A BOTTLE of beer brewed in the Yorkshire Dales has helped cement relations between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.

Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu made sure that the Pope's fondness for an occasional tipple was addressed in appropriate style when he flew to Rome for a meeting.

Among his luggage was a bottle of Monty Python's Holy Grail, one of the beers made by the Black Sheep Brewery, founded 16 years ago in Masham.

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It was specially commissioned to mark the 30th anniversary of the television programme that made household names of such performers as John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman and Terry Jones.

Holy Grail is one of six bottled beers brewed by Black Sheep, but is available only for export.

The presentation to Benedict XVI was the highlight of the archbishop's first visit to Rome to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and to strengthen links between the two churches.

The Bavarian-born pontiff, who chatted with the archbishop for 15 minutes, is said to prefer beer to wine and water and has already enjoyed a taste of some of the brewery's favourites.

Black Sheep marketing co- ordinator Jess Longhurst said: "We had some guests from the Vatican visiting Lady Masham, Dowager Countess of Swinton, in late summer. We supplied them with some Black Sheep to try while they were here and they also took some back with them.''

She said the brewery sent two beer gift packs to the archbishop to take with him after he mentioned at an awards dinner last October that he would shortly be meeting the Pope.

Black Sheep was set up next to Theakston's brewery, in Masham, in 1992 in a breakaway move by family member Paul Theakston, who is now managing director. The name was chosen because of Masham's long association with sheep.

Mr Theakston said: "We were absolutely delighted, if not a little surprised, when we received the request from the archbishop to provide the Pope with a bottle of Holy Grail.

"We do not imagine that His Holiness will be swapping holy water for Holy Grail just yet, but to have him enjoy one of our favourite tipples is a real honour for the whole brewery and gives the Holy Grail ale name a whole new meaning.''