Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

St Vitus

John Dillon posted twice about St Vitus and his companions, Modestus and Crescentia, whose feast day it was on Monday on the Medieval Religion discussion group.

The interest of St Vitus lies perhaps in that we have all heard of St Vitus Dance, and also the way in which the saint was depicted on central Europe in the later medieval centuries, and his popularity as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers - a devotion particularly strong in central Europe.

Here are the Dillon posts combined:

.Vitus, Modestus, and Crescentia (d. ca. 304, supposedly). We know nothing about the historical Vitus (Vito, Veit, Vid, Gui, Guy, etc.). 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 in Sicily (today's Mazara del Vallo [TP]), a professed Christian, and a miracle-worker. His pagan father had him tortured and thrown in prison in an attempt to get him to renounce his faith. 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, this time lethally. 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 prior to 1927 belonged to 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 Crescentia were celebrated jointly with Vitus in Roman Catholic liturgies of the Roman rite. Dropped from Vitus' feast in the reform of the general Roman Calendar promulgated in 1969 and excluded from the RM 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 Orthodox 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 medieval images of Vitus (and, occasionally, of Modestus and Crescentia as well):

a) Vitus (image at left) as portrayed 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:

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

c) The martyrdom of Vitus, Modestus, and Crescentia as depicted in an earlier fourteenth-century copy (1326-1350) of a French-language collection of saint's lives (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 185, fol. 233r):
The BnF's description of this scene with three martyrs, one of whom is surely Crescentia, simply as the martyrdom of Vitus and Modestus is at best unfortunate (if not downright sexist).

d) Vitus 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:

e) Vitus as depicted undergoing torture in a cauldron as portrayed in a mid-fifteenth-century panel painting of German origin now in the National Museum in Warsaw:
The unhappy-looking lady and gent at the right rear center are presumably Crescentia and Modestus.

f) Vitus undergoing torture in a cauldron as portrayed in a late fifteenth-century limewood statue (ca. 1490) from the Tyrol, now in the Bode Museum in Berlin:

g) Vitus as depicted in a hand-colored woodcut in the Beloit College copy of Hartmann Schedel's _Nuremberg Chronicle_ (1493) at fol. CXXVr:

h) Vitus undergoing torture in a cauldron as portrayed in a late fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century wooden statue from southern Germany, now in the Zeppelin-Museum in Friedrichshafen:

i) Scenes from Vitus' Passio adorn the wings and predella of the early sixteenth-century altarpiece (1514 or 1517) in the now mostly neo-romanesque Evangelische Pfarrkirche St. Veit in Flein (Rems-Murr-Kreis) in Baden-Württemberg:
The predella (one scene showing Modestus and Crescentia as well):
Detail view of that scene (Vitus boiled in a cauldron)

Prague cathedral is dedicated to St Vitus,and although the building  - the nave and west front - was only completed in the twentieth century rather than being all medieval, it remains awonderful witness to the age of the Emperor Charles IV which commenced it in the mid-fourteenth century.

Herewith a few further medieval images of St. Vitus and, in one instance, his companions:

1) Vitus guiding abbot Wernher as depicted 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):

2) Vitus accompanied by angels and enforcing the submission of a lion as depicted in a later twelfth-century illumination in the Weissenau Passional (ca. 1170-1200; Cologny, Bibliotheca Bodmeriana, Cod. Bodmer 127, fol. 103r):
In the Vita, Vitus' emergence unscathed from the boiling cauldron is followed by his exposure to lions who submit themselves to him affectionately.

3) Vitus (lower register, second from right) as depicted in the later fourteenth-century votive painting of Archbishop Jan Očko of Vlašim now in the National Gallery in Prague:
Detail view (Vitus):
4) Vitus (at center), Crescentia, and Modestus as depicted in a fifteenth-century fresco in the Pfarrkirche Hl. Maria und Leonhard in Lofer (Land Salzburg):

5) Vitus as depicted by Bartolomeo Vivarini in a later fifteenth-century panel painting from a polyptych (ca. 1470) in the chiesa matrice della Santissima Assunta in Polignano a Mare (BA) in Apulia:
6) Vitus in an enclosure with submissive lions as depicted on a later fifteenth-century altarpiece (ca. 1470-1480) from St. Veit an der Glan now in the Landesmuseum Kärnten in Klagenfurt:
Detail view (Vitus and lions):

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