Friday, June 15, 2012

June 15, the Feast day of Saint Vitus et al

St Vitus and DanceFeast day of Ss Vitus (Guy), Crescentia, and Modestus, martyrs
(Sensitive plant, Mimosa sensit, is today's plant, dedicated to Vitus.)
Martyred during the Diocletian persecution, St Vitus was a Sicilian youth. He was killed with his tutor, Modestus, and his nurse, Crescentia, in about 303.

He was converted in Sicily as a boy by his nurse, and fled his father's wrath to Italy, where he was martyred under the reign of Diocletian. According to the legend, his father was angry that his son had been converted to Christianity by his nurse and her husband, so Dad turned him over to the authorities. While Vitus was in prison, angels performed a dance for him, so he is the patron saint of dancers, actors, comedians and mummers, and those inflicted with fit-producing diseases like epilepsy and chorea (also known as 'St Vitus Dance').

His emblem is a cock or a dog, and he is patron of dogs. In art, he is shown as a boy with a rooster and a cauldron, or with Modestus and Crescentia as they refuse to worship idols. He may be shown being put into an oven; with a palm and cauldron; with a palm and dog; with a chalice and dog; with sword and dog; with a sword and rooster; with a book and rooster; with a wolf or lion; or as a young prince with a palm and sceptre (Roeder, source).

Somehow a chapel near Ulm was dedicated to him, and to this chapel annually came women who were ill with a nervous or hysterical affliction. This came to be called St Vitus's Dance. Perhaps this term was extended to other similar muscular disorders.
After St Vitus and his companions were martyred, and their heads enclosed in a church wall, they were forgotten. Years later in renovations, the heads were discovered, and the bells started tolling of themselves. The heads caused miracles to occur. Or, so it is said.

In pre-Reformation times in England, chickens were sacrificed on this day to avert the disease. On this day, like St Swithin's, if it rains it will rain for many more days. Vitus Diena was held in medieval Latvia to commemorate the last day of planting. Rain on this day signified a bountiful crop, as well as the first appearances of bees and flies.

St Vitus's Dance
In the 17th Century in Germany it was believed that good health could be assured by dancing in front of a statue of the saint on his feast day.
Such dancing to excess is said to have come to be confused with chorea, hence its name, St Vitus's Dance, for the saint is invoked against it.

Midsummer dancing madness
Originally pagan celebrations were held at around this time, with wild dancing. The day on which the dancing was centred was christianized as the Feast of St John the Baptist, patron of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen), and German people thronged there on his day, June 24, for the dancing. In 1374 the Rhine flooded and the dancing of the peasants, whose lives were sorely afflicted beyond their normal poverty, went wild.
The 'dancing madness' became known as St John's Dance and the mania spread after a few months to Maastricht, Utrecht, Liege and elsewhere. The mania died out after six months in the Low Countries. In Germany the authorities tried to suppress it but it continued for centuries. The dance was recorded in 1518; later it came to be called St Vitus's Dance.
"His nurse Crescentia, who supposedly converted him to Christianity, seems an emblem of the Moon goddess, the crescent moon, and his name ('life' in Latin) indicates that he too is a spurious saint. He was especially venerated in Westphalia, where bones said to be his had rested since the ninth century AD., though his legend assigned him to the time of Diocletian, six hundred years earlier."   Source


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