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could then have prophesied, that this would have been despoiled of its noble dust, and turned into a common show-place!
- The Scipios' tomb contains no ashes now;
The very sepulchres lie tenantless
Of their heroic dwellers.” In the same vineyard, is a large Columbarium, a place where were deposited urns filled with the ashes of the slaves and freedmen. It was only discovered about four years since, and is, therefore, almost in its antique state. Upon descending into it, we found ourselves in an immense chamber, surrounded by little niches, each containing an urn. We removed the cover from several which were still filled with ashes and calcined bones. Above each was a little slab containing the name. Some inscriptions I copied. Ne tangito O mortalis. Reverere manes deos. Hic reliciæ Pelopis. Sit tibi terra lebis. It will be perceived that the Latin here would scarcely be called classical. One slave rejoiced in the name of Scribonia Cleopatra. Some of the freedmen were evidently men of consideration, as it is said of one, patri bene merenti. One we are told was a member of the prætorian guard, another was butler to his master, another an actor, imitator. Sometimes it is recorded on the little monument, frater ejus fecit ; sometimes pia mater fecit. Beneath, in a niche, still stands the little altar, with the inscription dedicating it to Diis manibus ; and above on the frescoes are the paintings, representing the cock, and other emblems connected with Æsculapius and Mors.
From this we went to another in the same vineyard, smaller, but similar in character. The frescoes here are as fresh as if yesterday they were painted ; and the bronze lamp still hangs from the ceiling, just as it was left, perhaps, two thousand years ago. The ashes of these slaves yet remain, while the old heroic Scipios have been torn from their sepulchres and their bones scattered.
Adjoining is a field, in which the vestal virgins who proved unfaithful to their vows, were buried alive. After being scourged, and stripped of her badges of office, the offender was attired like a corpse, and borne through the Forum with all the ceremonies of a real funeral. A vault had been prepared under ground, with a couch, and lamp, and table with a little food; and to this the culprit was led by the Pontifex Maximus, the earth was closed over the surface, and she was left to her lingering death.
We drove on to the church of San Sebastian, erected on the spot where tradition says that saint suffered martyrdom. The church was open, and deserted, except by the beggars who were sunning themselves in the porch ; and it was with some trouble that we were able to find any one to be our guide. An old Monk, with the cord round his waist, at length appeared, and in most choice Italian we signified our wish to descend into the catacombs. This is one of the openings, and from here they have been traced, it is said, for twenty miles; but, owing to the loss of life from persons wandering into them, most of the intricate passages have now been closed. In the sacristy of the church a plan of the catacombs, as they extend for a few miles, was hanging up, which represented them as being most complicated, crossing and recrossing in every possible way. A Jesuit belonging to the church of Gesu, in Rome, was about to publish a new engraving ; but it was not yet completed when we left the city. The passages are generally ranged one above the other in three stories; and this renders them more intricate, from the many stairs which ascend and descend.
Each one of the party was furnished with a light, and we followed our guide down a flight of stone steps, worn by the feet of the multitudes who had trodden them for eighteen centuries past. At the bottom commenced the catacombs, damp, winding passages, often not more than three feet wide, and so low that sometimes we were obliged to stoop. Then, again, they would expand into apartments arched overhead, and large enough to contain a small company. On each side were cavities in which were placed the bodies of the dead, or niches for the urns containing their ashes, and small apertures where lamps were found. But few sarcophagi were discovered here; for no pomp or ceremony attended the burial of the early Christians, when their friends hastily laid them in these dark vaults. They sought not the sculptured marble to enclose their remains, but were contented with the rude emblems which were carved above, merely to show that for the body resting there, they expected a share in the glory of the resurrection. Very many of the graves were those of children, and sometimes a whole family were interred together. The cavities were cut into the soft stone, just large enough for the body, with a semicircular excavation for the head, and the opening was closed with a thin slab of marble.
Most of the inscriptions have been removed to the museum of the Vatican where we had already seen them. They are arranged there in the same gallery with those found in pagan tombs, and contrast with them most strongly in their constant reference to a state beyond the grave, while on the Roman monuments are no expressions but those of hopeless grief. It shows how immediate was the elevating influence of the new creed. Nothing, indeed, which is gloomy or painful finds a place among these records of the Martyrs. They evidently laid the athlete of Christ to his rest, without any sorrow that his fight was over, or any expression of vengeance against those who doomed him to death. They thought too much of his celestial recompence to associate it with the tortures and evils of this lower life. The words in pace are frequently to be deciphered, and in one case I made out, in pace et in †. They are covered, too, with symbolical representations. The most frequent are the well-known monogram of Christ, formed by the Greek letters X and P; the old emblem of the fish, ixere, the letters of which are composed of the initials of the Greek words, ’Inooùs Xplotòs Ocoû Yiòs Ewrp, “ Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour;” the ship, to represent the church ; the anchor, an emblem of hope ; the stag, to show “the hart which thirsteth after the water-brooks ;” the hare, the timid Christian hunted by persecutors; the lion, the emblem of the tribe of Judah ; the dove, indicating the simplicity, and the cock, the vigilance, of the Christian ; the peacock and the phenix, emblems of the resurrection ; the vine, the olive-branch, the palm, and the lamb. Some bear the signs of martyrdom ; and one only, a rudely sculptured view of a man devoured by wild beasts.
These are the simple memorials by which devotion endeavoured to hallow the tombs of the departed, and inscribe upon them the unfading hopes which live beyond the grave. Even the cross itself, the primal symbol of Christianity, which for ages was used in its simplest form, seemed to convey to their minds nothing depressing or melancholy. They adorned it with crowns and flowers, as if rather a sign of all that was cheerful and inspiring.
It is instructive to remark, that in none of these monuments of the early centuries, do we see any representation of the Godhead, as is now so common in the Romish churches, under the figures of an old man, a young man, and a dove. The reason has been admirably given by Milinan, when he says,
“Reverential awe, diffidence in their own skill, the still dominant sense of the purely spiritual nature of the Parental Deity, or perhaps the exclusive habit of dwelling upon the Son as the direct object of religious worship, restrained early Christian art from those attempts to which we are scarcely reconciled by the sublimity and originality of Michael Angelo and Raphael. Even the symbolic representation of the Father was rare. Where it does appear, it is under the symbol of an immense hand issuing from a cloud, or a ray of light streaming from heaven, to imply, it may be presumed, the creative and all-enlightening power of the Universal Father.” The earliest instance we have of the Eternal Father represented under a human form, is contained in a Latin Bible, described by Montfaucon, which was presented by the Canons of the church of Tours to Charles the Bold, in the year 850. So long did it take the monkish artists of the church to reach the present height of irreverence !
Neither do we find in the Roman catacombs any representation of the Virgin and Child. This, too, was a subject unattempted in the early church. And when at last they begun thus to shadow forth their conceptions of the maternal tenderness of the mother of the Infant Saviour, she is always represented veiled. They endeavoured to express the idea by the attitude alone, without attempting to portray the mingled feelings which they supposed should characterize the countenance of her who, with all the affections of human nature, was chosen to be the mother of the Lord. It was not, we believe, till the sixth century that these representations were seen; and then, as the superstitious feeling increased which led to the worship of the Virgin, she was more and more surrounded with those emblems which exalted her at last to adoration as the Queen of Heaven.
The same statement is true with regard to the crucifixion. Not a single attempt to portray it is to be seen on any of these ancient monuments. The early church evidently viewed this mysterious subject with a reverence too deep and awful to allow its members to attempt a delineation. There is, indeed, no symbol of our faith, in the use of which we can trace the successive steps so clearly as in this.* The lofty faith of the primitive Christians dwelt so much upon the divinity of our Lord, that they shrank in reverence from the idea of coarsely representing the mere corporeal pangs which weighed him down in the hour of his mortal agony. Such thoughts were reserved for the days of monachism, when the gloomy Monks who were the artists of the Church, brooded in the solitude of their cells over these scenes of suffering, and, when they attempted to portray them, forgetting all that was tender and sublime, furnished only that which was painful and repulsive. The followers of St. Basil, we are told, gave the last degradation to this solemn subject, and spread through western Christendom memorials of the passion which were only “ of the earth, earthly.”
These catacombs, therefore, furnish a valuable chapter for ecclesiastical history ; for we derive from them most of the information we have with regard to Christian symbolism. The early Martyrs, hy whom they were for a long while peopled, “ being dead, still speak.” They tell their own simple faith and devotion by the changeless emblems which are as expres
* Cardinal Bona, as quoted by Milman, to whose History of Christianity we have been much indebted on this subject, gives the following as the progress of the gradual change :-I. The simple Cross. II. The Cross with the Lamb at the foot of it. III. Christ clothed on the Cross, with hands uplifted in prayer, but not nailed to it. IV. Christ fastened to the cross with four nails, still living, and with open eyes. He was not represented as dead till the tenth or eleventh century.
sive as words. And as we trace these pictured inscriptions down through successive generations, they unfold to us the gradual change which crept over the feelings of the Church. It seems to present a strange contrast. The respect of its members for her who was "blessed
among women” gradually deepened into adoration, while a reverence for some of the most sublime mysteries of our faith was proportionally fading from their minds. Themes which at first they regarded with so sacred an awe, that they scarcely dared to comment on them in words, lost at last their divine idealism, and were coarsely shadowed forth by sensible objects. Thus it is, that in her own bosom, and in places which she consecrates as most holy, Papal Rome contains the evidence of that silent change which as centuries went by was working in the minds of her mernbers.
Our guide pointed out to us, as we passed along, some tombs which had never been opened, and whose inmates had been left to slumber on as seventeen centuries ago they were laid to their rest. There was one, the thin marble side of which had cracked, so that he could insert a small taper. He bid us look in, and there we saw the remains of the skeleton, lying as it was placed by its brethren in the faith in those early days of persecution and trial. In these gloomy caverns the followers of our Lord were then accustomed to meet, thus in secret to eat the bread of life, and with tears to drink the water of life. In one of these little chapels which tradition has thus consecrated, there were found still remaining a simple earthen altar, and an antique cross set in the rock above it. It was with no ordinary feelings that we stood on this spot, and looked on these evidences of early worship. They had remained here, perhaps, unchanged since the days of the Apostles; and where we then were, men may have bowed in prayer who had themselves seen their Lord in the flesh. The remains were around us of those who had received the mightiest of all consecrations, that of suffering, and whose spirits were as noble as any who had their proud monuments on the Appian Way, and whose names are now as “ familiar in our ears as household words.” But no historian registered the deeds of the despised Nazarenes. They had no poet, and they died,
Carent quia vale sacro. This was to us a most interesting scene, yet one to be felt more than to be described. We were glad, however, to ascend the worn steps and find ourselves once more in the church above. We noticed, indeed, that the corners we turned in these intricate passages were marked with white paint
to guide us; yet a sudden current of air extinguishing our lights, would • make these signs useless, and, from the crumbling nature of the rock, there
is always danger of the caving in of a gallery, or some other accident, which might involve a party in one common fate. Some years ago, we were told, a school of nearly thirty youths, with their teacher, entered these catacombs on a visit, and never re-appeared. Every search was made, but in vain. The scene which then was exhibited in these dark passages, and the chill which gradually crept over their young spirits as hope yielded to despair, could be described only by Dante, in terms in which he has portrayed the death of Ugolino and his sons in the Tower of Famine at Pisa.*
On re-entering the church, the old Monk lighted two candles in a sidechapel, and, with great reverence, proceeded to display a host of relics, such as, the blood of the Martyrs, and the arrows with which St. Sebastian was pierced. The most holy relic is a stone containing impressions of our
* Inf. xxxiii. 21–75.
Saviour's feet. As St. Peter was fleeing from Rome to avoid martyrdom, the legend tells us, he met our Lord apparently going towards it. Domine, quo vadis? (“ Lord, whither goest thou ?”) asked the Apostle, and was answered, that his Master was going to suffer death again, since his servants deserted their post. St. Peter, therefore, returned and submitted to death ; but on the place where his Lord stood were found these indentations in the hard stone, and a church has been erected there, called by the name, Domine, quo vadis ? Our faith, however, not being very strong, we soon turned from these wonders, and drove to our next stopping-place, the tomb of Cæcilia Metella. This is one of the best-preserved antiquities in Rome, a massive tower seventy feet in diameter, which Lord Byron has well described in the lines,
“ There is a stern round tower of other days,
Firm as a fortress, with its fence of stone,
Standing with half its battlements alone.” No one, indeed, would take it for anything but a fortress. Built of massive granite blocks, and with walls twenty-five feet thick, it seems intended to defy the inroads of time, and the strength of man. We entered the low portal, and there, among the ruins which had fallen about, and the trailing ivy which hung in heavy festoons, we came to the single apartment in the centre, now open above to the sky. And yet, the sole treasure placed in this tower of strength, so guarded and enshrined, was a woman's grave. By some, it is conjectured to have been the wife of Metellus; by others, his daughter. Standing within the monument, we read the speculations of Childe Harold on this subject, which are some of the finest stanzas he has ever written. We cannot forbear copying them, although they may be familiar to many of our readers.
" But who was she, the lady of the dead,
Tomb'd in a palace ? Was she chaste and fair ?
Where meaner relics must not dare to rot,
“ Perchance she died in youth: it may be, bow'd
With woes far heavier than the ponderous tomb
With hectic light the Hesperus of the dead,
“ Perchance she died in age--surviving all,
Charms, kindred, children with the silver grey
Thus much alone we know-Metella died,