From Fr Martin J Clayton SIR – Thank you for publishing the delightful contribution by Quentin de la Bédoyère on the virtues of snuff-taking (Charterhouse Chronicle, Aug 5). It may well be that certain popes banned the practice, but other, more enlightened pontiffs have had no such qualms.
Blessed Pius IX was a famous snufftaker, and, apparently, a careless one: it is said that he needed three changes of white cassock a day. Leo XIII, I believe, and St Pius X both enjoyed a pinch. Closer to home, Cardinal Newman took snuff. Indeed, snuff-taking has a venerable ecclesiastical pedigree, independently of any alleged criminal misuse on the part of the Jesuits. It is my understanding that the custom found its way to Europe thanks to Spanish Franciscans returning from the missions in South America. Ever since, in circles where smoking might have been frowned upon, snuff-taking has often been at least tolerated. There are Baroque monasteries where the choir stalls include little built-in snuff drawers; no doubt the monks found it an agreeable stimulant during the long hours of the Divine Office.
The inventory of a monk’s cell in the Swiss Cistercian abbey of Hauterive, dated 1647 and now preserved in the state archives, refers to “two snuff boxes and a moderate quantity of snuff”.
I was once informed by a Roman Redemptorist that St Alphonsus was a partaker, though I have reason to question this. I believe the little box he carried around may have contained, not snuff, but the bitter herbs with which he would discreetly season his food.
Yours faithfully, MARTIN CLAYTON St Mary’s Sheffield