San Vicente de Ferrer is the patron saint of Juchitán in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. He is also the spiritual patron of muxes (effeminate men, transwomen, and/or drag queens, also spelled “muxhes”) and nguius (masculine women, Lesbians, transmen, and/or drag kings) who are part of the local culture. San Vicente is further honored in Juchitán as the patron of the LGBTQ community in general.
The tradition of tolerance for gender and orientation diversity has roots in Zapotec culture, predating the Spanish invasion and the introduction of San Vicente de Ferrer to Oaxaca.
San Vicente in Europe
Vicente de Ferrer was born in 1350 CE of an English father and a Spanish mother in Valencia, Spain. Devout as a child, he joined the Dominican order of Catholic priests. His prodigious intellect won him a post as a professor of philosophy, and he was renowned for his physical beauty, oratory skills, fluency in many languages (seen as the miraculous gift of tongues), and missionary zeal, which led him to travel extensively. He died in 1419 and was buried in Brittany, France. After he was canonized a few decades later, some Valencians stole parts of his body for relics in their own cathedral in Spain.
A popular saint in Spain and Latin America, Vicente is the patron saint of construction workers and people suffering from headaches. Iconography of San Vicente often shows him wearing a rosary hanging from his waist, holding a lily, Bible, or trumpet, with a flame on his head or hand, and with wings on his back.
San Vicente in Juchitán
There are two primary images of San Vicente that are venerated in Juchitán, and both are located in the Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer (Iglesia de San Vicente Ferrer). The larger one is San Vicente Gola (gola meaning “old” or “large” in Zapotec) and the smaller one is San Vicente Huini (“small” or “young”). Each image has its own vela or festival.
There is a myth in Juchitán that San Vicente was entrusted by God with three sacks: one with women, one with men, and one with a third, mixed gender. Vicente was supposed to distribute all three around the world. But when he got to Juchitán, the sack containing the third gender ripped open, and Juchitán received many more than its allotment. Variations of the myth say that Vicente had only one sack, that of the third gender, that the sacks contained the seeds for women, men, and third gender, or that the sack with third-gender people was damaged because the muxes inside were so boisterous, they caused the sack to rip open at Juchitán.
The myth of San Vicente and the muxes (extended nguius and to Gays in general) can be seen as an expression of folk Catholicism in which local culture is situated within a Roman Catholic context. Indigenous communities in Oaxaca and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec are often matriarchal, and it is considered a blessing when a family has an effeminate boy who will grow up as a woman, never marry, and stay at home. Machismo is thus seen as secondary to the security of the mother in old age, at least in the case of one of the sons.
Muxes and the LGBTQ community in general have a special vela in November that begins with a religious service celebrated in the seventeenth-century Church of San Vicente de Ferrer in memory of LGBTQ people who had passed on. The service is followed by a procession. People attending the solemnities will dress according to the gender with which they are most comfortable. Two days of festivities associated with the vela include parties and a beauty contest for Muxes associated with La Vela de las Auténticas Intrépidas Buscadoras del Peligro or “The Festival of the Authentic Fearless [feminine] Danger-Seekers”).
Carillo, Charles and Thomas Steele. “B14__Pedro Antonio Fresquis: San Vicente Ferrer (Saint Vincent Ferrer), A Century of Retablos: The Janis and Dennis Lyon Collection of New Mexican Santos, 1780-1880, 50. New York: Hudson Hills, 2007.
Miano Borruso, Marinella. Hombre, mujer y muxe’ en el Istmo de Tehuantepec. México, DF: Plaza y Valdés : CONACULTA, INAH, 2002.