The Construction of Communities in the Early Middle Ages: Texts, Resources and Artefacts

By Richard Corradini; Max Diesenberger et al. | Go to book overview

THE RITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OF VESSELS
IN THE FORMATION OF MEROVINGIAN
CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES1

Bonnie Effros


Saints and Sacrifices in Sixth-Century Gaul

As Jonas of Bobbio recounted in the sixth-century Vita Columbani I. 27, the Irish saint on one occasion was greatly angered when he encountered an Alamannic group making a profane offering of ale to the pagan god Woden. In response, Columbanus blew on the cask that contained about twenty measures, and the vessel immediately fragmented, spilling the precious liquid in all directions. In his description of this confrontation, Jonas observed that the devil had been hiding in the barrel, conceivably since he knew that he might win over more souls by providing alcohol to the local inhabitants. The miraculous demise of the beer cask containing the pagan sacrifice thus brought about the conversion of the awed pagans, and the holy man convinced even those who had earlier become Christians to give up their errant ways.2 Likewise, in the Vita Vedastis 7, Jonas described how the saint had agreed to attend a feast of the Franks to which he had been invited. Although many there were Christians, Vaast observed nonetheless that they nonetheless participated in pagan rites marked most conspicuously by a barrel of beer in the middle of the dwelling. In reaction, Vaast made the sign of the cross, thereby causing the vessel to shatter and the ale to pour out upon the floor. Recognizing the inherent spiritual danger of such encounters, he

1 I would like to acknowledge gratefully the generous suppport of the Graduate
School at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. I should also like to thank
Walter Pohl, Frans Theuws, and Matthias Hardt for encouraging me to pursue this
project and helping to shape its conception. I explore these themes at greater length
in Creating Community with Food and Drink in Merovingian Gaul (New York 2002).

2 The cask was described as a: vasque magnum, quern vulgo eupam voeant. Jonas of
Bobbio, Vitae Columbani abbatis discipulorumque eius, libri II 1, 27, ed. B. Krusch, MGH
SS rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum [37] (Hannover 1905) pp. 211–214.
K. Hauck, “Rituelle Speisegemeinschaft im 10. und 11. Jahrhundert,” Studium Generate
3 (1950) p. 612.

-213-

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