5 April 1419: The death of Saint Vincent Ferrer

Seventeenth-century depiction of St Vincent Ferrer.
Seventeenth-century depiction of St Vincent Ferrer. / SUR
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  • Portrayed as having a gentle manner, the priest is said to have used questionable methods to convert Jews to Catholicism

Saint Vincent Ferrer, who died on 5 April 1419, was a Spanish Catholic priest who played a significant role in the conversion of Jews to Catholicism during the early fifteenth century. He also participated in the management of a significant political crisis in 1410, when King Martin of Aragon died without a legitimate heir to the throne. Ferrer was part of a committee established to review possible heirs and select the next king: they chose the Castilian prince, Ferdinand de Antequera (Ferdinand I of Aragon).

Born in Valencia in 1350, St Vincent Ferrer (Sant Vicent Ferrer in Valencian), patron saint of orphanages, was the fourth child of a nobleman called Guillem Ferrer. His birth is surrounded in mystery and legend claims that his mother experienced no pain while giving birth. It is also said that his father was told in a dream by a Dominican friar that his son would become famous throughout the world.

Named after the patron saint of Valencia (St Vincent Martyr), Vincent began his classical studies at the age of eight and took up his study of theology and philosophy six years later. By the age of 19, he had entered the Dominican Order (known as the Black Friars in England), although he is said to have experienced temptations forcing him to leave in order to become a secular priest. Over the next three years, he studied the Sacred Scripture, which he committed to memory, and was ordained a Catholic priest in Barcelona in 1379. Eventually becoming a Master of Sacred Theology, he spent the next 20 years travelling through France, Italy, England, Ireland and Scotland in order to preach the Gospel.

Historians claim that the priest could speak only Valencian, although it is suggested that he was blessed with the 'gift of tongues', a phenomenon which sees people speak in languages unknown to them.

St Vincent Ferrer is described as a man of very distinct features who would fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, and who would offer charitable donations of money and food to the poor.

Although he is portrayed as having a gentle manner, the Jewish Encyclopaedia claims Vincent used questionable methods in order to convert Jews to Catholicism - greatly contributing to anti-Semitism in Spain. However, many believe these allegations are unfounded. It is claimed that Vicent put down an uprising against Jews in Valencia and defused a persecution against them in Toledo. He also attended the Disputation of Tortosa ordered by Pope Benedict XIII in an effort to convert Jews during a debate among scholars of both faiths.

Vincent died in Brittany on 5 April 1419. He was buried in Vannes Cathedral and was canonised by Pope Calixtus in 1455. His feast day is celebrated on 5 April.