medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Nothing is known about the historical Vitus (Vito, Veit, Vid, Gui, Guy, etc.; d. ca. 304, supposedly). His cult is ancient: there is evidence from the fifth century of a church in Rome dedicated to him and from the correspondence of pope St. Gregory the Great we learn that in the sixth century there were monasteries dedicated to him in Sicily and in Sardinia.

Vitus has a legendary Passio (BHL 8711-8716) whose earliest version is thought to be of the seventh century. According to this, he was a boy of seven years (in some versions, twelve years) at Lilybaeum (now Mazara del Vallo) in western Sicily, a professed Christian, and a miracle-worker.  In an attempt to get him to renounce his faith his pagan father had him tortured and thrown in prison. But an angel freed him together with his nurse Crescentia and his tutor Modestus (in some versions, Crescentia's husband), whereupon Vitus, together with these surrogate parent figures, removed to Lucania and continued to profess Christianity and to perform miracles. In time Vitus' fame reached the ears of the emperor Diocletian, who called him to Rome to cure his demonically possessed son. Vitus obtained this cure but refused to sacrifice to Rome's pagan gods. Diocletian had the saints tortured anew, first by placing Vitus in a cauldron (_clibanus_) of boiling lead, resin, and tar from which latter he emerged unscathed, then by sending a lion to devour him only to have the beast humble itself before the young saint, and then, this time lethally, by stretching all three upon a form of rack. An angel brought them back to Lucania near the river Sele, where after a final prayer by Vitus they soon expired. Thus far the Passio of Vitus and his companions.

The seemingly very late seventh- or early eighth-century (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology appears to be following the legend when it says of Vita only _In Lucania, Viti_ ("In Lucania, Vitus") without naming a specific cult site. A church ancestral to the present chiesa di San Vito al Sele near Eboli (SA) in a part of southern Campania that lay within the historic, pre-1927 territory of Lucania / Basilicata is first recorded from 1042. Archeological investigation in the 1970s found remains of an ancient settlement in the vicinity that has been interpreted as the home of Vitus' very early cult. From at least the ninth century until quite recently Modestus and sometimes Crescentia as well were celebrated jointly with Vitus in liturgies of the Roman Rite. Dropped from Vitus' feast (15. June) in the reform of the general Roman Calendar promulgated in 1969 and dropped from the Roman Martyrology in the latter's revision of 2001, they continue as titulars of some churches and of a Roman cardinal deaconry and are celebrated along with Vitus in some Byzantine-rite churches.

In Serbia Vitus is celebrated secularly on 28. June (Gregorian calendar) and liturgically on 15. June (Julian calendar) in commemoration of the Battle of Kosovo, reputed to have occurred on his day in 1389. He is also one of the late medieval and early modern Fourteen Holy Helpers, invoked as a protector of animals and in cases of epilepsy; from the same period comes his association with various saltatory disorders.

Some period-pertinent images of St. Vitus (and, occasionally, of Modestus and Crescentia as well):

a) as depicted (guiding abbot Wernher) in an earlier twelfth-century pen-and-ink drawing (betw. 1143 and 1147) at the beginning of Munich, BSB, clm 536, a composite manuscript partly written at Wernher's command for the abbey of St. Vitus at Prüll (now part of Regensburg):

b) as depicted (accompanied by angels and receiving the lion's submission) in a later twelfth-century illumination in the Weissenau Passional (ca. 1170-1200; Cologny, Bibliotheca Bodmeriana, Cod. Bodmer 127, fol. 103r):

c) as portrayed in relief (image at left) on a thirteenth- (or fourteenth- ?) century morse from the former women's abbey of St. Vitus in Hochelten, now in the treasury of the St. Martinikirche in nearby Emmerich am Rhein (Kr. Kleve) in Nordrhein-Westfalen:
Detail view (Vitus):

d) as depicted (at right, curing Diocletian's son) in a later thirteenth-century French-language legendary (Paris, BnF, ms. Nouvelle acquisition française 23686, fol. 142r):

e) as depicted (martyrdom; Modestus and Crescentia at the lower corners) in a late thirteenth-century copy of French origin of the _Legenda aurea_ (San Marino, CA, Huntington Library, ms. HM 3027, fol. 66v):

f) as depicted (martyrdom of Vitus, Modestus, and Crescentia) in an earlier fourteenth-century copy of the _Legenda aurea_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (ca. 1326-1350; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 185, fol. 233r):

g) as depicted in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (1330s) in the nave of the church of the Hodegetria in the Patriarchate of Peć at Peć in, depending upon one's view of the matter, either Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija or the Republic of Kosovo:

h) as depicted (lower register, second from right) in the later fourteenth-century votive painting of Archbishop Jan Očko of Vlašim in the National Gallery in Prague:
Detail view (Vitus):

i) as depicted by Theodoric of Prague in a later fourteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1360-1364) in the chapel of the Holy Cross in Karlštejn Castle at Karlštejn in the
Czech Republic‎:

j) as depicted (martyrdom of Vitus and Modestus) in the later fourteenth-century Breviary of Charles V (ca. 1364-1370; Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 1052, fol. 390v):

k) as depicted (at left; at center, St. Wenceslas; at right, St. Sigismund) by a Prague School artist on the later fourteenth-century Mühlhausen altarpiece (completed, 1385) in the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart:

l) as depicted (with his father before the magistrate Valerianus) in a late fourteenth- or early fifteenth-century copy of the _Legenda aurea_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (Rennes, Bibliothèque de Rennes Métropole, ms. 266, fol. 148r):

m) as depicted (at center; betw. Crescentia and Modestus) in a fifteenth-century fresco in the Pfarrkirche Hl. Maria und Leonhard in Lofer (Land Salzburg):

n) as depicted (unscathed in the cauldron) in a mid-fifteenth-century panel painting of German origin in the National Museum in Warsaw:
The unhappy-looking lady and gent at the right rear center are presumably Crescentia and Modestus.

o) as depicted (at left, flanking the BVM and Christ Child; at right, St. Castrensis) in a later fifteenth-century altarpiece (ca. 1460; from the chiesa di San Vito in -- as if you couldn't guess from the presence of Castrensis -- Monreale) in the Galleria regionale Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo:

p) as depicted by Bartolomeo Vivarini in a panel painting from a dismembered later fifteenth-century polyptych (ca. 1470) in the chiesa matrice della Santissima Assunta in Polignano a Mare (BA) in Apulia:

q) as depicted (in an enclosure with submissive lions) on a later fifteenth-century altarpiece (ca. 1470-1480; from St. Veit an der Glan) in the Landesmuseum Kärnten in Klagenfurt:
Detail view (Vitus and lions):

r) as portrayed (at center, in a polychromed statue; on the wings, scenes in polychromed relief) on a later fifteenth-century winged altarpiece (ca. 1480) in the Pfarrkirche St. Vitus in Morzg, as _Stadtteil_ of Salzburg:
Detail views:
1) at left, renouncing worldly pleasures:
2) with Modestus and Crescentia in the cauldron:

s) as portrayed (unscathed in the cauldron) in a late fifteenth-century limewood statue of Tyrolean origin (ca. 1490) in the Bode Museum in Berlin:

t) as depicted (left margin, second from top or bottom) in a hand-colored woodcut in the Beloit College copy of Hartmann Schedel's late fifteenth-century _Weltchronik_ (_Nuremberg Chronicle_; 1493) at fol. CXXVr:
A larger view:

u) as portrayed (unscathed in the cauldron) in a polychromed late fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century wooden statue in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam:

v) as portrayed by Francesco Marti and workshop in an early sixteenth-century gilt bronze plaquette (ca. 1507?  ca. 1520?) in the National Gallery of Art in Washington:

w) as portrayed in relief (at center, betw. St. Erasmus and St. George of Lydda) on the early sixteenth-century tomb of the Kurfürstin Anna (1512) in the Münster St. Marien und Jakobus in Heilsbronn (Lkr. Ansbach) in Bavaria:
Detail view (Vitus):

x) as depicted in two panel paintings from an early sixteenth-century winged altarpiece (ca. 1510-1520) in the Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum in Innsbruck:
1) at right, renouncing worldly pleasures:
2) second from right, emerging unscathed from the cauldron:

y) as depicted (scenes from his Passio on the wings and predella of the early sixteenth-century altarpiece (1514 or 1517) in the Evangelische Pfarrkirche St. Veit in Flein (Lkr. Heilbronn) in Baden-Württemberg:
Detail views:
1) the predella (two scenes): at left, the donors before Vitus; at right, Vitus unscathed in the cauldron between Modestus and Crescentia:
2) the cauldron scene on the predella:

z) as portrayed in relief (rear row, third from right; behind St. Christopher's left shoulder) by the workshop of Tilman Riemenschneider in an originally polychromed earlier sixteenth-century lindenwood carving of the Fourteen Holy Helpers (ca. 1520-1530) in the Mainfränkisches Museum in Würzburg:

John Dillon

To join the list, send the message: subscribe medieval-religion YOUR NAME
to: [log in to unmask]
To send a message to the list, address it to:
[log in to unmask]
To leave the list, send the message: unsubscribe medieval-religion
to: [log in to unmask]
In order to report problems or to contact the list's owners, write to:
[log in to unmask]
For further information, visit our web site: