HOW AN ARMENIAN MONK BROUGHT GINGERBREAD TO THE WEST
17:45, 25 Dec 2014
Eaten in England, Germany, the U.S., Romania and more Nordic
countries than you can remember - the humble gingerbread has been a
winter holiday favorite, accompanying other delicacies on tables for
centuries, but always standing out thanks to a delicious combination
of ginger, molasses or honey.
So deeply rooted in Europe, it is perhaps odd, yet also delightful,
that it was actually an Armenian monk who introduced the sweet, dark
confection to the continent over one thousand years ago, the Ianyan
It was the year 991, when archbishop Gregory Markar traveled from
Nicopolis, a city in the ancient kingdom of Pontus now located in
modern day Anatolia, Turkey, after being chased out by the Persian
Army. Tired and weary, he made his way across Europe, arriving
in the Gâtinais, part of the Loire Valley region in France. With
permission from local officials, Gregory became a hermit, choosing
to live close to the Saint Martin-le-Seul church in Baudrevilliers,
which was previously abandoned by Vertou monks.
According to the Logis hotel chain, which details the region's
gastronomic delights like gingerbread on their site, Gregory's "tiny,
natural cell, no larger than his body, enabled him to lead a hermit's
existence of penitence and reclusion." Gregory lived like this for
seven years, "spending his time in long contemplations, living off
edible roots and wild honey," which the region was known for.
According to the 1901 book, "A Dictionary of Miracles: Imitative,
Realistic and Dogmatic" by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, "Gregor of Armenia"
fasted entirely every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. "On
Tuesday and Thursday, he ate three ounces of food after sunset. On
Sunday he did did not fast but ate very sparingly. He never ate meat
or butter but his chief food was lentils, steeped in water and exposed
to the heat of the sun. His rule was to eat as many as he could take
up in his left hand."
Gregory became a bit of a popular holy man in the French countryside,
attracting "bourgeois and peasants alike" whom he would offer his
Eastern hospitality to, "finishing the meal with a cake that he made
himself, according to a recipe from his country, and comprising of
honey and spices, in the fashion of his far away homeland in Armenia."
This is recorded, according to several sources, in a 10th century
manuscript from the Micy Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in the region
in which it is recounted that Gregory made, by hand, cake with honey
and spices, "just like in his homeland."
Thanks to Gregory, Pithiviers retained its rich gingerbread making
tradition until this day - a "Saint Gregory of Nicopolis Gingerbread
Brotherhood" or Brotherhood "du Pain d'Epices" if you're French and
fancy exists in the region, making gingerbread "according to the
recipe passed down by Saint Gregory the Armenian."
After teaching gingerbread making to the French, they in turn taught
the Germans who brought it to Swedish monasteries, according to the
2010 book, "FoodFest 365!: The Officially Fun Food Holiday Cookbook" by
Yvan Lemoine, who also adds that it was the "court of Queen Elizabeth
responsible for creating the iconic man." How very dainty, and also
A tale about an Armenian monk traveling to France and inadvertently
bringing gingerbread to the Western world was too good to just tell you
about, so we decided to show you, using gingerbread baked and designed
in the Ianyanmag test kitchen for a short stop-motion animation film: