The Saint and the Chopped-Up Baby

The Saint and the Chopped-Up Baby: The Cult of Vincent Ferrer in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

Laura Ackerman Smoller
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Cornell University Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Saint and the Chopped-Up Baby
    Book Description:

    Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419), a celebrated Dominican preacher from Valencia, was revered as a living saint during his lifetime, receiving papal canonization within fifty years of his death. In The Saint and the Chopped-Up Baby, Laura Ackerman Smoller recounts the fascinating story of how Vincent became the subject of widespread devotion, ranging from the saint's tomb in Brittany to cult centers in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and Latin America, where Vincent is still venerated today. Along the way, Smoller traces the long and sometimes contentious process of establishing a stable image of a new saint.

    Vincent came to be epitomized by a singularly arresting miracle tale in which a mother kills, chops up, and cooks her own baby, only to have the child restored to life by the saint's intercession. This miracle became a key emblem in the official portrayal of the saint promoted by the papal court and the Dominican order, still haunted by the memory of the Great Schism (1378-1414) that had rent the Catholic Church for nearly forty years. Vincent, however, proved to be a potent religious symbol for others whose agendas did not necessarily align with those of Rome. Whether shoring up the political legitimacy of Breton or Aragonese rulers, proclaiming a new plague saint, or trumpeting their own holiness, individuals imposed their own meanings on the Dominican saint.

    Drawing on nuanced readings of canonization inquests, hagiography, liturgical sources, art, and devotional materials, Smoller tracks these various appropriations from the time of Vincent's 1455 canonization through the eve of the Enlightenment. In the process, she brings to life a long, raucous discussion ranging over many centuries. The Saint and the Chopped-Up Baby restores the voices of that conversation in all its complexity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7097-4
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. A Note on Names
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Events Relevant to the Canonization of Vincent Ferrer
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  8. Prologue: From Preacher to Saint
    (pp. 1-15)

    This is not a book about Vincent Ferrer. Rather, it is a book aboutSaintVincent 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. With Vincent Ferrer the person I concern myself very little; indeed, there are good reasons to find the real Vincent Ferrer a somewhat unsavory character, and I am just as happy to leave him to other scholars.¹ I...

  9. Chapter 1 The Situation
    (pp. 16-48)

    Vincent came to the duchy that would be his final resting place early in 1418, entering the Breton ducal city of Nantes on February 5.¹ We do not know the full details of his arrival. Certainly there was some version of the procession that formed each time Vincent entered a new town: the celebrated preacher, now quite old and debilitated, riding Christ-like on his humble and beloved donkey, wearing the black and-white habit of the Order of Preachers;² the crowds who traveled with him, from the young clerics who took children aside during Vincent’s daily Mass and sermons to teach...

  10. Chapter 2 The Process of Canonization
    (pp. 49-84)

    Like any other candidate for sainthood in the later Middle Ages, Vincent Ferrer was the object of a lengthy canonization process (orprocessus,in the Latin of the papal curia), which was essentially a judicial trial. Because canonization involved aprocessand did not consist in a single act or declaration by the pope, a number of players were involved, each of whom was able to put, in however small a way, his or her own spin on it. While the basic steps of that process had remained fixed since the late thirteenth century, even in the mid-fifteenth century there...

  11. Chapter 3 Shaping the Narratives of the Saint
    (pp. 85-120)

    Although important studies of late medieval canonizations have clarified the major phases of the canonization process as well as the considerable differences in actual procedure from canonization to canonization, scholars have only in the last decade begun to ask about the experience of participants in a canonization inquest.¹ The sad truth is that the surviving sources make this question a difficult one to answer. The documents generated at the inquests, carefully recorded and authenticated by notaries, were legal instruments whose aim was to present and guarantee as valid the testimony gathered there. The notaries who so meticulously wrote down the...

  12. Chapter 4 Creating the Official Image of the Saint
    (pp. 121-159)

    With the canonization of Vincent Ferrer on June 29, 1455, the work of his promoters was far from done. True, the duke of Brittany, the Vannes cathedral clergy, the king of Aragon, and the Dominican order had convinced the pope and the College of Cardinals that the Valencian preacher was indeed a saint, but that was not enough. There still remained the important job of marketing the new product to the faithful. In sermons, liturgy, banners, sculpture, stained glass, altarpieces, woodcuts, books of hours, and hymns, Vincent Ferrer would be offered up to Christian audiences as an object of veneration...

  13. Chapter 5 Competing Stories: Whose Vincent Ferrer Is It Anyway?
    (pp. 160-222)

    When Pietro Ranzano’s newLifeof Vincent Ferrer was approved by the brothers of his order in May 1456, it did not immediately have the effect its author and commissioners must have intended: to stabilize an “official” image of the new saint as a healer of Schism and converter of infidels. Rather, throughout the first half century or so after Vincent’s canonization, there were a number of competing stories told about the saint, both in words and in pictures. The new medium of print helped to keep these various images alive, alongside a still vigorous circulation of manuscript materials. In...

  14. Chapter 6 The Afterlife of the Chopped-Up Baby: The Sixteenth Century and Beyond
    (pp. 223-273)

    On August 23, 1637, Sebastien de Rosmadec, bishop of Vannes, and an odd assortment of clerics, theologians, and local notables all stood breathlessly around a table in a chapel in the Vannes cathedral as two physicians and two surgeons examined a collection of bones. For starters, there was the saint’s lower jawbone, removed from the silver reliquary in which it had long been housed. That jawbone and the meager contents of Vincent Ferrer’s tomb in the cathedral—a vertebra and other small bones—were at the time the cathedral’s only known authentic relics of the saint. What the assembled crowd...

  15. Epilogue: Saint Vincent Ferrer in the Spanish Americas
    (pp. 274-298)

    As Iberian explorers sailed westward across the Atlantic Ocean, they brought their Catholic faith with them. The sails of Columbus’s vessels were painted with religious images, while millennial dreams fired the imagination of the admiral who came to see himself asChristo-ferens,Christ-bearer. By papal decree, the claims of Portugal and Spain to lands in the New World rested upon their acceptance of the charge to bring Christianity to the peoples they found there. In turn, the church functioned in many ways as an arm of the state in Spanish colonies. Still, if the oft-cited triad “gold, God, and glory”...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 299-328)
  17. Index
    (pp. 329-344)