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Saint Vicent of Zaragosa – Patron Saint for Wine Makers

I decided to publish my blog on 22nd January because it is the day when the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the day of Saint Vicent of Zaragoza. Why Saint Vicent? For two reasons: firstly, it is the best-known Patron Saint for wine and vinegar makers, and as you imagine I love wine (and a good vinegar too); secondly, it was the first Patron of Porto, the city where I live and for which I fell in love with, and the city that gives its name to the most famous Portuguese wine, the Port wine, that is produced in the Douro Region where I was born.
Born in Spain, Saint Vincent was the deacon of Zaragoza in the beginning of the fourth century. Under the Emperor Diocletian, he was martyred in Valencia for refusing to burn his sacred texts, dying under torture on 22nd January 304. Why is Saint Vicent of Zaragoza the patron of wine makers? There are different accounts. The simplest one is associated with his name “Vin” that means wine. Regarding his name, there is also a romantic theory, which associates his French pronunciation “Vin-sang” (wine blood) to the fact that Saint Vincent’s Day falls between the beginning of dormancy and bud-break in the vine’s growing cycle, that was the time when pruning used to begin.

When grapevines are pruned, they often bleed sap from the cuts, which explains the association to “Vin-sang”. There is also a theory that associates Saint Vicente’s choice as Patron Saint of wine makers with his death, due to the fact that his body was crushed like grapes in the press. For me the most fascinating explanation is the donkey story. According to the legend, one day Saint Vicent was travelling through the countryside with his donkey, and he stopped next to some workers in a vineyard. While Vicent was talking with the workers, the donkey was eating all the young shoots of a nearby grapevine, reducing the limbs stubs. At harvest the workers noticed that the vine that had been nipped down by the donkey produced more abundant and healthier fruit than the rest of the vineyard. Saint Vincent’s donkey had invented the art of vine pruning, that is now a standard vineyard practice, which is a meticulous task that keeps many skilled vineyard workers busy each winter, and consists in pruning the grapevines to make sure that the plant’s energy is directed more towards producing fruit than growing and sustaining shoots.

Patron Saint First Patron of Porto

As far as Porto is concerned, not many people know that between 1176 and 1453 Saint Vicent was the first Patron of the city. In 1176, D. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, ordered that Saint Vicent’s body be transferred from the cape with his name in Algarve to Lisbon. He also ordered that Saint Vicent’s death relics went through Braga, which is considered the most Catholic city in Portugal. During the trip, the procession went through Porto and the mule that was carrying the urn accidentally entered into the Cathedral, where suddenly it died. This event was seen as a divine sign Saint Vicent wished to be buried in Porto. The death relics are now in Lisbon, but it is said that an arm is still buried in Porto’s Cathedral. Saint Vicent was designated Patron of Porto until 1453, when Saint Pantaleão replaced him.

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