Jun 282021


Today is the feast day of St Vitus, sometimes rendered Guy or Guido, a Christian martyr from Lucania. His surviving hagiography is pure legend and the dates of his actual life are unknown. He has for long been tied to the Sicilian martyrs Modestus and Crescential but in the earliest sources it is clear that these were originally different traditions that later became combined. The figures of Modestus and Crescentia are probably fictitious.

According to his legend, Vitus died during the Diocletianic Persecution in 303. In the Middle Ages, he was counted as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. In Germany, his feast was celebrated with dancing before his statue. This dancing became popular and the name “Saint Vitus Dance” was given to the neurological disorder Sydenham’s chorea. (see also https://www.bookofdaystales.com/dancing-mania/ ) When I was a small boy in South Australia I had to fill out a medical history form each year at school, and one of the illnesses listed that I could check was St Vitus Dance. The connexion with dance led to Vitus being considered the patron saint of dancers and of entertainers in general. He is also said to protect against lightning strikes, animal attacks, and oversleeping. His feast day is celebrated on 15th June where the Julian calendar is used, and on 28th June on the Gregorian calendar.

The veneration of Vitus appeared very early in Rome. Pope Gelasius I (492-496) mentions a shrine dedicated to him. In AD 756, 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 AD 836. From Corvey the veneration of St Vitus spread throughout Westphalia and in the districts of eastern and northern Germany. His popularity grew in Prague,  when, in 925, 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 veneration of St. Vitus became very popular in Slavic lands, where his name (Sveti Vid) is reminiscent of the old god of light, Svetovid. In Serbia his feast day, known as Vidovdan, is of particular historical importance. The day is part of the Kosovo Myth (a founding legend of the country) — the Battle of Kosovo occurred on that day. It was also the day in 1914 when archduke Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated, leading to the First World War (https://www.bookofdaystales.com/the-great-war/ ). Vitus was the patron saint of the kingdom of Serbia. In Hungary he has been venerated as Szent Vid since the early Middle Ages. In Bulgaria,  is called Vidovden (Видовден) or Vidov Den (Видов ден) and is particularly well known among the Shopi, in the western part of the country. In Croatia, 123 churches are dedicated to St. Vitus.

In the Netherlands, Vitus is the patron saint of Winschoten, as well as of the region of the Gooi, where in each of the three largest towns (Hilversum, Bussum and Naarden), the main Catholic Church is dedicated to St Vitus.

Vitus 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.

I am looking to Serbia today for a recipe, partly because Vitus is popular there, and also in remembrance of the assassination there in 1914 (which I did not peg to a specific recipe on that post).  Sarma is Serbian stuffed cabbage. The interesting aspect of the Serbian style is that the cabbage leaves are pickled first, rather than parboiled.

Jul 102017

Today is the birthday (1856) of Nikola Tesla (Никола Тесла) a Serbian inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist who was virtually unknown to the general public from the time of his death to the 1990s when he achieved a kind of semi-mythic status in the science fiction, comic book, and fantasy realms. Tesla is one of the numerous real scientists who worked for Thomas Edison who reaped both the credit and profit for things they invented. Tesla is now best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system although he made many other discoveries in, and improvements to, electrical systems.

Tesla was born and raised in the Austrian Empire to Serbian parents in what is now Croatia. He received an advanced education in engineering and physics in the 1870s and gained practical experience in the early 1880s working in telephony and at Continental Edison in the new electric power industry. He emigrated to the United States in 1884, and eventually became a naturalized citizen. He worked for a short time at the Edison Machine Works in New York City before he struck out on his own because of severe disagreements with Edison who continued to hold high hopes for the commercial possibilities of direct current even though Tesla’s alternating current was clearly superior for transmitting electricity over long distances. With the help of partners to finance and market his ideas, Tesla set up laboratories and companies in New York to develop a range of electrical and mechanical devices. His alternating current (AC) induction motor and related polyphase AC patents, licensed by Westinghouse Electric in 1888, and became the cornerstone of the polyphase system which Westinghouse marketed and is to this day the industry standard.

Tesla also conducted a range of experiments with mechanical oscillators/generators, electrical discharge tubes, and early X-ray imaging. Even though he was quite deliberately asocial (anti-social is too strong), Tesla became well known as an inventor and demonstrated his achievements to celebrities and wealthy patrons at his lab, and was noted for his showmanship at public lectures.

Throughout the 1890s Tesla pursued his ideas for wireless lighting and worldwide wireless electric power distribution in his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs. I’m a little surprised he didn’t electrocute himself along the way. In 1893, he made pronouncements on the possibility of wireless communication with his devices. Tesla tried to put these ideas to practical use in his unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project, an intercontinental wireless communication and power transmitter, but ran out of funding before he could complete it.

After Wardenclyffe, Tesla went on to try and develop a series of inventions in the 1910s and 1920s with varying degrees of success. Having spent most of the money he earned from the AC patents, he lived in a series of New York hotels, leaving behind unpaid bills. The nature of his earlier work and the pronouncements he made to the press later in life earned him the reputation of an archetypal “mad scientist” in US popular culture. Tesla died in New York City in January 1943. His work fell into relative obscurity following his death, but in 1960, the General Conference on Weights and Measures named the SI unit of magnetic flux density the tesla in his honor.

I strongly urge you to look up more details about this man who was an intriguing personality. He stood 6’2” tall and weighed a scant 142 lbs all of his life: quite noticeably tall and thin for his era. He was also notably reclusive when not conducting experiments or giving public lectures. Here’s some of my favorite quotes from Tesla:

My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.

Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.

The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane

The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.

What we now want is closer contact and better understanding between individuals and communities all over the earth, and the elimination of egoism and pride which is always prone to plunge the world into primeval barbarism and strife… Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment.

I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success . . . Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.

If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6 and 9, then you would have the key to the universe.

From childhood I was compelled to concentrate attention upon myself. This caused me much suffering, but to my present view, it was a blessing in disguise for it has taught me to appreciate the inestimable value of introspection in the preservation of life, as well as a means of achievement.

Tesla was Serbian although born in what is now Croatia. Serbs and Croats share many cultural similarities with minor differences, although it’s probably a good plan to keep this idea to yourself when traveling in the region. Serbian and Croatian languages, for example, are mutually intelligible, but Serbs use Cyrillic script and Croats use the Roman alphabet. Their cuisines are also quite similar although the Dalmatian coast of Croatia has a distinctive set of dishes relying on seafood. Both Serbs and Croats historically were fond of tripe, especially goat and lamb tripe, but these dishes are falling into disfavor nowadays. Oh well !!! Here’s a classic recipe found in both Serbia and Croatia.



2 lbs cooked tripe cut in bite-sized pieces
1 lb onions, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
vegetable oil for frying
ground black pepper
powdered red paprika
2 bay leaves
⅓ cup dry white wine
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp vinegar


Heat a little vegetable oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat and then sauté the onions, stirring frequently until they are a deep golden.

Place the tripe, onions, ground pepper to taste, bay leaves, paprika to taste, crushed garlic, and white wine in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes.  At this point I like to let the pot rest and cool for several hours. It can also be refrigerated overnight to marry the flavors.

Reheat the pot when about ready to serve and add the tomato puree and vinegar towards the end, stirring well to combine thoroughly.