Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Laws of the Priests

Having noted the attribute of individuals that makes cocoa (and thus a taste of heaven) possible, some additional excerpts from Food of the Gods might be of interest.

In dealing with the history of cocoa, the influence of religion must undoubtedly be mentioned. It is not all bad. After all, cocoa's introduction to Europe was a result more of the actions of certain missionaries than of certain explorers--and it was the monks, in 1661, who made it known in France.

Food of the Gods gives credit where credit is due in these areas. It also relates some interesting stories that by nature almost had to take place. Fans of Chocolat, a wonderfully delightful film, might see historical examples of its dramatized theme, in the excerpts which follow.

The first has to do with a series of events that took place in Chiapa, as written down by a Bishop in a 1648 survey.

"The women of that city, it seems, pretend much weakness and squeamishness of stomacke, which they say is so great that they are not able to continue in church while the mass is briefly hurried over, much lesse while a solemn high mass is sung and a sermon preached, unles they drinke a cup of hot chocolatte and eat a bit of sweetmeats to strengthen their stomackes.

For this purpose it was much used by them to make their maids bring them to church, in the middle of mass or sermon, a cup of chocolatte, which could not be done to all without a great confusion and interrupting both mass and sermon. The Bishop, perceiving this abuse, and having given faire warning for the omitting of it, but all without amendment, thought fit to fix in writing upon the church dores an excommunication against all such as should presume at the time of service to eate or
drinke within the church.

This excommunication was taken by all, but especially by the gentlewomen, much to heart, who protested, if they might not eate or drinke in the church, they could not continue in it to hear what otherwise they were bound unto. But none of these reasons would move the Bishop.

The women, seeing him so hard to be entreated, began to slight him with scornefull and reproachfull words: others slighted his excommunication, drinking in iniquity in the church, as the fish doth water, which caused one day such an uproar in the Cathedrall that many swordes were drawn against the Priests, who attempted to take away from the maids the cups of chocolatte which they brought unto their mistresses, who at last, seeing that neither faire nor foule means would prevail with the Bishop, resolved to forsake the Cathedrall: and so from that time most of the city betooke themselves to the Cloister Churches, where by the Nuns and Fryers they were not troubled....

Now I treasure an occasional bit of dark chocolate. And, on a cold day, it's fair to say I love a cup of hot cocoa. But the men who raised their swords to priests and the woman who spitefully drank their chocolate in the church--like a fish doth water!--risked excommunication.

That meant, for them, that the choice was not just between a delicious culinary experience and not having to go to mass anymore. And it was more than just death or torture. By doing so in the face of excommunication, the choice for them was the experience of enjoying chocolate now, in this world, and potentially spending the rest of one's life in purgatory.

And that is what it means to be dedicated, courageously so, to the things one values most highly.

The cloister churches of the town that these people fled to, and which raised no objection to the act of drinking chocolate, were as it happens particularly well-known at the time--not for their religious ascetism but for their ability to make delicious chocolates. A great coincidence that! As for the Bishop and what became of him:

"The Bishop fell dangerously sick. Physicians were sent for far and neere, who all with a joynt opinion agreed that the Bishop was poisoned. A gentlewoman, with whom I was well acquainted, was commonly censured to have prescribed such a cup of chocolatte to be ministered by the Page, which poisoned him who so rigorously had forbidden chocolatte to be drunk in the church.

Myself heard this gentlewoman say that the women had no reason to grieve for him, and that she judged, he being such an enemy to chocolatte in the Church, that which he had drunk in his house had not agreed with his body.

And it became afterwards a Proverbe in that country: 'Beware of the chocolatte of Chiapa!' ... that poisoning and wicked city, which truly deserves no better relation than what I have given of the simple Dons and the chocolatte-confectioning DoƱas."

Again, these people took their chocolate seriously! And it provides an important historical lesson: no matter what your rank or your presumed power, in this life or the hereafter, don't mess with a woman's chocolate.

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