Beer-Brewing Monks of Norcia

It seems like almost every new day brings a new natural disaster. As if nature is on a relentless attack with unlimited reinforcements at its disposal. A massive hurricane in Houston floods an entire city and displaces tens of thousands. A few days later another one ravages the Caribbean and wreaks havoc on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Earthquakes in Mexico crumble buildings and kill dozens. As a write, Hurricane Maria is shrieking through Puerto Rico. The destruction and despair is hard to measure, but so is the power of human resiliency. In Houston, a human chain stood waist deep in rising water to rescue an elderly man from drowning. In Mexico, volunteers were eventually turned away because there were too many. When the floodwaters trapped four bakers at El Bolillo Bakery in Houston for two days, they used over 4,000 pounds of floor to bake dulce and bolillos for hurricane victims.

Last year after a violent earthquake devastated the small town of Norcia in Italy, a small community of monks helped revive the crippled town by brewing beer and selling it to tourists. Located near Perugia in Italy’s Umbria region, Norcia was the birthplace of St. Benedict, the founder of Western monasticism and patron saint of Europe. Tremors last August destroyed the monks home, toppling everything except the façade of a 13th century basilica dedicated to the saint. Forced to retreat to the mountainside high above the town, the monks now live in tents as they work to rebuild a permanent home.

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Father Benedict Nivakoff (left) blesses the land and lays the cornerstone of the new mountainside brewery while the other monks celebrate with Nursia beer.

Sylvia Poggioli/NPR

Seeking a steady income and embracing St. Benedict’s maxim that monks should live by the work of their own hands, the small group of monks (14) from various backgrounds (mostly American, but also Canadian, British, Brazilian, and Indonesian) began brewing beer in 2012 using water from the surrounding Sibylline Mountains and calling the beer Nursia, from the town’s Latin name.

Before the earthquake, the monks were producing nearly 30,000 bottles a month and exporting it to the United States. Recently, they have been selling beer that was not destroyed in the quake to tourists seeking to take home a token of the monastic life from the quaint Italian town. The bottles come with a signature logo – the damaged rose window of the basilica, and a portion of the proceeds goes to the people of Norcia to help rebuild homes.

The dedicated work of the monks of Norcia remind us that when brutal disasters bring cities to their knees, the power of human resiliency helps put them back on their feet.

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