Wednesday, September 24


From the Martyrology of the Holy Whapping

Sept 24: At Grandeventi in Umbria, Saint Arbucco Vivanno, confessor, in the year of grace 1706. Arbucco was born of humble parents in the Appenine hill-town of Frapuce, in 1645. After receiving a vision of Christ calling out to him, "I thirst," he entered the local discalced convent at Carmelatta, but found its discipline astonishingly lax, and, disilusioned, gathered twelve young brethren to form the nucleus of a new mendicant order, the Poor Brethren of the Cup of Christ, later known as the Frapuchins from their founder's birthplace. Wandering from town to town, they eventually settled in the ruins of a disused Jesuit novitiate at Frescato in the Papal Legations.

Conditions grew so desperate that Friar Spezia della Zucca, Arbucco's oldest confidant and a former itinerant bartender and amateur alchemist, was sent to work at a local hostelry, where his ill-thought-out attempt to weed out drunkenness by introducing green tea and elaborately-mixed fruit drinks, resulted in the order's ejection and their subsequent flight to the mountain village of Tazo in Umbria. (It seems Italy's first snow-cone was a largely unsuccessful spinoff of all this research.)

At Tazo, the order slowly grew, and adopted a quasi-monastic existence, bottling a special iced cordial, called, perhaps as an homage to the order's secondary patron Onumphrius, "la spremuta nuda." They by now consisted of the legendary Venti, the Holy Twenty Monks of Tazo. In 1679, the Frapuchin constitutions received papal approbation and a new habit, consisting of a green scapular over a black tunic, was imposed. Black scapulars were restricted to the maestri, the heads of local congregations. Around this time, the curious insignia of the order, a double-tailed mermaid, was adopted, purportedly as a symbolic representation of Christ's two natures, though its original significance remains somewhat obscure. It was around this time that Brother Biscotto invented the pedal-operated ice blender, which was later replaced with a large and complicated steam-powered apparatus designed by the English Brother Melusinus, the convert son of Earl Grey, who had studied under Robert Boyle earlier in life.

However, history would change for the order in 1683, when two Frapuchin friars, the Germans Schultz and Behar, accompanied St. Marco d'Aviano as chaplains during the Ottoman siege of Vienna. St. Marco's discovery of coffee is, of course, well-known, but what is not known is the role of the Frapuchins in this momentous event. Originally, the coffee-beans discovered afterwards in the Ottoman camp were mistaken for horse-feed, leading to some very nervous, very high-strung Polish calvary ponies and a number of unfortunate injuries among the hussar corps. However, Schultz and Behar being poor mendicants from a borderline order, ended up purchasing a sack of the worthless stuff for their dinner one evening and started gnawing on some of the dried beans out of desperation. Then, they started to feel a bit creative and a bit antsy and brewed it up into a stew. One thing led to another and by daybreak they had not only said all three nocturnes but Matins, Lauds, Prime, Sext and Terce with a speed and tone, eyewitnesses reported, that sounded "a bit like Alvin and the Chipmunks, no pun intended."

The two of them then brought the beans back to Tazo, where Brother Biscotto and Brother Spezia della Zucca developed them into a rich, milky iced concoction that was an instant hit. The chocolate sprinkles and syrup added to some variations of the drink are said to have been the result of a vision of St. Teresa of Avila, though other, less reliable, accounts said she wanted him to stir caramel into it, clearly a confusion between the confection and the name of her order. The bevanda frappucina soon took Italy by storm; St. Marco, uncharacteristically jealous of this success, realized he'd missed a golden opportunity and applied his superior Capuchin marketing skills to put a hot variety of the new drink in every tavern from Croatia to Brittany, in spite of the drink's Frapuchin origins.

Arbucco died around a decade later, having already retired to the order's daughter house of Grandiventi in 1701, shortly after the invention of the first vanila iced coffee by his successor as prior, the esteemed pioneer mixologist Friar Mochus. His last words were a loud cry of "Lord, Thou art the only lasting caffeine buzz!" from his deathbed. He had been granted a mystical vision shortly beforehand, after which he had declared, quietly, that all he had achieved was mere milk-froth by comparison. He was canonized in 1767, and is the patron saint of animated internet graphics for reasons too estoeric to ponder. His order, while still small, has foundations as far abroad as Turkey and the island of Java. He is represented in art holding a steam-operated blender and dressed in the black and green Frapuchin colors.

Arbucco is relatively unknown outside Italy, but, under an Anglicized variant of his name is venerated widely in the American Pacific Northwest; popular devotion is centered on his shrine in downtown Seattle, St. Arbuck's Basilica.

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