St Vincent, patron saint of Lisbon, is the main martyr of Hispania (Iberian Peninsula during the Roman Empire).
At the beginning of the 4th century, the persecution of Diocletian struck Christian communities with particular cruelty. In this context, Vincent of Zaragoza refused the practices of worshiping traditional deities and, for this reason, he was taken to Valencia where he was martyred in the year 304.
The Roman soldiers abandoned the body so that it could be eaten by the animals, but in vain, because the crows protected it from other predators. This was the first miracle of St Vincent and the beginning of his connection with these birds. So the legionaries decided solve the problem tying up the body to a millstone and throwing it into the sea. To everyone’s great astonishment, days later the body washed up on the shore, freed from the stone and the moorings.
Centuries later, already during the Islamic occupation, the followers of St. Vincent tried to take the remains of the saint to Asturias (northern Spain), but the circumstances of the trip ended up causing the relics to be deposited on the coast of the Algarve (south of Portugal).
When the first king of Portugal (Afonso Henriques) conquered Lisbon (1147) he began the process of locating and bringing the relics of St. Vincent to Lisbon. For this he sent a first expedition, which was unsuccessful. Later, in 1173, Afonso Henriques sent a second expedition, which finally located the saint’s tomb. The remains were then placed on a boat that went up the coast towards Lisbon, escorted by two crows, one at the front and one at the back.
In medieval Lisbon, Baixa was not as flat as it is today and there was an arm of the sea that reached close to the current Rossio. In this area there was the Church of Santa Justa where the boat escorted by the crows finally ran aground. The mortal remains of St Vincent rested in the Church from the 15th to the 16th of September 1173. St Vincent was already venerated throughout the city of Lisbon and his relics were disputed by the communities of the Church of St Vincent and also of the Lisbon’s Cathedral. By royal intervention, the relics were then taken in procession to the Cathedral (at the time still under construction), where they are to this day.
Anyone wishing to see the saint’s relics must attend the mass held at the Cathedral on the 22nd of each January.
After 1173, the city of Lisbon adopted St Vincent as its saint and protector and in doing so, also adopted the boat and crows as a symbol of the city. It is impossible to walk around Lisbon without finding the boat and the crows everywhere, in the designs on the sidewalk, in the lamps in Baixa, in the uniforms of the City Council employees and in their vehicles.