Wine and Religion

13th June 2016

The history of wine is vast and rich, and can be traced back to the Neolithic times – at least 4000 BC. Since then, it has evolved greatly, especially when it comes to methods of production and pricing; wine also played a particularly important role in a multitude of human cultures, especially after the development of agriculture.

When you look at references to wine in mythology, religious texts and literature, the value that it has had throughout different periods of time is clear.

After all, wine is not only rich on the palate but rich in symbolism. Its mere luxurious appearance is subject to beautiful metaphors and lyrical comparisons. It has been depicted as a symbol for life, especially in its crimson form, and the delicate winding of the vine stock seems like the perfect portrayal of strength.

Wine is mentioned in a large number of Biblical verses. The Last Supper in particular amply demonstrates the significance that wine can take, as it became a symbol for the blood of Christ; an attribute that has carried over into the modern version of Christianity, particularly Catholicism.

The vitality of wine is not just present in biblical scriptures, however. The mythological characteristics of a culture reflect people’s mindset and everyday life at the time, meaning that the valuable nature and the impact of wine could be found in the depiction of their gods. From Greek deities to Egyptian gods, it’s easy to notice the impact wine has had on these societies.

Dionysus, also known as Bacchus to the Romans, was the Greek god of wine. One of the most famous entities in Ancient Greek culture, Dionysus represented the idea that under the influence of wine people could feel possessed by a greater power: the very nature of life itself. This notion was aided by the role wine played in festivities and dinners, clearly showcasing that fiction mirrored reality – or the opposite.

Shesmu, an Ancient Egyptian god, was many things; Lord of Perfume and Precious Oils, he was also the Lord of Wine. Similar to Dionysus, he was a deity associated with celebration, so much so that feasts prepared in his honour featured men pressing grapes with their feet. In Egyptian culture, wine was also seen as the blood of the gods, further accentuating its connection to vitality and strength. The first wine cellars probably date back over 3700 years, which is further testament to the significance wine always had on these ancient cultures.

Besides deities, which can often seem outside the reach of humankind, wine has also found patronage closer to the mortal realm. Patron saints once lived amongst men, and feature in many religions, and a lot of people pray to them in order to be blessed with luck and good fortune in their lives.

Wine making is no different. Perhaps the most famous entity connected to wine is St Vincent of Zaragoza, who’s not just considered the patron saint of winegrowers, but of winemakers as well. This was due to the fact that his donkey ate all the young shoots off a grapevine and, next year during harvest, these same shoots produced healthier grapes than any others in the vineyard. This also created a technique: by pruning grapevines in winter, a meticulous and time-consuming process, vintners will achieve better results.

 

Wine may have been perceived differently throughout history, but since the inception of civilization it’s been highly regarded in various cultural aspects, from literature to festivities – not only its association with deities and patron saints. Today, it continues to offer a strong social and cultural impact on our society.

It’s fair to say that wine is a common language, spoken throughout the world.