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A doctor, a miracle boy, and an exorcist (Medieval Avengers #6)

For the final episode of Medieval Avengers (a.k.a. the Fourteen Holy Helpers) I could come up with no clever theme with which to link the stories, although the title does sound rather like the start of a lame joke.

St Panteleimon, Medical Martyr

Panteleimon (a.k.a. Pantaleon) was from 3rd-century Nicomedia (present-day Turkey). The patron saint of physicians and midwives, he is invoked against headaches, TB, and cancer.


10th-century Byzantine tile depicting Panteleimon, probably from a church wall or altar screen in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). Now located in the Walters Art Museum. Image from Wikipedia (public domain).

Pan (as I shall call him) was born to a wealthy pagan dad and a Christian mum. After years of studying medicine, Pan became the emperor’s own physician. When his mum died, Pan fell away from the Christian faith, but one day a bishop convinced him that the greatest physician of all is Christ and that faith should be trusted over medical advice (and perhaps it was a better bet than 3rd-century medicine…who knows).

Pan is most often seen with a martyr’s cross and a compartmented medicine box with a kind of long-handled spoon (probably for mixing remedies).


A 13th-century icon of St Panteleimon (Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai). Image from Wikipedia (public domain).

I wish the above image were higher res so we could better see the border miniatures depicting scenes from Pan’s life. When Pan was beheaded c. 305, blood and a white milky substance poured out of his body, and while I’m pretty sure he’s getting beheaded in the third scene from the left at the bottom, I can’t make out whether the artist included milk.

St Vitus, Miracle Child

Vitus (a.k.a. Guy) was from 4th-century Lucania (present-day Italy), although his veneration in the Middle Ages spread as far as Germany and Bohemia. He is usually depicted as a young boy in a cauldron, with a white rooster or a palm branch (symbolic of martyrdom).


St Vitus, from the Nuremberg Chronicle, c. 1493. Image from Wikipedia (public domain); originally from Beloit College.

Vitus could perform miracles from a young age. He miraculously cured the emperor’s son of epilepsy, but unfortunately this led people to accuse him of sorcery. As part of an anti-sorcery ritual, the people immersed the boy in a cauldron of boiling pitch along with an unlucky white rooster. Vitus emerged unharmed. (I am not sure what happened to the rooster, but it seems likely he survived because that makes a better story. Also, Vitus is known for protecting domestic animals, which isn’t as believable if his cauldron mate died.)


St Vitus in a cauldron (but without any visible rooster). Germany, c. 1450. Now located at the National Museum in Warsaw. Photo by Mathiasrex Maciej Szczepańczyk (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.

Vitus was martyred at a very young age (some say 7, others say 12 or 13) along with his tutors because he insisted upon being a Christian. His veneration in late medieval Germany and Latvia included a dance performed before his statue, which resulted in:

  1. Vitus being the patron saint of dancers
  2. The use of the term ‘St Vitus’s Dance’ to describe a medical condition characterised by rapid, uncoordinated jerking movements, particularly in one’s face, hands, and feet (a neurological disorder known today as Sydenham’s chorea)

Vitus is invoked against all sorts of things, from epilepsy to snake bites and animal attacks, from lightning strikes to oversleeping.

Cyriacus, Philanthropic Exorcist

Last but not least we have Cyriacus (or just Cyriac), a 3rd-century Roman nobleman. Upon his conversion to Christianity in adulthood, Cyriacus gave away all his money and possessions to the poor and began ministering to the slaves who worked in the public baths.

Cyriacus is famous for exorcising demons from two young girls: Artemisia (a.k.a. Artemia), daughter of Emperor Diocletian, and Jobias, daughter of Shapur II the Great of Persia, tenth king of the Sasanian Empire. After Cyriacus chased the demon out of Artemisia, Artemisia’s mother Serena converted to Christianity, later becoming a saint. Jobias’s exorcism must have been even more impressive because King Shapur’s entire household converted.

It looked like things were going great for Cyriacus, but fate’s wheel turned and Diocletian left for the East, leaving his irritable co-emperor Maximian in charge, who immediately recommenced the persecution of Christians with gusto. Cyriacus and his friends were tortured and then beheaded.

An aside… It’s interesting to me that so many saints were beheaded who weren’t depicted in religious iconography as headless. How did people decide that a beheading should be one of a saint’s claims to fame? (See Medieval Avengers #4: Don’t Lose Your Head.)


16th-century wood polychrome statue of Cyriacus. I found this image on a couple different blogs, none of which gave its origin or the origin of the statue. If you know either, please comment.

Cyriacus appears as a deacon, usually equipped with a book of exorcism and sometimes accompanied by sidekick Artemisia. He is invoked against demonic possession (natch), eye disease, and temptation on the deathbed (don’t know the reasons for those last two). He is also for some reason the patron saint of viticulture, i.e. the scientific study of grapes and natural processes of the vineyard. (Maybe he liked wine?) I was unable to find a medieval image of Cyriacus, so please share if you’ve got one.

So ends the story of the Medieval Avengers…for now.

Medieval Altarpiece with the Holy Helpers

The altarpiece that first inspired the Medieval Avengers series 10 months ago in the Louvre, Paris. Photo by me.


8 comments on “A doctor, a miracle boy, and an exorcist (Medieval Avengers #6)

  1. Pingback: Meet the medieval Avengers – Getting Medieval with Comics

  2. Dr Bev Braune
    September 26, 2016

    Reblogged this on Epic Poetry and Old Norse-Icelandic Poetry, history, criticism and scholarly translations into English and commented:
    Hana Videen’s Medieval Avengers series #6, including her photo of the altarpiece in the Louvre, Paris, that inspired her series.

  3. F.C.
    March 9, 2017

    The S. Ciryacus here is the old statue of San Ciriacus peraps XV cent. and now is in the Sanctuary of Torre le Nocelle ( Italy)

    • Hana Videen
      March 10, 2017

      I’d love to know more about it.

      • F.C.
        March 10, 2017

        Only in Germany is the protector of wine, for a legend from the Palatinate region. I have some medieval images, but do not know how to post them here.
        Only a saint is represented without a head: S.Dionigi.
        The attributes were necessary to make it clear to people who did not know the writing which saint was represented.
        If you come on August 8 in Torre Le Nocelle, to her party, you are my guest for lunch.

  4. Hana Videen
    March 12, 2017

    I doubt I’ll make it to Italy in August, but thank you for the kind invitation. 🙂 If you use you can upload the pics and provide a public link to them. But don’t worry if it’s too much trouble.

    • F.C.
      March 12, 2017

      In July, my book on St. Ciriaco will be printed. The publisher wants to translate it into French, English and German. I’ll send you a copy ….

      • F.C.
        March 12, 2017

        …oppure scrivi alla mia email e ti invierò le immagini….

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