In the cold, rugged lands of medieval Norway, a remarkable chapter of history was unfolding. Around 1241, Pope Gregory IX penned a letter to Archbishop Sigurd of Nidaros (now Trondheim), addressing a baptismal custom that was as unconventional as it was practical. Reports had reached the Vatican of infants being baptized in beer, a response to the scarcity of water in the region.
Norway, during this period, was a cradle of emerging Christianity, influenced by kings who embraced the faith on their military expeditions. The Archdiocese of Nidaros, with its central Nidaros Cathedral, was at the forefront of this conversion. In a land where beer was often safer and more available than water, this resourceful practice had taken root.
However, this novel approach to baptism caught the attention of the Pope, who insisted on adherence to traditional doctrine. He stated emphatically, “those who are baptized in beer should not be considered rightly baptized.” His reasoning was anchored in the Gospel’s teachings: true baptism required water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5).
Who would have thought that Viking beer, a staple of Norse life, would become a point of theological discussion in the Vatican?
The Pope’s letter, “Cum sicut ex,” to Archbishop Sigurd, stands as a historical testament to this unusual but fascinating moment in the history of the Church and the Viking world.
Read below Pope Gregory IX’s letter to the Archbishop of Nidaros banning Viking beer-baptisms:
“Grégoire IX, Epistle ‘Cum sicut ex’ to Sigurd, Archbishop of Nidaros (Trondheim in Norway), July 8, 1241
829 447 As we have learned from your report, occasionally, due to the scarcity of water, it happens that infants in your land are baptized in beer: we respond to you by the tenor of the present [letter], that since, according to the teaching of the Gospel, it is necessary to be reborn from water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5), those who are baptized in beer should not be considered rightly baptized.”
Photo credit: PD via Wikimedia Commons