Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume X: October. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Petronius, Bishop of Bologna, Confessor
HE was son to Petronius, prefect of the prætorium, a person famous for his eloquence. Our saint inured himself from his infancy, whilst he lived in his fathers house, to all the exercises of a severe ascetic life. Being arrived at mans estate he travelled into the East, and visited the deserts of Palestine and Egypt, in order to improve himself in the sciences of true Christian perfection by the example and instructions of the great saints who inhabited them. For this purpose, he made a considerable stay with the most famous amongst them, such as St. John of Lycopolis, St. Apollo, St. Ammon, &c. We have an account of the edifying circumstances which he collected in this journey in the second book of the Lives of the Fathers which Gennadius ascribes to him, and Erasmus, Gesner, Goldast, and Baronius to Evagrius of Pontus; but which was certainly compiled from the relation of our saint by Rufinus, as Fontanini demonstrates1 from the express testimony of St. Jerom,2 and many circumstances mentioned in the work itself. St. Eucherius mentions that, lately, St. Hilary of Arles, and St. Petronius then living in Italy, had passed from the highest state of worldly pomp to the service of the church.3 St. Petronius despised the study of eloquence and profane literature; notwithstanding which, upon his return into Italy, when he arrived at Rome in 430, he was chosen bishop of Bologna, by Pope Celestine, St. Felix, bishop of that see, being dead on the 4th of December.4 He who had performed his tedious journey through the Eastern wildernesses barefoot, joining to its fatigues the most austere penitential austerities, and who had brought home not a dissipated mind, but an improved spirit of compunction and devotion, because he had made prayer and mortification his constant companions, would be far from remitting anything of those exercises when raised to the pastoral dignity in the church. He, on the contrary, redoubled his assiduity and fervour in them, being sensible that the sanctification of his own soul, and that of his flock, had a mutual dependence on each other. Bologna had been thrice plundered a little before, viz. by Radagaisus, a pagan Goth, slain near Rome, and twice by Alaric the Arian Goth. St. Petronius purged it of the remains of Arianism, and repaired the ruins of the city, and especially the churches. St. Zama, the first bishop appointed by Pope Dionysius in 270, had founded the cathedral called the Domo, of which St. Peter was titular. It was demolished in the persecution of Dioclesian, but soon after rebuilt. After the persecution of Julian the Apostate, the church of St. Peter having been removed by St. Fustinian, it was afterwards re-established by our saint under the title of SS. Nabor and Felix, and is at present in the hands of the Poor Clares. Sigonius and the learned Pope Benedict XIV. reckon the following churches founded at Bologna by St. Petronius: of St. Stephen, (adjoining to St. Peters,) upon the model of the church of the Holy Cross and of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem; those of SS. Thecla, Agatha, Lucy, Bartholomew, John Evangelist, Mark, Martin, &c. He enriched the city with the relics of many saints, particularly those of the holy martyr St. Florian, who seems to have received his crown under Dioclesian; his relics were brought from Vicenza, and deposited by St. Petronius in the church of St. Stephen. He is honoured as patron of the city.5 The Roman Martyrology mentions him on this day.6 See Rufin, l. 2, de Vitis Patr. Gennad. de Vir. Ill. c. 41. Ceillier, t. 14, p. 299. Fontanini, Hist. Liter. Aquileiens. p. 361, l. 5, c. 12. Tillem. t. 15, p. 35. Bened. XIV. de Festis SS. Bonon. Bue the Bollandist, p. 422 ad 470.
Note 6. The great church of St. Petronius at Bologna, is famous, among other things, for the gnomon made in it by Dominico Cassini in 1645, with a meridian line one hundred and twenty feet in length, drawn on the pavement. [back]