11 September 2011

A little bit of history...

Who would think you could honor Mary and celebrate a Catholic victory over Muslim invaders, just by having a cup of coffee and a croissant? Let me explain.

The feast began in Spain and was approved by the Holy See in 1513. Cut now to September 12, 1683. The Turks had been hammering the city of Vienna for a couple of months, and finally enough was enough. Under the leadership of Poland’s King John Sobiesky, an army comprised of Germans, Austrian and Poles made their move against the Turks, routing them completely. In thanksgiving for this important victory, Pope Innocent XI extended the observance of the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary to the whole Church.

When the Turks made their hasty retreat there were all sorts of things left behind, including several sacks containing a strange bean unknown to the victors. Thinking it was food for the invaders’ camels, the Viennese were about to dump it all in the Danube. But there was a citizen of Vienna who had been a captive under the Turks. He knew these beans were roasted by the Turks, and after grinding them up they would put them in hot water, making a drink they really seemed to relish. This man, Kolinsky, received exclusive permission to make and sell this new and unfamiliar drink – coffee.

The Viennese people hated it. It was bitter. The grounds got stuck in their teeth. It didn’t seem much better than drinking a cup of mud. Then a friend of Kolinsky made a suggestion. Strain out the grounds. Put a little milk in it to lighten it up. Add some sugar to make it more palatable. After following that advice, the people flocked to buy it, and so the first coffee house was born.

But let’s face it – what’s a cup of coffee without something to go with it? And with that came a new pastry which not only tasted good, but poked a stick in the eye of the Muslims. The delectable comestible was formed into the shape of a crescent – that symbol which had become so hated during the Turkish occupation – and with every bite the Viennese were able to have another small victory over their invaders.

So there we have it. There’s the story of how Turkish coffee was made drinkable, and how the croissant – the “Turkish crescent” – came into being. And it all happened as part of the victorious triumph achieved under the banner of the Most Holy Name of Mary.