeenth century. A particularly noteworthy beer is produced by Paulaner brewery which had its origins with the monks of the same name. Their monistary is located at Neudeck ob der Au, Germany. The Paulaner monks are members of the religious order founded by Francis of Paola. Since the Lenten fast of the day was quite rigorous, and Paulaner monks already had a perpetual fast as part of their rule, the monastery brew master thought a dense and nutritious beer would help the monks survive the 40 days of Lent. The beer caries the name Salvator and is still brewed today.
History tells us that when the brew master created that beer he and the monks found the beer to be so delicious that they feared it would no longer be suitable for a season of repentance. Salvator is a penitential beer after all. Mortification should not be taken lightly. Unsure of what to do, they packed up a cask of the nutritiously hearty beer and carted it off to Rome to gain a pontifical blessing for its Lenten suitability. In those days travel was slow, the trip was long, and summers hot; refrigeration had yet to be invented and casked beer is particularly perishable. By the time the cask had reached Rome, and the Pope poured a tankard of the liquid bread, it had spoiled. Spoiled, what we call skunked! What was once delicious became disgusting and so the Pope blessed the liquid logger, a-plus suitable for Lent. It was penitential and somber and disagreeable and thoroughly unenjoyable. Perfectly unpalatable! With that the strong-beer became a blessed Lenten tradition. Too bad the pontiff didn’t enjoy a fresh glass. So sad. It is delicious, I do proclaim.
Fast forward to today.
On the grounds of that monastery (which is no longer a monastery), a strong-beer festival takes place every year. It begins Saint Josephs Day (always in Lent) and runs for seventeen days. The festival is associated with the traditional ‘Holy Father Feast’ on April 2, commemorating Francis of Paola, founder of the Paulaner religious order. The festival highlights strong beers such as Salvator. Beer and pretzels, a Lenten fasting tradition.