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The Tombs of Peter and Paul Ad Catacumbas

  • George La Piana (a1)

Recent archaeological discoveries have contributed in many ways to enrich our knowledge of the early periods of Christian history. It cannot be denied that the results of these investigations as a whole have given testimony in favor of the conservative historical tradition, rather than of the aggressive criticism of the last century. In many cases archaeological evidence has verified or confirmed traditions to which historical criticism had denied any positive value, and solved what had been regarded as insoluble problems. Where literary evidence was lacking or inconclusive, archaeology and ancient liturgy have furnished the historians of the early centuries of the Church new sources of knowledge of inestimable value.

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1. The articles and publications of which extensive use has been made in writing this article are the following:

Dr.Styger Paolo, Scavi a S. Sebastiano. Scoperta di una memoria degli Apostoli Pietro e Paolo e del corpo di S. Fabiano Martire. — Römische Quartalschrift, 1915, pp. 73110.

Gli Apostoli Pietro e Paolo ad Catacumbas. Ibid. 1915, pp. 149–205.

De Waal A., Die Apostelgruft ad Catacumbas an der Via Appia. — Supplementheft d. Römische Quartalschrift. 1894.

Wilpert's ZuDomus Petri. — Römische Quartalschrift, 1912, pp. 123132.

Gli Scavi nel pavimento della Basilica di S. Sebastiano sulla Via Appia. — Ibid. 1915, pp. 145–148.

Fasiolo O., La Pianta di S. Sebastiano. — Römische Quartalschrift, 1915, pp. 206220.

Grossi-Gondi F., S. J. , Il Refrigerium celebrato in onore dei SS. Apostoli Pietro e Paolo nel sec. IV ad Catacumbas. — Römische Quartalschrift, 1915, pp. 221249.

La Basilica di S. Sebastiano sull'Appia dopo le insigni scoperte degli anni 1915–16. — Civiltà Cattolica, 1917, vol. 2, pp. 588598: 3, pp. 519–534.

La Data della costruzione della Basilica Apostolorum sull'Appia. — Ibid. 1918, 3, pp. 230–242.

Marucchi Orazio, Le recenti scoperte presso la Basilica di S. Sebastiano. — Nuovo Bullettino di Archeologia Cristiana. Roma. 1916, pp. 561.

Ulteriore studio storico e monumentale sulla Memoria Apostolica presso le Catacombe della Via Appia. Ibid. 1917, pp. 47–87.

La Memoria sepolcrale degli Apostoli sulla Via Appia secondo il risultato delle ultime ricerche. Ibid. 1920, p. 531.

Conferenze di Archeologia Cristiana. In all the issues of the Bullettino quoted above.

Grisar H., S. J. , Die Römische Sebastianuskirche und ihre Apostelgruft im Mittelalter. — Römische Quartalschrift. 1895.

Buonaiuti E., Gli Scavi recentissimi a S. Sebastiano. — Bollettino di Letteratura Critico-religiosa. 1915, pp. 375381.

Lugari G. B., I varii seppellimenti degli Apostoli Pietro e Paolo sull'Appia. — Bessarione. 1898.

Wilpert T., Domus Petri. — Römische Quartalschrift, 1912, pp. 117122.

2. Lietzmann, p. 177. Rockwell W. W., The Latest Discussion on Peter and Paul in Rome, American Journal of Theology, 1918, p. 121.

3. Furius Dionysius Philocalus was either the compiler or simply the copyist of a Chronography, which is but a collection of various Roman chronographic lists. Two of them are those related to the Roman Church which are called the Depositio Episcoporum, containing the obituary of the Roman bishops from 255 to 352; and the Depositio Martyrum, or list of the commemorations of the martyrs celebrated by the Roman Church, which is supposed to reproduce the oldest Feriale of that Church that we possess. Philocalus compiled his Chronography first in 336, but later revised it and carried the lists down to the year 354. The text of the Chronography in Monum. Germ. Hist., Chronica Minora I. See Mommsen, Ueber den Chronographen vom Jahre 354. Leipzig, 1850, and L. Duchesne, Liber Pontificalis, I, p. vi.

4. Duchesne L., Christian Worship (English translation) 5th ed., p. 278.

5. The festival of February 22 often occurred in Lent. In countries observing the Gallican rite, where Lenten observance was considered incompatible with the honouring of saints, the difficulty was avoided by holding the festival on the 18th of January. When about the end of the sixth century the bishop of Auxerre, Annarius, compiled the so-called Martyrologium Hieronymianum, he thought it advisable to keep both dates, that of the Roman Calendar (attributing it to Antioch, a see which was believed to have been also occupied by Peter) and that of the Gallican Calendar, attributing it to Rome. But it was only in the sixteenth century that such an arrangement was adopted by the Roman Church. The assumption that the festival of February 22 might have been originally connected with the veneration of the relic known in Rome as the Chair of St. Peter (De Rossi, Bull. Arch. Christ., 1867, p. 38, and Lietzmann, p. 73) is untenable. No trustworthy mention of such a relic is found earlier than 1217. Cf. Duchesne, Christian Worship, p. 280.

6. Duchesne, ibid., p. 277.

7. O. Marucchi, A. De Waal, F. Grossi-Gondi, P. Styger, and others.

8. According to tradition Paul was executed ad Aquas Salvias, which is not exactly iuxta the present basilica.

9. Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha, ed. Lipsius, I, 175. Cf. Styger P., Gli Apostoli Pietro e Paolo ad Catacumbas, pp. 182188. Cf. also Lipsius , Die Apocryphen Apostelgeschichten und Apostellegenden, II, 391404.

10. Lipsius, op. cit., I, pp. 220 f.

11. Cureton, Ancient Syriac Documents, pp. 61 f.

12. Epist. iv, 30, Ewald-Hartmann I, 264 f.

13. Notitia portarum, compiled about the middle of the seventh century. Cf. Styger, l. c. pp. 194–196.

13a. Itinerarium Salisburgense. Cf. De Rossi, Roma sotterranea, I, 180.

13b. Decree of Indulgence of Leo X. Cf. Grisar, op. cit. Römische Quartalschrift, 1895, p. 452.

14. Duchesne, Liber Pontificalis, p. civ.

15. Ibid., p. xlvi. Duchesne suggests the possibility that the text as it is given in the Hieronymianum is older than the Philocalian.

16. The Hieronymianum (recension of Auxerre) contains a separate commemoration under January 25 of a Translatio S. Pauli Apostoli, without any indication as to where this translation had taken place. But we are now too well acquainted with the method used by the compilers of martyrologies in filling the days which had no commemoration to give any importance to this Translatio.

17. Ambrosius, Hymn. x.

17a. Lipsius, op. cit., p. 173. The same motive is repeated in the Greek Πράξεις: Χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε, ὅτι μεγάλους προστάτας ἠξιώθητε ἔχειν Ibid., p. 219.

18. Basil of Caesarea wrote again and again to Damasus and to the western episcopacy, but his advances were coldly rejected. Some of his letters did not even get a reply; to another the only answer of Rome was to send Basil a declaration of faith to subscribe. “When one is haughty,” wrote Basil to a friend, alluding to the pope, “when from the height of his throne he refuses to listen to those who from a humble place tell him the truth, it is impossible to deal with him about matters of general interest” (Ep. 215). In another letter he says: “Those western people do not know the truth and they do not want to know it; they are seduced by their false preposessions and dislike those who tell them the truth. I should like to write to their coryphaeus (the pope); I would tell him nothing about ecclesiastical matters, because he has no idea of our true situation and does not care to know what it is, but I would make him understand that one cannot mistake arrogance for dignity, without committing a sin sufficient to provoke the wrath of God.” (Ep. 239.)

19. Basil was already dead, but, as Duchesne says, his spirit was present and triumphed in the dogmatic work of the Council.

20. Καὶ τὸν λογισμόν, ὡς ἐπαινετός, σκόπει.

Δεῖν γὰρ συνάλλεσθ᾽ ἡλίῳ τὰ πράγματα

Ἐντεῦθεν ἀρχὴν λαμβάνονθ᾽ ὅθεν θεὸς

Ἒλαμψεν ἡμῖν σαρκικῷ προβλήματι.

Τί γοῦν; Μάθωμεν μὴ σέβειν περιτροπὰς

Χριστοῦ δὲ σάρκα παντὸς ἡμῶν τοῦ γένους

Οἴεσθ᾽ ἀπαρχήν. Εἰ δ᾽ ἐντεῦθεν ἤρξατο,

Εἴποι τάχ᾽ ἄν τις, ἔνθα πλεῖον τὸ θράσος

Ὡς ῥᾳδίως ἐνταῦθα καὶ θανούμενος

Ἐκ τοῦδ᾽ ἔγερσις, ἐκ δὲ τοῦ σωτηρία.

Carmen de Vita Sua. 1690–96.

21. The epigram for the Martyr Gorgonius:

Hic quicumque venit, sanctorum limina querat

inveniet vicina in sede habitare beatos.

22. Marucchi, La Memoria Apostolorum, in Bullettino di Archeologia Cristiana, 1917, pp. 51–53.

22a. An argument in favor of this assumption is afforded by the graffito DOMVS PETRI which was found on the wall of a chamber under a little chapel near the Platonia, now itself called Domus Petri (Plate I). This chamber seems to have been in existence earlier than the basilica. The graffito, however, seems to have been written not earlier than the fifth century, and therefore cannot be considered as reliable testimony to the tradition connecting Peter with the old Roman villa. See Wilpert and De Waal on the Domus Petri in Römische Quartalschrift, 1912.

23. The remark was made by the architect Gamurrini of Rome in a lecture given at the Arcadia, July 1, 1917. Gamurrini, who is an authority in archaeology, rejects the tradition that the Apostles were removed ad Catacumbas.

24. Vers la fin du rve siècle, on voit surgir sur certains points de la chrétienté, des cultes à qui semble manquer essentiellement la consécration de la tradition vivante. On découvre des martyrs inconnus jusque-là, et on se hâte de leur rendre les honneurs dont les autres martyrs étaient en possession de date immémoriale. Delehaye, Les origines du culte des Martyrs, 1912, p. 85.

25. Hic multa corpora sanctorum requisivit et invenit. Liber Pontificalis, ed. Duchesne, I, 212.

26. Ihm, Damasi Epigrammata, 27.

27. Mansi III, 968, Hefele-Leclerq, Histoire des Conciles, II. 2, p. 129.

28. Delehaye remarks: “L'on reconnaitra aussi que, s'il (Damasus) avait voulu rappeler le séjour de leurs reliques, la tyrannie du mètre ne l'en aurait pas empêché, puisqu'il suffisait, au lieu d'écrire nomina, de dire: corpora quisque Petti pariter Paulique requiris.” Ibid., p. 308.

29. The utterances of the Orientals about the nationality of the Apostles, mentioned above, may have contributed to the origin of the legend. It is known how the imagination of the people gives a concrete form to ideas and traditions. It is possible, however, that the legend had an historical foundation in some event which must have occurred in Rome during the first half of the third century. I propose to deal with this point in a work on the Church of Rome at the beginning of the third century, which will appear soon.

30. Delehaye, l. c., pp. 302–308.

31. Ibid., pp. 35 and 61. Cf. also, Ferrini, De iure sepulchrorum apud Romanos (Archivio Giuridico, Pisa, 1883), and Wamser, De iure sepulchrali Romanorum. Darmstadt, 1887.

32. In Rome the cult of the martyrs was started much later than in the East and in the Church of Africa. There are no traces of such a cult in Rome before the third or fourth decade of the third century. That explains the fact that when the Church of Rome thought of commemorating its martyrs of the first two centuries it had to fix arbitrarily their dies natalis, because nobody knew the exact dates. It is not improbable that the commemoration of the 29th of June in honor of the Apostles was the first to be regularly instituted, and that the date of the institution was recorded (258). I would suggest, also, that such an institution might have been made not only in imitation of what was done in other churches, and especially in the Church of Africa, which was in close relation with the Roman Christian community, but also in consequence of the fact that the Christians were at that time unable to visit the tombs of the Apostles. The commemoration ad Catacumbas was a kind of a substitute for the acts of piety that Christians had been accustomed to perform formerly on the apostolic tombs and which now the persecution prevented them from accomplishing.

33. Pio Franchi dei Cavalieri, Studi e Testi Vaticani, 27, fasc. 5, pp. 23 ff.

34. “La translation du pape Zephyrinus n'est point attesté par les documents. C'est un postulat de quelques archéologues et nullement nécessaire pour expliquer des faits établis. Delehaye, l. c. p. 77.

35. Of Silanus, the Philocalian says: “Hunc martyrem Novati furati sunt. That the Novatians, who posed as the guardians of a rigid morality and of the old traditions, should be guilty of the violation of a tomb, seems impossible. On the other hand, it is quite natural that their enemies might put in circulation slanderous accusations against them. It cannot, however, be considered as an evident fact, especially since as Delehaye remarks: “La mention de l'equipée dans un document qui n'est qu'une aride nomenclature, prouve qu'elle était de fraiche date.” L. c., p. 78.

36. The question about the remains of Pope Fabianus is more complex. The supposed translation of them to the Church of Santa Prassede, and later to that of St. Martin, has been proved to be unhistorical (Silvagni, La Basilica di S. Martino ai Monti, etc. Rome, 1912); and in any case would fall in a much later period (ninth century). The Liber Pontificalis says that he was buried in the cemetery of Callistus, and in fact De Rossi found there the epitaph of Fabianus. The first mention of the removal of the body of Fabianus ad Catacumbas is to be found in the martyrology called Romanum Parvum: “Romae Fabiani papae et martyris ad vestigia Apostolorum sepulti.” Now the Romanum Parvum is a forgery due to Adon, bishop of Vienne, about the middle of the ninth century, as was clearly demonstrated by Dom Quentin, Les Martyrologes historiques du Moyen Age, Paris, 1908, pp. 408—164. The discovery of a body near the triclia ad Catacumbas in 1915, with the inscription S. Favianus Martyr ic requiesit, was taken by Styger (Römische Quartalschrift, 1915, pp. 100 ff.) and by Grossi-Gondi (Civiltà Cattolica) as evidence that the body of Pope Fabianus was really translated ad Catacumbas. But as Professor Buonaiuti (Bollettino di Letteratura Critico-religiosa, 1915, p. 380) remarks, the inscription found on the body does not say that it was Fabianus the bishop, while such a qualification is always found in the epigraphs of the popes. Moreover, we find in various documents mention of a Fabianus Martyr different from the bishop of the same name. And after all, even granted that the body discovered ad Catacumbas is that of the pope, its translation would have happened in the ninth century.

37. On the legend of the Quatuor Coronati an exhaustive study was published by Pio Franchi dei Cavalieri, Note agiografiche, Fasc. 24, Roma, 1912, iii, “I Santi Quattro,” pp. 57–66, giving evidence that this assumed translation of the four Pannonian martyrs never took place, and that during the sixth century the relics of four unknown martyrs in Rome were identified with the Quatuor Coronati.

38. The Consuetudo Romana is attested by various documents to have been in full vigor in the fourth century. When the Basilica of St. Pancratius was built on the Via Aureliana, on account of topographic difficulties it was impossible to orient the church in such a way that the body of the martyr would be in longitudinal position in relation with the axis of the building. It would have been necessary to turn the tomb, and yet it was preferred to sacrifice the architectural harmony and the tradition rather than touch the tomb. The body ex obliquo aulae jacebat, up to the time of Honorius (625–638), when the consuetudo Romana had already vanished, and the position of the tomb was changed.

39. In the beginning of the sixth century the emperor Justinian requested Pope Hormisdas (519–524) for relics of St. Laurentius, but the legates of the pope informed him of the consuetudo Romana, which was to send the socalled sanctuaria or branded, that it to say pieces of linen which had been deposited for a while on the tomb of the martyrs, and to which were attributed the same miraculous powers as to the real relics. On this custom, see Grisar, Analecta Romana, pp. 712 ff. in reference to the tombs of the Apostles in Rome.

40. The so-called Cononian abridgment of the part of the Liber Pontificalis which contains the life of Damasus mentions only the Platonia as a work erected under Damasus ad Catacumbas; but a later redaction (Neapolitan MSS.) attributes to Damasus the erection of the basilica. This question gave rise to long debates among archaeologists, and it cannot be considered as settled. But there is no doubt that the basilica belongs to the second half of the fourth century.

41. The peribolos was later called matroneum, or place reserved to the women.

42. Platonia, platoma, or platuma is a low Latin word, the derived like platea, from the concept of space (πλατύς), and means a slab, or rather a space covered with marble slabs. De Rossi, Roma Sotterranea, I, 241. It was rather recently that this name was given to the crypt, when it was thought to be the Platomum of Damasus.

43. Originally they were twelve, but one was destroyed in opening the new entrance, and the two on the left side were added by closing a door on the wall.

44. De Waal , Die Apostelgruft ad Catacumbas, 1894, and Römische Quartalschrift, 1915, p. 146.

45. Fasiolo O., La pianta di S. Sebastiano, Römische Quartalschrift, 1915, pp. 213214.

46. Grossi-Gondi, in Civiltà Cattolica, 1918, 3, pp. 588 ff. Such a theory, which is untenable after the excavations of 1919, was even from the beginning contested. See the letter of Professor Giovenale in Bullettino della Commissione archeologica comunale di Roma, 1917, pp. 148 ff.

47. The first of these columbaria seems to have been the property of a collegium funeraticium, of the first or second century, but later had been used for inhumations. O. Fasiolo, l. c., p. 218.

48. The tricliae, or alogiae, or pergulae, were frequent in the precincts of the Roman tombs. See a series of texts in Styger, l. c., pp. 156–158. In Africa they were of a rather simpler type and were called mensae. It seems, however, that there also the tricliae were common near Christian cemeteries and basilicas. Augustine mentions a Basilica tricliarum (Enarratio in Ps. xxxii. Sermo ii, 29). Cf. Grossi-Gondi, Civiltà Cattolica, 1917, 3, p. 521.

49. This triclia ad Catacumbas is the first to be discovered in condition good enough to give us an idea of the plan and the arrangement of such places.

50. The excavations and discoveries relating to classic art and non-Christian archaeology are carried on by the Italian R. Commission of Archaeology, and are illustrated in the Notizie degli Scavi and the Monumenti of the Lincei.

50a. In one of these columbaria an inscription was found with the name of one “Callistus Imperatoris Caesaris Vespasiani Servus.” It was surmised that probably the villa and the fields surrounding it were property of the Christian branch of the Flavii, since the cemetery of Domitilla began not very far from there. (Marucchi, Bull. Archeol. Crist., 1917, p. 56). Others, on the contrary, thought of the family of the Uranii, because among the ruins of an old mausoleum close to the northern walls of the basilica, an architrave was found in which were engraved in large letters the name, VRANIORUM. To his family belonged Ambrose of Milan and his brother Uranius Satyrus. Grossi-Gondi, Civiltà Cattolica, 1917, 2, p. 598).

51. Marucchi O., Bullettino di Archeologia Christiana, 1919, pp. 79.

51a. One of Marucchi's capital arguments is his interpretation of the paintings in the vault of the bisomus, or double sarcophagus, which he identifies with the Platomum built by Damasus as a cenotaph to commemorate the Apostles' temporary burial ad Catacumbas. The paintings have almost completely disappeared, but in the traces still apparent Marucchi recognizes the figures of Christ and the twelve Apostles. De Waal, on the contrary, sees in them the figures of Christ, of the Martyr Quirinus, and other unknown personages. Probably there will be no way of settling this question. Cenotaphs in honor of the Apostles were built by Constantine in his Basilica of the Apostles in Constantinople, following the ancient custom which dedicated cenotaphs to heroes buried in far away places; but a cenotaph of Peter and Paul in Rome, a few miles from their real tombs, does not seem to be in harmony with the prevalent ideas of the times. Moreover, it seems quite certain, from the description in the mediaeval documents which have preserved its text, that Damasus' inscription was not in the Platonia. To imagine that it had been already removed from its original place, is only an arbitrary assumption.

52. List and facsimiles of them in Styger, l. c., pp. 81–94.

53. Some of them contain Latin words in Greek letters.

54. Classification of the graffiti in Grossi-Gondi, Civiltà Cattolica, 1917, 3, p. 521.

55. Ibid., p. 167.

56. The verb refrigero is used by classic writers and is found also in pagan inscriptions.

57. In the translations of the Bible, like, “Justus si morte preoccupatus fuerit, in refrigerio erit,” Ps. 65, 11. In Christian Latin literature: “Meliores fieri coguntur qui eis credunt, metu aeterni supplicii et spe aeterni refrigerii,” Tert. Apol. 39. In Christian Inscriptions, De Rossi, passim. Cf. Grossi-Gondi, II Refrigerium in onore dei SS. Apostoli, Römische Quartalschrift, 1915, pp. 222–225.

58. Passio SS. Perpetuae et Felicitatis: Quid utique non permittis nobis refrigerare, etc.

59. Inscription in Pompei. Giomale degli Scavi, 1869, i, p. 242.

60. Orelli, Inscr. Lat. Coll. n. 2417. Styger, l. c.

61. Epist. xxix, 11.

62. Marucchi, Bullettino di Arch. Crist. 1916, p. 13, and 1920, p. 20.

63. Grossi-Gondi, Römische Quartalschrift, 1915, p. 242.

63a. According to Marucchi (Bullettino di Archeologia Cristiana, 1917, p. 57) the bodies of the Apostles were removed from the place ad Catacumbas to their old tombs during the pontificate of Dionysius, when the cemeteries were given back to the Church (260 A.D.). De Rossi (Inscr. Christ. II, p. 231–232) had already come to the conclusion on archaeological evidence that the tomb of Peter at the Vatican was not disturbed when the basilica was built on that site by Constantine. Its supposed removal from the place ad Catacumbas must have happened before the peace of the Church.

64. Peristephanon x, 169–172 and xi, 193–194. Dressel, pp. 65 and 450.

64a. Professor Buonaiuti (Bollettino di Letteratura Critico-religiosa, 1915, p. 378), called the attention to the fact that the refrigerium or agape, though an adaptation of the pagan parentalia, yet was not absolutely connected with the tomb, but only with the memory of the martyrs, and could be celebrated outside the sepulchral precinct. Such was the case with the commemorations of the martyrs mentioned by Cyprian, as to be celebrated by himself while far from Carthage and from their tombs (Ep. 12, ed. Hartel): “celebrentur a nobis oblationes et sacrificia.” Buonaiuti thinks that oblationes here means agape, as in Tertullian's passage: “Oblationes pro defunctis, pro nataliciis annua die facimus” (De Corona, 3). Moreover, it seems from St. Augustine's sermons (13, 305, 310) that agapes in honor of Cyprian were celebrated in three different places, and not only at his tomb in Carthage. To these arguments Grossi-Gondi replied at a great length (Römische Quartalschrift, 1915, pp. 231 ff.) insisting on the strictly sepulchral character of the agape-refrigerium. This reply, however, still leaves room for doubt, and the impossibility of agapes in honor of the martyrs celebrated outside their sepulchral precincts is far from demonstrated.

65. From what we know about the abuses which are so energetically deplored by Augustine in his famous letter to Aurelius of Tagaste, by the unknown author of the De Duplici Martyrio, and by the passage quoted above from Paulinus of Nola, such misunderstandings were far from uncommon, but can hardly be imagined to have inspired all the visitors of the triclia.

66. A description of this banquet in Paulinus of Nola, Epist. xiii.

67. The paintings found in the tombs around the deep cavity represent funereal banquets.

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