The Dance of Saint Vitus and Who is Vito Anyway?

One of my favorite songs is “Il Ballo di San Vito” by Italian artist Vincio Capossela. It’s a wild tarantella, and it discusses just that–a wild dance in the south of Italy with hot winds from Africa, burnt earth, fire, and dancers frenetically moving in and out of a circle doing the pizzica tarantella. The rhythms (played by Sicilian master Alfio Antico on frame drums and tambourines) are mystical. Until recently, I hadn’t thought much about San Vito, or Saint Vitus, as he is called in English, the saint featured in the song. And considering that I’ve been to the beach town of San Vito Lo Capo in Sicily a number of times (and will be returning at the end of September during Savoring Sicily), I thought I should learn about Vito (His statue on the Sanctuary in San Vito Lo Capo is pictured.).

Vito’s life is a bit of a mystery, and because he died in 303 A.D., little is known about him. The vitals are as follows: He was born in Mazara del Vallo, Sicily and as a boy, he performed a number of healing miracles. His healing powers were considered sorcery, and to make matters worse, he considered himself Christian during a time when Christians were persecuted by Roman governors. When his powers became well-known, Sicily’s governor ordered him to renounce his faith. He refused, fled to Lucania (now part of Basilicata), was thrown in jail, and along with his tutor and servant, was tortured, yet was released unharmed during a storm that destroyed temples and other property–but not him or his companions! Definitely someone to stay close to.

His devotion to Christ, his ability to heal, and his martyrdom and survival made him reveared throughout the ancient Christian world.

Now, back to that song and the frenetic dancing… Because of his healing abilities, he is the patron saint of epileptitics, and by association, the patron of dancers and actors. He’s also the protector against storms. So, now you know who to call upon if a hurricane comes your way.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. And another little tidbit for you – there is a medical condition called St. Vitus’ Dance, or Sydenham’ chorea, that children (usually) who get rheumatic fever can also get St. Vitus’ Dance as a neurological result of that disease. And yes! the symptoms are this frenetic movements of arms, legs, entire body. It does resolve itself in a few weeks to months. A bit troublesome and worrisome for whoever has it and their caregivers! The brain is a strange thing. So, close cousin of epilepsy but the patient isn’t unconscious with St. Vitus’ Dance!

    1. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing this information!

  2. Claire walsh says:

    What fascinating information. Interesting to learn so much about St. Virus. Will plan to honor him when the next hurricane or northeaster comes our way.

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