Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 19, 2007
St. Vincent's voice converted thousands
Miracles before and after his death were attributed to this priest
St. Vincent Ferrer – April 3
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
St. Vincent's statue greets people at St. Pierre Cathedral in Vannes
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
In 1419, saintly Vincent Ferrer died in Vannes, capital of Brittany's Morbihan Department on the west coast of France. Although the Dominican priest had spent only a short time there, the Vannetais were quick to adopt him as their own, inter him in their cathedral, name him as their patron and make his presence felt throughout the old walled city.
Those approaching from the seaward, south side will appreciate this as they pass through the famed St. Vincent gate in the time-worn city walls beneath the gaze of the holy man in effigy high above, then transit major rue St. Vincent where they may choose to shop at the Pharmacie St. Vincent or relax at a table in the pleasant Creperie St. Vincent.
As they near the Vannes cathedral, they will pass a house with a second-storey image of the saint before encountering him as a larger-than-life statue, Book of Gospels in hand and pointing towards heaven, greeting those entering the huge Cathedrale Saint-Pierre.
Vincent lived in tumultuous times and became a diplomat, travelling extensively and involved with competing popes and kings while addressing huge gatherings where his preaching skills gained thousands of converts to the faith.
Gave too much
The last four years of his active life were spent in France, trying to extract himself from politics and work more closely with the people. In 1418, he began an arduous tour throughout Brittany and Normandy, exhausting himself to a state where he required assistance to even walk.
Suspecting his time was running out, Vincent went to Vannes and took passage on a ship in the hope of spending his remaining days at his Spanish birthplace. It was not to be since the craft was stopped by storms in the Morbihan Gulf.
Back in Vannes, Vincent stayed in a house two blocks from the cathedral where, worn out from his constant journeying, he passed to his heavenly reward a few days later on April 5, 1419.
He was soon remembered here with a statue on the second storey of the house, accompanied by a plaque acknowledging his Iberian birthplace and noting the renaming of adjacent Plaza Valencia. Appropriately, the street level of the residence now houses a religious bookstore.
Recognized as a saint even in life because of his constant humility, the Vannetais buried Vincent with great solemnity in their own St. Pierre Cathedral. He was canonized in 1455, a short 36 years later, his cause supported by miracles attributed to his intercession both before and after his death.
The objective of today's pilgrims is his tomb in an impressive, respectfully silent circular chapel. A metallic reliquary bust tops the sarcophagus and in the vicinity a number of paintings and windows show scenes from his life.
Holy water blessings
After sharing daily morning Mass and rosary in the cathedral's popular and crowded apsidal chapel, again beneath the gaze of a statue of the saint, parishioners are anxious to direct visitors to a special St. Vincent holy water font near his shrine for added blessings.
Each year in May, a pardon is celebrated in the cathedral parish. This is a popular penitential observance dedicated to the local patron that includes Masses and elaborate processions. St. Vincent is also honoured in the name of a west end Vannes parish and in the famous cathedral in the English Channel port of St. Malo.
Visitors invariably find Vannes a relaxing place to visit, with walks along the ancient ramparts, elaborate public gardens and an abundance of outdoor eateries in Place Gambetta between the St. Vincent gate and the small craft harbour that leads to the Morbihan Gulf and the open sea. Seafood is, of course, de rigueur.