The Surprising Catholic History of Pretzels

When I moved to Philadelphia I was surprised by the number of guys on the side of the roads selling pretzels. I never buy food from anyone who doesn't have a bathroom but forgetting that, the whole thing just took me a while to get used to. As a New Yorker, I was used to people selling hot dogs but not pretzels on street corners.

Now, my kids love pretzels. And I'm cool with that, mainly because I've recently discovered that pretzels have a long Catholic history. And they may have saved Christian Europe. Kinda.

According to the History Channel:

Though the exact origins of the pretzel remain mysterious, legend has it that the story began around A.D. 610, when Italian monks presented their young students with treats of baked dough twisted in the shape of crossed arms. At the time, crossing one’s arms was the traditional posture for prayer. As the custom spread through medieval Europe, the pretzel’s three holes came to represent the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit...

That's pretty cool, right? But it gets even better from there. Pretzels were used as a mainstay of people's diet during Lent. In fact, so popular were they that Johannes Kepler once reportedly referred to pretzels in discussing whether the Earth was the center of the universe. He reportedly said that if one assumes that the Earth is the center of the universe, one must accept that the planets travel in a looping path "with the appearance of Lenten bread."

And in the year 1510, the Turks from the Ottoman Empire, were bent on invading Vienna. Guess who stopped them? Pretzel baking monks. Seriously. You see, the Turks decided to tunnel under the wall around the city in the wee hours of the morning. But so popular were pretzels that the monks had to be up very early in the morning to begin baking. They heard the Turks tunneling. They gathered weapons and began waking others and routed the invading Turks. And thus the famous rule was born -DO NOT MESS WITH PRETZEL BAKING MONKS!!! I'll admit it's a rather new rule but it feels right.

I don't know about you but I'll never look at pretzels the same way again. Let's see a hot dog maker match that.