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.