TP logo

| Books | Music | Events | New work | Contact & ordering

Lay for the Day
15th June

The feast of St Vitus, a 4th-century martyr, whose protection was invoked against the bites of snakes and mad dogs, and for the healing of epilepsy and other nervous afflictions. One of these, a disease that caused involuntary spasmodic movements, was known as St Vitus’ Dance in the Middle Ages; its modern medical name is Sydenham’s chorea. (Teenage girls are particularly prone to it.)
The condition’s medieval name apparently alludes to rituals of frantic dancing that took place in front of the saint’s image on his feast day, in parts of northern and eastern Europe – presumably survivals of a pagan religion.
St Vitus is patron saint of dancers and actors and such – which reflects, perhaps, the dim view the Church has generally taken of the Classical sacred arts of dance and theatre.
From the book of Praises:

59. Of a Dancer

Would it be without weight, this bone
garment, or the dwelling flesh float?
It goes to its dear ground again.

Pensive for a few long inches,
fingers try the air. The bare heel
proposes a step, the bold knee

seconds it. Then the deliberate
vertebral column, suppler than
reason, with its subtle rhetoric

sways the issue. Now it tends down,
led by unfledged shoulders meekly,
not from heaviness, as by light

homeless grace’s affinity
with the level earth, everywhere
itself, dense and unrelenting.

A ghost in parting might care
less for all but elevation,
though be as tender. It is there-

fore arriving spirit that walks
in through this door, this dancing frame.

John Gibbens
from Collected Poems

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar