By Kelly Wise Valdes
A canonized saint that is honored as a special protector is known as a patron saint. A patron saint may also be a benefactor of persons in a certain occupation or a guardian of those who bear the saint’s name. A patron saint may be invoked to intercede with God for help in a time of special need.
This month we are learning some interesting history about Saint Vitus. Saint Vitus was born in 290 in Sicily. He was a son of a Sicilian Senator and he grew up during the reigns of two Roman Emperors. These rulers displayed some of the fiercest persecutions of the early Church. This was an extremely dangerous time to practice the Christian faith due to persecutions.
His family followed the pagan Roman gods, but at the age of 12, Vitus converted to Christianity. His father was infuriated and had his son and his associates arrested, whipped and imprisoned. Christian legend tells that angels freed them from prison and they fled to Rome. Because of his connections with Roman nobility, Saint Vitus gained access to the royal court of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. While there, Vitus cured the son of the Emperor of evil spirits.
The Emperor planned a sacrifice to the Roman gods to show thanks for the cure. Saint Vitus revealed that he would not participate due to his Christian beliefs. This angered the Emperor and he accused Saint Vitus of being a sorcerer and practicing magic to conjure-up the cure. Saint Vitus and his friends were arrested and condemned to death in the arena. Legend tells that the wild beasts and lions refused to attack Saint Vitus. Eventually, he was sentenced to death by being boiled in oil.
Saint Vitus is one of the “Fourteen Holy Helpers,” a group of saints honored together because their intercession is considered especially effective. 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.
In the late Middle Ages, people in Germany and countries such as Latvia celebrated the feast of Vitus by dancing before his statue. This dancing became popular and the name “Saint Vitus Dance” was given to the neurological disorder Sydenham’s chorea.
Stay tuned next month while we explore the life of Saint Edward the Confessor.