Walking towards Cathedral St-Pierre
Old city gate at Place Gambetta has a statue of St Vincent
I wrote a general introduction to Vannes earlier (see here https://vivsfrenchadventures.wordpress.com/2016/11/16/vannes-a-beautiful-town-in-brittany/ ). It’s a lovely place, for many reasons, as I explained.
St Vincent at the top of the gate
Another interesting feature we noticed all around the city is the frequent reference to St Vincent, and he seems to be part of the fabric of this city. For example, we found a statue of the saint high on the gate, at the end of rue St Vincent, which leads from the city to Place Gambetta and the marina. So we decided to try and find out who this saint was and why he is important here.
We started at the Cathedral St-Pierre, built in the Flamboyant-Gothic style but with neo-Gothic additions. At the ornate front entrance is a statue of St Vincent that welcomes people in, telling us that he is obviously important here. Inside we got a pamphlet on St Vincent Ferrier, which was pretty informative.
St Vincent welcomes all to the Cathedral
Bust of St Vincent in Cathedral St-Pierre (on his tomb)
Turns out he was a Spanish monk born in Valencia in January 1350. He was obviously very intelligent, studied hard, and joined the Dominicans of Valencia, taking his first religious vows at age 18. By age 28 (1378) he was an ordained priest, with a doctorate in theology and knew Latin, Hebrew and physics. In those times (1378-1415) the church was divided between three rival popes (one in Rome, one in Avignon, one in Pisa), a situation that Vincent realized was not good for the church. So one of his missions was to try and heal the schism. At this time, too, the One Hundred Years War between the kings of France and England was wreaking havoc on the country. So, Vincent’s other mission was to travel the roads of Spain and France, calling for reconciliation and peace.
Vincent travelled extensively in both countries, getting as far north as Franche-Comte and Savoy in France. In 1418 he arrived in Brittany, preached in Vannes and then all over the province, finally arriving back in Vannes in 1419.
St Vincent’s house in Vannes
He was tired from all the walking and preaching and felt that he wanted to get back to Valencia before he died. But, a storm on the Morbihan Gulf forced his craft to return to Vannes. The city gave him a small house on Place Valencia, close to the Cathedral. Sadly, after a few days he died there, on April 5, 1419.
Vannes and the surrounding area organized a very solemn funeral for him in the Cathedral, as he was already considered a saint here. The location of his grave changed several times in the Cathedral but since 1956 it has been in the rotunda Renaissance Chapel. Its official name is the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. We visited it, and it is still very solemn as it is a place of pilgrimage in his honor. It’s a circular space, all in grey stone, with a high ceiling, and little decoration other than the bust of St Vincent on his tomb. In the Cathedral there are some pictures and stained-glass windows depicting scenes from his life, but we have no photos of those. We did, however, see this banner/panel on the pillar near the entrance to the chapel.
Rotunda chapel with St Vincent tomb
We then found Place Valencia near the Cathedral and the house that he lived in briefly. It’s another pretty square in Vannes, with timber-framed houses and small streets leading off it. Standing there quietly, it is possible to imagine life those hundreds of years ago and to imagine an old priest coming here to rest.
Apparently the city has embraced him as their own.
We also had lunch at a creperie called Creperie Saint Vincent one day (see next post).