The title of Laura Smoller’s book “The Saint and the Chopped-up Baby: The Cult of Vincent Ferrer in Medieval and Early Modern Europe” is perhaps designed to grab attention. Saint Vincent Ferrer (b.1350, d. 1419) was a Dominican friar, and is Patron Saint of builders, plumbers and construction workers. Saint Vincent is said to have traveled across Europe and was supposedly able to speak in tongues, with those in different countries able to understand him.
St Vincent is said to be responsible for the conversion of many Jews and Muslims to Catholicism. Not without controversy, Vincent Ferrer is linked with possible uses of coercion, particularly in the conversion of Jews in Spain. There are numerous examples of Vincent’s preaching ability in his debates with scholars of both religions, with Vincent attending the Disputation of Tortosa.
So what about the chopped up baby? Laura Smoller documents a miraculous restoration that is attributed to Saint Vincent, of a baby that was chopped up and cooked by its mother. Through the intercession of Saint Vincent, the baby was apparently reconstituted and resuscitated after the child’s father took the remains to the tomb of Saint Vincent. This is obviously a very striking miracle tale, the first traces of which appeared in the initial canonisation inquest for Vincent Ferrer. Did this miracle actually happen, or is it an emblem of the preacher’s ability to make whole what was once in pieces? Smoller seems to think this miracle did not stand up to the scrutiny of a late-medieval canonisation inquest, and there were other reasons why the ‘chopped up baby’ story is attributed to Saint Vincent Ferrer.
You would have to read Smoller’s book in more detail to find out the reasons why this miracle might mean something else, but I will leave you with a comment she makes in the prologue; “This is not a book about Vincent Ferrer. Rather, it is a book about Saint Vincent Ferrer. That is to say, it is a book about an idea. The idea that a Valencian Dominican friar named Vincent Ferrer, after his death in 1419, was sitting at the right hand of God and could thus intercede on behalf of people still on earth”.