Of S. Vitus and S. Modestus

Chapter 82 of the Golden Legend by Jacobus Voragine (1275), translated by William Caxton, 1483. This "reader's version" of the text provides paragraph breaks and explanatory notes.

S. Vitus was a child much noble that suffered martyrdom in the age of twelve years. His father beat him oft, because he despised the idols, but neither for beating ne nor smiting he would never worship them. When Valerian the provost of Lucca a city in Tuscany, Italy heard say hereof, he made him to come tofore him, and when S. Vitus would not do sacrifice for him ne for his words, he did do beat him had him beaten with great staves.

But the hands of them that beat him became dry and the hands of the provost also, in such wise that they might not bewield wield, use them. Then said the provost: Alas! alas! I have lost mine hands. Then said to him the child Vitus: Call thy gods and pray them that they help thee if they may. Then said the provost: Mayst thou heal me? The child answered: I may well heal thee in the name of my Lord Jesu Christ, and anon he made his prayer and healed him.

Then said the provost to his father: Chastise thy son, to the end that he die not an evil death. Then his father brought him again to his own house, and made come to him harps, pipes and all manner instruments that he might have, and after did do come maidens had maidens come for to play with him, and made him to have all manner of delights that he might get, to mollify and change his heart. And when he had been shut and enclosed in a chamber one day, there issued a marvellous odour and sweet savour, whereof his father and the meiny household marvelled, and when the father looked in to the chamber, he saw two angels sitting by his son, and then said he: The gods be come into mine house, and anon immediately, soon after these words he was blind.

Then assembled all the city of Lucca at the cry of the father, and the provost Valerian came also, and demanded asked what it was that was happed to him. And he said to him: I have seen in my house the gods all so shining and bright as fire, and because I might not suffer the clearness, I am become blind. Then led they him to the temple of Jove and promised unto him a bull, with horns of gold, for to have again his sight. But when he saw it availed him nothing, he required asked his son that he would pray for him, and anon he made his prayer unto God, and anon immediately, soon he was all whole. Yet for all that he would not believe in God, but thought how he might put his son to death.

Then appeared the angel to a servant that kept him, whose name was Modestus, and said to him: Take this child and lead him unto a strange foreign land. And anon he found a ship ready and entered therein, and so went out of the country. An angel brought meat food to them, and he did many miracles in the country where he was.

Now it happed that Diocletian, son of the emperor, had a wicked spirit in his body, and said openly that he would not go out till the child of Lucca named Vitus was come. Anon he sought all about the country, and after, when he was found, he was brought to the emperor.

Then he demanded asked, inquired if he might heal his son.

He answered: I shall not heal him, but our Lord shall. And anon he laid his hand on him and he was all whole, so that the devil left him.

Then said Diocletian: My child, take counsel in thy works and do sacrifice unto our gods to the end that thou die not an evil death.

And Vitus answered that he would never do sacrifice to their gods, and anon he was taken and put into prison with Modestus his servant, and they laid mill-stones upon their bodies. And anon the mill-stones fell off, and the prison began to shine of with great light. And when it was told to the emperor they were taken out of prison, and after, S. Vitus was cast in to a fire burning, but by the might of God he issued out whole and safe without suffering of any harm. Then was there brought a terrible lion for to devour him, but anon by the virtue of the faith he became meek and debonair. mild

After, the emperor made him to be hanged on a gibbet with Modestus and Crescentia his nurse, which always followed him. Then anon the air began to trouble and thunder, the earth to tremble, the temples of the idols to fall down and slew many. The emperor was afeard and smote himself on the breast with his fist saying: Alas! alas! a child hath overcome me.

Then came an angel that unbound them and they found themselves by a river, and there resting and praying rendered their souls unto our Lord God, whose bodies were kept of by eagles, and afterward, by the revelation of S. Vitus, a noble lady named Florentia took the bodies and buried them worshipfully. reverently

They suffered martyrdom under Diocletian about the year of our Lord two hundred and eighty-seven.

It happed afterward that a gentleman of France bare took away the heads and put them in a church which is a mile from Lusarches, Luzarches, in northeastern France named Fosses, and closed them in a wall unto the time that he might set them more honourably. But he died ere he might perform it, so that the heads were there whereas no man living knew where they were.

It happed so after, that there was certain work construction project in that church, and when the wall was broken where the heads lay and were discovered, the bells of that church began to sound by themselves. Then assembled the people to the church and found a writing which devised explained, set forth how they had been brought thither, and then they were laid more honourably and set, than they were tofore; and there then were showed many miracles.

Then let us pray to these glorious saints that it may please them to pray to God for us in such wise that we may by their merits and prayers come to the glory of heaven, to which bring us the Father and Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

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St. Vitus's attribute is a dog, but often he is instead pictured praying from within a boiling cauldron. (For an explanation of this iconography, see the main page for this saint.)

Modestus is as much to say as attemperate which is one of the cardinal virtues, and two extremities go round about every virtue, and the virtue abideth in the midst. And the extremities of wisdom be treachery and folly; the extremities of attemperance be the accomplishment of all fleshly desires, and to do after his will; the extremities of strength be feeble courage and folly; and the extremities of justice be cruelty and default. And therefore Modestus was attemperate by means of virtues that were in him. Vitus is said of vita, that is, life. S. Austin, in libro de Trinitate deviseth of three manners of life, that is the life doing, that appertaineth to active life; a life idle that appertaineth to idleness; and a life spiritual which appertaineth to life contemplative, and this great manner of living was in him. Or Vitus is as much to say as virtue or right virtuous.

This text was taken from the Internet Medieval Source Book. E-text © by Paul Halsall. Annotations, formatting, and added rubrics by Richard Stracke. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the sources. No permission is granted for commercial use.