An English cathedral has revived an ancient monastic tradition by producing its own beer and has found modern visitors as enthusiastic as their medieval counterparts.

The monks of Chester, in northern England, used to produce beer for themselves and for pilgrims to the shrine of St Werburg, a 7th-century abbess to who were ascribed many miracles.

Now Chester Cathedral has launched Chester Pilgrim Ale, a strong (5 percent alcohol by volume, or ABV) bottled beer.

David Burrows, the cathedral administrator, said: "Sales have been going crazy. What we expected to sell in a month has almost gone in less than a week and a half."

Revenue from the venture will help the authorities to keep admission to the cathedral free to visitors. Chester says it is one of the few historic Church of England cathedrals not to charge for entry.

Canterbury Cathedral, the mother church of the world-wide Anglican Communion, charges 3.50 pounds sterling (US$5) for an adult admission, with a range of concessions and free entry for worshippers and people wishing to pray privately.

The Chester beer is named after a famous feature of the cathedral, the Chester Pilgrim, a carving on a 14th-century bench-end in the choir.

There are plenty of potential customers for the new beer. In 2001, the cathedral received about 1 million visitors, including worshippers.

The medieval stores and brew house stood at the west and north sides of Abbey Square, now occupied by houses. The cathedral authorities, however, are not planning to follow monastic tradition by brewing the beer themselves: they have given the job to the J. W. Lees brewery in nearby Manchester.

The brewery was praised by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) as combining the best of the old and the new in an era dominated by "clinical stainless steel and winking computer control panels."

Chester Pilgrim has won the backing of CAMRA's local branch secretary, Craig Papworth. He said, "It is a well-balanced blend of malt and hops, which should appeal to a wide range of customers."

The monastic tradition of making beer and wine is also maintained at Buckfast Abbey in Devon, western England, which for many years has produced Buckfast Tonic Wine.

A staff member at the monastery said that the 15 percent ABV fortified wine was produced from a base wine imported from France, which was then added to by the Buckfast monks according to a secret recipe. The recipe was brought to Buckfast when the Roman Catholic monks returned there in the late 19th century.

Related Elsewhere

Christianity Today articles on drinking include:

The Drink Debate | What Christian leaders past and present have said about social drinking—and where to find them online. (April 4, 2000)
A Little Wine for the Soul? | The Bible says drunkenness is a sin (Gal. 5:21). But is occasional social drinking OK for Christians? (April 3, 2000)

The Chester Cathedral online site has online shopping, tours, pictures, history, and more.

Previous coverage of the Chester Cathedral's ale includes:

Ale and hearty treat for cathedral visitors — BBC (Feb. 19, 2002)