Imágenes de páginas

full of instruction about the domestic and social life, the manners and customs of the early Christians, and their religious views in the face of death and eternity. But it was only in our generation that the Catacombs were thoroughly explored and made the subject of systematic and scientific research, free from dogmatic and sectarian prejudices. The acknowledged pioneer in this department of antiquarian knowledge is the still living Cavalier John Baptist de' Rossi of Rome. His monumental Italian work, "Roma Sotterranea" (Rome, 1864-77, 3 vols.), richly illustrated, and his periodical, "Bulletino di Archeologia Christiana," are the chief sources from which Allard, Northcote and Brownlow, Marriott, Kraus, Lundy, Withrow, and others have drawn the material for their more popular works. Next to De' Rossi must be mentioned John Henry Parker, who in the twelfth part of his "Archæology of Rome" (Oxford and London, 1877) discusses the Catacombs, and Théophile Roller, a French Protestant pastor who devoted years of study to the same subject and embodied the results of his researches in two large and richly illustrated folio volumes, "Les Catacombes de Rome" (Paris, 1879-81).

For a long time false opinions were entertained which have been dispelled by modern research. The Catacombs were supposed to be forsaken sandpits and stone-quarries, excavated by the heathen and occasionally used as receptacles for the corpses of slaves and criminals. But it is now ascertained from the difference of soil, which is not at all adapted for building material, and the mode of construction, that they are of Christian origin and were intended from the beginning for burial-places. Another error, that they were places of refuge from heathen persecution, has likewise been abandoned. The immense labor required for their construction could not possibly have escaped the notice of the Roman police; and the heathen persecutor, by simply closing the access, could have easily smothered the Chris.tians by thousands if they had taken refuge in those dark and narrow passages. In spite of the knowledge gained on the subject within the last twenty years, these errors are still repeated in popular books, and even in Dr. Killen's "Ancient Church," republished in New York, 1883.

The Catacombs, on the contrary, owe their origin to Roman toleration. The imperial government protected by law the burial

[graphic][subsumed][ocr errors][merged small]
[graphic][graphic][merged small][merged small]

clubs, composed mostly of poor people who by regular contributions secured decent interment for their relatives and friends. The Romans were not savages, but civilized men, and respect for the dead is an instinct of human nature -"De mortuis nil nisi


The Catacombs, then, were excavated by the early Christians for the express and sole purpose of burying their dead. The hope of the resurrection of the body made them averse to the custom of cremation then prevailing among the Greeks and the Romans. They adhered to the older Jewish custom of burying the dead in rock-hewn tombs and galleries. Hence the close resemblance of Jewish and Christian cemeteries in Rome. After Constantine, when the Christians could afford to buy and hold land and could bury their dead without fear of disturbance, they located their cemeteries above-ground around their churches and chapels.


THE Roman Catacombs are long and narrow passages or cross-galleries, excavated in the bowels of the earth in the hills outside and around the city, for the burial of the dead. They are dark and gloomy, with only an occasional ray of light from above. The galleries have two or more stories, all filled with tombs, and form an intricate net-work or subterranean labyrinth. Small compartments (loculi) for the reception of the dead were cut out like shelves in the perpendicular walls, and rectangular chambers (cubicula) for families or distinguished martyrs. They were closed with a slab of marble or tile. The more wealthy were laid in sarcophagi. The ceiling is flat, sometimes slightly arched. Space was economized so as to leave room usually only for a single person, the average width of the passages being two and one-half to three feet. This economy may be traced to the poverty of the early Christians, and also to their strong sense of community VOL. XXXV.-48.


in life and in death. The little oratories with altars and episcopal choirs cut in the tufa are probably of later construction, and could accommodate only a few persons at a time. They were suited for funeral services and private devotion, but not for public worship.

The cemetery of Domitilla (named in the fourth century Sts. Petronillæ, Nerei, et Achillei) is on the Via Ardeatina, and its origin is traced back to Flavia Domitilla, granddaughter or great-granddaughter of Vespasian. She was banished by Domitian (about A. D. 95) to the island of Pontia for professing Christ. Her chamberlains (eunuchi cubicularii), Nereus and Achilleus, according to an uncertain tradition, were baptized by St. Peter, suffered martyrdom, and were buried in a farm belonging to their mistress. In another part of this cemetery De' Rossi discovered the broken columns of a subterranean chapel and a small chamber with a fresco on the



cinthi), Maximus, St. Hippolytus, St. Laurentius, St. Peter and Marcellinus, St. Agnes, and the Ostrianum, ad Nymphas St. Petri, or Fons St. Petri (where Peter is said to have baptized from a natural well). De' Rossi gives a list of forty-two greater or lesser cemeteries, including isolated tombs of martyrs, in and near Rome, which date from the first four centuries, and are mentioned in ancient records.

[graphic][merged small]

wall, which represents an elderly matron named "Veneranda," and a young lady, called in the inscription "Petronilla martyr," and pointing to the Holy Scriptures in a chest by her side as the proofs of her faith. The former apparently introduces the latter into Paradise. The name naturally suggests the legendary daughter of St. Peter. But Roman divines, reluctant to admit that the first pope had any children (though his marriage is beyond a doubt, from the record of the Gospels which mention his mother-in-law), understand Petronilla to be a spiritual daughter, as Mark was a spiritual son, of the apostle (1 Pet. v. 13), and make her the daughter of some Roman Petronius or Petro connected with the family of Domitilla.

Other ancient Catacombs are those of Prætextatus, Priscilla (St. Silvestri and St. Marcelli), Basilla (Sts. Hermetis, Basillæ, Proti, et Hya


THE furniture of the Catacombs is instructive and interesting, but most of it has been removed to churches and museums, and must be studied outside. Articles of ornament, rings, seals, bracelets, necklaces, mirrors, tooth-picks, ear-picks, buckles, brooches, rare coins, innumerable lamps of clay (terra cotta) or of bronze (even of silver and amber), all sorts of tools, and, in the case of children, a variety of playthings were inclosed with the dead. Many of these articles are carved with the monogram of Christ or with other Christian symbols. (The lamps in Jewish cemeteries generally bear a picture of the golden candlestick.)

A great number of flasks and cups, with or without ornamentation, are also found, mostly outside of the graves, and fastened to the grave-lids. These were formerly supposed to have been receptacles for tears, or, from the red, dried sediment in them, for the blood of martyrs. But later archæologists consider them drinking-vessels used in the agape and oblations. A superstitious habit prevailed in the fourth century, although condemned by a council of Carthage (397), to give to the dead the eucharistic wine, or to put a cup with the consecrated wine into the grave.





The instruments of torture which the fertile imagination of credulous people had discovered, and which were made to prove that almost every Christian buried in the Catacombs was a martyr, are simply implements of handicraft. The instinct of nature prompts the bereaved to deposit in the graves

branch, which the seer of the Apocalypse puts into the hands of the elect as the sign of victory; the anchor, the figure of hope; the lyre, denoting festal joy, sweet harmony; the cock, an admonition to watchfulness, with reference to Peter's fall; the hart, which pants for the fresh-water brooks; and the vine, which, with its branches and clusters, illustrates the union of the Christians with Christ according to the parable (John xv. 1-6),

and the richness and fullness of Christian life. "What the early Christians felt," says Dean Stanley, "was a new moral influence, a new life stealing through their veins, a new health imparted to their frames, a new courage breathing in their faces, like wine to a weary laborer, like sap in the hundred branches of a spread

ing tree, like juice in the thousand clusters of a spreading vine."



[blocks in formation]


is the fish. This can only be properly underTHE most favorite symbol in the Catacombs stood from the Greek word for fish, which is IXOTE (ichthys). This is a pregnant anagram containing the initial letters of the words: Ιησούς Χριστός Θεοῦ Υιός Σωτήρ - i.., Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. The fish, therefore, was an allegorical designation of Christ in his character (the Son of God) and his mission (the salvation of the world).

At the same time, the fish was also the symbol of the Christian saved by the great Fisher of Men from the sea of the world. It thus combined the ideas of the Redeemer and the redeemed. It reminded the Christian also of the water of baptism, with its regenerating effect upon the soul. Tertullian says: "We little fishes (pisciculi) are born by our fish (secundum Ichthyn nostrum), Jesus Christ, in water, and can thrive only by continuing in water' (that is, if we are faithful to our baptismal vows).

In some pictures the mysterious fish is swim

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

ming in the water with a plate of bread and a cup of wine on his back, with evident allusion to the Lord's Supper.

The oldest Ichthys monument, so far as known, was discovered in 1865, in the cemetery of Domitilla, a hitherto inaccessible part of the Roman Catacombs, and is traced by De' Rossi to the first century.

The symbol of the fish continued to be used till the middle of the fourth century. After this date it occurs only occasionally, as a reminiscence of olden times.


THE most important remains of the Catacombs are the pictures, sculptures, and epitaphs.

The pictures are painted on the wall and ceil


ing, and represent Christian symbols, scenes of Bible history, and allegorical conceptions of the Saviour. A few are in pure classic style, and betray an early origin, when Greek art still flourished in Rome; but most of them belong to the period of decay. Prominence is given to pictures of the Good Shepherd and those biblical stories which exhibit the conquest of

faith and the hope of the resurrection, as Jonah and the whale, Moses smiting the rock, Daniel in the lions' den, and the resurrection of Lazarus. The mixed character of some of the Christian frescoes may be explained partly from the employment of heathen artists by Christian patrons, partly from old reminiscences. The Etrurians and the Greeks were in the habit of painting their tombs, and Christian Greeks early saw the value of pictorial language as a means of instruction. In technical skill the Christian art is inferior to the heathen, but its subjects are higher and its meaning is deeper.

The two most interesting pictures are those of the Good Shepherd and of Orpheus, which express those aspects of our Saviour which afforded most comfort to the early Christians. They combine the nobler reminiscences of heathenism with the new religion and make them subservient to Christian ideas.

The allegorical representation of Christ as the Good Shepherd is found not only in the Catacombs but also on household furniture, rings, cups, and lamps. Nearly one hundred and fifty such pictures have come down to us. The shepherd, an appropriate symbol of Christ, is usually represented as a handsome, beardless, gentle youth, in light costume, with a girdle and sandals, with the flute and pastoral staff, carrying a lamb on his shoulder, and standing between two or more sheep that look confidently up to him. Sometimes he feeds a large flock in green pastures. If this was the popular conception of Christ, it stood in contrast with the contemporaneous theological idea of the homely appearance of the Saviour, and anticipated the post-Constantinian conception.

The picture of Orpheus is found twice in the cemetery of Domitilla, and once in that of Callistus. One on the ceiling in Domitilla, apparently from the second century, is especially rich. It represents the mysterious singer,

« AnteriorContinuar »