St. Veronus: The Mysterious Beer Saint

Lambic beer (the kind with fruit) was probably invented in Lembeek, Belgium.

The patron saint of Lembeek is a mysterious person known as St. Veronus (or St. Veron, among French-speakers, or Sint-Veroon, to the Dutch-speakers).

The best information about him comes from an account by Abbot Olbertus. It says that around the year 1000, a local priest kept having visions and dreams about digging up an old grave. He ignored them until one day there was a huge manifestation of light that pointed to the grave area. The locals rushed to see what was going on, since they thought lightning had hit the church, and they dug up an old box where the saint was buried, with an inscription saying his name and that he’d died three days before the kalends of April.

Abbot Olbertus’ guess was that St. Veronus had lived back in early Christian times, when various barbarians had been running around. (After the Western Empire fell, parts of Belgium were still pagan Germanic tribal territory until not long before Charlemagne’s time.)

After the body was found and reburied with honor, many miracles ensued. St. Veronus healed many local blind, deaf, mute, and paralyzed people, and the parish became a place of pilgrimage. Whenever a miracle took place, people would smell a mysterious heavenly perfume.

Later on, St. Veronus became more famous for healing diseases of the head, headaches, head sores, typhus, fever, ulcers, rheumatism, and infectious diseases in general. He was also patron of Lembeek and hence of the local beer.

There’s another legend that got written up in the Middle Ages. It said that St. Veronus was actually King Louis’ son, and that he had a twin sister, St. Verona, and that they had various adventures after running away from home to become a farm servant and a nun, respectively. In this story, St. Veronus created the local Lembeek spring by striking the ground with his walking stick. (Hence the beer’s excellence. The spring is called “Puits St. Veron.”) He also predicted his own death to his sister, and that he would be killed by a falling tree branch, and how the direction that trees fell after being knocked down by a storm would indicate where to find his body. (Hence the head injury thing.) The story also says that since St. Veronus had run away from home after refusing not to marry, and since St. Verona also refused to marry, she became Empress of the Holy Roman Empire in her own right, and also a nun.

This doesn’t seem to have much/any truth behind it, except that there was a late medieval Belgian order of Sisters of St. Verona. Some think it was so named because the parish of Vroonhof (Lord-hof) mistakenly dedicated their chapel to a St. Verona. (They may have meant St. Veronica, of course. Or one of the many saints from Verona, Italy. Or technically, a female Vroon could be Our Lady, or the chapel could have been dedicated to Our Lord.)

But my guess is that there probably was a holy woman named Verona (or Veronica), but she probably wasn’t any relation. (Although I’m sure she didn’t mind acquiring a brother in Christ, posthumously! And heck, there may have been a pious itinerant farmworker who was a namesake of St. Veronus, too.) There’s also a Merovingian sarcophagus which the locals supposed must belong to St. Verona. In 1598, some locals decided to take the remains in a procession to the local fair; but the local bishop forbade their veneration because nobody knew if that was her or not. The location of the bones is apparently unknown now.

Anyway, St. Verona, whoever she was, is celebrated in Leefdael, Brabant, Belgium. Her feast day is August 29. Here’s her chapel, the Veronakapel, the site of which has apparently always had a church, back to Merovingian times. There’s a holy spring nearby that legend says she created with her staff, in order to quench the thirst of two German pilgrims. The spring has been bricked up. There is a festival on August 15.

At any rate, St. Veronus also ended up becoming one of the many Belgian patron saints of beer. He has several feastdays. The one on the universal calendar is January 31. The one in Lembeek is still March 30.

Every year in Lembeek, they also honor him with a grand procession on Easter Monday, the “March de St. Veron.” or Paas Mondaag Mars Veroon Great band music, gorgeous Belgian horses!

His relics are in Mons, having been removed there for safety at about the same time Abbot Olbert wrote up the story, but his beautiful medieval tomb is still in Lembeek.

He is usually portrayed as a medieval farmworker carrying a staff. Here’s a page with holy cards and some good pictures of the Lembeek church. Here’s a page with Abbot Olbertus’ miracle account.

There’s a beer place/Belgian restaurant up in Ontario named “St. Veronus“.

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