patron saints of the theatre



  • The patron saint of actors and comedians is St Genesius (died c. 303). The historical Genesius seems to have been a notary of Arles in France, who was martyred during the persecution of Diocletian. In later legend, however, he became a comedian of Rome who experienced a sudden conversion while performing an anti-Christian satirebefore the emperor. For refusing to continue with the performance he was tortured andbeheaded. Genesius's story has been dramatized by Lope de Vega and Jean de Rotrousamongst others. A very similar tale is told of the obscure St Philemon(?3rd century), who is sometimes given as the patron of dancers and actors.

    The patron of actresses is St Pelagia (?5th century), a beautiful dancer of Antioch. According to the legend, her striptease act was witnessed by Bishop Nonnus of Edessa, who was moved to tears by her skill and enthusiasm. The next day Nonnus preached a sermon exhorting his listeners to show the same zeal in their spiritual lives as Pelagia did in her art. Pelagia, who happened to be present, was immediately converted and spent the rest of her life in penitent seclusion.

    The patron saint of dancers is St Vitus (died c. 303), owing to a former belief that good health for the year could be secured by dancing before a statue of the saint on his feast day. Because of this association the nervous disease Sydenham's chorea, which produces uncontrolled movements in the sufferer, was formerly known as St Vitus's dance.

    Other saints associated with the theater and the performing arts include: St Cecilia, patron of singers and musicians; St Julian, patron of clowns, jugglers, and travelling entertainers; and St John Bosco, patron of acrobats and magicians. In the 20th century, St Veronica was declared patron of cinema on the strength of the tale that her napkin received a miraculous 'photographic' image of Christ; likewise St Clare of Assisi, who was famous for her visions, became patron of TV.