In Spain, nuns quench pilgrims’ thirst for beer and the word of God

By Thomson Reuters Mar 25, 2024 | 10:50 AM

By Vincent West

VITORIA, Spain (Reuters) – A congregation of Catholic nuns has reopened a bar in an ancient sanctuary in northern Spain, pulling pints of beer in the hopes of spreading the word of God to thirsty guests visiting the 11th-century Romanesque site.

“I think plenty of people would think it’s unusual, because they’ve never seen it. But you know, it’s not a sin to drink a beer,” said Miami-born Sister Guadalupe, adding that the bar constituted an “open door for us to evangelise”.

The sisters, who belong to the Pilgrims of the Eucharist order, have taken over operations at the bar in the Sanctuary of Estibaliz outside the Basque city of Vitoria from its previous owners, a cadre of Benedictine monks, who had let a local association run the bar.

The monastic brothers had lived there since 1923 but left in September 2022 due to dwindling numbers and old age.

Last year, 18 nuns – most of them Colombian – moved in to look after the sanctuary and its pilgrims. Formerly known as the “Pater” bar, the nuns have renamed it Amaren Etxea, or House of the Mother in Basque, one of the oldest European languages.

On the first weekend after the bar reopened, which coincided with the start of Holy Week, the nuns wore bartender aprons over their gray-and-white habits as patrons queued up to place their orders.

“I love it because I always see them so happy and with a smile, they transmit a lot of peace and joy,” Maria Elena Saez, who expects to become a regular, said of the nuns.

(Reporting by Vincent West; Writing by David Latona; Editing by Bernadette Baum)