SS. VITALIS AND AGRICOLA, MM.
ST. AMBROSE informs us that Agricola was a
gentleman of Bologna, whose behavior in the world had engaged the
affection of the idolaters amongst whom he lived. Vitalis, his slave,
learned from him the Christian religion, and first received the
crown; for the servant and the freeman are one and the same thing in
Christ, nor is there any difference from their condition in their
reward. They were both seized, probably in the year 304, and Vitalis
first put to the torture. He ceased not to praise God so long as he
had the use of his tongue; and seeing no part of his body left which
was not covered with wounds and blood, he prayed Jesus Christ to
receive his soul, and to bestow on him that crown which his angel had
shown him. His prayer was no sooner ended than he gave up the ghost.
Agricola’s execution was deferred out of a cruel compassion,
that time and the sight of the sufferings of his faithful servant
might daunt his resolution. But he was animated and encouraged by
such an example. Whereupon the affection of the judges and people was
converted into fury; and the martyr was hung on a cross, and his body
pierced with so many huge nails that the number of his wounds
surpassed that of his limbs. The bodies of the martyrs were laid in
the burial-place of the Jews. St. Ambrose flying from the arms of the
tyrant Eugenius, came to Bologna in 393, and there discovered these
relics. He took to himself some of the blood that was found in the
bottom of the grave, and the cross and nails which were the
instruments of Agricola’s martyrdom. Juliana, a devout widow of
Florence, invited him to dedicate a church she had built in that
city, and begged of him this treasure, which he was not able to
refuse her, and the value of which he much extols to her three
daughters, bidding them receive with respect these presents of
salvation, which were laid under the altar. See St. Ambrose, Exhort.
ad Virginit. c. 1, 2; St. Gregory of Tours,1. de Glor. Mart. c. 44.