Story & photos by Stephanie Tumampos
This year, devotees to Saint Vincent Ferrer will be celebrating his 600th year of faith and miracles after his death. For this author, the trip to Vannes—a walled town in the Brittany region of northwest France—to visit Saint Vincent Ferrer as a personal pilgrimage was more of a miracle than a stroke of luck.
I hail from Bohol province in the Visayas, where most people would say that we are one of the most religious. We have churches that are five centuries old. My mother, who assigned all of us five siblings a saint to be devoted to, chose Saint Vincent Ferrer for me. Back in the earlier days, my mother would tell me how powerful Saint Vincent Ferrer is and how he makes miracles from time to time.
Saint Vincent Ferrer was born on January 23, 1350, in Valencia, Spain, and died on April 5, 1419. In his lifetime, Saint Vincent was responsible for converting over thousands of Jews and Moors through his preaching.
He had the “gift of tongue” wherein he was understood by men of different languages. He also cured the sick and even put back dead people to life. Saint Vincent Ferrer has performed many miracles in his life that no other saint could maybe surpass it.
Last year in August, I was accepted for a weeklong workshop in the Netherlands. I immediately called my mom to inform her about the good news of my acceptance and told her that I plan to visit Saint Vincent Ferrer’s resting place in Vannes, France, right after the workshop.
The next day, my mother called back and said that right when she dropped our conversation, she opened her closet and Saint Vincent Ferrer’s novena booklet fell out.
“Could you believe this? This must be a sign,” she gasped. Maybe it was.
I flew to the Netherlands to attend the workshop, and right after, I traveled to Paris and boarded another train to Vannes. It was a two-hour trip. I arrived and went straight to the Vannes Cathedral with a rose in my hand for Saint Vincent.
The first thing I saw at the cathedral was this huge sign at the entrance, indicating the preparation for the 600th death anniversary of the miraculous saint since 1419.
His tomb beside the altar has a reliquary bust where his relic is placed. Overwhelmed, I sat in front of it and cried—because I couldn’t believe I’d be able to make it there.
I later roamed around the cathedral and found myself sitting at the last row of the benches. While waiting for the drizzle to stop, I noticed a man setting up a table and displayed some souvenirs. I bought some items, and we had a talk.
He asked where I come from, and maybe when he heard that I came from faraway Philippines, he suddenly told me, “Did you know that the house where Saint Vincent Ferrer died is only a few blocks away from here?” Emmanuel Didier happens to be the caretaker of the special place where Saint Vincent Ferrer spent his last years.
Didier was kind enough to bring me to Saint Vincent Ferrer’s room even though it should have been closed for the weekend. Together with Alicia van de Voorde, a student who is also devoted to Saint Vincent Ferrer, we walked our way.
The house, noticeable because of its slightly bluish door with the house number 17 and a statue marker of Saint Vincent Ferrer outside, had a small souvenir shop on the first floor.
Saint Vincent Ferrer only had a small room for himself on the second floor of the house.
According to Didier, the saint was offered a grander place to stay by a royal leader but declined the offer.
“He wanted his place to be near the people,” Didier said.
Didier showed me the various photos of statues and paintings displayed on the wall on how Saint Vincent Ferrer looked like. He also explained why most artists in the older days depicted him with a trumpet and wings.
“Saint Vincent Ferrer was drawn with a trumpet because when he preached, his voice could reach 3 miles away, and it was a miracle,” the caretaker said.
The saint was pictured with wings because a number of people have seen him assume wings and fly off to a suffering person while preaching.
Saint Vincent Ferrer’s room only had a small entrance. The room itself was about 4 meters in length and 3 meters wide with a small spiral staircase for him to easily go out when people needed him.
“He [Saint Vincent Ferrer] liked the staircase exit because it gave him an easier way to get out, preach and be closer to the people,” Didier said. “People loved him so much that they always wanted an audience with him wherever he went.”
His room is also featured as another relic. It is accessible to any pilgrim to see through his place of his humble life of faith and miracles.
For me, it was a miracle—to be standing right there where he lived and died.
I only had a day to explore Vannes, but it was a humbling experience of faith.
This year, on April 5, will mark the 600th anniversary of Saint Vincent Ferrer’s death. I am sure that in the next 600 years, faith will strengthen and more miracles will happen as how I believed this trip was. It was more than just a pilgrimage to his tomb but a miracle that I came to know more about his life of devotion to the Lord.