Wine and the Vine: An Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade

By Tim Unwin | Go to book overview
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5

VITICULTURE AND WINE IN THE EARLY MIDDLE AGES

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine, from now until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom.”

(The Gospel according to Saint Matthew, VI:26-29)

Following the collapse of the western Roman Empire in the fifth century AD, it is widely argued that the survival of viticulture depended upon the symbolic role that wine played within Christianity; a role derived primarily from its use by Christ in establishing a new covenant, described above in the words of St Matthew's gospel, where wine symbolised the sacrificial blood of Christ. De Blij (1983:46) has thus argued that 'If an early identification with religion promoted viticulture in the ancient world, viticulture's very survival depended on its religious associations during the centuries that followed the fall of the Roman Empire'. Seward (1979:14) has similarly suggested that 'Monks largely saved viticulture when the Barbarian invasions destroyed the Roman Empire, and throughout the Dark Ages they alone had the security and resources to improve the quality of their vines slowly and patiently'. Moreover, the precise processes by which viticulture was maintained and strengthened by the Church have been described by Johnson (1971:14) as follows:

The Church had been the repository of the skills of civilization in the Dark Ages. As expansionist monasteries cleared hillsides and walled round fields of cuttings, as dying wine-growers bequeathed it their land, the Church came to be identified with wine-not only as the Blood of Christ, but as luxury and comfort in this world.

These authors thus view the Church not only as enhancing wine with a specific symbolic value, but also as maintaining and developing a

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