Why is Saint Drogo of Sebourg, the Patron Saint of Coffee?


I recently did a long piece where I sought the identity of The God of Coffee. During that research, I came across Saint Drogo of Sebourg, a Catholic Saint and the patron of coffeehouse owners and keepers. Having been raised Catholic, I am well aware that there seems to be a Saint for every location, occupation, and disease but I had never heard of Saint Drogo. Well, you know me and coffee. I was intrigued!

Drogo was an interesting fellow. Born in 1105, Drogo lived centuries before coffee came to Europe. So how did this 12th Century Flemish saint gain his association to our favorite morning beverage? The true connection is lost to history, but I have a couple of ideas of how it might have happened.

Khal Drogo
Not this guy. That’s Khal Drogo.
Saint Druon with coffee
That’s Saint Drogo… or Druon if you prefer.

Birth and Family of Saint Drogo

Born March 14, 1105 in Epinoy, Flanders (now in northern France, near the border with Belgium), Drogo’s entry into the world was not without tragedy. The scanty details available about his family indicate that they were well-off and possibly of minor nobility. In any event, his father died before his arrival and his mother died in childbirth, leaving Drogo a newborn orphan. Baptized Druon, his name has been Latinized to Drogo, which is only the beginning of the confusion surrounding his name. More on that later. He was raised by relatives until he was able to support himself as a shepherd. 

Saint Drogo, Shepherd

The concept of childhood was different in medieval Europe. While there was time for play, children were ostensibly in training to become adults. They were expected to take on adult-style roles and occupations by the time they reached 12 years old. Shepherding was a good way to make one’s living, wool being essential for the growing textile trade. By all accounts, Drogo was well-suited to the solitary life of a shepherd. He became quite skilled in his profession, teaching others in the area. He was no doubt exposed to the scriptures and the sense of dignity surrounding the work of “the Good Shepherd.” This certainly would have laid the groundwork for his future role.

At the age of ten, Drogo learned the circumstances surrounding his birth. The news that the death of his mother resulted from his birth shattered him. He understood the cesarean section as her sacrificing her life for his. He was often seen weeping bitterly about it. Eventually, this took a turn toward self-recrimination and he sought forgiveness from God.

Drogo Turns Toward God

Medieval Christianity was also quite different than the Christianity of modern times. Remember, this took place centuries before the Protestant Reformation. It was marked by activities that we today would find non-sensical and masochistic. What we see as poverty and the punishment of the flesh, a holy person from the middle ages would see as a way to become spiritually closer to God. Drogo took to this lifestyle with great fervor.

As a boy, Drogo was already practicing fasting, abstinence, and other privations and the isolated lifestyle of a shepherd afforded him frequent opportunities for meditation and prayer. Devoting himself to austerity and charity, he donated his earnings to the poor and needy. Upon reaching manhood, Drogo distributed his inheritance to the poor. Keeping only the clothes on his back, he took to the open road, never to return to Epinoy. He eventually landed in the town of Sebourg in northern France. He once again took up shepherding, this time for the local townspeople.

A medieval shepherd did much more than just watching sheep eat grass. Their chief protector, he was responsible for the health and safety of the flock. Drogo quickly became known for his knowledge, medical expertise, as well as his piety. In this setting, the first of his miracles were recorded.

Fame & Achievement

Drogo’s strict, pious lifestyle attracted townspeople seeking advice and spiritual counsel and he became well known around the village. On more than one occasion, Drogo was seen tending to his flock while also attending Sunday mass. Bilocation is a miracle that is often attributed to those considered very holy. These sightings became frequent enough that it gave rise to a long-standing saying in the region, “Since I am not Saint Drogo, I cannot ring the bell at mass and be in the procession at the same time.” Source: Crisis Magazine

Saint Drogo, Pilgrim

In his mid-twenties, still suffering from the percieved guilt of his mother’s death, Drogo once again felt the call of the open road. Concluding that only the Pope could forgive him, he took up the pilgrim’s staff and set off for Rome. Stopping at many of the renowned holy sites in France and Italy, he eventually visited the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul. In all, he made nine trips back and forth to Rome but was never granted an audience with the Pope.

Map of the voie Francigene
La Voie Francigène or Via Francigena is an important medieval pilgrim route
which brought travelers from Canterbury, England to Rome.

Pope vs Antipope – A Slight Diversion

Look, this is just me connecting some dots. It is just conjecture and I cannot support it in any concrete way. Consider it some preliminary spadework. Some better-educated medievalist scholar who has access to primary sources will have to do the heavy lifting. Here’s what I think:

Drogo’s pilgrimage and his inability to gain an audience with the Pope may have been due to the death of Honorius II and the subsequent opposing papal elections of both Innocent II AND Anacletus II in 1130. This controversy caused a major schism in the Church, resulting in Innocent II fleeing to Southern France. There, he obtained the crucial support of powerful Catholic leaders. This allowed him to resume the papal throne after the death of Anacletus II. The political maneuvering is totally worth a read; it’s real Game of Thrones stuff.

Anyhow, the timing works out. There is an established pilgrim’s route, the Via Francigena, close to Sebourg. Running all the way to Rome, it passes through the major holy sites. Perhaps Drogo’s nine roundtrips in nine years were triggered by the death of Honorius II and the nine-year schism. I can well imagine that a pilgrim from France, where a rival pope was plotting, would not be welcomed. Again, I am no Doctor of the Church and I have no real proof but this feels possible. I am just going to throw it out there for consideration.

During the last of his pilgrimages to Rome, Drogo contracted a hernia and/or some affliction that adversely affected his appearance. This is not surprising given his punishing, ascetic lifestyle and a decade of nearly constant walking in a hairshirt. There are any number of disfiguring maladies he could have succumbed to. Whatever it was, it was bad enough that he is also the Patron Saint of Those Others Find Unattractive. Some websites infer that Drogo was jailed for being ugly or shut away to protect the children from seeing him. Not True! Drogo was something special.

Saint Drogo, Anchorite

As I have mentioned, times were different in the 12th century. One such difference was the Anchorite. If you imagine a hermit, living in a room physically attached to a church, you won’t be far off from the truth. Anchorites were important to the spiritual life of a medieval community, sort of half status symbol, half mascot.

An Anchorite cell
Drogo’s anchorite cell was probably made of wood. The church, too!

An anchorite made a vow to forsake the rest of the world in order to more fully devote him- or herself to the contemplation of God – and, in essence, obtain a “get out of hell free card.” But it was a one-way deal. Once he or she entered the cell, the anchorite was never permitted to leave. Often, the Death Rites would be performed by the priest as the anchorite was permanently sealed into the room. Typically, these cells would have no doors but might have up to three windows. One window was for limited interaction with the public – providing advice and counsel. Another was for physical needs – food and water in, waste out via a chamber pot. The third was for viewing mass and receiving Holy Communion. Still in his thirties, this was to be Drogo’s existence until his death some forty years later.

Not surprisingly, Drogo continued his ascetic lifestyle, subsisting primarily on the Eucharist, barley bread, and a bowl of warm water. He redirected most other food donated to him to the needy. It is interesting (I’ll tell you why shortly) that these details are consistent in the accounts of his life.

Saint Drogo died on April 16, 1186 which is also his Feast Day.

The Miracles of Saint Drogo

Having already explored Drogo’s bilocation, there is another miraculous event chronicled in multiple writings about the saint. A fire broke out in the church to which Drogo’s cell was attached. Knowing there was no way to extinguish the flames, the townspeople called to Drogo to come out of his dwelling and save himself. Drogo replied that he had made a vow to stay in his cell for the rest of his life and that if God wanted to spare him, he would. Eventually, the fire went out and the villagers found Drogo still at prayer amid the smoldering remains, completely unharmed. 

How to Become a Saint

Becoming a Catholic Saint is not easy. There are four main hurdles to cross before canonization can take place. First, the person must have lived a life of holiness. Next, it must be determined that the person was virtuous and heroic in their faith. Third, the candidate must have been a martyr for their faith or have performed a verified miracle after their death, allowing them to be beatified. The fourth step that can lead to canonization is a second miracle directly attributed to the beatified.

Drogo died 50 years before the papacy took over the canonization process and was named a saint based on vox populi – by popular acclaim. But he might have made it under the new rules, too.

Posthumous Miracles of Saint Drogo

Shortly after his burial, Druon was credited with his first miraculous healing. A villager had a broken arm that would not heal. She had a vision and prayed with Elizabeth De L’Haire, who had housed Druon during his shepherding and pilgrimage days. Reportedly, Druon’s tomb opened so the villager could touch his body, allowing her to receive an immediate healing. After this event, Sebourg saw an influx of patients seeking cures for their hernias, kidney stones, and other maladies. Druon was entered in the register of Holy Healers, those called upon as a last resort when medicine cannot help.

When word of Drogo’s death finally reached Epinoy, the parishioners wanted to bring his body back to inter it there. Saints meant big business to medieval towns and villages and Drogo was a hometown boy after all. The story told in Epinoy is that the wagon carrying his body was struck by lightning as they left Sebourg, so they decided to leave him in his adopted home. The version they tell in Sebourg is different.

As the procession bearing his body made its way out of Sebourg, the saint’s casket seemed to increase in weight. The cart reached a point at the village border where it could no longer advance. Obstructed by a seemingly supernatural force they abandoned the body there. The inhabitants of Sebourg returned the body in triumph and erected a cross erected where the ox-cart halted. The cross has been replaced several times over the centuries and can still be seen in a field outside of Sebourg.

Saint Druon's Cross
The Cross of Saint Druon

When Was Drogo Made a Saint?

As implied earlier, Drogo was held in high regard in the region at the time of his death. The many miracles attributed to him only increased his fame. The standard donation to the church when seeking Drogo’s intervention was a value equal to one’s weight in grain. Sometime before the first edition of the Martyrologium Romanum approved by Pope Gregory XIII in 1583 as part of the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, Drogo was acknowledged a Saint. This edition already contained an entry for “Saint Drogo, Confessor” on April 16th. In 1612, the archbishop of Cambrai formally elevated Drogo’s relics at the church in Sebourg.

Relics of Saint Drogo
The relics of Saint Druon or Drogo.

The veneration of Saint Drogo is still active today in Sebourg and the surrounding area. In the town of Cambrai, he is invoked at an annual “Shepherd’s Mass” where sheep farmers and their lambs are blessed.

The Associations of Saint Drogo?

The list of people, places, things, and causes, who count Saint Drogo as their patron is extensive:

  • Cattle, Sheep, and Shepherds
  • Unattractive people and Those whom others find repulsive
  • Gallstones, Kidney Stones, Hernias, and Ruptures
  • French towns and regions: Baume-les-Messieurs, Fleury-sur-Loire, Duisans, Vis en Artois, Clary, Oisy-le-Verger, Cambrai, Condé-sur-Aisne, and Roucourt
  • Orphans, Midwives, and Pregnant women
  • Bodily ills, Sickness, and Sick People
  • Broken bones
  • Deafness, Muteness, and Deaf people
  • Insanity, Mental illness, and Mentally ill people
  • Coffeehouse keepers and Coffeehouse owners

Saint Drogo and Coffee

The earliest mention I found documenting an association between Drogo and coffee is in a Belgian almanac published in 1860. It shows that coffeehouse keepers in the region around Sebourg had already claimed Drogo as their patron. However, no reason is given in the source. It may have just been because he was a conveniently “local” saint.

There may also be a link to the widespread farming of chicory in the Hainaut region, where Drogo is from. Roasted chicory was and is used as both a coffee additive and coffee substitute, especially in 18th and 19th France and New France. New France is what Americans more readily know as the Louisiana Purchase which was anchored by New Orleans, also famous for using chicory in its coffee preparations.

So, how did Drogo, a 12th-century saint, who spent the bulk of his life in a small hut leaning against the side of a church in northern France come to be associated with coffee? It’s a good question and there isn’t a great deal of information to work with on the topic. After all, coffee wasn’t introduced to Europe in any meaningful way until the 16th century.

One conjecture is that coffeehouses are quite busy. The ability to be in two places at the same time would be a useful trait. Drogo’s ability to bilocate fits the bill. Another is that Drogo’s brush with fire reminded the coffee folks of roasted coffee beans; tempered by fire but better because of it. Still another notes the warm bowl of water that Drogo had every day. Perhaps it is reminiscent of a cup of coffee.

The REAL Drogo-Coffee Connection (maybe)

But here’s an interesting tidbit: My wife likes tea as much as I like coffee. She once bought some barley tea and HATED it. Me, I have a broader palate and can usually tolerate any hot beverage. I am also a cheapskate and hate waste. Imagine my surprise when I tried the barley tea. I found the taste to be almost but not entirely unlike coffee!

It turns out that barley tea is a well-known coffee substitute. It is especially popular in Korea. As we learned, Drogo lived on barley bread and warm water. So, just maybe, this is how the association came to be.

It turns out that barley tea is a well-known coffee substitute. It is especially popular in Korea. As we learned, Drogo lived on barley bread and warm water. So, just maybe, this is how the association came to be.

Author’s Note: Why anyone would want to substitute anything for our favorite elixir is beyond me.

Drogo, Druon, Dreux?

There is some confusion over the name of our saint. Much of this confusion lies in an apparent typo on Wikipedia that has propagated throughout the internet. Apparently, many websites don’t actually do any research. They just copy the Wikipedia article and claim the information as their own.

St. Arbucks is not a real saint. It's just a funny bit of wordplay.
Not this guy. It’s funny, though.

That is why you will see the following information on almost any search about Saint Drogo: “also known as Dreux, Drugo, and Druron.”

Saint Drogo Statue

Note that his birth name, Druon, is not included on this list. This is particularly frustrating as this is an easily proven error. Just look at the photo Wikipedia uses in the listing. I have tried to edit the page but the bot kicked out my correction. SMH. CatholicSaints.info has it right.

It's Druon not Druron!
Hello, Wikipedia? Hello? <Is this thing on?>

So, as mentioned earlier, Drogo was born in a French-speaking part of Flanders and baptized Druon. Drogo, and sometimes Drogon in the older texts, is the Latinized version of his name. This is because, well, he’s a Catholic Saint – the Catholic Church loves itself some Latin. In some parts of France, primarily west of Paris, he is known as Saint Dreux. This may be due to some members of the French nobility making use of the Druon-Dreux name transformation. Drogo appears to have been caught up in this naming convention. As for “Drugo,” I have no good answer. I did not find this name in any of my research except as a “see Saint Drogo” reference.

Conclusion

To sum up, Saint Drogo was a pretty interesting guy. Not just a product of his times but someone who stood out from the crowd even as he closed himself off from it. He led a life of privation and religious supplication that most of us would find difficult to understand. In the end, he has been held up in a way that few people ever are.

I suppose it is possible that while on his pilgrimages to Rome, Drogo might have crossed paths with coffee. His likely route traveled through the port cities most popular for traveling from Italy to the Holy Land. Coffee was, at the least, known in Arabia. Although possible, I don’t hold it likely. It would be centuries before coffee was widely available outside of the Arabian peninsula.

But I admit, it’s kind of nice knowing someone is looking out for us coffee lovers.

Prayer to Saint Drogo

Blessed Saint Drogo, please watch over this website and keep it safe from hackers and people who wish it mischief. Help it to be informative and entertaining for its users and readers as they learn about coffee and coffee history. Help the author to be funny and useful to his audience and to achieve great success in all his endeavors. Amen.

Sources

Web pages

http://arras.catholique.fr/page-10040-saint-calais.html
http://nominis.cef.fr/contenus/saint/987/Saint-Druon.html
https://www.religionenlibertad.com/santo_de_hoy/56188/san-druon-sebourg-recluso.html
http://2c2m.avesnois.free.fr/2010_Favril_St_Druon.html
https://www.saintsfeastfamily.com/copy-of-questions-about-mass-1
https://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/rediscovering-saint-drogo-sebourg

Books

  • History of Hainaut, Volume 12 by Jacques de Guyse (1334−1399), 1831 edition of a text from 1390.
  • Vies des saints choisies dans les auteurs les plus modernes et les plus célèbres, principalement Croiset et Godescard by P. Munier, 1823. My translation is here.
  • The Lives of the Saints, Volume IV by The Reverend Alban Butler (1711–73), 1866.
  • L’art de vérifier les dates des faits historiques, des chartes, des chroniques, et autres anciens monuments, depuis la naissance de Jésus-Christ,… by De Saint-Allais, 1818.
  • Les Vies Des Saints Dont On Fait L’Office Dans Le Cours De L’Année Et De Plusieurs Autres dont la memoire est plus celebre parmi les Fideles, Avec Des Discous Sur Les Misteres de Nôtre-Seigneur & de la sainte Vierge que l’Eglise solemnise : Le Martyrologe Romain traduit en François & mis à la teste de chaque jour Et un Martyrologe des Saints de France qui ne sont pas dans le Romain tiré des Breviaires & des Calendriers des Eglises particulieres, by François Giry, 1719.



Tim

I am Tim Bruno, a former Kona coffee farmer promoting the soon to be released Procaffeination: A Coffee Lover’s Dictionary and several other coffee-related products. I will soon be adding a YouTube channel to my efforts. Stay tuned!

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