These converts of rank from heathenism had their own tombs, and permitted their brethren in the Faith to construct, in connection with these family tombs, places of burial modelled on the Jewish catacombs. This is the origin of the Christian catacombs. The catacombs of the Apostolic Era are: on the Via Ardeatina, the catacomb of Domitilla, niece of the Emperor Domitian and a member of the Flavian family ; on the Via Salaria, that of Priscilla, who was probably the wife of the Consul Acilius Glabrio ; on the Via Appia, that of Lucina, a member of the Pomponian family ; on the Via Ostiensis, that of Commodilla, connected with the grave of St.
Again, the grave of a venerated martyr would be another nucleus of a catacomb, e. Laurence, St. Valentine, or St. Castulus; such a coemeterium would bear the name of the martyr. Coemeteria occasionally owed their names to some external feature as the one ad duas lauros the two laurel trees ; this title is still added to the names of the two martyrs, Peter and Marcellinus, resting there. Thus in the course of three hundred years some fifty catacombs, large and small, formed a wide circle around the city, the majority being about half an hour's walk from the city gate. The question, however, arises as to whether the Christians were able to construct these subterranean cemeteries without molestation from the heathens.
Undoubtedly the Romans had knowledge of the spots where the Christians buried their dead; but according to old laws every spot where a body lay was under the protection of Roman law and custom that guaranteed the inviolability of burial places.
It is true that the Emperors Decius and Diocletian, at a later date, declared the ground covering the catacombs to be the property of the State, thus making it impossible to enter the catacombs by the ordinary ways. But the successors of Decius and Diocletian repealed these laws as contrary to the entire spirit of the Roman State.
Even though the Christians felt themselves secure in the catacombs, yet the laying out of the galleries, the burying of the bodies, the odour of decay, and the pestilential air in summer, made the lives of the fossores , or excavators, one of the greatest self-sacrifice, while visiting the graves of the departed became much more difficult for the surviving members of families. Therefore, after the Emperor Constantine had granted freedom to the Church, and had set an example for the erection of churches and chapels over the graves of martyrs by building a basilica over the burial-place of St.
Peter and Paul, it became customary to lay out cemeteries above ground, preferably in the neighbourhood of such holy spots. Furthermore, by enlarging the burial chambers, by opening shafts for light, and by the construction of broader stairways, access was made easier for the faithful of Rome and for pilgrims.
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Just as, in the course of the fourth century, the veneration of the martyrs, especially at their graves and on the anniversaries of their death, became more widespread, so the confidence in their intercession found its expression in the endeavour to secure burial in the vicinity of a martyr's tomb.
Then came that year of misfortune, , when the Goths laid siege to Rome for months, devastated the surrounding country, and plundered the city itself. This naturally put an end to burial in the catacombs. In the following centuries Goths, Vandals, and Lombards repeatedly besieged and plundered Rome ; plague and pestilence depopulated the region around the city; both the churches over the graves of the martyrs and the catacombs sank into decay, and shepherds of the campagna even turned the deserted sanctuaries into sheepfolds.
For this reason Pope Paul I began to transfer the remains of the martyrs to the churches of the city; the work was continued by Paschal I and Leo IV As a result the catacombs lost their attraction for the faithful, and by the twelfth century they were completely forgotten. In a catacomb on the Via Salaria was accidentally rediscovered.
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It was not, however, until the publication in , after the author's death, of the "Roma Sotteranea" of Antonio Bosio, that attention was once more called to the catacombs. For nearly forty years, from the year , Antonio Bosio had devoted himself to finding and exploring the early Christian cemeteries. The real "Columbus of the catacombs", however, is Giovanni Battista de Rossi.
De Rossi's labours and publications have led to the wide diffusion of a knowledge of archaeology and an increased veneration for the catacombs.
Among his works are: "Roma Sotterranea" in three volumes; "Inscriptiones christianae" in two volumes, and numerous scattered pamphlets and articles; he also founded and edited the "Bullettino de archeologia christiana" since De Rossi died 20 September, , after devoting nearly fifty years, from his earliest youth, to the exploration of the catacombs and the study of Christian antiquity.
His work was and is carried on by his pupils, among them Armellini, Stevenson, Marucchi, Wilpert, and others. The publications annually issued by Catholic and non-Catholic investigators bear witness to the self-sacrificing zeal and devotion as well as to the sound scholarship with which the science of Christian antiquities ispursued.
In addition to this the Collegium Cultorum Martyrum , by holding religious services followed by popular addresses on the feast days of the martyrs, in the various catacombs, endeavours to stimulate the reverence of Romans and strangers for these noble memorials of the Early Church and to diffuse the knowledge of them.
In all quarters the example of Rome acted as a stimulus to the study of Christian antiquity and led to exploration and excavations; unexpected treasures of the first Christian centuries have been rescued from oblivion in other parts of Italy, in France, Illyria, Greece, North Africa, Egypt, Palestine, and Asia Minor. At Rome, during the last half-century, excavations were undertaken in the following catacombs on the outskirts of the city; the catacombs of Thecla and Commodilla on the Via Ostiensis ; the catacomb of Domitilla on the Via Ardeatina; those of Callistus, Praetextatus, and Sebastian on the Via Appia; Sts.
On the right bank of the Tiber the catacombs explored were those of Pontianus and Generosa on the Via Portuensis. The most thorough explorations were carried out in the catacombs of Callistus, Domitilla, and Priscilla. In a large number of cases the graves of the martyrs mentioned in the old authorities martyrologies, itineraries, the "Liber pontificalis", and the legendary accounts of the martyrs were rediscovered.
At the same time there was dug up a treasure, valuable beyond expectation, of early Christian epitaphs and paintings, which gave much unlooked-for information concerning the faith of the early Christians, their concepts of life, hopes of eternity, family relations, and many other matters. Although thousands of inscriptions on the graves of the early Christians have been lost, and many more contain nothing of importance, there is still a valuable remainder that yields more information than any other source concerning the first Christian centuries.
That Christianity as early as the days of the Apostles found entrance into distinguished families of the Eternal City, and that, as time went on, it gradually won over the nobility of Rome is evident from the epitaphs containing the titles clarissimi, clarissimae of senatorial rank , as well as from epitaphs in which appear the names of noted clans gentes.
The change wrought by Christianity in the social relations of master and slave is plain from the exceedingly small number of inscriptions containing the words servus slave , or libertus freedman , words which are constantly seen on pagan gravestones; the often recurring expression alumnus foster-child characterizes the new relation between the owner and the owned. Many of the epitaphs give eloquent voice to the love of married couples, dwelling on the fact that man and wife had lived chastely virginius, virginia before entering the married state, on the virtues of the dead companion and the faithfulness to the departed observed through long years of solitary life in order that, lying side by side in the same grave, they might rise together at the Resurrection.
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Others record the love of parents for a dead child and conversely. Reference to the virgin state, which seldom appears in heathen epitaphs, is often met with in the Christian inscriptions ; from the fourth century on mention is made of a virginity specially dedicated to God, virgo Deo dicata, famula Dei. Besides allusions in the inscriptions to the various ecclesiastical ranks of bishop, priest, deacon, lector, and excavator fossor , there are references to physicians, bakers, smiths, and joiners, often with emblems of the respective instruments.
Especially interesting are inscriptions which throw light on the religious coneptions of the time, which speak not only of the hope of eternity, but also of the means of grace on which that hope rests- above all, of the faith in the one God, and Christ, his Son. They also dwell on membership in the Church through baptism, and on the relations with the dead through prayer. Naturally, the older the epitaphs referring to dogma the greater their importance. Next comes the question as to how the age of an inscription can be ascertained.
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In the first place the inscriptions are limited to the first four centuries of the Christian Era, since, after the invasion of the Goths , burial in the catacombs occurred only in isolated incidences and soon ceased altogether. The later Roman inscriptions and all the inscriptions of Gaul, Africa, and the Orient, however such additional information they may give in regard to dogma, cannot here be taken into consideration. The most natural and certain method of determining the age of an inscription, i. There are, however, many auxiliary means of determining the question, as: the names, the form of the letters, the style, the place of discovery, the pictorial emblems varying from the anchor and the fish to the monogram of Christ ; these permit, with a reasonable degree of certainty, the assignment of inscriptions to the fourth century, to the time before Constantine, to the beginning of the third or the end of the second century, or even to an earlier period.
The Roman gravestones of the first four centuries furnish numerous proofs not only for the fundamental dogmas of the Catholic Church but also for a large additional number of its doctrines and usages, so that the epitaphs could be employed to illustrate and enforce nearly every page of a modern Catholic catechism. Some inscriptions are here given as examples. This inscription was found in a fragmentary condition along with other inscriptions of the Caecilian family, near the grave of St.
Phronton made the grave. The epitaph mentions two dead, Septimius Praetextatus Caecilianus and Petilius, the latter with the additional statement Lamprotatos , clarissimus , signifying one of senatorial rank. The same expression, "he gave up his soul to God ", is used for Petilius, the date of whose death is given as before 1 September. The beginning of the inscription, containing the name, has disappeared.
The very ancient prayer in the Canon of the Mass entreats for the dead locum refrigerii, lucis et pacis a place of refreshment, light, and peace. The child who lived one year, two months, and four days the servant of God. Agape lived twenty-seven years; so had it been appointed to her by Christ. The mother, Eucharis, and the father, Pius, erected the gravestone to her. Cinnamius Opas, lector of the title [church] of Fasciola, a friend of the poor, who lived forty-six years, seven months, and nine days, and was buried in peace on 1 March, when Gratian was consul for the fourth time and with him Merobaudus.
Buried on 13 May, Osimus who lived twenty-eight years, who was united to his wife seven years and nine months. May the well-deserving rest in peace. He died during the consulate of Nicomachus Flavianus. Grave of the stone-mason for four bodies. The freedmen of Petronia Auxentia, the highly born lady clarissimae feminae , who died at the age of thirty, made the grave where she rests in peace.
She seems to have had neither children, brothers or sisters, nor, at the time of her death, parents. Cyriaca, a member of the noble Dasumian family, who died at the age of sixty-six years, is called a "dove without bitterness", a eulogy that is found on other female graves. Besides the text of the epitaphs, on many of the tombstones the ideas are also conveyed by pictures; in this manner expression is given, above all, to the hope of eternal life for the dead.
First come symbolic pictures and signs: the anchor, the palm, the dove with the olive-branch, are allegorical symbols of hope, victory, and everlasting peace; from the third century on appears the fish, the symbol of Christ. The Good Shepherd carrying the lamb on His shoulders, and the Orante, both often depicted together, were well-known and favourite allusions to the joy of heaven. Margaret Doody, Poison in Athens , about a former student of Aristotle who discovers a corpse when he visits a brothel; 4 in the Aristotle Detective mystery series.
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