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Wine

Christian countries have always valued wine highly, considering it the symbol of civilisation, yet feared if consumed in excess. Following the sacrifice of Jesus, who offered up his body and blood through bread and wine, wine acquired a sacred dimension. It became important as a symbol of conviviality in daily life.

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© Bibliothèque nationale de France - Maître François, Noah growing vines and the drunkenness of Noah, illumination, 1463, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

Wine in Antiquity

The origin of the vine has not yet been certified. It may come from Armenia, located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. However, sources show that, in the 3rd millennium BCE, it was cultivated in Egypt. According to the Bible, the vine was the first plant Noah cultivated after the Flood. Vines grow easily in the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East, where Christianity originated. Growing vines requires patience, time, constant attention and expertise. The resulting wine became the symbol of civilisation and was also associated with an image of peace and prosperity. However, when consumed in excess, wine was seen as dangerous and a threat to social order. The Bible describes the consumption of too much wine as inducing laziness, weakened vital forces, transgressions and debauchery. In Greece, drinking wine was a social rite with its own rules: Wine was diluted with water and only consumed in company. According to the Greeks, those who drank pure wine and got drunk were ‘barbarians’.

A Christian tradition

The Bible contains numerous images connected with wine. One of the best-known miracles is that of the wedding at Cana, when Jesus turned water into wine. However, wine only took on a truly sacred dimension in the New Testament, when, during the Last Supper, Jesus presented wine as his blood. Wine and bread became a promise of resurrection and, since then, wine has held an important place in Christian civilisation. It became part the liturgy, but was also associated with more earthly food. Wine became an integral part of social life, closely associated with the idea of conviviality. To mirror the Last Supper, a celebratory meal is rarely taken without wine and, as in Antiquity, drinking alone is condemned.

Another god of wine

Ancient mythology granted a significant place to wine long before Christianity did. Dionysus (Bacchus for the Romans) was the Greek god of wine, who taught people the art of winemaking. He symbolised renewal as the vine is reborn each spring. He is often depicted surrounded by joyful companions, however, he was a god with a dual nature, as there was a darker side to him. One of the legends about his life contains signs foretelling the Eucharist and the sacrifice of Jesus. Dionysus was indeed himself sacrificed, devoured and finally reborn.