Today is the feast day of Saint Vitalis. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Vitalis was a first century Christian citizen of Milan and the father of the twin brothers and future martyrs, Saints Gervasius and Protasius. He is the principal patron of Ravenna. (1)
St Vitalis had served in the army of the emperor, and was consequently on terms of friendship with Paulinus, the consul, trusting to whose favor he assisted the persecuted Christians, succored them in their need, and visited them in their prisons or in the caverns where they lay concealed. (2)
Divine providence had conducted him to that city, where he saw come before the tribunal there a Christian physician named Ursicinus, who had been tortured and who then was condemned to lose his head for his faith. Suddenly the captive grew terrified at the thought of death, and seemed ready to yield. Vitalis was extremely moved by this spectacle. He knew his double obligation to prefer the glory of God and the eternal salvation of his neighbor to his own corporal life; he therefore boldly and successfully encouraged Ursicinus to triumph over death, saying, Ursicinus, you who cured others would want to drive into your soul the dagger of eternal death? Do not lose the crown the Lord has prepared for you! Ursicinus was touched; he knelt down and asked the executioner to strike him. After his martyrdom Saint Vitalis carried away his body and respectfully interred it. (1)
Information having been given to Paulinus of all that had passed, he said to St Vitalis:
“How then! Art thou mad, to have acted as thou hast, not being a Christian?”
The saint instantly replied: “Nay, but I am a Christian, and am proud to be so. Nor am I mad either. He is mad who gives to wicked men the honor due to God. There is but one only God: this God we adore, and we glory in dying for his sake.”
Paulinus loved Vitalis, but his hatred for the Christians prevailed over this feeling, and he ordered Vitalis to be imprisoned; who, finding himself in the company of other confessors, made such manifestation of his joy, that Paulinus became infuriated, and commanded all his joints to be dislocated upon the rack, and his sides to be torn with iron hooks. (2)
During these tortures the holy martyr ceased not to preach Jesus Christ, whereupon he was thrown into a ditch and buried alive beneath a torrent of stones, on the 27th of April, of the year 171, according to Baronius.
As St. Vitalis expired, one of the priests of Apollo, who had incensed the tyrant against him, was possessed by a devil; full of rage, he cried out:
“Thou tormentest me, O Vitalis! Thou burnest me.” Seven days after, he cast himself into a river and was drowned.
The relics of this saint are deposited in a magnificent church at Ravenna, built upon the place of his martyrdom.
On the day dedicated to the honor of St. Vitalis, commemoration is made of his wife, St. Valeria, who, while returning from Revenna, after the death of her husband, was so beaten and maltreated by the pagans for her faith, that she expired on the second day after her arrival at Milan. She is also honored as a martyr.
*as related by St. Alphonsus de Liguori (2)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff