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Of the long reign of Antoninus Pius we have a few pages in the volume of the Augustan historians. But, as the living Christians increased in numbers, so also must the number of their dead. That too, which, as it were, narrowed the space required for interment, the practice of cremation, by which the body was reduced to the dimensions of a small urn, which contained the ashes, and might be respectfully stowed away in the small niches of a columbarium—this practice now almost universal among the great and wealthy (Statius, as we have seen, mentions the case of Priscilla as something rare and unusual), was to the Christians a revolting abomination. Another circumstance perhaps added to their difficulty. The tomb of the great family might admit, as a special privilege, the remains of a few faithful and favourite freedmen, even of slaves; but these added only a few urns with their ashes; and, though it is pleasing to contemplate the usage, as showing the growth of a more humane feeling which was stealing over cruel Roman slavery, it was exceptional rather than common. But to the Christian the body of the freedman or slave (no doubt these social distinctions still subsisted) was as holy as that of his master. He had the same hope of the resurrection; to him extended that equality which alone can level all earthly distinctions—the same title to immortality. The lowest Christian was equal to his master in the hope of rising in glory from the grave. What then was to be done with Christian-slaves ? indeed with Christian poor? Were they to be left, abandoned, unregarded, unmourned, to be borne on the cheap sanda pila by those whose office it was, and cast into the horrible pits on the Esquiline, where the scanty earth could not (as in the time of Horace) protect them from the prowling wolf and the obscene bird of prey ? We must, indeed, observe that, even among the heathen Romans, there had grown up some respect for the remains of the poor. Not only imperial personages, such as Augustus and Livia, founded common sepulchres for their household, their freedmen, and slaves. It was not an uncommon act of magnificence and generosity to dig or to build a columbarium (so called from its likeness to a dovecote with its rows of niches, one above another) for the poor 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 found? 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.5
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 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 Juvenals 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.
6. Ne alicujus fallax et arguta sollortia se ab hujus præcepti intentione subducat, atque Apostolorum et Martyrum sedem humanis corporibus existimet esse concessam, ab 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 !!!
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, 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.
6 Compare Bosio and Cimitero degli Antichi Ebrei, par Raffaelle Garrucci, Roma, 1862 ; and Milman, Hist. of the Jews, vol. ii. pp. 456-459.
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 sandpits 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 dissipated 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