Parrocchia di Santi Vitale e Agricola in Arena

Plantaverunt Ecclesiam Sanguine Suo

ARTE E FEDE: l’Eucaristia nell’arte a Bologna/en

Church of Saints Vitale and Agricola in Arena




This church is of an ancient foundation whos’ title “in Arena” suggests the existence of a Roman Arena, or a place where the execution and burial the condemned to death occurred. The origin of this single nave church is obscure, and little is known about its foundation. We know that the church of the VIII century was built on a pre-existing Roman building and after the. 10th century the presence of a religious, community in the monastery attached to the church is recorded.

The size of that building is assumed to correspond to that of the current Crypt, the only surviving element in subsequent reconstructions.

The interior of the present building has numerous, in the 19th century, alterations. On the left is the chapel of the Nativity, or of Santa Maria degli Angeli, built in the fifteenth century by G. Nadi, chief of staff at the service of the Bentivoglio family. In the bottom wall there are two frescoes: the Adoration of the Shepherds of G. Francia and the Visitation of the Bagnacavallo.



Eucharist and martyr

Vitale and Agricola are the protomartyrs of the Bolognese Church: Agricola the master and Vitale, his slave. According to tradition, in 305 d.C., during the Diocletian’s persecution, Vitale was the first to be martyred, followed by Agricola. Tradition says that the bodies of Vitale and Agricola, previously buried in the Jewish cemetery, where exhumed during the stay of St. Ambrose in Bologna in 393 d.C.. The story of the two martyrs reveals a profoundly human aspect.

The friendship and fraternity of a servant and a master who have a common faith in Jesus that leads to martyrdom is included in the sacrifice of the crucifixion of Christ. In reliving the passion of Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit that confirms us in the faith and brings us to confess the name Jesus as Christ the Lord. Nourished by the Eucharist, every Christian is called to witness (martyria) with all his own belonging to Christ. The crypt preserves the original pavement. It has certainly been realized on the remains of the ancient building. The form of the crypt is called “oratory”,  that is, it represents the shape of a small underground church subdivided into three abscessed aisles. The crypt is marked by two different pillars. The oldest are probably the largest ones and the other pillars have been inserted later. At the base of one of the columns there is a large sandstone block, a crumbling stone and not suitable for supporting a building legendarily the place of martyrdom. For this reason the pilgrims touched it as a means of grace. This stone can then be interpreted as “Corner stone”, that is the “first stone” that holds the whole church, the real and the one “made by living stones”, the living Church of bolognese believers.




On the main altar, enclosed by an imposing golden frame is a sign of the glory of God. This masterpiece represents the culminating moment of the martyrdom of Vitale and Agricola. The work was created by Luigi Busi and placed here in 1874. The superb representation speaks to the faithful in its bold and scenic composition. In the lower part lies the lifeless body of Vitale abandoned on the imposing steps. With courage Agricola refuses to offer incense in pagan worship and is shown to us standing dressed in a large red blood tunic, colour of passion and pain, symbolizing the imminent martyrdom. The painter portrays his gaze looking to the sky.

While on the left we see a big cross in the scene. The whole composition is immersed  in a diffused and warm light that makes it even more alive. Just before the steps  of the altar there is the text: “Plantaverunt Ecclesiam Sanguine Suo” that indicates  that the Church of Bologna is built on the blood of their testimony. Their death testifies to the living presence of the risen Lord: the confessing Christ, the martyr showing the Father’s love for mankind.

Parrocchia di Santi Vitale e Agricola in Arena - [Amministrazione] Realizzato da INFORMATICA 37