The Catholic Defender: Saint Vincent of Zaragossa
St. Vincent, the protomartyr of Spain, was a deacon of the 3rd century. Together with his Bishop, Valerius of Saragossa, he was apprehended during a persecution of Dacian the governor of Spain. 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 served as deacon under Bishop Valerius of Saragossa and was martyred under Emperor Diocletian. According to tradition, as punishment for refusing to perform pagan sacrifice, Vincent was imprisoned without food, placed on the rack, and finally roasted on a gridiron. He is the patron saint of Lisbon
Vincent was noble of lineage, but he was more noble by faith and religion, and was deacon to St. Valerian bishop. ... And by the commandment of Dacian the provost, Vincent and Valerian were drawn to Valence and there cast in prison. ... Then Dacian, being wroth, commanded that the bishop should be put in exile, and Vincent as a man presumptuous and despitous should be put to be tormented in the place named Eculeus. ... Vincent said to him, "O unhappy man, how weenest thou to anger me? The more grievously that thou torment me, so much more pity shall God have on me."
Most of what we know about this saint comes from the poet Prudentius. His Acts have been rather freely colored by the imagination of their compiler. But Saint Augustine, in one of his sermons on Saint Vincent, speaks of having the Acts of his martyrdom before him. We are at least sure of his name, his being a deacon, the place of his death and burial.
According to the story we have, the unusual devotion he inspired must have had a basis in a very heroic life. Vincent was ordained deacon by his friend Saint Valerius of Zaragossa in Spain. The Roman emperors had published their edicts against the clergy in 303, and the following year against the laity. Vincent and his bishop were imprisoned in Valencia. Hunger and torture failed to break them. Like the youths in the fiery furnace, they seemed to thrive on suffering.
Valerius was sent into exile, and Dacian, the Roman governor, now turned the full force of his fury on Vincent. Tortures that sound very modern were tried. But their main effect was the progressive disintegration of Dacian himself. He had the torturers beaten because they failed.
Finally he suggested a compromise: Would Vincent at least give up the sacred books to be burned according to the emperor’s edict? He would not. Torture on the gridiron continued, the prisoner remaining courageous, the torturer losing control of himself. Vincent was thrown into a filthy prison cell—and converted the jailer. Dacian wept with rage, but strangely enough, ordered the prisoner to be given some rest.
The local Roman governor at the time, Dacian, ruthlessly carried out the edict of the Emperor Diocletian to force Christians to renounce their faith by burning incense to Roman gods. Both the elderly bishop and his deacon were arrested by Dacian and imprisoned. While in prison, Deacon Vincent said to the bishop, “Father, if you order me, I will speak.” The bishop replied, “Son, as I committed you to dispense the word of God, so I now charge you to answer in vindication of the faith which we defend.” That was all Vincent needed. At that moment, the words of Holy Scripture were fulfilled in Vincent, “When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19–20). The deacon gave his “sermon” with serenity in the face of torture and death, and the governor was tormented by his own outrage.
his flesh was pierced with iron hooks, he was bound upon a red-hot gridiron and roasted, and he was cast into a prison and laid on a floor strewn with broken pottery. But through it all his constancy remained unmoved (leading to his jailer's conversion) and he survived until his friends were allowed to see him and prepare a bed for on which he died.
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.
Valerius was banished but Vincent was subjected to fierce tortures before ultimately dying from his wounds.
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.
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
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.
Then the body of St. Vincent was cast in a field for to be devoured of the beasts and fowls, by the commandment of Dacian, but it was kept by angels from touching of any beasts, and after came a raven which drove away all other birds and fowls, greater than he was, and chased away also a wolf with his bill and beak, and then turned his head towards the body as he that marveled of the keeping of the angels.
Then commanded he that he should be cast into the sea with a mill stone bound to his neck, to the end that he that might not be destroyed upon the earth of beasts, should be devoured in the sea of [whales] and great fishes. Then the mariners that led the body in to the sea, cast it therein, but the body was sooner arrived [ashore] than the mariners were, and was found of a lady and of some others by the revelation of Jesus Christ, and was honorably buried of them.
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.
We have been watching a magnificent spectacle with the eyes of faith, the holy martyr Vincent everywhere victorious. He was victorious in his words, victorious in the pains he endured; victorious in his confession, victorious in his tribulations; victorious when burned with fire; victorious when submerged in the waves. When his flesh, which was a kind of tribute to the victorious Christ, was thrown into the sea from the boat, it silently said, “We are cast down, but not lost.” ~Sermon of Saint Augustine
the blood of martyrs is a holy sacrifice that extinguishes the fires of the devil and fuels the faith of those who ponder such sacred sacrifices. As Augustine would preach in a subsequent sermon, “the devil suffered greater torments from Vincent not being vanquished than Vincent did from the devil persecuting him.”
Friends among the faithful came to visit him, but he was to have no earthly rest. When they finally settled him on a comfortable bed, he went to his eternal rest.