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Vitus

Vitus (1) (Guy), St., a youthful martyr in Diocletian's persecution; the son of a pagan gentleman in Sicily, but secretly trained in Christianity by his nurse Crescentia and her husband Modestus. After the boy had encountered much cruel suffering, they succeeded in carrying him over to Italy, where all three fell victims, either in Lucania or at Rome (Boll. Acta SS. 15 Jun. iii. 491, ed. 1867). He is invoked against sudden death and hydrophobia (ib. App. p. 21 *), and against prolonged sleep and the complaint known as the chorea or dance of St. Vitus (Guérin, Les Pet. Boll. vii. 30). He is also, says Guérin, the patron of comedians and dancers. Two German medical writers, Gregory Horst and John Juncker, of the 17th and 18th cents. respectively, relate how the malady came to take his name (see Rees's Encyclopedia, s.v. "Chorea"). There sprang up, they say, in Germany in the 17th cent., a superstitious belief that by presenting gifts to the image of St. Vitus, and dancing before it day and night on his festival, people ensured themselves good health through the year. The saint's two chapels at Ulm and Ravensberg became more especially noted for the annual resort of these dancing fanatics.

[C.H.]

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