The Grand St Bernard chanoines drank in secret
Pierre-François Ballalu, a chanoine at the St Bernard hospice, kept a logbook at the hospice from 1698 to 1718. We learn from it that members of this religious community drink wine three times a day with their meals which consist mainly of bread and meat. They also drink during their breaks and with snacks during the day. Wine is at at this point considered a source of energy – important, given the particularly hostile environment in which they live.
Limited portions unwelcome
There are no rules covering the quantity of wine allowed. The head priest at the hospice in 1708 decides to correct this too-permissive policy and he introduces pewter pots that hold 5 generous glasses of wine, known as pintons. Each chanoine has the right to one pot per meal. This new practice sparks strong reactions in the community, but it is maintained. Outside these specific times it is strictly forbidden to consume wine or spirits. This doesn’t stop some people from getting around the rules. Pierre-François Ballalu explains that after evening prayers the chanoines go back to their rooms to talk, a time when they drink wine, eau-de-vie, rossoli and other liqueurs – despite the rule that demands silence between evening and morning prayers.
While Pierre-François Ballalu suggests there are abuses, he never mentions scenes of drunkenness or drunken behaviour. But don’t forget that the author is not neutral on the subject: he is denouncing what he considers unruly behaviour.
Source: Histoire de la Vigne et du Vin en Valais, «La consommation de vin à l’Hospice du Grand St-Bernard au début du XVIIIe siècle», Arnaud Meilland, historian Bureau CLIO.