Saint of the Day – 28 April – Saint Vitalis of Ravenna (Died c 171) – Martyr, Husband and Father , Confessor. Died in c 171 in Ravenna by being buried alive. Patronage – Ravenna, Italy and Thibodeaux, Louisiana. Also known as St Vitalis of Milan,
The Roman Martyrology states of him today: “At Ravenna, the birthday of St Vitalis, Martyr, father of the Saint Gervasius and Protasius. When he had taken up and reverently buried the body of blessed Ursicinus, he was arrested by the ex-consul Paulinus and after being racked and thrown nto a deep pit, was overwhelmed with earth and stones and by this kind of martyrdom, went to Christ.”
Saint Vitalis was a first century Christian citizen of Milan, a consular knight (miles consularis) in the time of Nero who got into trouble when he publicly exhorted a Christian to stand firm under torture. He was 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 neighbour 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 and deeply strengthened – he knelt down in prayer and then 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 and consular assistant to Paulinus, who had been absent on the occasion of the sentence of Ursicinus. 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 honoured as a Martyr . Their twin sons, Saint. Gervasius and Protasius, sold their heritage and for ten years before their own martyrdom, lived a penitential life of prayer.
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.
The 6th century Basilica of San Vitalis is dedicated to St Vitalis. The mosaic of him, first image above, is one of the many famous mosaics in this most important surviving example of early Christian Byzantine art and Architecture. It is one of eight structures in Ravenna inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its foundational inscription describes the Church as a Basilica, though its centrally-planned design is not typical of the Basilica form. The Vatican has designated the building a “basilica,”,an honorific title bestowed on exceptional Church buildings of historic and ecclesial importance.