On official visits to meet the Pope, it is customary to provide a gift. Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister and recent Catholic convert, gave a painting of Cardinal Newman. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah presented him with a jeweled scimitar. So what did John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York (one of the highest ranking positions in the Anglican Church) give him? Beer.
When the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, met the pontiff he gave him the Holy Grail, a beer brewed in Masham, North Yorkshire.
It was the highlight of the archbishop’s first trip to Rome to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and to cement cordial relations between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.
Following their 15-minute chat in the Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura, believed to be the burial place of St Paul, Sentamu said: “I told the brewery I was meeting the Pope and they made a special brew for him. I heard he’d been given some Black Sheep ale and liked it. So I brought that and the Holy Grail.”
The gifts pleased the Pope, who is Bavarian by birth and prefers beer to wine and water. That the tipple was a one-off would have also suited a pontiff with designer flourishes. During a two-hour service, which was peppered with incense, chanting, coughing and ringtones, his ruby-red Prada loafers peeped out from under his ivory robes.
It’s perhaps slightly ironic that the beer is inspired by the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as it was another of the Python films, Life of Brian, that brought out much angst from the Anglican and Catholic churches over claims of blasphemy. Holy Grail is produced by the Black Sheep Brewery not far from York and is available for mail order.