Saint of the Day – 22 January – St Vincent of Saragossa (Died 304) Deacon – Protomartyr of Spain – Archdeacon, Preacher, assistant to St Valerius of Saragossa (Died 315), who was his Bishop and whose Memorial is also today, – also known as Vincent Martyr, Vincent of Zaragoza, Vincent the Deacon, Vincent Tourante, Vincent of Aragon, Vincent of Huesca. Patronages – Lisbon, Valencia, Valencia, Vicenza (Italy), Sao Vicente, vine dressers, vinegar makers, vintners, wine growers, wine makers and the Order of the Deacons of the Diocese of Bergamo (Italy).
The earliest account of Vincent’s martyrdom is in a carmen (lyric poem) written by the poet Prudentius, who wrote a series of lyric poems, Peristephanon (“Crowns of Martyrdom“), on Hispanic and Roman martyrs.
He was born at Huesca, near Saragossa, Spain sometime during the latter part of the 3rd century; it is believed his father was Eutricius (Euthicius) and his mother was Enola, a native of Osca. Vincent spent most of his life in the city of Saragossa, where he was educated and ordained to the diaconate by Bishop Valerius of Saragossa, who commissioned Vincent to preach throughout the diocese. Because Valerius suffered from a speech impediment, Vincent acted as his spokesman.
When the Roman Emperor Diocletian began persecuting Christians in Spain, both were brought before the Roman governor, Dacian in Valencia. Vincent and his bishop Valerius were confined to the prison of Valencia. Though he was finally offered release if he would consign Scripture to the fire, Vincent refused. Speaking on behalf of his bishop, he informed the judge that they were ready to suffer everything for their faith and that they could pay no heed either to threats or promises.
His outspoken manner so angered the governor that Vincent was inflicted every sort of torture on him. He was stretched on the rack and his flesh torn with iron hooks. Then his wounds were rubbed with salt and he was burned alive upon a red-hot gridiron. Finally, he was cast into prison and laid on a floor scattered with broken pottery, where he died. During his martyrdom he preserved such peace and tranquillity that it astonished his jailer, who repented from his sins and was converted. Vincent’s dead body was thrown into the sea in a sack but was later recovered by the Christians and his veneration immediately spread throughout the Church. The aged bishop Valerius was exiled.
The story that Vincent was tortured on a gridiron is perhaps adapted from the martyrdom of another son of Huesca, Saint Lawrence— Vincent, like many early martyrs in the early hagiographic literature, succeeded in converting his jailer.
According to legend, after being martyred, ravens protected St Vincent’s body from being devoured by vultures, until his followers could recover the body. His body was taken to what is now known as Cape St Vincent; a shrine was erected over his grave, which continued to be guarded by flocks of ravens. In the time of Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula, the Arab geographer Al-Idrisi noted this constant guard by ravens, for which the place was named by him كنيسة الغراب “Kanīsah al-Ghurāb” (Church of the Raven). King Afonso I of Portugal (1139–1185) had the body of the saint exhumed in 1173 and brought it by ship to the Lisbon Cathedral. This transfer of the relics is depicted on the coat of arms of Lisbon.
Though Vincent’s tomb in Valencia became the earliest centre of his cult, he was also honoured at his birthplace and his reputation spread from Saragossa.
A church was built in honour of Vincent, by the Catholic bishops of Iberia, when they succeeded in converting King Reccared and his nobles to Trinitarian Christianity. When the Moors came in 711, the church was razed and its materials incorporated in the Mezquita, the “Great Mosque” of Cordova.
The Cape Verde island of São Vicente, a former Portuguese colony, was named in St Vincent’s honour because it was discovered on 22 January, St Vincent’s feast day, in 1462.
Vincent’s left arm is on display as a relic in Valencia Cathedral, located near the extensive Carrer de Sant Vicent Mártir (Saint Vincent the Martyr Street).