St. Vitus – the patron saint of Rijeka

St. Vitus – the patron saint of Rijeka St. Vitus – the patron saint of Rijeka St. Vitus – the patron saint of Rijeka

Saint Vitus is the patron saint of the City of Rijeka, and in Croatian, medieval Rijeka was known as “Rika svetoga Vida”, or in Latin as “Terra Fluminis sancti Viti”.


Saint Vitus was born in the village of Mazzara del Valla, on Sicily, and as a persecuted Christian, was tortured probably in 304/305 under the rule of Emperor Diocletian. His cult began to spread around 600 when the first legends about his life and his martyrdom were written and when the first church in his honour was built in Rome.

In 756 his remains were moved to St. Denis in the vicinity of Paris. The cult of St. Vitus took the Slavic countries by storm where, it seems, he replaced the ancient Slavic cult of Sventovid due to the similarity in names. That is why, in theory, the churches of St. Vitus were as a rule built on hilltops, from which St. Vitus could “see all around”.

In our country, St. Vitus was the patron saint of the eyes, that is, of human sight, which was only possible in southern Slavic languages in which saint Vitus “vidi” (sees) and where his name is pronounced Vid (sight) and not Vit, Veit, Vito, Guido or Guy. Iconography usually presents him as a young man with a palm, in a cauldron, sometimes with a raven and a lion. The youthful St. Vitus in a cauldron is his most common iconographic motif; it also became the heraldic motif of Rijeka’s oldest coat of arms. Saint Vitus became the patron saint of the City of Rijeka, and the medieval name of the city was “Rika svetoga Vida” in Croatian or “Terra Fluminis sancti Viti” in Latin. The City of Rijeka has lived under the sign of St. Vitus, its patron saint, for centuries. Saint Vitus was imprinted both on the City seals and on human hearts. Ships navigated under his flag, house doors were decorated with his image. The medieval church of St. Vitus was a small, one-naved, Romanesque church with a semi circular apse behind the altar and with covered porch on the front facade. When the Jesuits came to Rijeka, it became their church. In 1925, Rijeka became the centre of the diocese and in 1969 the centre of the archdiocese and metropolis. The ceremonial representative Jesuit church of St. Vitus became Rijeka's cathedral.

Owing to the efforts of the ecclesiastical authorities and the city government, after 45 long years, the Patron Saint was returned to its city. More precisely, in 1991 during the holiday of the city’s patron life reawakened at Starogradska gomila, Grivice, Koblerov trg Square, Korzo and other parts of the City of Rijeka. By means of ecclesiastical ceremonies and a series of cultural, sporting, technical and entertaining events, Rijeka presented itself as a Mediterranean city recognizable for its patron saint. Since that year the holiday once again has its so called festum cori, an internal or ecclesiastical celebration completely organized by the clergy, beginning with three-day Holy Masses and ending with a procession and a large concelebrated Holy Mass at Grivice, the so called festum fori, i.e. the external or popular part. Ever since, the City of Rijeka has celebrated the day of its patron saint St. Vitus, every year. So 15 June became the Day of the City of Rijeka, which is celebrated both with religious and popular feasts.