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The Feast of St. Vincent

Saint Vincent Tournante

The winegrowers of Burgundy have a wonderful tradition. During the last week of January each year, they observe a celebration of their patron saint, Vincent of Saragossa.

Saint Vincent of Saragossa, patron saint of vignerons

During the persecution of Christians under Roman Emperor Diocletion, Deacon Vincent was tortured to death by Spain’s Governor Dacian. According to legend, Vincent and his Bishop, Valerius, were put on trial. Valerius suffered from a speech impediment, so Vincent spoke for both of them. Vincent was bold and outspoken. The court exiled Bishop Valerius, but condemned Vincent to brutal torture. The Governor offered to release Vincent, if he would burn the Scripture. Vincent refused. The year was approximately 304 AD.

Accounts of St. Vincent’s torture vary, but there seem to be agreement that iron hooks were inserted in his skin, He was bound to a gridiron and roasted. Then, St. Vincent was cast into a jail cell whose floor was covered with shards of broken pottery. His suffering was heroic.

The nuns who treated his wounds marveled at how St. Vincent persevered despite the severity of his torture. The jailer was so overwhelmed by what he saw, that he converted to Christianity.

Eventually, Vincent died. Legend holds that ravens protected his body from being ravaged by vultures until he was buried. The internment was done at Cape St. Vincent, at the southwest corner of Portugal, and a shrine was erected in his honor. It is said that flocks of ravens also protected his gravesite while it was Cape St. Vincent.

Subsequently, St. Vincent’s remains experienced an odyssey. The history is unclear, but, at some point, most of the relics were transferred to the Cathedral of Cordoba.

  • During the 6th Century, some relics of St. Vincent were distributed to several places in Europe, including the new Cathedral of Saint Vincent in Macon. His tunic and one of his arms were interred at a new abbey built in Paris by King Childebert 1st.
  • In 711 AD, the Moors occupied Spain. They destroyed the Cathedral of Cordoba and transferred Vincent’s remaining relics to the new Great Mosque of Cordoba. After the Moors were chased out of Spain, the Great Mosque was taken over by the Catholic Church and, today, is still operated by the Vatican as a Catholic Church.
  • In 863 AD, Vincent’s relics were transferred to a new abbey-church of Saint Benedict, who also was from Saragossa. The monastery was located in Santiago de Compostela.
  • St. Vincent’s body was exhumed and transferred to the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora in Lisbon in 1173 AD.

History of the Tournante

In the Middle Ages, guilds and brotherhoods were organized by the Roman Church to provide spiritual and material support for the vineyard owners and workers. But, in its quest to eliminate all political opposition, the National Assembly of Revolutionary France abolished all of the guilds and brotherhoods on March 2, 1791. The St. Vincent celebrations fell into oblivion.

Finally, in 1934, the founders of Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, Camille Rodier and Georges Faively, decided to resurrect the Feast of St. Vincent. Burgundy had suffered through several poor crop years because of cold temperatures. For the next four years, the Confrérie celebrated the occasion with a sumptuous dinner at Caveau Nuiton. That was not enough. In 1938, they reinstituted the traditional and public Feast with all of its religious significance. And, they established a subsidiary organization, called Saint Vincent de Bourgogne, with chapters in each wine village. Each chapter would be responsible for its local celebration.

Since 1938, the Feast of St. Vincent has consisted of two interrelated activities. First, each wine village observes the official Feast Day on January 22. In the individual villages, the day begins with a procession of the local chapter of the Brotherhood to the Church for Mass and/or general assembly. Afterwards, members of the Brotherhood, carry the statue of St. Vincent, from the home of the family responsible for coordinating the association‘s activities, and deliver it to the home of the family who will lead activities for the next year.

The second event is the Tournante, which is centered in a different wine-producing village each year. The first was held in Chambolle-Musigny. Several years ago, the Tournante was expanded to three towns because the event had become too large for many of the wine villages to handle. In 2010, the celebrations brought an estimated 40,000 visitors to Burgundy.

The super event‘s 2012 edition will be held in Dijon, Nuits St. George and Beaune. On Saturday, January 28, members of St. Vincent de Bourgogne chapters will be gathered up by two trains departing Nuits St. George, one for Dijon, the other for Beaune. They will assemble for the procession to the Churches: Cathédrale St. Bénigne in Dijon, Collégiale Notre Dame in Beaune. Then, they will board the trains and return to Nuits-St. George, where a ceremony will be held to induct new members of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.

Huge public wine tastings will be held in all three cities on Sunday, January 29. Visitors are welcome to participate at all of these events. Vignerons bring bottles of their wines for tasting. All of the bottles are labeled only with a St. Vincent label that indicates the village where it was produced, but not the individual producer or vineyard.

The mutual aid aspect

The local chapters established by the Chevaliers du Tastevin to carry out the mutual aid activities are named Association Saint Vincent de Bourgogne. There are 71 of them in Burgundy. The chapters provide the vehicle for providing help to their members in times of distress. If a grower or winemaker is incapacitated by illness or injury, the organization voluntarily steps in to do the work in vineyard or winery. If a vigneron dies, the chapter relieves the family of the onerous burden of making funeral arrangements.

What an insurance policy!

Significance of reinstating the Tournante

During the 1789 Revolution, the National Assembly banished guilds and brotherhoods (March 2, 1791). The action was just one of the Assembly’s measures to eliminate political opposition. Other, more sweeping actions, included: taking away the Nobility’s privileges; making the King a figurehead without authority; and virtually killing off the Catholic Church in France.

The main measures against the Catholics were:

  • Forcing the Church hierarchy (the Clergé), parish priests and nuns to renounce the Vatican and swear allegiance to the new Constitution. They became employees of the government. “Non-juring” bishops, priests and nuns were sent to the guillotine. Many of them left France.
  • Expropriating all Church properties, including vineyards and abbeys, and auctioning them off to reduce the national debt.
  • Banishing the monastic Orders, who owned and operated the most famous vineyards in Burgundy. Some monks left their Orders and went to work for the new owners. Most of them left France.

The violence and other features of the Revolution were most severe in Paris, which is what we usually read about. There, the Revolution was driven by lawyers in a few political clubs, mainly the Jacobins, and fueled in violence by the blood-thirsty street rabble of thieves and prostitutes.

Many other areas, particularly Burgundy, did not buy into all of the reforms. Dijon saw only 50 beheadings, compared to 17,000 in Paris. Thousands more were attacked and killed by rabble in their convents and abbeys, or while they were being transferred to prisons outside of Paris. Burgundy didn’t adopt the new Revolutionary calendar. But, they did build an altar to the Constitution and, essentially, conducted worship services to a new Supreme Being created by Robespierre and his cohorts, as was done in most large French cities.

The reason for less violence may be found in Burgundy’s greater economic and political stability, due in major part to its heritage as the Kingdom of Burgundy, and the wine industry. I have yet to discover why Beaune elected a different mayor every year during the Revolution.

All over France, Feast of St. Vincent observances deteriorated, as did religious allegiances. The secular situation continues all over the country with considerable strength even today, where the younger generations have turned to futuristic music as their venue for religion, and immigration has brought other religions.

So, the actions of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin in 1934 and 1938 represent a major shift, at least in Burgundy. It is a turn back to a belief that the Deity is the force that drives everything in the vineyards and wineries. Some chapters of Association Saint Vincent de Bourgogne have not come all the way, but certainly part way. The Tournante is more of a marketing event for them.

Organizations dedicated to St. Vincent and other Saints have been formed many other French winegrowing areas.

Sources consulted

Chronicle of the French Revolution; Chronicle Communications, Ltd.; London. Distributed in USA by Prentice Hall, New York. 1989.

St. Vincent Sargossa - Saints & Angels – Catholic Online

Saint Vincent tournante des climats de Bourgogne

Vincent of Sargossa - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

St. Vincent de Tournante Festival; WINE::knowledge::St. Vincent de Tournante Festival

The Saint-Vincent Tournante – a Burgundy wine tradition; Burgundy Eye

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This post was written by:

- who has written 17 posts on Enobytes Wine Online.

Jeffrey L. Lamy - Master of Science, Winery Consultant, Economist and Author. Jeffrey is a 1960 Yale graduate in Industrial Administration and Mechanical Engineering. Later he added an MS in Business. As it is with many second-career winemakers these days, his wine education was gained from short courses and technical visits to U.S. and European wineries. From 1982 to 1992, he planned, built and ran a 400+ acre operation for a wealthy lumber family, serving as its general manager and chief winemaker. His wines won more awards than any other Oregon winery. After returning to full-time consulting, he designed more than 400 vineyards, designed a dozen wineries and directed the winemaking for six. To Enobytes.com, Jeff brings extensive knowledge in the technologies of grape growing and winemaking, experience in many regions, and keen insights of the entire business enterprise. He has written a book [on management of the winemaking business, which is expected to be in print soon.

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One Response to “The Feast of St. Vincent”

  1. Jack says:

    I learned something new–I had no knowledge of this grand feast, that’s why I love this site. You guys are so knowledgeable on so many subjects! Keep it up.

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