Today is the feast day of St. Vitus, St. Modestus, and St. Crescentia. Orate pro nobis
By Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
Mazara, in Sicily, was the native place of St. Vitus or Guy, who, while yet very young, had the happiness of receiving the crown of martyrdom. His father, Hylas, was a pagan, and enjoyed a great reputation on account of his nobility and immense wealth. God so directed it, that the teacher whom Hylas gave to his son, was at heart a Christian, and he instructed Vitus so well in the Christian faith, that he requested most earnestly to be admitted into the Church, and was baptized without the knowledge of his father. No sooner was this accomplished, than the courageous youth, who was scarcely fifteen years old, was unwilling to conceal that he was a Christian, but proclaimed himself without hesitation as one of the faithful. God rewarded this fearlessness with the gift of miracles. Vitus, by only making the sign of the cross, restored sight to the blind, made the dumb speak, healed the sick and released the possessed from the evil spirit. When Hylas heard what his son had done without his knowledge, he called him to his room and asked him if it was true, as was said, that he had really embraced the Christian faith, the practice of which was so strictly forbidden in the whole empire? Vitus unhesitatingly confessed that he had become a Christian, because he was convinced that there was no other God but the God of the Christians.
The father, much incensed, made every possible effort to cause Hs son again to forsake the faith he had so lately adopted. Flatteries and caresses, promises, menaces, nay, even tears were brought to bear, but all to no purpose; for Vitus remained inflexible, and assured his father that he would rather die a thousand deaths, than swerve from the Catholic religion. Hylas was enraged, and being himself a very zealous worshipper of the idols, he led his son to the Governor Valerian, with the request to bring him back to the worship of the old gods by compulsion. Valerian used every argument in his power, but finding it useless he ordered Vitus to be most cruelly scourged. The executioners were about to begin, when suddenly their hands and arms, as well as those of Valerian became so stiff that they were unable to move them and felt the most excruciating pains in them. The Governor declared this to be witchcraft,–as the Christians were commonly thought to be magicians and called for help. Vitus, pitying him, made the sign of the Cross over the stiffened limbs and thus healed them perfectly. Valerian had not the courage to do anything further against Vitus, but restored him to Hylas with the admonition that the father himself should try to persuade his son to return to his former worship.
Hylas now concocted a devilish plan. He endeavored to lead his son to depravity and vice, in order, by this means, to make him more easily yield to his wishes. He locked him up in a magnificent apartment with some wicked women; hoping that might be seduced by them to sin. Vitus at the first moment was horrified; but recovering his self-possession, he raised his hands and eyes on high and called on God to aid him. God sent one of his angels, whose brightness illumined the whole apartment, and who so visibly protected the youth, that none of the women dared to approach him. The father, curious to know the success of his plan, went to the apartment and looked through an opening in the door, but was so overcome by the light emanating from the angel, that he began to cry aloud with the pain in his eyes.
Vitus was moved to compassion, and as his father called vainly to the gods for aid, he made the sign of the Holy Cross over him which not only took away his pains, but also cured his blindness, though it did not soften the obduracy of his will, nor remove the blindness from his soul. Instead of being brought by these miracles to the knowledge of the true faith, he became still more wicked, and ascribing it all to magic, he began to devise other means to turn his Son’s mind. But an angel appeared to Modestus, the former teacher of Vitus, and to a certain Crescentia, who both had educated the holy youth, and ordered them to go on board a ship with Vitus and escape into another land. They obeyed the command, and arrived safely in Lucania, a province of Naples, where, repairing to a desert, they led a most holy life.
Meanwhile, God permitted the daughter of the Emperor Dicolesian to be possessed of the Devil, who, one day while tormenting her, declared that he would not leave her until he was forced to do so by a youth named Vitus. They asked where he lived, and the Evil Spirit indicated his abode. Dioclesian had him brought into his presence and requested him to cure his daughter. The Saint said a short prayer, then laying his hands upon the head of the possessed, he made the sign of the Cross over her and said: “In the name of Jesus Christ, the true God, I command thee immediately to leave this body.” The Evil One had to obey: he left the princess forthwith, uttering many invectives against the Saint. The Emperor was greatly astounded at this event, but instead of learning by it the truth of Christianity, he endeavored, by flatteries and promises, to persuade Vitus to forsake it.
As he, however could not succeed, his wrath kindled and he gave orders to cast Vitus, Modestus and Crescentia into a dungeon, and after having tortured them there in various cruel ways, he precipitated them into a cauldron filled with boiling tar. Vitus had made the sign of the Cross over it, and the Almighty, who had preserved unharmed the three youths in the furnace of Babylon, wrought upon these three holy Martyrs a similar miracle. All three remained uninjured. The tyrant was not willing to confess himself conquered, and commanded that they should be stretched upon the rack and most barbarously tortured. But so terrible an earthquake, accompanied by a storm, shook the ground under their feet that the assembled people fled away. An angel came and loosening the holy Martyrs from the rack, healed their wounds and carried them back into the desert; where, thanking God for the grace vouchsafed to them, they peacefully slept; going to the Lord Jesus Christ in the year 300. (2)
Among the Fourteen Holy Helpers
St Vitus is also grouped among the Fourteen Holy Helpers – among them, Barbara, Blaise, Catherine of Alexandria, Christopher, George, and others – that enjoyed a collective cult in the Rhineland from the 14th century. (5)
St. Vitus is invoked in epilepsy, chorea [“St. Vitus Dance”], lethargy, bites of mad or poisonous animals, and storms; he is a patron of dancers and actors. (1)