Saint Vitus /vaɪtəs/, according to Christian legend, was a Christian saint from Sicily. He died as a martyr during the persecution of Christians by co-ruling Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian in 303. Vitus is counted as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers of medieval Roman Catholicism. Saint Vitus' Day is celebrated on 15 June. In places where the Julian Calendar is used, this date coincides, in the 20th and 21st centuries, with 28 June on the Gregorian Calendar.
In the late Middle Ages, people in Germany and countries such as Latvia celebrated the feast of Vitus by dancing before his statue. This dancing became popular and the name "Saint Vitus Dance" was given to the neurological disorder Sydenham's chorea. It also led to Vitus being considered the patron saint of dancers and of entertainers in general.
Vitus is considered the patron saint of actors, comedians, dancers, and epileptics, similarly to Genesius of Rome. He is also said to protect against lightning strikes, animal attacks and oversleeping. Vitus is the patron saint of the city of Rijeka in Croatia; the towns of Ciminna in Sicily, Forio on the Island of Ischia, in Campania, Italy; the contrada of San Vito, in Torella dei Lombardi, in Avellino, Italy; the town of Winschoten in the Netherlands, and the town of St. Vith located in Belgium.
Various places in Austria and Bavaria are named Sankt Veit in his honour.
Martyrdom of Saints Vitus, Modestus and Crescentia
According to the legend, Vitus, Modestus and Crescentia were martyrs under Diocletian. The earliest testimony for their veneration is offered by the "Martyrologium Hieronymianum" (ed. G. B. de Rossi-Louis Duchesne, 78: "In Sicilia, Viti, Modesti et Crescentiae"). The fact that the note is in the three most important manuscripts indicates that it was also in the common exemplar of these, which appeared in the fifth century. The same Martyrologium has under the same day another mention of a Vitus at the head of a list of nine martyrs, with the statement of the place, in Eboli, "In Lucania", that is, in the Roman province of that name in southern Italy between the Tuscan Sea and the Gulf of Taranto. It is easily possible that it is the same martyr Vitus in both cases.
According to J. P. Kirsch, the testimony to the public veneration of the three saints in the fifth century proves that they are historical martyrs. There are, nevertheless, no historical accounts of them, nor of the time or the details of their martyrdom.
During the sixth and seventh centuries a purely legendary narrative of their martyrdom appeared which appears to be based upon other legends, especially on the legend of Poitus, and ornamented with accounts of fantastic miracles. According to this legend, which has no apparent historical value, Vitus was a 7-year-old son of a senator of Lucania (some versions make him 12 years old). He resisted his father's attempts, which included various forms of torture, to make him turn away from his faith. He fled with his tutor Modestus and Modestus's wife Crescentia, who was Vitus's nanny, to Lucania. He was taken from there to Rome to drive out a demon which had taken possession of a son of the Emperor Diocletian. This he did, and yet, because he remained steadfast in the Christian faith, he was tortured together with his tutors. By a miracle an angel brought back the three to Lucania, where they died from the tortures they had endured. Three days later Vitus appeared to a distinguished matron named Florentia, who then found the bodies and buried them in the spot where they were.
The veneration of the martyrs spread rapidly in Southern Italy and Sicily, as is shown by the note in the "Martyrologium Hieronymianum". Pope Gregory the Great mentions a monastery dedicated to Vitus in Sicily ("Epist.", I, xlviii, P.L., LXXXVII, 511).
The veneration of St. Vitus, the chief saint of the group, also appeared very early at Rome. Pope Gelasius I (492-496) mentions a shrine dedicated to him (Jaffé, "Reg. Rom. Pont.", 2nd ed., I, 6 79), and at Rome in the seventh century the chapel of a deaconry was dedicated to him ("Liber Pont.", ed. Duchesne, I, 470 sq.).
In 756 AD, it is said that the relics of St. Vitus were brought to the monastery of St-Denis by Abbot Fulrad. They were later presented to Abbot Warin of Corvey in Germany, who solemnly transferred some of them to this abbey in 836. From Corvey the veneration of St Vitus spread throughout Westphalia and in the districts of eastern and northern Germany. His cult grew in Prague, Bohemia when, in 925 A.D., king Henry I of Germany presented as a gift the bones of one hand of St. Vitus to Wenceslaus, Duke of Bohemia. Since then, this relic has been a sacred treasure in the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.
The cult of St. Vitus became very popular in Slavic lands, where his name (Sveti Vid) may have replaced the old cult of the god of light Svantovid.
In Serbia his feast day, known as Vidovdan, is of particular historical importance. The day is part of the Kosovo Myth — the Battle of Kosovo occurred on that day; several events have symbolically occurred on that day, such as the 1914 assassination of the Austrian royal couple; Vitus was the patron saint of the Kingdom of Serbia. In Croatia, 123 churches are dedicated to St. Vitus. In Hungary he has been venerated as Szent Vid since the early Middle Ages. In Bulgaria, it is called Vidovden (Видовден) or Vidov Den (Видов ден) and is particularly well known among the Shopi, in the western part of the country.
Saint Vitus is one of the Fourteen Martyrs who give aid in times of trouble. He is specifically invoked against chorea, which is called St. Vitus Dance.
He is represented as a young man with a palm-leaf, in a cauldron, sometimes with a raven and a lion, his iconographic attribute because according to the legend he was thrown into a cauldron of boiling tar and molten lead, but miraculously escaped unscathed.
The names of Saints Modestus and Crescentia were added in the 11th century to the Roman Calendar, so that from then on all three names were celebrated together until 1969, when their feast was removed from the General Roman Calendar. Saint Vitus is still recognized as a saint of the Catholic Church, being included in the Roman Martyrology under June 15, and Mass may be celebrated in his honor on that day wherever the Roman Rite is celebrated, while Modestus and Crescentia, who are associated with Vitus in legend, have been omitted, because they appear to be merely fictitious personages.
The saint's feast day is also the subject of a popular weather rhyme: "If St. Vitus' Day be rainy weather, it shall rain for thirty days together". This rhyme often appears in such publications as almanacs; its origin is uncertain.
Michael J. Towsend writes that "the phrase 'The patron saint of Methodism is St Vitus' summed up with reasonable accuracy many people's impressions of the Methodist Church. Methodists, surely, are supremely busy people, always rushing around organizing things and setting up committees to do good works. They can generally be relied upon to play their part in running Christian Aid Week, the sponsored walk for the local hospice or the group protesting about homelessness, and they are known, even now, to be activists in trades unions and political parties."