The patron saint of vinegar

Happy All Saints’ Day to all followers of St Vincent of Saragossa!

It seems like everyone and their mother has a patron saint (you’ve got to fill up the calendar with all those feast days somehow). Vinegar is no exception: the patron saint of our favourite sour condiment is Vincent of Saragossa (or Zaragoza).

Vincent was a 4th-century deacon from northeastern Spain. He now patronises several cities across the Iberian world, including Lisbon and Valencia. As it’s All Saints’ Day, I thought it only fitting to have a little look at this mystical figure and offer a quick prayer for his vinegar blessing.

Altar to St Vincent in Lisbon Cathedral
An altar to St Vincent in Lisbon Cathedral (Wikimedia Commons)

Vincent’s association with vinegar comes from his more famous status as the patron saint of winemakers. In that sphere, his patronage is taken seriously: every winter, celebrations in honour of his feast day on January 22 take place across Burgundy.

The origin of Vincent’s association with wine is unclear; two theories include that he was tortured on a wine press (rather than a gridiron, as is traditionally thought) and that his name sounds like the French for ‘wine blood’. Others contend that Vincent’s feast day — the day he died as a martyr after being horridly tortured under the Roman Emperor Diocletian — is a perfect time, right in the middle of the grape vines’ growing cycle, for vintners to reflect and prepare for the coming season. It’s also the time to start pruning the vines: the sap that drips from their pruned branches is likened to the martyr’s blood.

16th-century painting of St Vincent of Saragossa by Frei Carlos (a Flemish painter active in Portugal at the time)
A 16th-century depiction of St Vincent by Frei Carlos, a Flemish painter who worked in Lisbon (Wikimedia Commons)

It is possible that aspects of St Vincent’s hagiography have been conflated with another deacon saint who was also born in the Aragonese city of Huesca, also tortured to death on a gridiron, and also successful in converting his jailer to Christianity before his death: St Lawrence. Indeed, Lawrence is patron saint of several groups not so far removed from wine and vinegar-making: chef, tanners, and students. Yes, every day is a school day when your job is fermentation!

— Beatrix Swanson

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