Vincent has been called the protomartyr (first martyr) of Spain. Little is known about the actual events surrounding his life, other than his name, his order of ministry, and the place and time of his martyrdom. He was a native of Huesca, in northeastern Spain, and was ordained deacon by Valerius, Bishop of Saragossa. In the early years of the fourth century, the fervent Christian community in Spain fell victim to the persecution ordered by the Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximian. Dacian, governor of the province of Hispania (Spain), had Valerius and his deacon Vincent arrested and imprisoned at Valencia.
According to one legend, Valerius had a speech impediment, and Vincent was often called upon to preach for him. When the two prisoners were challenged to renounce their faith amid threats of torture and death, Vincent said to his bishop, “Father, if you order me, I will speak.” Valerius is said to have replied, “Son, as I committed you to dispense the word of God, so I now charge you to answer in vindication of the faith which we defend.” The young deacon then told the governor that he and his bishop had no intention of betraying the true God. The vehemence and enthusiasm of Vincent’s defense showed no caution in his defiance of the judges, and Dacian’s fury was increased by this exuberance in Christian witness. Valerius was exiled, but Dacian ordered that Vincent should be tortured. While in prison, he is said to have converted his jailer. At one point, he was offered release on the condition that he burn the holy Scriptures that had been committed to his safekeeping, but he refused.
Accounts of his martyrdom were embellished by the early Christian poet Aurelius Clemens Prudentius. Augustine of Hippo writes that Vincent’s unshakeable faith enabled him to endure grotesque punishments and, finally, death.
Devotion to Vincent spread rapidly throughout the early Church as he was venerated as a bold and outspoken witness to the truth of the living Christ.
adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts
Almighty God, your deacon Vincent, upheld by you, was not terrified by threats nor overcome by torments: Strengthen us to endure all adversity with invincible and steadfast faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The icon of Saint Vincent is from a painting in the Chiesa di San Vincenzo in Cucciago, in the Diocese of Milan.