Main menu


There were no airplanes in the Middle Ages, so this movie is not very relevant, because it is about an airline pilot. There is one thing, however, about which I want to comment. The pilot – played superbly by the actor Denzel Washington – was an alcoholic. During the Middle Ages, people drank more alcohol than people do today. They needed to drink alcohol, because their water was impure and would make them ill, so drinking the alcohol was important because it killed germs. Of course, they did not know about germs, but they did know that drinking beer or wine was healthier than drinking water. Another advantage of alcoholic drinks was storage and transportation. There was no refrigeration as we know it today. The temperature in northern Europe fell below freezing during the winter, so there was ice, and holes could be dug to preserve food, and salt was used as a preservative, but for the most part preserving food was difficult, and transporting it was problematic. Beer and wine, however, can be stored for years, and easily transported in barrels or in bottles across long distances. The people, therefore, could count on beer and wine to provide them with the calories they needed to stay alive and healthy. It has been discovered in the past couple decades that red wine is good for the heart. People in the Middle Ages probably neither knew nor cared about such things, because most of them died young before any heart problems would develop, and so they did not worry about what was healthy for their hearts. They did worry, however, about how to consume enough calories to stay alive and healthy. Beer has many calories. At one point during the Middle Ages, Englishmen consumed about half of their calories by drinking beer. The beer was probably weaker than the beer we drink today. Medieval wine was probably also weaker than the wine we drink today. Hard liquors like whiskey or rum were unheard of (at least I have never heard of them in the Middle Ages). So people drank more wine and beer then than they do now, on average, but it is not certain that they got drunk as much as people do today.

In Ireland men normally drank themselves to sleep every night, but Ireland was an unusual country. When Saint Patrick was in Ireland, he impressed the people there with his ability to fall asleep without getting drunk.

There were some monks during the Middle Ages who abstained entirely from drinking alcoholic beverages. Most monks, however, and nuns also, drank plenty. There are stories of saints who, in imitation of JESUS CHRIST, turned water into beer (Saint Brigid of Kildaire did that), or who in imitation of the prophet Elisha made one bottle provide a quantity of wine that was seemingly infinite (Saint Dominic did that). Though some monks abstained from drinking alcoholic beverages, there was not the belief that alcohol is inherently evil. The belief that alcohol is inherently evil did not come into the minds of men until after the Protestant Reformation that ended the Middle Ages. Contrary to what some claim, the medieval mind does not condemn the good things in the created world.