How Much Wine May a Monk Drink Per Day? (Saint Benedict)

A monk tastes a little something-something from the cask

I recently came across this passage from the Rule of Saint Benedict that regulates the consumption of alcohol for monks. Surprisingly, the monks were allowed about half a litre of wine per day! If you consider that a glass of wine is about 5 ounces, then that’s three glasses of wine per day! I’d feel like a lush if I drank that much every day. However, when water was not always the healthiest, one can see the wisdom in this.

What’s amazing is that this was the upper limit, which means that monks were regularly going over three glasses per day. Saint Benedict had to lay down the law…literally.

Here’s the English translation:

Regula 40. Concerning the Amount of Drink.

Each one has his own gift from God, the one in this way, the other in that. Therefore it is with some hesitation that the amount of daily sustenance for others is fixed by us. Nevertheless, in view of the weakness of the infirm we believe that a hemina {just under half a liter} of wine a day is enough for each one. Those moreover to whom God gives the ability of bearing abstinence shall know that they will have their own reward. But the prior shall judge if either the needs of the place, or labour or the heat of summer, requires more; considering in all things lest satiety or drunkenness creep in. Indeed we read that wine is not suitable for monks at all. But because, in our day, it is not possible to persuade the monks of this, let us agree at least as to the fact that we should not drink till we are sated, but sparingly…

By the way, the header of Canterbury Tales (at the top of this page) is that of Dominicans and Franciscans have a luxurious meal and drinking wine. I acquired it a number of years ago and it used to hang in my office. If you look closely, the Dominicans are out-eating the Franciscans…

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  • Matthew Charb

    Your equation of a hemina with half a litre I think is incorrect. Abbot Justin McCann, quoting Abbot Delatte, gives it as approximately half a pint, which is about 1/4 litre.
    “The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English” trans./ed. Abbot Justin McCann, O.S.B., London: Burns and Oates, 1952. cf. note 63, p. 186 on the measurement of a hemina of wine and a pound of bread.