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E05209: Ambrose of Milan, preaches a sermon (the Exhortatio Virginitatis, 'Exhortation to Virginity') in Latin in Florence (central Italy) in 393/4 which refers to the relics of *Agricola and Vitalis (master and slave, martyrs of Bologna, S00310) being used to consecrate a church in Florence.

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posted on 2018-03-18, 00:00 authored by frances
Ambrose of Milan, Exhortatio Virginitatis 1-2


Ambrose opens the sermon by discussing the relics he has brought with him. When in Bologna, he found the relics of two martyrs. Their names were Agricola and Vitalis and they were a master and slave who were martyred together (1.1-2). Ambrose states that the disparity in the social status of the two martyrs shows all are equal in God, and that anyone can be freed through martyrdom (1.3). He then provides accounts of Vitalis’ profession of faith and the deaths of both: unlike his master, Agricola was crucified (1.4-5). Their bodies were found in a Jewish cemetery (1.8-9). Ambrose brought relics with him to the church – some wood and nails from the cross – which have the power to reveal demons (daemones confitentur) (2.9). He brought these relics 'which are now concealed under the holy altar' (quae nunc sub sacris altaribus reconduntur) of the church which a widow Juliana had built, as part of the consecration ceremony (2.10). Ambrose continues his sermon with a discussion of the value of virginity.

Summary: Frances Trzeciak.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Agricola and Vitalis, master and slave, martyrs of Bologna : S00310

Saint Name in Source

Agricola, Vitalis

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Florence Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Ambrose of Milan

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Ceremony of dedication

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Exorcism

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Other lay individuals/ people Jews

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Bodily relic - corporeal ashes/dust Contact relic - dust/sand/earth Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Contact relic - instrument of saint’s martyrdom Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Division of relics


This sermon is given as part of a service with two purposes: the dedication of the church using the relics of martyrs, and the dedication of Juliana’s daughter to virginity (hence the focus on virginity of most of the sermon). It was preached when Ambrose was in self-imposed exile from Milan in Bologna (ancient Bononia) and Florence (Florentia) between 393 and 394. He had left Milan because of the presence there of the emperor Eugenius – a usurper and opponent of the emperor Theodosius, with whom Ambrose enjoyed good relations. Ambrose returned to Milan soon after Eugenius’ defeat in 394.


In this passage, Ambrose describes how he discovered the relics of Agricola and Vitalis in a cemetery and used them to consecrate a church. It therefore bears a striking resemblance to the discovery of the relics of *Gervasius and Protasius (martyrs of Milan, S00313) in summer 386. For a full account of this affair, see E05211.


Edition: Gori, F., Opera omnia di Sant’Ambrogio (Milan: Biblioteca Ambrosiana, 1989), vol. 14,2. Further Reading: Lifshitz, F., "The martyr, the tomb and the matron: Constructing the (masculine) "Past" as a female power base," in: G. Althoff, J. Fried, and P. Geary (eds.), Medieval Concepts of the Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 311-341. McLynn, N., Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994). Spieser, J.-M., "Ambrose’s Foundations and the Question of Martyria," in: idem (ed.), Urban and Religious Spaces in Late Antiquity and Early Byzantium (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001), 1-12.

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