St. Vincent statue in Alsace

In Vino St. Vincent

Once again, St Vincent’s Day (January 22) will inevitably, and sadly, pass us by almost unnoticed and, except in the Vila do Bispo municipality and the Sé in Lisbon, uncelebrated. There is, however, a way he could be better remembered in Portugal and that is through wine no less!

St. Vincent, from Huesca in Spain, was martyred in Valencia in AD303, when Diocletion was Emperor in Rome, for refusing to renounce his Christian faith.

History has it that, around the eighth century, his body was taken by his disciples from there to Cape St. Vincent. The circumstances surrounding this, however, were more legend than history but his body remained at the Cape until towards the end of the 12th century when, as a symbol of liberation from the Moors, his remains were transferred to Lisbon and he was created Patron Saint of the city.

In Lisbon, his remains are kept in a casket in the Treasury of the Sé.

The city’s coat of arms depicts the ship that carried him to Lisbon and the ravens that protected him.

There is also an imposing statue of him in the Largo das Portas do Sol and there is a fine marble statue of him in the imposing entrance to the Convento de Mafra, but, apart from museums, there is surprisingly little else to remind us of him. Even the mighty Monastery of São Vicente de Fora carries little reference to him other than the name.

In the Algarve, where he is indeed not only Patron Saint of the Province, but also of the Vila do Bispo municipality and of the Anglican Church, he receives scant attention. Only in Vila do Bispo, not even in Lisbon, is there a public holiday in his honour.

Statues of him in the Algarve are few. Apart from the processional statue of him in Vila do Bispo Church, there is a fine little wooden statue of him in the Capela de Nossa Senhora da Graça, in the Fortaleza de Sagres, and another in the Sé de Silves.

Until very recently, there was nothing at all at the Cape where his body lay for half a millennium. Now, only through the dedication and persistence of a foreign resident of Lagos, Riki Grahne, has a statue of him, albeit of rather whimsical and perhaps polemical design, finally been placed within the lighthouse precinct.

Maybe what has saved St. Vincent from perhaps virtual extinction, however, is the fact that he is also Patron Saint of Winemakers. Why and when this happened is the subject of legends; a rather prosaic one was simply because of the first three letters of his name but a more romantic one had him passing by a vineyard on his donkey when he stopped to talk to some labourers. Whilst he was chatting, his donkey was nibbling the vine leaves and suddenly the vine grew with renewed vigour and the quantity and quality of the grapes doubled. Thus was born the ever after benefit of pruning vines!

One would have thought that this at least might have caught the imagination of someone in Portugal but no, it was the French who were inspired. Burgundy, in particular, picked up the legend and celebrations at the annual Saint-Vincent Tournante far outstrip anything in Portugal. There, every January, hundreds of participants from wine Confréries and local Brotherhoods, attired in their finery, gather in colourful processions to celebrate, carouse and laud their saint with more images and statues than in all Portugal.

In Alsace, too, he is remembered, rather more modestly perhaps, with intriguing statuettes and even in Bordeaux many Chateaux bear his name in one form or another.

One might think that with the wine industry in Portugal flourishing to the extent it is, someone from within it, maybe especially from the Algarve, would have been inspired to take up the theme. But apart from occasional reference to him in a few adegas, nobody has.

So, come on Portugal, give your capital’s Patron Saint more of the reverence he deserves! Come on winemakers particularly, you should be ashamed to be outdone by the Burgundians!

By Rod Frew

Lisbon’s coat of arms depicts the ship that carried St. Vincent to the capital city
St. Vincent statue in Alsace
Mission St. Vincent wine, Bordeaux
Festival of St. Vincent in Burgundy
Capela de Nossa Senhora da Graça
A statue of St. Vincent has finally been placed within the Cape St. Vincent lighthouse precinct, thanks to Lagos resident Riki Grahne