Origins of Cappuccino: A Saintly Friar and a Battle Against the Turks
Many Americans love cappuccino, but few people know where the name comes from. Cappuccinos are named for a holy Capuchin priest who was chaplain to an army fighting Ottoman Turks to defend Christian Europe.
Bl. Mark (or Marco) of Aviano is a saint celebrated by Catholics on August 13, and the name cappuccino comes from the name of the religious order Mark joined, the Capuchins. To understand the story of cappuccino, it helps to know a little about Bl. Mark himself.
As a teenager, Mark set off to preach Christianity and possibly become a martyr in Crete (where Muslim Turks were invading), but was convinced to return home after stopping at a monastery. It wasn’t the last time Ottoman Turks would figure in his life, however. The monastery had impressed young Mark, and he became a Capuchin friar and then a priest in 1655 in Italy. After some time living a cloistered life he became a missionary preacher and then superior of two religious houses. While preaching at a Paduan monastery, his prayers resulted in the miraculous healing of a bed-ridden religious sister, and Mark soon became famous as a miracle-worker. That fame in turn led him to become an advisor to the Austrian emperor and then papal legate and apostolic nuncio for Pope Bl. Innocent XI.
He secured the release of Vienna from the Ottoman Turks on 12 September 1683. Travelled with the army from 1683 to 1689 as advisor and chaplain to soldiers of all ranks. He helped negotiate the liberation of Buda on 2 September 1686, and of Belgrade on 6 September 1688. He worked as a peacemaker throughout Europe, bringing unity to warring Catholic powers, educating them on the threat posed by the Ottoman[s] – and never letting them forget that all wise counsel was given by God.
So where does coffee come in? Well, it was at the end of the Battle of Vienna. There are two stories about how cappuccino was invented, according to National Catholic Register. The more widely known and widely accepted version (which seems to be older, too) is as follows:
[A]fter the capture of the Turkish camp at the end of the battle, the imperial soldiers found hundreds of bags of coffee, together with numerous other treasures left behind by the defeated army.
The bitterness of this product, quite unknown in the West at that time, had a repellent effect on the soldiers, so Blessed Marco advised them to mix the beverage with some milk to sweeten it. The delicious beverage, which also happened to have the same color as the friar’s habit, was then called kapuziner in his honor and rapidly spread through Vienna and the rest of the Holy Roman Empire.
Italian scholar Ugo Spezia apparently wrote about a different version of the story where Greek and Serbian merchants used the coffee bags to open Vienna’s very first coffee shops. The drink they made by mixing coffee and milk was named in honor of Bl. Mark who, after Vienna’s liberation, was naturally rather famous and popular there. Whichever story you accept, Bl. Marco is at the center of it!
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So the next time you sip a cappuccino, remember Mark of Aviano and the Christian soldiers who saved Europe from the Turks!