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E00853: The Life of *Ambrose (bishop of Milan, ob. 397, S00490) by Paulinus of Milan, tells how its hero discovered the relics of the martyrs *Agricola and Vitalis (master and slave, martyrs of Bologna, S00310) in Bologna (northern Italy) where they were buried, transferred them to Florence (central Italy), and deposited them in a new basilica which he built in this city, all c. 394. Written in Latin, probably in North Africa, c. 422.

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posted on 2015-11-16, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Paulinus of Milan, Life of Ambrose 29

In eadem etiam civitate basilicam constituit, in qua deposuit reliquias martyrum Vitalis et Agricolae, quorum corpora in Bononiensi civitate levaverat; posita enim erant corpora martyrum inter corpora Iudaeorum, nec erat cognitum populo christiano, nisi se sancti martyres sacerdoti ipsius ecclesiae revelassent. Quae cum deponerentur sub altari, quod est in eadem basilica constitutum, magna illic totius plebis sanctae laetitia atque exsultatio fuit, poena daemonum confitentium martyrum merita.

'In the same city [Florence] he also established a basilica, in which he placed the relics of the martyrs Vitalis and Agricola, whose bodies he had raised in the city of Bologna. There, the bodies of the martyrs had been buried among the bodies of the Jews, and this would not have become known had not the holy martyrs revealed themselves to the bishop of that church. And when they were placed under the altar which was in the same basilica, there was great joy and exultation in the hearts of the entire flock, but punishment for the demons as they confessed the merits of the martyrs.'

Text: Bastiaensen 1975, 90. Translation: Lacy 1952, 51.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Agricola, martyr of Bolonia (Italy), master of Vitalis, ob. 303/312 : S00310 Ambrose, bishop of Milan (ob. 397) : S00490

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Latin North Africa

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - cemetery/catacomb

Cult Activities - Miracles


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Crowds

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Bodily relic - unspecified Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


Paulinus was a deacon of the Church of Milan. As a young cleric he met Ambrose, but at some point he moved to Africa where he was responsible of the estates of his church. In Africa he belonged to the circle of Augustine of Hippo at whose request he wrote the Life of Ambrose, c. 422 (Lamirande, 1981). Paulinus places the Life of Ambrose in the tradition of monastic hagiography, but his work is the life a bishop, and it mentions the earlier life of its hero only in order to show that he was destined to episcopal dignity from birth. It also omits everything which is not directly connected with this office. One aspect of Ambrose’s activity which is strongly emphasised is his attitude toward emperors, whom he frequently rebuked for their misdeeds. This pattern, which can be found also in the Life of Martin by Sulpicius Severus, assimilates the bishop to the Old Testament prophets, especially Elijah and Elisha. Another feature of Ambrose’s episcopal activity presented in the Life is his struggle against the Arian heresy. Miracles demonstrate the veracity of the Nicene faith and punish its enemies. Punishing miracles can appear in many lives of saints, but one can hardly find another vita in which God would kill every one who expressed his lack of sympathy towards the hero (§§ 11, 18, 54). Another type of miracle well represented in this text are the visions thanks to which Ambrose discovered relics of several martyrs. These episodes mirror the growing need for relics in the West, but they also serve to link Ambrose with the martyrs – the bishop was eager to become one of them, but since he had no occasion for martyrdom he provided the Church in Italy with its own, long forgotten martyrs.


Editions: Pellegrino, M., Vita di S. Ambrogio (Verba Seniorum 1; Rome, 1961). Bastiaensen, A.A.R., Vita di Ambrogio (Vite dei santi 3; Milan, 1975), with Italian translation by L. Canali. English translations: Lacy, J.A, in: J.R. Deferrari (ed.), Early Christian Biographies (Fathers of the Church 15; Washington DC, 1952), 25-66. Ramsey, B., Ambrose (London 1997), 195-218. Further reading: Lamirande, E., "La datation de la Vita Ambrosii de Paulin de Milan," Revue des Études Augustiniennes 27 (1981), 44-55. Lamirande, E., Paulin de Milan et la Vita Ambrosii. Aspects de la religion sous le Bas-Empire (Paris - Montreal, 1983).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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