Martyrs of the First Ages – Saint Agricola and Saint Vitalis, of Bologna, by Saint Alphonsus de Liguori
Saint Agricola was a gentleman of the city of Bologna at the time of the persecution of Diocletian. He led a very pious life; by his universal kindness he conciliated to himself the esteem and affections of all, even the pagans. He had in his service a very holy man, called Vitalis, who served him with great fidelity. As they both ardently loved Jesus Christ, they assisted each other in the practice of virtue, and encouraged each other to shed their blood for the faith, when God should so ordain it. But it was the lot of Vitalis to obtain the crown first to go before, as Saint Ambrose says, and prepare a place for his master in heaven.
The enemies of the faith having seized him, tortured him so cruelly that his entire body was one wound; but Vitalis remained firm to the death. As the termination of his struggle approached, the Lord Jesus sent an angel to show him, in a vision, the crown which was being prepared for him in heaven. Whereupon Vitalis, with his dying breath, pronounced this prayer " Jesus, my Saviour, and my God! command my longing soul to come to Thee, to receive the crown which has been shown me by Thy angel." Having uttered these words, he expired.
The persecutors vainly hoped that by the torments and death of Vitalis they would induce his master, Agricola, to abjure the faith. They, however, soon discovered that all their arguments to induce him to obey the imperial edicts, by sacrificing to the idols, were vain; for Agricola, far from being dismayed by the cruelties practised upon his servant, derived from them greater courage, and a still more ardent desire to be made worthy of the crown that awaits those who lay down their lives for Jesus Christ. He had the happiness of dying, like his Saviour, nailed to a cross.
The bodies of these two martyrs, together with the instruments of their martyrdom, were buried in a cemetery, where they lay unknown until it pleased God to manifest the place of their burial to Saint Ambrose. This holy bishop, when passing through Bologna, in the year 393, found the depository of these precious relics, and transferred them, with becoming solemnity, to a neigh boring church. He took a portion of the blood of the martyrs, and of the cross of Saint Agricola, which he had found in the sepulchre, and carried them to Florence, and placed them under the altar of a church which he afterwards consecrated in that city.
Saint Ambrose preached upon the occasion, and from his sermon these facts have been extracted. They are to be found also in Ruinart.