AskDefine | Define vitus

Dictionary Definition

Vitus n : Christian martyr and patron of those who suffer from epilepsy and Sydenham's chorea (died around 300) [syn: St. Vitus]

Extensive Definition

"Saint Guy" redirects here. For the Belgian saint, see Guy of Anderlecht.
Vitus 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. He is counted as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers of the Roman Catholic Church.
Saint Vitus' Day is celebrated on June 15. In places where the Julian Calendar is used, this date coincides, in the 20th and 21st centuries, with the Gregorian Calendar 28 June.
The popularity of Saint Vitus is shown by the variants of his name existing in many European languages. They include Guy (French), Vito (Italian), Guido (Italian), Vid (Croatian and South-Slav languages), Vith, Vít (Czech), Veit (German), Wit (Polish).
In the late Middle Ages, people in Germany and countries such as Latvia celebrated the feast of Saint Vitus by dancing before his statue. This dancing became something of a mania and gave the name of "Saint Vitus Dance" to the nervous disorder called chorea. It also led to Saint Vitus being considered the patron saint of dancers and entertainers in general.
St. Vitus is considered the patron saint of actors, comedians, dancers, and epileptics. He is also said to protect against lightning strikes, animal attacks, and oversleeping, and is the patron saint of Bohemia. Vitus or St. Vito is the patron saint of the towns of Ciminna in Sicily and Forio in Campania, Italy, the town of Winschoten in the Netherlands and the city of Rijeka in Croatia.
Various places in Austria and Bavaria are named Sankt Veit in his honor.
For the significance of the feast of St. Vitus in Serbia, where the Serb Orthodox Church follows the Julian Calendar, see Vidovdan.

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, will 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 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 author the article in the Catholic Encyclopedia from which the information in this section is drawn, the testimony to the public veneration of the three saints in the fifth century proves positively 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 pagan 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 apostatize. 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 author of the legend doubtless connected in his invention three saints who apparently suffered death in Lucania, and were first venerated there.

Cult

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 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 A.D. it is said that 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., emperor Henry I of Germany presented as a gift the bones of one hand of St. Vitus tot St. Venceslav, Duke of Bohemia. This hand is now a sacred national treasure in the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.
The cult of St. Vitus became strong in Slavic lands, where his name (Sveti Vid = St. Vitus) replaced the old pagan cult of the god of light Svantovid. Just in Croatia, 123 churches are dedicated to St. Vitus.
St. Vitus is appealed to, above all, against epilepsy, which is called St. Vitus's Dance, and he is one of the Fourteen Martyrs who give aid in times of trouble.
He is represented as a young man with a palm-leaf, in a kettle, sometimes with a raven and a lion., his iconographic attribute because according to the legend he was thrown into such a cauldron of boiling tar and molten lead, but escaped unscathed miraculously.
The names of Modestus and Crescentia were added in the eleventh 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 calendar of feasts proposed for celebration throughout the Roman Rite. However, Saint Vitus is still recognized as a saint of the Catholic Church, being inscribed in the Roman Martyrology under 15 June, and Mass may be celebrated in his honour on that day wherever the Roman Rite is celebrated. On the other hand, the Modestus and Crescentia associated with Vitus in legend has been omitted because they appear to be merely fictitious personages.

Gallery

Sources

Notes

vitus in Czech: Svatý Vít
vitus in Danish: Sankt Vitus
vitus in German: Veit (Heiliger)
vitus in Spanish: Vito mártir
vitus in Esperanto: Sankta Vito
vitus in French: Guy, Modeste et Crescence
vitus in Croatian: Sveti Vid
vitus in Italian: San Vito di Lucania
vitus in Hebrew: ויטוס הקדוש
vitus in Hungarian: Szent Vitus
vitus in Dutch: Vitus
vitus in Japanese: ルカニアのヴィトゥス
vitus in Polish: Święty Wit
vitus in Russian: Святой Витт
vitus in Finnish: Pyhä Vitus
vitus in Tagalog: Vito
vitus in Venetian: San Vito de Łucania
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