Lives of the Saints

Our Models and Protectors

April 28

Saint Vitalis of Ravenna

(† 171)

Saint Vitalis of Ravenna
Saint Vitalis of Ravenna

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, where he was martyred.

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.

Saint Vitalis now resigned his post as judiciary assistant to Paulinus, who had been absent on the occasion of the sentence of Ursinius. Paulinus had his former assistant apprehended, and after having him tortured, commanded that if he refused to sacrifice to the gods, he be buried alive, which sentence was carried out. Afterwards, his wife Valeria, as she was on her way from Ravenna to Milan, was beaten by peasants because she refused to join them in an idolatrous festival and riot. She died two days later in Milan, and is also honored as a martyr and Saint. Gervasius and Protasius, their sons, sold their heritage and for ten years before their own martyrdom, lived a penitential life of prayer.

Reflection. We are not all called to the sacrifice of martyrdom; but we are all bound to make our lives a continuing sacrifice of ourselves to God, and to perform every action in this spirit of sacrifice. Thus we shall both live and die to God, perfectly resigned to His holy will in all He ordains or permits.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler's Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 5