Saint of the Day – 15 June – St Vitus (c 290-c 303) – Martyr, One of the Seven Holy Helpers – died age 12–13 in Lucania, modern-day Basilicata, Italy). Patronages – against animal attacks, against dog bites, against epilepsy; epileptics, against lightning, against over-sleeping, against rheumatic chorea or Saint Vitus Dance, against snake bites, against storms, against wild beasts, of actors, comedians, dancers, dogs, Bohemia, Czech Republic, Serbia, 17 cities.
Saint Vitus lived during the joint reigns of two Roman Emperors. The Roman Emperor Maximian, who was Roman Emperor for the Western Empire from 286 to 305 and Diocletian (r.284-305). who mounted some of the fiercest persecutions of the early Church especially in the East of the Roman Empire. This was an extremely dangerous time to adhere to the Christian faith due to persecutions of the Roman Emperors. St Vitus was the son of a Sicilian senator named Hylas. The family adhered to the Pagan Roman Gods but at the age of twelve Vitus converted to Christianity. His father was so furious that he had his son and his associates arrested and whipped. They were released and escaped to Rome. His links with Roman nobility gained Vitus access to the royal court of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. It is said that Vitus cured the son of the Emperor of evil spirits. A sacrifice to the Roman gods was planned in thanks for the cure Vitus was unable to participate due his Christian beliefs and when this emerged he was accused of being a sorcerer and practising magic to effect the cure. He and his friends were arrested and condemned to death in the arena. Legend tells that the wild beasts and lions refused to attack Vitus and he was killed by the terrible fate of being boiled in oil.
The veneration of the martyrs spread rapidly in Southern Italy and Sicily, Pope Gregory the Great mentions a monastery dedicated to Vitus in Sicily. 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 and at Rome in the seventh century the chapel of a deaconry was dedicated to him.
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.
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.