St. Vincent Ferrer

St. Vincent Ferrer, priest


Vincent (Vicente) Ferrer was born around 1350 in Valencia, to the family of a wealthy notary Guillermo Ferrer. Young Vincent began his education at one of the many Latin schools in Valencia. By then he was already fasting and helping the poor and distributing alms. In February 1367, he entered a monastery of preachers in Valencia. As soon as he entered the novitiate, he experienced temptations that urged him to leave. Even his parents begged him to do it and become a lay priest. He prayed and practiced penance to overcome these trials. Thus, he was able to complete a year of probation and take his vows as a monk. Between 1368 and 1375, he was sent by his superiors to further his knowledge in Lerida, Barcelona and Toulouse. He was ordained a priest in Barcelona in 1379. He obtained a master's degree in theology, then a doctorate and began teaching. In Lleida, where the General Studies of the Crown of Aragon was located, he taught as a teacher of logic.

In his time, the Church and the papacy were in a huge crisis, mainly related to the so-called Western Schism. Vincent worked actively to defuse it. Unfortunately, for a time he supported the Avignon incumbents Popes Clement VII and Benedict XIII, but after the Council of Constance (1414-1418) he realized that he had taken the wrong side of the argument. During this time, he traveled throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, Castile, France, Switzerland and Italy preaching the Gospel and calling for conversion. He became a people's missionary. He possessed a tremendous gift of tongues. He spoke out against the heresy of the Cathars and Waldenses, and also proclaimed the coming of the Antichrist, which earned him the nickname "angel of the Apocalypse."

During his evangelistic tours, he was accompanied by a large crowd, which included a retinue of flagellants, scourging themselves to cleanse of their sins. The saint traveled on the back of a donkey and stayed in Dominican monasteries in cities and towns where he preached. The plethora of hermitages and altars is reminiscent in many corners of Western Europe of historical or apocryphal anecdotes about the multitude of miracles performed by the saint himself, over a long path of preaching, or through his relics.

He had received a prophecy that he would die in France. During his return to Spain, his health deteriorated badly. Too ill to return to Spain, he died in Brittany on April 5, 1419. Pope Calixtus III canonized him on June 3, 1458. 

The Dominican is credited with founding the world's first orphanage in his hometown in 1410. Interestingly, it has existed to this day. 

It should also be mentioned that the holy monk and preacher also stirs up controversy, primarily for his attitude towards Jews. Regrettably, he is part of Spain's anti-Semitic history. He was the promoter of the massacres in the Jewish quarter of Valencia in 1391 (there is now a square named after him there). In Toledo, meanwhile, he led the conversion of a synagogue into the church of Santa María la Blanca. Among scholars, there are different positions on the anti-Semitic views and speeches of St. Vincent; some of them deny that he contributed to the aforementioned massacre in Valencia. 

He became worshiped relatively quickly. As early as 1431, Pope Eugene IV instructed the order to undertake a canonization process, later supported by his successors Nicholas V and Calixtus III. The latter eventually led to Vincent's canonization, which took place on June 29, 1455. 

According to a common legend, Vincent Ferrer performed several miracles by raising his index finger, which is why he is fondly called "Sant Vicent el del ditet." In iconography, he is usually depicted with his index finger raised toward the sky and a pair of wings behind him. The latter attribute stems from his self-identification as legatus a latere Christi (a kind of personal representative of Christ) and his title of "angel of the Apocalypse." Therefore, his attributes are a trumpet, referring to preaching, angelic wings, but others also appear, namely: lightning bolts, a baptismal font, a mitre, a cardinal's hat at the saint's feet, a donkey, a cross, a flame over his head, a banner and a Turkish turban or Muslim at his feet. Lightning flashes, trumpets and a banner with the inscription Timete Deum et date illi honorem quia venit hora iudici ejus allude to the theme of Vincent's sermons, primarily devoted to the Last Judgment. The baptismal font refers to the fact that he helped baptize many Spanish Jews. The miter recalls the saint's perturbations over the election of the antipope Benedict XIII, for whom Vincent had advocated. The cross is a reminder that Vincent indulged in severe mortifications. Anyway, the saint held it in his hands while preaching. The flame above his head symbolizes the fervent sermons he preached on city streets as an itinerant preacher. Finally, the turban and Muslim at the saint's feet pointed to the tradition that the Dominican was to convert 8,000 Moors to Christianity.


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