Page images

or for slaves. One, undoubtedly heathen, situated not far from the tomb of the Scipios, has been described by Campana in the *Bulletino dell' Instituto,' 1840, p. 135; another, as clearly pagan, in the Vigna Codini, described by Herzen (* Annali d' Instituto,' 1856), contained niches for 600 urns. To the columbarium was usually attached an ustrinum, which showed that the practice of burning the dead was extended to the poor and to slaves. There were speculators also, who, like our cemetery companies, let out columbaria and niches in them. There were burial clubs too (sodalitates), which received a monthly payment, and had a common chest, from which was paid, on the decease of each member, a sum for his funeral expenses, funeraticum. The reader will find very curious details on this subject, with references to the various scattered authorities, chiefly from inscriptions, in the Römische Alterthümer' of Becker, continued by Marquardt, Th. iv. pp. 154, 155; Th. v. pp. 372, 373.

There were family sepulchres too, and gentilitian sepulchres, from the earliest period, in Rome. The Christians would consider themselves very naturally as one great family, and would speedily grow to a gens; and every religious feeling would induce them to desire that, as they were to each other loving and pleasant in their lives, so in their death they would not be divided.' But not only separate, but far more spacious burial-places would soon be required for them, than for those whose ashes were crowded together in narrow urns. And where were these to be

Within the walls of the city interment was sternly forbidden by the law. These laws were maintained in strict force even under the Christian Emperors. When the superstitious desire had grown up of being buried under or near the altars of the churches to which the relics of saints and martyrs had been transferred, the practice was still interdicted with the utmost severity. That furtive piety sometimes eluded this law (we are irresistibly reminded of one of the cleverest scenes in Les Misérables') is shown by the strength and the frequent reiteration of the enactments.

Nor could the cemeteries of the Christians be conveniently constructed at any great distance from the city. The principal catacombs are all within three miles of the walls. But within

* “Ne alicujus fallax et arguta sollertia se ab hujus præcepti intentione subducat, atque Apostolorum et Martyrum sedem humanis corporibus existimet esse concessam, ah his quoque, ut a reliquo civitatis, noverint se atque intelligant esse submotos,' - quoted by M. S. de Rossi, Analisi, p. 43. M. de Rossi must excuse us if we dismiss with a quiet smile what he seems inclined to treat with gravity, an Inscription in the church of S. Pudenziana, near an altar of that church, commemorating the discovery of the bodies of five Holy Martyrs, with the sponge yet red with their blood. And this in the year 1803 !!! E 2


this distance, crowded as it already must have been along all the great roads with heathen cemeteries and monuments, and with houses, gardens, vineyards, large plots of ground would be, no doubt, very costly. Here and there a wealthy Christian might devote a vineyard or a garden to this holy purpose. It was possible, it should seem, to secure by law the peaceable transmission of such hallowed places either to natural heirs, or even to religious descendants; yet there might be times when their violation, their desecration, might be enjoined by persecuting rulers or by a fanatic populace. As the living were not yet secure on the face of the earth, so neither were the dead under its immediate surface. But why not deeper beneath the earth? why might not subterranean chambers be formed, comparatively inaccessible ; separate, as it were, in holy seclusion alike from the stir of the living world and the intermingling of profaner dead? Might not the bodies of the brethren be deposited entire, only subject to natural decay, to await in God's good time the glad day of resurrection?

From these deep-seated feelings, from this necessity (ingenious, inventive, keen-sighted, as necessity ever is), began the famous Roman Catacombs. It is to be observed, too, that in all probability the Christians were not, if we may so speak, the inventors or first discoverers of these subterranean receptacles for the dead. The Jews had the same, if not so strong, yet a profound hereditary aversion to any mode of sepulture but interment. It is unquestionable that the earliest Catacombs were Jewish. One was discovered by Bosio, at a very early period in the investigation, undoubtedly Jewish, near their great settlement on the Vatican hill; another more recently, intended for those who, to Juvenal's indignation, had taken up their residence about the romantic but desecrated Valley of Egeria. In other parts of Italy Jewish Catacombs have come to light: of which there can be no question ; for instead of the usual ornaments and sacred things buried with the Christians appear the seven-branched candlestick and other sacred emblems of the Jewish faith. *

On the Christian Catacombs, we have now before us the first volume of what we may consider the classic and authoritative work. It bears the name of the Cav. de Rossi; and could not bear a name which would so strongly recommend it to every one who takes an interest in this important subject. All who have visited Rome will bear witness to the indefatigable industry,

Compare Bosio and ‘Cemetero degli Antichi Ebrei,' par Raffaelle Garrucci, Roma, 1862; and Milman, ‘Hist. of the Jews,' vol. ii. pp. 456-459.


sagacity, perseverance, even bodily labour, which the Cavaliere has devoted to the investigation of the Roman Catacombs. The crowning proof of this has been his discovery, by very acute powers of discernment and of reasoning, of the true Catacomb of S. Callistus, up to his time misplaced, and supposed to be that close to the Church of S. Sebastian. Many will bear witness to his extreme courtesy in unfolding to the uninitiated as well as to the initiated the secrets of his subterranean treasure-house. The Cavaliere de Rossi has been singularly fortunate also in the zealous co-operation of his brother, Michael Stefano de Rossi, a man of very high scientific attainments (he exhibited a very curious instrument at our Great Exhibition, invented for the purpose of taking accurate measurements and levels in the Catacombs, to which we believe a prize was awarded), and with a knowledge of geology, which has thrown a full and steady light on the origin, extent, boundaries, ramifications, construction, and nature of these vast sepulchral excavations. Sig. M. S. de Rossi has contributed a most valuable Appendix (we are inclined to think that it had been better as a Preface) to the Cavaliere’s volume: at all events we should strongly recommend to our readers to begin the book at this end.

One result is triumphantly obtained from these inquiries. That the Catacombs, properly so called, are originally and exclusively, except the Jewish, Christian.

The title prefixed to this volume, · Roma Sotteranea Christiana,' is in every respect just and legitimate. It might seem that the discussion of this question has been carried on with very unnecessary toil and trouble: it might appear a purely historical and archæological problem. Unhappily, on the first discovery of the Catacombs, certain Protestant writers-one of considerable name—took it into their heads to raise about the most idle controversy which ever wasted Christian ink, or tried, we will hardly say Christian, temper. The Catacombs were declared to be only old sand-pits or quarries; and by some asserted to be Heathen, not Christian cemeteries. This narrow Protestant jealousy betrayed not only a strange perversity, but a most lamentable misconception of the true grounds of the Reformed religion (we fear that we must revert to the ungrateful subject), and a surprising ignorance of Christian history. The only questions really raised at that time, which caused this senseless Anti-Romanist panic, was whether or no the Christians had become very numerous in Rome during the first three centuries, and had provided places of quiet and secure burial for the brethren.

The profound and scientific investigations of M. de Rossi have not only scattered these follies to the winds, but they have dissi


pated other extravagant notions, entertained by some of the most learned of the Roman antiquarians, particularly by the Padre Marchi, who perhaps occupies the highest rank among the searchers of the Catacombs, between Bosio and the Cavaliere de Rossi. Marchi, impressed, perhaps bewildered, by the vast expanding labyrinth of galleries and floors which he had begun to trace, had imagined a complete network of catacombs, extending all round Rome, connected by secret ways, and, it might seem from some of his expressions, spreading under the whole city. But science, real science, forces men back to good sense and truth. The fact is, that the Catacombs, vast as they were, and found in greater or less numbers, in greater extent and depth, on almost every side of Rome, were directed, limited, necessarily self-adapted to the conformation of the land and to the geological strata, some of which received them with welcome and security, others inhospitably repelled them, being altogether unfit for such use.

Without going deep into the geological formation of the basin of the Tiber, in which lies Rome with her seven hills, and amid the adjacent valleys and heights, there are mainly three kinds of deposit left by the successive changes in the geology of the region. These are the scientific reader will find the whole subject simply and clearly developed in the third chapter of the Appendix) the tufa litoide, the tufa granulare, and the tufa friabile. From the first of these came probably much of the stone, used when Augustus transformed the city of brick to what his flatterers called a city of marble; from the latter the pozzulana, and the sand used for building and for other ordinary industrial purposes. Of these the first was too hard, it would have been enormously costly, to hew it out into the spacious and intricate necropolis, which must be perpetually enlarging its dimensions to receive the remains of the growing and multiplying Christian population. The latter was far too loose and crumbling for the purpose of secure and lasting burial. But the second, the tufa granulare, formed chiefly of volcanic deposits, was not too hard to be worked, yet was solid enough to make walls for long and intricate passages or ambulacra, to be hewn into arches, vaulting over deep recesses, in which the coffins were arranged ; and to support floor below floor-two, three, four, five-down to the utmost depth at which the formation was found. But, of course, when these formations so suited for them ceased, the Catacomb stopped ; the passage died away (this is De Rossi's expression) against the hard rock, or as it approached the crumbling pozzulana. The Catacomb must also maintain itself at a certain height. If it descended towards the Valley of the Tiber, the course of the Anio,


or even of smaller streams like the Almone, it would be liable to be flooded, or at least suffer from the filtration of water, dangerous, if not to its security, yet to its decent propriety. In parts it might expand into a more spacious area, where, we know not how early, might be the lowly chapel, and in times of persecution, the place of refuge from cruel death. We will translate a passage from M. de Rossi, which appears to us to illustrate all this, as well as the situations of the chief Catacombs, with clearness, and at the same time with brevity.

• All that part of the ground which lies to the left of the Tiber, perhaps because it was more depressed before it emerged from the waters, contains these volcanic deposits in greatest abundance. Hence in all this region the strata of the granular tufa are of the most spacious extent and depth. Therefore almost all the higher summits which rise in succession from the “Monte Pariolô," along the old and the new Via Salaria, the Nomentana, the Tiburtina, the Prænestina, the Labicana, the Asinaria, the Latina, the Appia, and the Ardeatina, till they meet again the Valley of the Tiber on the Via Ostiense, are suited for the excavation of catacombs, and have been in great part devoted to these purposes. Here, moreover, the depth of those beaches has been hollowed out, sometimes in four, in some cases even in five, floors of galleries, one below the other. But if throughout this region the strata are found to an indefinite extent fit for this purpose, they are limited by the lie of the land. The valley of the Anio forms a boundary about two miles along the Via Salaria and the Via Nomentana. On the latter, however, before the valley, interposes itself a great barrier of “tufa litoide,” which makes its appearance all along this way, and has interrupted here and there the cemetery excavations. Besides this, valleys and beds of torrents run along in the same direction as the Roman roads, and disgorge themselves into the valley of the Anio.

For the description of the rest of the circuit round to the Via Latina and Via Appia, we must refer to the original.

* The Via Latina, the Appia, the Ardeatina, offer the most extensive field for those operations. There, for more than two miles, every elevation appears to have been hollowed out, and it forms the most celebrated group of these vast and continuous catacombs. This region is often broken by the usual courses of the streamlets, especially on the Appian and Latin ways, where the Almone flows.

This rapid survey, besides the reasons alleged above, clearly manifests how impossible was the general connexion of subterranean Rome, and places in a stronger light the necessity of those laws which I have shown to have regulated the excavations, chiefly to protect them from the filtration or the flooding of waters. For the rest it is an ascertained fact, from the excavations made with the greatest advantages, that each of the great cemeteries, having its proper name and separate existence, was divided from and independent of the contiguous one,

« EelmineJätka »