St. Vincent, deacon and martyr of Valentia, Spain

From Butler's Lives of the Saints 1895:

From Prudentius, hymn 5, and St. Austin, serm, 274, 275, 276, 277, all
four preached on his festivals. His ancient acts in Bollandus are also
authentic, but not those in Metaphrastes and Surius. See Tillemont t. 5,
p. 217.

A.D. 399.

THE most glorious martyr St. Vincent was born, some say at Saragossa,
others at Valentia, but most authors, and most probably, at Osca, now
Huesca, in Granada. He was instructed in the sacred sciences and in
Christian piety by Valerius, the bishop of that city, who ordained him
his deacon, and appointed him, though very young, to preach and instruct
the people. Dacian, a most bloody persecutor, was then governor of
Spain. The emperors Dioclesian and Maximian published their second and
third bloody edicts against the Christian clergy in the year 303, which
in the following year were put in force against the laity. It seems to
have been before these last that Dacian put to death eighteen martyrs at
Saragossa, who are mentioned by Prudentius, and in the Roman
Martyrology, January the 16th, and that he apprehended Valerius and
Vincent. They spilt some of their blood at Saragossa, but were thence
conducted to Valentia, where the governor let them lie long in prison,
suffering extreme famine and other miseries. The proconsul hoped that
this lingering torture would shake their constancy; but when they were
brought out before him, he was surprised to see them still intrepid in
mind, and vigorous in body, and reprimanded his officers, as if they had
not treated the prisoners according to his orders. Then, turning to the
champions of Christ, he employed alternately threats and promises to
induce them to sacrifice. Valerius, who had an impediment in his speech,
making no answer, Vincent said to him "Father, if you order me, I will
speak." "Son," said Valerius, "as I committed to you the dispensation of
the word of God, so I now charge you to answer in vindication of the
faith which we defend." The holy deacon then acquainted the judge that
they were ready to suffer every thing for the {194} true God, and little
regarded either his threats or promises in such a cause. Dacian
contented himself with banishing Valerius.[1] As for St. Vincent, he was
determined to assail his resolution by every torture his cruel temper
could suggest. St. Austin assures us, that he suffered torments far
beyond what any man could possibly have endured, unless supported by a
supernatural strength; and that he preserved such a peace and
tranquillity in his words, countenance, and gestures in the midst of
them, as astonished his very persecutors, and visibly appeared as
something divine; while the rage and distraction of Dacian's soul was as
visible in the violent agitations of his body, by his eyes sparkling
with fury, and his faltering voice.

The martyr was first stretched on the rack by his hands and feet, drawn
by cords and pulleys, till his joints were almost torn asunder: while he
hung in this posture, his flesh was unmercifully torn off with iron
hooks. Vincent, smiling, called the executioners weak and faint-hearted.
Dacian thought they spared him, and caused them to be beaten, which
afforded the champion an interval of rest: but they soon returned to
him, resolved fully to satisfy the cruelty of their master, who excited
them all the while to exert their utmost strength. They twice stayed
their hands to take breath, and let his wounds grow cold; then began
with fresh vigor to rend and tear his body, which they did in all its
limbs and parts with such cruelty, that his bones and bowels were in
most places exposed bare to sight. The more his body was mangled, the
more did the divine presence cherish and comfort his soul, and spread a
greater joy on his countenance. The judge, seeing the streams of blood
which flowed from all the parts of his body, and the frightful condition
to which it was reduced, was obliged to confess, with astonishment, that
the courage of the young nobleman had vanquished him; and his rage
seemed somewhat abated. Hereupon he ordered a cessation of his torments,
begging of the saint for his own sake, that if he could not be prevailed
upon to offer sacrifice to the gods, he would at least give up the
sacred books to be burnt, according to the order of the late edicts. The
martyr answered, that he feared his torments less than that false
compassion which he testified. Dacian, more incensed than ever,
condemned him to the most cruel of tortures, that of fire upon a kind of
gridiron, called by the acts the legal torture.[2] The saint walked with
joy to the frightful engine, so as almost to get the start of his
executioners, such was his desire to suffer. He mounted cheerfully the
iron bed, in which the bars were framed like scythes, full of sharp
spikes made red-hot by the fire underneath. On this dreadful gridiron,
the martyr was stretched out at length, and bound fast down. He was not
only scourged thereon, but, while one part of his body was broiling next
the fire, the other was tortured by the application of red-hot plates of
iron. His wounds were rubbed with salt, which the activity of the fire
forced the deeper into his flesh and bowels. All the parts of his body
were tormented in this manner, one after the other, and each several
times over. The melted fat dropping from the flesh, nourished and
increased the flames; which, instead of tormenting, seemed, as St.
Austin says, to give the martyr new vigor and courage; for the more he
suffered, the greater seemed to be the inward joy and consolation of his
soul. The rage and confusion of the tyrant exceeded all bounds: he
appeared not able to contain himself, and was continually inquiring what
Vincent did and what he said; but was always answered, that he suffered
with joy in his countenance, and seemed every moment to acquire new
strength and resolution. {195} He lay unmoved, his eyes turned towards
heaven, his mind calm, and his heart fixed on God in continual prayer.

At last, by the command of the proconsul, he was thrown into a dungeon
and his wounded body laid on the floor strewed with broken potsherds,
which opened afresh his ghastly wounds, and cut his bare flesh. His legs
were set in wooden stocks, stretched very wide, and strict orders were
given that he should be left without provisions, and that no one should
be admitted to see or speak to him. But God sent his angels to comfort
him, with whom he sung the praises of his protector. The jailer
observing through the chinks the prison filled with light, and the saint
walking and praising God, was converted upon the spot to the Christian
faith, and afterwards baptized. At this news Dacian chafed, and even
wept through rage, but ordered some repose should be allowed the
prisoner. The faithful were then permitted to see him, and coming in
troops wiped and kissed his wounds, and dipped cloths in his blood,
which they kept as an assured protection for themselves and their
posterity. After this a soft bed was prepared for him, on which he was
no sooner laid but he expired, the happy moment he had not ceased to
pray for ever since his torments, and his first call to martyrdom.
Dacian commanded his body to be thrown on a marshy field among rushes;
but a crow defended it from wild beasts and birds of prey. The acts in
Ruinart and Bollandus, and the sermon attributed to St. Leo, add, that
it was then tied to a great stone and cast into the sea in a sack, but
miraculously carried to the shore, and revealed to two Christians. They
laid it in a little chapel out of the walls of Valentia, where God
honored these relics with many miracles, as the acts and St. Austin
witness. Prudentius informs us, that the iron on which he lay, and other
instruments of his passion, were likewise preserved with veneration.
Childebert, king of France, or rather of Paris, besieging Saragossa,
wondered to see the inhabitants busied continually in making
processions. Being informed they carried the stole of St. Vincent about
the walls in devout prayer, and had been miraculously protected by that
martyr's intercession, he raised the siege upon condition that relic
should be given him. This he with great solemnity brought to Paris, and
enriched with it the magnificent church and abbey of St. Vincent, now
called St. Germain-des-Pres, which he built in 559, and which his
successor Clotaire caused to be dedicated.[3] In the year 855, his
sacred bones were discovered at Valentia, and conveyed into France, and
deposited in the abbey of Castres, now an episcopal see in Languedoc,
where they remain; but several portions have been given to the abbey of
St. Germain-des-Pres at Paris, and other churches; and part was burnt at
Castres by the Huguenots about the end of the sixteenth century.[4]
Aimoinus, a contemporary monk, wrote the history of this translation,
with an account of many miracles which attended it.[5] St. Gregory of
Tours mentions a portion of his relics to have been famous for miracles,
in a village church near Poictiers.[6] In the life of St. Domnolus,
mention is made of a portion placed by him in a great monastery in the
suburb of the city of Mans. But it is certain that the chief part of
this martyr's body was conveyed to Lisbon. To escape the cruel
persecution of the Saracen king Abderamene, at Valentia, many Christians
privately withdrew themselves, and, carrying with them the body of St.
Vincent, took shelter on the southwest cape, called {196} the Sacred
Promontory, and from these relics St. Vincent's, in the kingdom of
Algarb, then under the Saracens. Alphonsus Henry, the most pious first
king of Portugal, son of count Henry, having defeated five Moorish
kings, at Ourique, in the year 1139, received from those faithful
keepers the body of St. Vincent, sent it by sea to Lisbon, and built the
royal monastery of the Cross of regular canons of St. Austin, in which
he most religiously deposited this treasure, rendered more famous by
miracles, in the year 1148. This account is recorded by contemporary
unexceptionable vouchers in Bollandus, p. 406. Mariana, and especially
Thomas ab Incarnatione, a regular canon, in his Historia Ecclesiae
Lusitanae, printed at Lisbon, A.D. 1759, Saec. 4, c. 6, t. 1, p. 215. The
Portuguese, ever since the year 1173, keep an annual commemoration of
this translation on the 15th of September, which feast was confirmed by
Sixtus V.

Prudentius finishes his hymn on this holy martyr by a prayer to him,
that he would present the marks of his sufferings to Christ, to move him
to compassion in his behalf.

* * * * *

God never more visibly manifested his power, nor gave stronger or more
wonderful proofs of his tenderness and love for his church, than when he
suffered it to groan under the most violent oppression and persecution;
nor does his grace anywhere appear more triumphant than in the victories
of his martyrs under the severest trials, and in the heroic virtues
which they displayed amidst torments and insults. Under the slightest
disappointments and afflictions we are apt to fall into discouragement,
and to imagine, by our sloth and impatience, that our situation is of
all others the most unhappy and intolerable. If nature feels, and we
implore the divine mercy, and a deliverance, if this may be conducive to
God's honor, we must be careful never to sink under the trials, or
consent to the least secret murmuring: we must bear them if not with
joy, at least with perfect submission; and remain assured that God only
seems to withdraw himself from us, that we may follow him more
earnestly, and unite ourselves more closely to him....

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