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SECT. 2--ST. VITUS'S DANCE

Strasburg was visited by the "Dancing Plague" in the year 1418, and the same infatuation existed among the people there, as in the towns of Belgium and the Lower Rhine. Many who were seized at the sight of those affected, excited attention at first by their confused and absurd behaviour, and then by their constantly following swarms of dancers. These were seen day and night passing through the streets, accompanied by musicians playing on bagpipes, and by innumerable spectators attracted by curiosity, to which were added anxious parents and relations, who came to look after those among the misguided multitude who belonged to their respective families. Imposture and profligacy played their part in this city also, but the morbid delusion itself seems to have predominated. On this account religion could only bring provisional aid, and therefore the town council benevolently took an interest in the afflicted. They divided them into separate parties, to each of which they appointed responsible superintendents to protect them from harm, and perhaps also to restrain their turbulence. They were thus conducted on foot and in carriages to the chapels of St. Vitus, near Zabern and Rotestein, where priests were in attendance to work upon their misguided minds by masses and other religious ceremonies. After divine worship was completed, they were led in solemn procession to the altar, where they made some small offering of alms, and where it is probable that many were, through the influence of devotion and the sanctity of the place, cured of this lamentable aberration. It is worthy of observation, at all events, that the Dancing Mania did not recommence at the altars of the saint, and that from him alone assistance was implored, and through his miraculous interposition a cure was expected, which was beyond the reach of human skill. The personal history of St. Vitus is by no means important in this matter. He was a Sicilian youth, who, together with Modestus and Crescentia, suffered martyrdom at the time of the persecution of the Christians, under Diocletian, in the year 303. The legends respecting him are obscure, and he would certainly have been passed over without notice among the innumerable apocryphal martyrs of the first centuries, had not the transfer of his body to St. Denys, and thence, in the year 836, to Corvey, raised him to a higher rank. From this time forth it may be supposed that many miracles were manifested at his new sepulchre, which were of essential service in confirming the Roman faith among the Germans, and St. Vitus was soon ranked among the fourteen saintly helpers (Nothhelfer or Apotheker). His altars were multiplied, and the people had recourse to them in all kinds of distresses, and revered him as a powerful intercessor. As the worship of these saints was, however, at that time stripped of all historical connections, which were purposely obliterated by the priesthood, a legend was invented at the beginning of the fifteenth century, or perhaps even so early as the fourteenth, that St. Vitus had, just before he bent his neck to the sword, prayed to God that he might protect from the Dancing Mania all those who should solemnise the day of his commemoration, and fast upon its eve, and that thereupon a voice from heaven was heard, saying, "Vitus, thy prayer is accepted." Thus St. Vitus became the patron saint of those afflicted with the Dancing Plague, as St. Martin of Tours was at one time the succourer of persons in small-pox, St. Antonius of those suffering under the "hellish fire," and as St. Margaret was the Juno Lucina of puerperal women.


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