Saint Vitalis of Milan was an early Christian martyr and saint. Legend says Vitalis was a wealthy citizen of Milan, maybe a soldier. He was married to Valeria of Milan. They are supposed to have been the parents of Saints Gervasius and Protasius. Vitalis was an officer who went with the judge Paulinus from Milan to Ravenna. He encouraged Saint Ursicinus of Ravenna to be faithful at his execution. He gave Ursicinus an honorable burial. Vitalis was discovered to be a Christian. Paulinus ordered Vitalis to be racked and then thrown into a deep pit and covered with stones and earth. He was buried alive. The exact date of his martyrdom is unknown. Some sources say that he was a victim of Nero, others of Marcus Aurelius. He was martyred in Ravenna
Valeria was from a noble family. She was baptized at an early age. Her family was some of the first converts to Christianity in the city of Milan. The reigning Pope commanded the priests of the area to organize nine groups, each consisting of five men and five virgins. Their duty was to gather the corpses of Christians who had been martyred in the Coliseum – Flavian Amphitheatre – and other places of martyrdom the day before. She was martyred for burying Christian martyrs and then refusing to sacrifice to the Roman gods. After terrible tortures, Valeria was beheaded in the Coliseum with several other martyrs. Her remains were gathered by other Christians and were deposited in the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian.
Canon Charles M. Ménard pastor of St. Joseph Church, now Co-Cathedral, in Thibodaux, Louisiana, made a pilgrimage to Rome in 1867, to remember the anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Peter the Apostle. He wanted to bring back an important relic for the veneration of his parishioners. He asked to meet with Cardinal Costantino Patrizi Naro. Patrizi had two relics, one of Saint Prosper, as well as part of the arm bone of Saint Valeria. The Cardinal agreed to relinquish the relic of Saint Valeria. The relic was placed in a pasteboard box and sealed with Cardinal Patrizi’s coat of arms. The relic was then sealed in a waxen statue which represented a young woman. It was dressed in a robe of silk embroidered with gold and a crimson, velvet tunic with gold fringe. It was laid in a coffin-like reliquary of oak and glass from The Netherlands and decorated with gilded copper. On April 18, 1868, the steamboat Nina Simmes arrived from New Orleans, by way of Bayou Lafourche, with the reliquary of Saint Valeria. It was placed on the altar of St. Joseph Church, with solemn ceremonies attended by more than four thousand people. Since then, Valeria has been known as the Patroness of Thibodaux and is especially invoked for protection from storms and floods.
On May 25, 1916, a fire began in the sacristy of St. Joseph’s, and within minutes it was realized the church would not be saved. People cried “Save Saint Valérie! Save Saint Valérie!” The reliquary was one of the few objects saved from the fire. The reliquary was then brought to the Mount Carmel Convent Chapel until the new church was built, where it was installed with due reverence. The British Museum has a reliquary sometimes misidentified as that of St. Valeria of Milan, but it is actually Valerie of Limoges, a different saint.