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THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.

A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.

VOL. II. - JULY, 1858. - NO. IX.


THE CATACOMBS OF ROME.
[Concluded.]

- fessoque Sacrandum
Supponato capiti lapidem, Curistoque quiescam.
PAULINUS OF NOLL

Et factus est in pace locus ejus et halitatio in Sion.
Ps. LXXV. 2

V.

Rome is preëminently the city of monuments and inscriptions, and the
lapidary style is the one most familiar to her. The Republic, the Empire,
the Papacy, the Heathens, and the Christians have written their record
upon marble. But gravestones are proverbially dull reading, and
inscriptions are often as cold as the stone upon which they are engraved.

The long gallery of the Vatican, through which one passes to enter the
famous library, and which leads to the collection of statues, is lined on
one side with heathen inscriptions, of miscellaneous character, on the
other with Christian inscriptions, derived chiefly from the catacombs, but
arranged with little order. The comparison thus exhibited to the eye is an
impressive one. The contrast of one class with the other is visible even
in external characteristics. The old Roman lines are cut with precision
and evenness; the letters are well formed, the words are rightly spelt,
the construction of the sentences is grammatical. But the Christian
inscriptions bear for the most part the marks of ignorance, poverty, and
want of skill. Their lines are uneven, the letters of various sizes, the
words ill-spelt, the syntax often incorrect. Not seldom a mixture of Greek
and Latin in the same sentence betrays the corrupt speech of the lower
classes, and the Latin itself is that of the common people. But defects of
style and faults of engraving are insufficient to hide the feeling that
underlies them.

Besides this great collection of the Vatican, there is another collection
now being formed in the _loggia_ of the Lateran Palace, in immediate
connection with the Christian Museum. Arranged as the inscriptions will
here be in historic sequence and with careful classification, it will be
chiefly to this collection that the student of Christian antiquity will
hereafter resort. It in in the charge of the Cavaliere de Rossi, who is
engaged in editing the Christian inscriptions of the first six centuries,
and whose extraordinary learning and marvellous sagacity in deciphering
and determining the slightest remains of ancient stone-cutting give him
unexampled fitness for the work. Of these inscriptions, about eleven
thousand are now known, and of late some forty or fifty have been added
each year to the number previously recorded. But a very small proportion
of the eleven thousand remain _in situ_ in the catacombs, and besides the
great collections of the Vatican and the Lateran, there are many smaller
ones in Rome and in other Italian cities, and many inscriptions originally
found in the subterranean cemeteries are now scattered in the porticos or
on the pavements of churches in Rome, Ravenna, Milan, and elsewhere. From
the first period of the desecration of the catacombs, the engraved tablets
that had closed the graves were almost as much an object of the greed of
pious or superstitious marauders as the more immediate relics of the
saints. Hence came their dispersion through Italy, and hence, too, it has
happened that many very important and interesting inscriptions belonging
to Rome are now found scattered through the Continent.

It has been, indeed, sometimes the custom of the Roman Church to enhance
the value of a gift of relics by adding to it the gift of the inscription
on the grave from which they were taken. A curious instance of this kind,
connected with the making of a very popular saint, occurred not many years
since. In the year 1802 a grave was found in the Cemetery of St.
Priscilla, by which were the remains of a glass vase that had held blood,
the indication of the burial-place of a martyr. The grave was closed by
three tiles, on which were the following words painted in red letters:
LVMENA PAXTE CVMFL. There were also rudely painted on the tiles two
anchors, three darts, a torch, and a palm-branch. The bones found within
the grave, together with the tiles bearing the inscription, were placed in
the Treasury of Relics at the Lateran.

On the return of Pius VII., one of the deputation of Neapolitan clergy
sent to congratulate him sought and received from the Pope these relics
and the tiles as a gift for his church. The inscription had been read by
placing the first tile after the two others, thus, - PAX TECUM FILUMENA,
_Peace be with thee, Filumena_; and Filumena was adopted as a new saint in
the long list of those to whom the Roman Church has given this title. It
was supposed, that, in the haste of closing the grave, the tiles had been
thus misplaced.

Very soon after the gift, a priest, who desired not to be named _on
account of his great humility_, had a vision at noonday, in which the
beautiful virgin with the beautiful name appeared to him and revealed to
him that she had suffered death rather than yield her chastity to the will
of the Emperor, who desired to make her his wife. Thereupon a young
artist, whose name is also suppressed, likewise had a vision of St.
Filomena, who told him that the emperor was Diocletian; but as history
stands somewhat opposed to this statement, it has been suggested that the
artist mistook the name, and that the Saint said Maximian. However this
may be, the day of her martyrdom was fixed on the 10th of August, 303. Her
relics were carried to Naples with great reverence; they were inclosed,
after the Neapolitan fashion, in a wooden doll of the size of life,
dressed in a white satin skirt and a red tunic, with a garland of flowers
on its head, and a lily and a dart in its hand. This doll, with the red-
lettered tiles, was soon transferred to its place in the church of
Mugnano, a small town not far from Naples. Many miracles were wrought on
the way, and many have since been wrought in the church itself. The fame
of the virgin spread through Italy, and chapels were dedicated to her
honor in many distant churches; from Italy it reached Germany and France,
and it has even crossed the Atlantic to America. Thus a new saint, a new
story, and a new exhibition of credulity had their rise not long ago from
a grave and three words in the catacombs.

One of the first differences which are obvious, in comparing the Christian
with the heathen mortuary inscriptions, is the introduction in the former
of some new words, expressive of the new ideas that prevailed among them.
Thus, in place of the old formula which had been in most common use upon
gravestones, D.M., or, in Greek, [Greek: TH.K.], standing for _Dis
Manibus_, or [Greek: _Theois karachthoniois_], a dedication of the stone
to the gods of death, we find constantly the words _In pace_. The exact
meaning of these words varies on different inscriptions, but their general
significance is simple and clear. When standing alone, they seem to mean
that the dead rests in the peace of God; sometimes they are preceded by
_Requiescat_, "May he rest in peace"; sometimes there is the affirmation,
_Dormit in pace_, "He sleeps in peace"; sometimes a person is said
_recessisse in pace_, "to have departed in peace." Still other forms are
found, as, for instance, _Vivas in pace_, "Live in peace," or _Suscipiatur
in pace_, "May he be received into peace," - all being only variations of
the expression of the Psalmist's trust, "I will lay me down in peace and
sleep, for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety." It is a curious
fact, however, that on some of the Christian tablets the same letters
which were used by the heathens have been found. One inscription exists
beginning with the words _Dis Manibus_, and ending with the words _in
pace_. But there is no need of finding a difficulty in this fact, or of
seeking far for an explanation of it. As we have before remarked, in
speaking of works of Art, the presence of some heathen imagery and ideas
in the multitude of the paintings and inscriptions in the catacombs is not
so strange as the comparatively entire absence of them. Many professing
Christians must have had during the early ages but an imperfect conception
of the truth, and can have separated themselves only partially from their
previous opinions, and from the conceptions that prevailed around them in
the world. To some the letters of the heathen gravestones, and the words
which they stood for, probably appeared little more than a form expressive
of the fact of death, and, with the imperfect understanding natural to
uneducated minds, they used them with little thought of their absolute
significance.[1]

[Footnote 1: It is probable that most of the gravestones upon which this
heathen formula is found are not of an earlier date than the middle of the
fourth century. At this time Christianity became the formal religion of
many who were still heathen in character and thought, and cared little
about the expression of a faith which they had adopted more from the
influence of external motives than from principle or conviction.]

Another difference in words which is very noticeable, running through the
inscriptions, is that of _depositus_, used by the Christians to signify
the _laying away_ in the grave, in place of the heathen words _situs,
positus, sepultus, conditus_. The very name of _coemeterium_, adopted by
the Christians for their burial-places, a name unknown to the ancient
Romans, bore a reference to the great doctrine of the Resurrection. Their
burial-ground was a _cemetery_, that is, a _sleeping-place_; they regarded
the dead as put there to await the awakening; the body was _depositus_,
that is, _intrusted to_ the grave, while the heathen was _situs_ or
_sepultus, interred_ or _buried_, - the words implying a final and
definitive position. And as the Christian _dormit_ or _quiescit, sleeps_
or _rests_ in death, so the heathen is described as _abreptus_, or
_defunctus, snatched away_ or _departed_ from life.

Again, the contrast between the inscriptions is marked, and in a sadder
way, by the difference of the expressions of mourning and grief. No one
who has read many of the ancient gravestones but remembers the bitter
words that are often found on them, - words of indignation against the
gods, of weariness of life, of despair and unconsoled melancholy. Here is
one out of many: -

PROCOPE MANVS LEBO CONTRA
DEVM QVI ME INNOCENTEM SVS
TVLIT QVAE VIXI ANNOS XX.
POS. PROCLVS.

I, Procope, who lived twenty years, lift up
my hands against God, who took me away innocent.
Proclus set up this.

But among the Christian inscriptions of the first centuries there is not
one of this sort. Most of them contain no reference to grief; they are the
very short and simple words of love, remembrance, and faith, - as in the
following from the Lateran: -

ADEODATE DIGNAE ET MERITAE VIRGINI
ETQVIESCE HIC IN PACE IVBENTE XPO EJUS

To Adeodata, a worthy and deserving Virgin,
and rests here in peace, her Christ commanding.

On a few the word _dolens_ is found, simply telling of grief. On one to
the memory of a sweetest daughter the word _irreparable_ is used, _Filiae
dulcissimae inreparabili_. Another is, "To Dalmatius, sweetest son, whom
his _unhappy_ father was not permitted to enjoy for even seven years."
Another inscription, in which something of the feeling that was unchecked
among the heathens finds expression in Christian words, is this: "Sweet
soul. To the incomparable child, who lived seventeen years, and
_undeserving_ [of death] gave up life in the peace of the Lord." Neither
the name of the child nor of the parents is on the stone, and the word
_immeritus_, which is used here, and which is common in heathen use, is
found, we believe, on only one other Christian grave. One inscription,
which has been interpreted as being an expression of unresigned sorrow, is
open to a very different signification. It is this: -

INNOCENTISSISSIMÆ ETATIS
DVLCISSIMO FILIO
JOVIANO QVI VIXIT ANN· VII
ET MENSES VI NON MERENTES
THEOCTISTVS ET THALLVSA PARENTES

To their sweetest boy Jovian, of the most
innocent age, who lived seven years and six
months, his undeserving [or unlamenting] parents
Theoctistus and Thallusa.

Here, without forcing the meaning, _non merentes_ might be supposed to
refer to the parents' not esteeming themselves worthy to be left in
possession of such a treasure; but the probability is that _merentes_ is
only a misspelling of _maerentes_ for otherwise _immerentes_ would have
been the natural word.

But it is thus that the Christian inscriptions must be sifted, to find
expressions at variance with their usual tenor, their general composure
and trust. The simplicity and brevity of the greater number of them are,
indeed, striking evidence of the condition of feeling among those who set
them upon the graves. Their recollections of the dead feared no fading,
and Christ, whose coming was so near at hand, would know and reunite his
own. Continually we read only a name with _in pace_, without date, age, or
title, but often with some symbol of love or faith hastily carved or
painted on the stone or tiles. Such inscriptions as the following are
common: -

FELICISSIMVS DVLCIS, - GAVDENTIA IN PACE,
- SEVERA IN DEO VIVAS, -

or, with a little more fulness of expression, -

DVLCISSIMO FILIO ENDELECIO
BENEMERENTI QVI VIXIT
ANNOS II MENSE VNV
DIES XX IN PACE

To the sweetest son Endelechius, the well-
deserving, who lived two years, one month,
twenty days. In peace.

The word _benemerenti_ is of constant recurrence. It is used both of the
young and the old; and it seems to have been employed, with comprehensive
meaning, as an expression of affectionate and grateful remembrance.

Here is another short and beautiful epitaph. The two words with which it
begins are often found.

ANIMA DVLCIS AVFENIA VIRGO
BENEDICTA QVE VIXIT ANN: XXX
DORMIT IN PACE

Sweet Soul. The Blessed Virgin Aufenia,
who lived thirty years. She sleeps in peace.

But the force and tenderness of such epitaphs as these is hardly to be
recognized in single examples. There is a cumulative pathos in them, as
one reads, one after another, such as these that follow: -

ANGELICE BENE IN PACE

To Angelica well in peace.

CVRRENTIO SERVO DEI DEP. D. XVI. KAL
NOVEM.

To Currentius, the servant of God, laid in
the grave on the sixteenth of the Kalends of
November.

MAXIMINVS QVI VIXIT ANNOS XXIII
AMICVS OMNIVM

Maximin, who lived twenty-three years, the
friend of all.

SEPTIMVS MARCIANE
IN PACE QUE BICSIT MECV
ANNOS XVII. DORMIT IN PACE

Septimus to Marciana in peace. Who lived
with me seventeen years. She sleeps in peace.

GAVDENTIA
PAVSAT DVLCIS
SPIRITVS ANNORVM II
MENSORVM TRES.

Gaudentia rests. Sweet spirit of two years
and three months.

Here is a gravestone with the single word VIATOR; here one that tells only
that Mary placed it for her daughter; here one that tells of the light of
the house, - [Greek: To phos thaes Oikias].

Nor is it only in these domestic and intimate inscriptions that the
habitual temper and feeling of the Christians is shown, but even still
more in those that were placed over the graves of such members of the
household of faith as had made public profession of their belief, and
shared in the sufferings of their Lord. There is no parade of words on the
gravestones of the martyrs. Their death needed no other record than the
little jar of blood placed in the mortar, and the fewest words were enough
where this was present. Here is an inscription in the rudest letters from
a martyr's grave: -

SABATIVS BENEMERENTI QVI VIXIT ANNOS XL

To the well-deserving Sabatias, who lived
forty years.

And here another: -

PROSPERO INNOCENTI ANIMAE IN PACE.

To Prosperus, innocent soul, in peace.

And here a third, to a child who had died as one of the Innocents: -

MIRAE INNOCENTIAE ANIMA DULCIS AEMILEANVS
QVI VIXIT ANNO VNO, MENS. VIII D. XXVIII
DORMIT IN PACE

Aemilian, sweet soul of marvellous innocence,
who lived one year, eight months, twenty-eight
days. He sleeps in peace.

At this grave was found the vase of blood, and on the gravestone was the
figure of a dove.

Another inscription, which preserves the name of one of those who suffered
in the most severe persecution to which the ancient Church was exposed,
and which, if genuine, is, so far as known, the only monument of the kind,
is marked by the same simplicity of style: -

LANNVS XPI MA
RTIR HC*[Hic?] REQVIESC
IT SVR [E-P-S] DIOCLITI ANO PASSVS

Lannus Martyr of Christ here rests. He
suffered under Diocletian.

The three letters EPS have been interpreted as standing for the words _et
posteris suis_, and as meaning that the grave was also for his successors.
Not yet, then, had future saints begun to sanctify their graves, and to
claim the exclusive possession of them.

But there is another point of contrast between the inscriptions of the un-
Christianized and the Christian Romans, which illustrates forcibly the
difference in the regard which they paid to the dead. To the one the dead
were still of this world, and the greatness of life, the distinctions of
class, the titles of honor still clung to them; to the other the past life
was as nothing to that which had now begun. The heathen epitaphs are
loaded with titles of honor, and with the names of the offices which the
dead had borne, and, like the modern Christian (?) epitaphs whose style
has been borrowed from them, the vanity of this world holds its place
above the grave. But among the early Christian inscriptions of Rome
nothing of this kind is known. Scarcely a title of rank or a name of
office is to be found among them. A military title, or the name of priest
or deacon, or of some other officer in the Church, now and then is met
with; but even these, for the most part, would seem to belong to the
fourth century, and never contain any expression of boastfulness or
flattery.

FL. OLIVS PATERNVS
CENTVRIO CHOR. X VRB.
QVI VIXIT AH XXVII
IN PACE

Flavius Olius Paternus, Centurion of the
Tenth Urban Cohort, who lived twenty-seven
years. In peace.

It is true, no doubt, that among the first Christians there were very few
of the rich and great. The words of St. Paul to the Corinthians were as
true of the Romans as of those to whom they were specially addressed: "For
ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh,
not many mighty, not many noble are called." Still there is evidence
enough that even in the first two centuries some of the mighty and some of
the noble at Rome were among those called, but that evidence is not to be
gathered from the gravestones of the catacombs. We have seen, in a former
article, that even the grave of one of the early bishops, - the highest
officer of the Church, - and one who had borne witness to the truth in his
death, was marked by the words,

CORNELIVS MARTYR
EP.

The Martyr Cornelius, Bishop.

Compare this with the epitaphs of the later popes, as they are found on
their monuments in St. Peter's, - "flattering, false insculptions on a
tomb, and in men's hearts reproach," - epitaphs overweighted with
superlatives, ridiculous, were it not for their impiety, and full of the
lies and vanities of man in the very house of God.

With this absence of boastfulness and of titles of rank on the early
Christian graves two other characteristics of the inscriptions are closely
connected, which bear even yet more intimate and expressive relation to
the change wrought by Christianity in the very centre of the heathen
world.

"One cannot study a dozen monuments of pagan Rome," says Mr. Northcote, in
his little volume on the catacombs, "without reading something of _servus_
or _libertus, libertis libertabusque posterisque eorum_; and I believe the
proportion in which they are found is about three out of every four. Yet,
in a number of Christian inscriptions exceeding eleven thousand, and all
belonging to the first six centuries of our era, scarcely six have been
found containing any allusion whatever - and even two or three of these are
doubtful - to this fundamental division of ancient Roman society.

"No one, we think, will be rash enough to maintain, either that this
omission is the result of mere accident, or that no individual slave or
freedman was ever buried in the catacombs. Rather, these two cognate
facts, the absence from ancient Christian epitaphs of all titles of rank
and honor on the one hand, or of disgrace and servitude on the other, can
only be adequately explained by an appeal to the religion of those who
made them. The children of the primitive Church did not record upon their
monuments titles of earthly dignity, because they knew that with the God
whom they served 'there was no respect of persons'; neither did they care
to mention the fact of their bondage, or of their deliverance from
bondage, to some earthly master, because they thought only of that higher
and more perfect liberty wherewith Christ had set them free; remembering
that 'he that was called, being a bondman, was yet the freeman of the
Lord, and likewise he that was called, being free, was still the bondman
of Christ.'

"And this conclusion is still further confirmed by another remarkable fact
which should be mentioned, namely, that there are not wanting in the
catacombs numerous examples of another class of persons, sometimes ranked
among slaves, but the mention of whose servitude, such as it was, served
rather to record an act of Christian charity than any social degradation;
I allude to the alumni, or foundlings, as they may be called. The laws of
pagan Rome assigned these victims of their parents' crimes or poverty to
be the absolute property of any one who would take charge of them. As
nothing, however, but compassion could move a man to do this, children
thus acquired were not called _servi_, as though they were slaves who had
been bought with money, nor _vernae_, as though they had been the children
of slaves born in the house, but _alumni_, a name simply implying that
they had been brought up (_ab alendo_) by their owners. Now it is a very
singular fact, that there are actually more instances of _alumni_ among
the sepulchral inscriptions of Christians than among the infinitely more
numerous inscriptions of pagans, showing clearly that this was an act of
charity to which the early Christians were much addicted; and the
_alumni_, when their foster-parents died, very properly and naturally
recorded upon their tombs this act of charity, to which they were
themselves so deeply indebted."

So far Mr. Northcote. It is still further to be noted, as an expression of
the Christian temper, as displayed in this kind of charity, that it never
appears in the inscriptions as furnishing a claim for praise, or as being
regarded as a peculiar merit. There is no departure from the usual
simplicity of the gravestones in those of this class.

[Greek:
PETROS
THREPTOS
RAUKUTA
TOS EN THEO]

Peter, sweetest foster-child, in God.

And a dove is engraved at either side of
this short epitaph.

VITALIANO ALVMNO KARO
EVTROPIVS FECIT.

Eutropius made this for the dear foster-child
Vitalian.

ANTONIVS DISCOLIVS FILIVS ET BIBIVS
FELLICISSIMVS ALVMNVS VALERIE CRESTENI
MATRI BIDVE ANORVM XVIII INTET SANCTOS

Antonius Discolius her son, and Bibius Felicissimus
her foster-child, to Valeria Crestina
their mother, a widow for eighteen years.
[Her grave is] among the holy.[2]

[Footnote 2: This inscription is not of earlier date than the fourth
century, as is shown by the words, _Inter sancios_, - referring, as we
heretofore stated, to the grave being made near that of some person
esteemed a saint.]

These inscriptions lead us by a natural transition to such as contain some
reference to the habits of life or to the domestic occupations and
feelings of the early Christians. Unfortunately for the gratification of
the desire to learn of these things, this class of inscriptions is far
from numerous, - and the common conciseness is rarely, in the first
centuries, amplified by details. But here is one that tells a little story
in itself: -

DOMNINAE
INNOCENTISSINAE ET DVLCISSIMAE COIVGI
QVAE VIXIT ANN XVI M. IIII ET FVIT
IMARITATA ANN. DVOBVS M. IIII D. VIIII
CVM QVA SON LICVIT FVISSE PROPTER
CAVSAS PEREGRINATIONIS
NISI MENEIE VI
QVO TEMPORE VT EGO SENSI ET EXHBVI
AMOREM MEVM


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