Don Bernado Vincelli, a young Venetian Monk, created a herbal eau-de-vie at the Fécamp Abbey of the Benedictine Monks in Normandy, France.
As a skilled alchemist, the young monk became known for his herbal elixirs with word eventually spreading to France’s first renaissance monarch, King François I. Such was his love for the spirit that he visited the Abby where he is quoted as declaring, “On my word as a gentleman, I have tasted nothing better!” As a result, royal privilege was bestowed upon the Abby and they continued to refine and produce the spirit successfully for a further 150 years. Unfortunately, due to their close relationship with the Royal crown, they fell afoul of the French Revolution in 1791 when the Abby was seized and ransacked by begrudged citizens. Properties belonging to the church were sold off to the new republic but the official in charge of this process, Prosper-Elie Covillard, retained Vincelli’s original documents and recipes for himself.
It was thirty years later when one of Covillard’s decedents – a wine merchant named Msr Alexandre Legrand – came across these writings and decided to recreate the original formula. The product reputedly became an instant success and sold up to 28,000 bottles in its first year. Legrand’s accomplishment led him to amass an impressive collection of 14th and 15th century art which he displayed in his distillery building, the lavish Palais de la Bénédictine. Legrand (not a humble man) even changed his name to Le Grande allowing him to be known as “Alexander the Great”.
The spirit is still produced in the Palais today under the title Benedictine with the letters D.O.M. taking center place on the label (meaning Deo Optimo Maximo – ‘To the greatest and best god’) in honour of the monks who started it all. The spirit is also highly regarded by Chinese tin miners for its medicinal properties, who regularly drink it to help counteract rheumatoid arthritis. In England the spirit is also enjoyed by members of The Burnley Miners Social Club, but for Burnley however its consumption is not about arthritis. It stems from a tradition that was created when many of its members were drafted to dig tunnels under enemy trenches in France during the First World War. There the miners had discovered the spirit and would send a bottle back to the club out of respect whenever a member died. For this reason alone, this humble Lancashire social club consumes more bottles on premises per head, than anywhere else in the world!