The Catacombs of Rome

The Catacombs of Rome.


Vix fama nota est, abditis Quam plena sanctis Roma sit; Quam dives urbauum solum gacrls Sepulchris tloreat.


Mille vittoriose e cliARE palme.



THE results of the investigations in the catacombs during the last three or four years have well rewarded the zeal of their explorers. Since the great work of the French government was published, in 1851-55, very curious and important discoveries have been made, and many new minor facts brought to light. The interest in the investigations has become more general, and no visit to Rome is now complete without a visit to one at least of the catacombs. Strangely enough, however, the Romans themselves, for the most part, feel less concern in these new revelations of their underground city than the strangers who come from year to year to make their pilgrimages to Rome. It is an old complaint, that the Romans care little for their city. “ Who are there to-day,” says Petrarch, in one of his letters, “more ignorant of Roman things than the Roman citizens ? And nowhere is Rome less known than in Rome itself.” It is, however, to the Cavaliere de Rossi, himself a Roman, that the most important of these discoveries are due,—-the result of his marvellous learning and sagacity, and of his hard-working and unwearied energy. The discovery of the ancient entrance to the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, and of the chapel within, where St. Cecilia was originally buried, is a piece of the very romance of Archaeology. The whole history of St. Cecilia, the glorious Virgin Martyr and the Saint of Music, as connected with the catacombs, is, indeed, one of the most curious to be found in the annals of the Church. Legend and fact are strangely mingled in it, and over it hangs a perplexing mist of doubt, but not so dense as wholly to conceal all certainty. It is a story of suffering, of piety, of enthusiasm, of superstition, and of science;—it connects itself in many points with the progress of corruption in the Church, and it has been a favorite subject for Art in all ages. The story is at last finished. Begun sixteen hundred years ago, it has just reached its last chapter, in order to understand it, we must go back almost to its introduction.

According to the legend of the Roman Church, as preserved in the “ Acts of St. Cecilia,” this young and beautiful saint was martyred in the year of our Lord 230.1 She had devoted herself to perpetual virginity, but her parents had insisted upon marrying her to a youthful and noble Roman, named Valerian. On the night of her marriage, she succeeded in so far prevailing upon her husband as to induce him to visit the pope, Urban, who was lying concealed from his persecutors in the catacombs which were called after and still bear the name of his predecessor, Callixtus,2 on the Appian Way, about two miles from the present walls of the city. The young man was converted to the Christian faith. The next day witnessed the conversion, of his brother, Tiburtius. Their lives soon gave evidence of the change in their religion ; they were brought before the prefect, and, refusing to sacrifice to the heathen gods, were condemned to death. Maximus, an officer of the prefect, was converted by the young men on the way to execution. They suffered death with constancy, and Maximus soon underwent the same fate. Nor was Cecilia long spared. The prefect ordered that she should be put to death in her own house, by being stilled in the caldarium, or hot-air chamber of her baths. The order was obeyed, and Cecilia entered the place of death; but a heavenly air and cooling dews filled the chamber, and the fire built up around it produced no effect. For a whole day and night the flames were kept up, but the Saint was unharmed. Then Almachius sent an order that she should be beheaded. The executioner struck her neck three times with his sword, and left her bleeding, but not dead, upon the pavement of the bathroom. For three days she lived, attended by faithful friends, whose hearts were cheered by her courageous constancy; “ for she did not cease to comfort those whom she had nurtured in the faith of the Lord, and divided among them everything which she had.” To Pope Urban, who visited her as she lay dying, she left in charge the poor whom she had cared for, and her house, that it might be consecrated as a church. With this her life ended.3 Her wasted body was reverently lifted, its position undisturbed, and laid in the attitude and clothing of life within a coffin of cypress-wood. The linen cloths with which the blood of the Martyr had been soaked up were placed at her feet, with that care that no precious drop should be lost,—a care, of which many evidences are afforded in the catacombs. In the night, the cotfin was carried out of the city secretly to the Cemetery of Callixtus, and there deposited by Urban in a grave near to a chamber destined for the graves of the popes themselves. Here the “ Acts of St. Cecilia” close, and, leaving her pure body to repose for centuries in its tomb hollowed out of the rock, we trace the history of the catacombs during those centuries in other sources and by other ways.

The consequences of the conversion of Constantine exhibited themselves not more in the internal character and spirit of the Church than in its outward forms and arrangements. The period of worldly prosperity succeeded speedily to a period of severest suffering, and many who had been exposed to the persecution of Diocletian now rejoiced in the imperial favor shown to their religion. Such contrasts in life are not favorable to the growth of the finer spiritual qualities; and the sunshine of state and court is not that which is needed for quickening faith or developing simplicity and purity of heart. Churches above ground could now be frequented without risk, and were the means by which the wealth and the piety of Christians were to be displayed. The newly imperialized religion must have its imperial temples, and the little dark chapels of the catacombs were exchanged for the vast and ornamental spaces of the new basilicas. It was no longer needful that the dead should be laid in the secret paths of the rock, and the luxury of magnificent Christian tombs began to rival that of the sepulchres of the earlier Romans. The body of St, Peter, which had long, according to popular tradition, rested in the catacombs of the Vatican, was now transferred to the great basilica which Constantine, despoiling for the purpose the tomb of Hadrian of its marbles, erected over the entrance to the underground cemetery. So, too, the Basilica of St. Paul, on the way to Ostia, was built over his old grave; and the Catacombs of St. Agnes were marked by a beautiful church in honor of the Saint, built in part beneath the soil, that its pavement might be on a level with the upper story of the catacombs and the faithful might enter them from the church.

The older catacombs, whose narrow graves had been filled during the last quarter of the third century with the bodies of many new martyrs, were now less used for the purposes of burial, and more for those of worship. New chapels were hollowed out in their walls ; new paintings adorned the brown rock; the bodies of martyrs were often removed from their original graves to new and more elaborate tombs; the entrances to the cemeteries were no longer concealed, but new and ampler ones were made; new stairways, lined with marble, led down to the streets beneath; him in aria, or passages for light and air, were opened from the surface of the ground to the most frequented places; and at almost every entrance a church or an oratory of more or less size was built, for the shelter of those who might assemble to go down into the catacombs, and for the performance of the sacred services upon ground hallowed by so many sacred memories. The worship of the saints began to take form, at first, in simple, natural, and pious ways, in the fourth century; and as it grew stronger and stronger with the continually increasing predominance of the material element in the Roman Church, so the catacombs, the burial-places of the saints, were more and more visited by those who desired the protection or the intercession of their occupants. St. Jerome, who was born about this time in Rome, [A. D. 331,] has a curious passage concerning his own experiences in the catacombs. He says: “ When I was a boy at Home, being instructed in liberal studies, I was accustomed, with others of the same age and disposition, to go on Sundays to the tombs of the apostles and martyrs, and often to go into the crypts, which, being dug out in the depths of the earth, have for walls, on either side of those who enter, the bodies of the buried; and they are so dark, that the saying of the prophet seems almost fulfilled, The licing descend into hell.” But as the chapels and sacred tombs in the catacombs became thus more and more resorted to as places for worship, the number of burials within them was continually growing less,:—and the change in the spirit of the religion was marked by the change of character in the paintings and inscriptions on their walls. By the middle of the fifth century the extension of the catacombs had ceased, and nearly about the same time the assemblies in them fell off. The desolation of the Campagna had already begun; Home had sunk rapidly; and the churches and burial-places within the walls afforded all the space that was needed for the assemblies of the living or the dead.

When the Goths descended upon Italy, ravaging the country as they passed over it, and sat dawn before Home, not content with stripping the land, they forced their way into the catacombs, searching for treasure, and seeking also, it seems likely, for the bodies of the martyrs, whom their imperfect creed did not prevent them from honoring. After they retired, in the short breathing-space that was given to the unhappy city, various popes undertook to do something to restore the catacombs,4—and one of them, John III., [A. I>. 560-574,] ordered that service should be performed at certain underground shrines, and that candles and all else needful for this purpose should he furnished from the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Just at the close of the sixth century, Gregory the Great [590004] again appointed stations in the catacombs at which service should he held on special days in the course of the year, and a curious illustration of the veneration in which the relics of the saints were then held is afforded by a gift which he sent to Theodelinda, queen of the Lombards. At this time the Lombards were laying all Italy waste. Their Arian zeal ranged them in religious hate against the Roman Church,—but Theodelinda was an orthodox believer, and through her Gregory hoped to secure the conversion of her husband and his subjects. It was to her that he addressed his famous Dialogues, filled with the most marvellous stories of holy men and the strangest notions of religion. Wishing to satisfy her pious desires, and to make her a very precious gift, he sent to her many phials of oil taken from the lamps that were kept burning at the shrines of the martyrs in the catacombs. It was the custom of those who visited these shrines to dip handkerchiefs, or other bits of cloth, in the reservoirs of oil, to which a sacred virtue was supposed to be imparted by the neighborhood of the saints ; and even now may often be seen the places where the lamps were kept lighted.5

But although the memory of those who had been buried within them was thus preserved, the catacombs themselves and the churches at their entrances were falling more and more into decay. Shortly after Gregory's death, Pope Boniface IV. illustrated his otherwise obscure pontificate by seeking from the mean and dissolute Emperor Phocas the gift of the Pantheon for the purpose of consecrating it for a Christian church. The glorious temple of all the gods was now dedicated [A. D. G08, Sept. 15] to those who had displaced them, the Virgin and all the Martyrs. Its new name was S. Maria ad Martyres,—and in order to sanctify its precincts, the Pope brought into the city and placed under the altars of his new church twenty-eight wagonloads of bones, collected from the different catacombs, and said to be those of martyrs. This is the first notice that has been preserved of the practice that became very general in later times of transferring bodies and bones from their graves in the roek to new ones under the city churches.

Little more is known of the history of the catacombs during the next two centuries, but that for them it was a period of desolation and desertion. The Lombard hordes often ravaged and devastated the Campagna up to the very gates of the city, and descended into the underground passages of the cemeteries in search of treasure, of relics, and of shelter. Paul III., about the middle of the eighth century, took many bones and much ashes from graves yet unrifled, and distributed them to the churches. He has left a record of the motives that led him to disturb dust that had rested so long in quiet. “ In the lapse of centuries,” he says, “ many cemeteries of the holy martyrs and confessors of Christ have been neglected and fallen to decay. The impious Lombards utterly ruined them, — and now among the faithful themselves the old piety has been replaced by negligence, which has gone so far that even animals have been allowed to enter them, and cattle have been stalled within them.” Still, although thus desecrated, the graves of the martyrs continued to be an object of interest to the pilgrims, who, even in these dangerous times, from year to year came to visit the holy places of Rome; and itineraries, describing the localities of the catacombs and of the noted tombs within them, prepared for the guidance of such pilgrims, not later than the beginning of the ninth century, have been preserved to ns, and have afforded essential and most important assistance in the recent investigations.6

About the same time, Pope Paschal I. [A. T>. 817—824] greatly interested himself in searching in the catacombs for such bodies of the saints as might yet remain in them, and in transferring these relies to churches and monasteries within the city. A contemporary inscription, still preserved in the crypt of the ancient church of St. Prassede, (a ehurcli which all lovers of Roman legend and art take delight in,) tells of the. two thousand three hundred martyrs whose remains Pasehal had placed beneath its altars. Nor was this the only church so richly endowed. One day, in the year 821, Paschal was praying in the church that stood on the site of the house in which St. Cecilia had suffered martyrdom, and which was dedicated to her honor. It was now one of the oldest churches in Rome. Two centuries before, Gregory the Great, St. Gregory, had restored it, —for it even then stood in need of repairs, and now it was in greater need than ever. Pasehal determined, while praying, that he would rebuild it from its foundations; but with this determination came the desire to find the body of the Saint, that her new church might not want its most precious possession. It was reported that the Lombards had sought for it and carried it away, and the knowledge of the exact place of the grave, even, was lost. But Pasehal entered vigorously on the search. He knew that she had been buried in the Cemetery of St. Callixtus, and tradition declared that her sepulchre had been made near the Chamber of the Popes. There he sought, but his seeking was vain.

* Four of these itineraries are known. One of them is preserved in William of Malmesbury’s Chronicle. The differences and the correspondences between them have been of almost equal assistance in modern days in the determination of doubtful names and localities.

On a certain day, however,—and here he begins his own story,—in the Church of St. Peter, as he sat listening to the harmony of the morning service, drowsiness overcame him, and he fell asleep.* As he was sleeping, a very beautiful maiden of virginal aspect, and in a rich dress, stood before him, and, looking at him, said, — “ We return thee many thanks; but why without cause, trusting to false reports, hast thou given up the search for me ? Thou hast been so near me that we might have spoken together.”

The Pope, as if hurt by her rebuke, and doubtful of his vision, then asked the name of her who thus addressed him.

“ If thou scekest my name,” she said, “ I am called Cecilia, the handmaiden of Christ.”

“ How can I believe this,” replied the sleeping Pope, “since it was long ago reported that the body of this most holy martyr was carried away by the Lombards ? ”

The: Saint then told him that till this time her body had remained concealed; but that now he must continue his search, for it pleased God to reveal it to him; and near her body he would also find other bodies of saints to be placed with hers in her new-liuilt church. And saying this, she departed.

Hereupon a new search was begun, and shortly after, “by the favor of God, we found her in golden garments, and the cloths with which her sacred blood had been wiped from her wounds we found rolled up and full of blood at the feet of the blessed virgin.”

At the same time, the bodies of Valerian, Tiburtius, and Maximus were found in a neighboring cemetery, and, together with the relies of Pope Urban,—as well as the body of St. Cecilia,—were placed under the high altar of her church.7 The cypress collin in which she had been revcrently laid at the time of her death was preserved and set within a marble sarcophagus. No expense was spared by the devout Paschal to adorn the church that had been so signally favored. All the Art of the time (and at that time the arts flourished only in the service of the Church) was called upon to assist in making the new basilica magnificent. The mosaics which were set up to adorn the apse and the arch of triumph were among the best works of the century, and, with colors still brilliant and design still unimpaired, they hold their place at the present day, and carry back the thought and the imagination of the beholder a thousand years into the very heart of this old story. Under the great mosaic of the apse one may still read the inscription, in the rude Latin of the century, which tells of Paschal's zeal and Rome’s joy, closing with the line,

“ Roma resultat ovans semper ornata per

And thus once more the body of the virgin was left to repose in peace, once more the devout could offer their prayers to the Saint at the altar consecrated by her presence, and once more the superstitious could increase the number of the miracles wrought by her favor. Through the long period of the fall and depression of Rome, her church continued to be a favorite one with the people of the city, and with the pilgrims to it. From time to time it was repaired and adorned, and in the thirteenth century the walls of its portico were covered with a series of frescoes, representing the events of St. Cecilia’s life, and the finding of her body by Paschal. These frescoes — precious as specimens of reawakening Art, and especially precious at Rome, because of the little that was done there at that period —were all, save one, long since destroyed in some “restoration” of the church. The one that was preserved is now within the church, and represents in its two divisions the burial of the Saint by Pope Urban, and her appearance in St. Peter’s Church to the sleeping Paschal, whose figure is rendered with amusing naivete and literalness.

Meanwhile, after the translation of St. Cecilia’s body, the catacombs remained much in the same neglected state as before, falling more and more into ruin, but still visited from year to year by the pilgrims, whom even pillage and danger could not keep from Rome. For two centuries,—from the thirteenth to the fifteenth,—scarcely any mention of them is to be found. Petrarch, in his many letters about Rome, dwells often on the sacredncss of the soil within the city, in whose crypts and churches so many saints and martyrs lie buried, hut hardly refers to the catacombs themselves, and never in such a way as to show that they were an object of interest to him, though a lover of all Roman relics and a faithful worshipper of the saints. It was near the end of the sixteenth century that a happy accident—the falling in of the road outside the Porta Salara—brought to light the streets of the Cemetery of St. Priscilla, and awakened in Antonio Bosio a zeal for the exploration of the catacombs which led him to devote the remainder of his long life to the pursuit, and by study, investigation, and observation, to lay the solid basis of the thorough and comprehensive acquaintance with subterranean Rome which has been extended by the researches of a long line of able scholars down to the present day. But to Bosio the chief honor is due, as the earliest, the most exact, and the most indefatigable of the explorers.

It was during his lifetime that the story of St. Cecilia, received a continuation, of which he himself has left us a full account. In the year 1599, Paolo Emilio Sfondrati, Cardinal of the Title of St. Cecilia,8 undertook a thorough restoration of the old basilica erected by Paschal. He possessed a large collection of relies, and determined that he would place the most precious of them under the high altar. For this purpose the vault containing the sarcophagi in which St. Cecilia and her companions lay must be opened, and on the 20th of October the work was undertaken. Upon breaking through the wall, two sarcophagi of white marble were discovered. The Cardinal was on the spot, and, in the presence of numerous dignitaries of the Church, whom he had sent for as witnesses, he caused the heavy top of the first of these stone coffins to be lifted. Within was seen the chest of cypresswood in which, according to the old story, the Saint had been originally placed. Sfondrati with his own hands removed the lid, and within the chest was found the body of the virgin, with a silken veil spread over her rich dress, on which could still be seen the stains of blood, while at her feet yet lay the bloody cloths which had been placed there more than thirteen centuries before. She was lying upon her right side, her feet a little drawn up, her arms extended and resting one upon the other, her neck turned so that her head rested upon the left check. Her form perfectly preserved, and her attitude of the sweetest virginal grace and modesty, it seemed as if she lay there asleep rather than dead.9 —The second sarcophagus was found to contain three bodies, which were recognized as being, according to tradition, those of Tiburtius, Valerian, and Maximus.

The day advanced as these discoveries were made, and Sfondrati having had a chest of wood hastily lined with silk, and brought to a room in the adjoining convent. which opened into the church, (it is the room at the left, now used for the first reception of novices,) carried the cypress chest with its precious contents to this apartment, and placed it within the new box, which he locked and sealed. Then, taking the key with him, he hastened to go out to Frascati, where Pope Clement VIII. was then staying, to avoid the early autumn airs of Rome. The Pope was in bed with the gout, and gave audience to no one; but when he heard of the great news that Sfondrati had brought, he desired at once to see him, and to hear from him the account of the discovery. “ The Pope groaned and grieved that he was not well enough to hasten at once to visit and salute so great a martyr.” But it happened that the famous annalist, Cardinal Baronius, was then with the Pope at Frascati, and Clement ordered him to go to Rome forthwith, in his stead, to behold and venerate the body of the Saint. Sfondrati immediately took Baronius in his carriage back to the city, and in the evening they reached the Church of Sr. Cecilia.10 Baronius, in the account which he has left of these transactions, expresses in simple words his astonishment and delight at seeing the preservation of the cypress chest, and of the body of the Saint "When we at length beheld the sacred body, it was then, that, according to the words of David, ‘ as we had heard, so we saw, in the city of the Lord of Hosts, in the city of our God.’11 For as we had read that the venerated body of Cecilia had been found and laid away by Paschal the Pope, so we found it.” He describes at length the posture of the virgin, who lay like one sleeping, in such modest and noble attitude, that "whoever beheld her was struck with unspeakable reverence, as if the heavenly Spouse stood by as a guard watching his sleeping Bride, warning and threatening: ' Awake not my love till she please.’ ”12 The next morning, Baronins performed Mass in the church in memory and honor of St. Cecilia, and the other saints buried near her, and then returned to Frascati to report to the Pope what be bad seen. It was resolved to push forward the works on the church with vigor, and to replace the body of the Saint under its altar on her least-day, the twenty-second of November, with the most solemn pontifical ceremony.

Meanwhile the report of the wonderful discovery spread through Home, and caused general excitement and emotion. The Trasteverini, with whom Cecilia had always been a favorite saint, were filled with joy, with piety, and superstition. Crowds continually pressed to the church, and so great was the ardor of worshippers, that the Swiss guards of the court were needed to preserve order. Lamps were kept constantly burning around the coffin, which was set near a grating in the wall between the church and convent, so as to be visible to the devout. “ There was no need of burning perfumes and incense near the sacred body, for a sweetest odor breathed out from it, like that of roses and lilies.”

Sfondrati, desirous to preserve for future generations a memorial likeness of the Saint, ordered the sculptor Stefano Maderno to make a statue which should represent the body of Cecilia as it was found lying in the cypress chest. Maderno was then a youth of twenty-three years. Sculpture at this time in Rome had fallen into a miserable condition of degraded conventionalism and extravagance. But Maderno was touched with the contagion of the religious enthusiasm of the moment, and his work is full of simple dignity, noble grace, and tender beauty. No other work of the time is to be compared with it. It is a memorial not only of the loveliness of the Saint, but of the self-forgetful religions fervor of the artist, at a period when every divine impulse seemed to be absent from the common productions of Art. Rome has no other statue of such sacred charm, none more inspired with Christian feeling. It lies in front of the high altar, disfigured by a silver crown and a costly necklace,—the offerings of vulgar and pretentious adoration; but even thus it is at once a proof and prophecy of what Art is to accomplish under the influence of the Christian spirit. The inscription that Sfondrati placed before the statue still exists. It is as follows: "Behold the image of the most holy virgin Cecilia; whom I, Raul, Cardinal of the Title of St. Cecilia, saw lying perfect in her sepulchre; which I have caused to be made in this marble, in the very position of the body, for you.”

The twenty-second of November arrived. The Pope had recovered from his gout. The church was splendidly decorated. A solemn procession, illustrated by the presence of all the great dignitaries of the Church, of the ambassadors of foreign states, and the nobles of Rome, advanced up the nave. Clement intoned the Mass, Then proceeding to the cypress chest, it was lifted by four cardinals, and carried to the vault under the altar, while the choir chanted the anthem, 0 beat a Ccecilia, qua Almachi um superasti, Tiburtium et alerianum ad marlyrii coronam vocasti! The old coffin, undisturbed, was placed in a silver case; the last service was performed, and the body of the virgin was once more laid away to rest.

We pass now over two centuries and a half. About five years ago the Cavaliere de Rossi found lying upon the ground, in a vigna bordering on the Appian Way, about two miles from Rome, a portion of a sepulchral Stone on which were the letters NELIUS MARTYR, the NE broken across. He immediately conjectured that this was a piece of the stone that had covered the grave of Pope Cornelius, [A. I>. 250-252,] and on the truth of this conjecture important results depended. It was known that this pope had been buried in the Catacombs of St, Callixtus; and it was known also, from the itineraries and some other sources, that his grave was not in the same chamber with the graves of the other popes who were buried in those catacombs, but that it was not far away from it. It was further known, as we have seen, that the chapel in which Sr. Cecilia had been buried was close to the Chamber of the Popes. Rut a tradition dating from a late period of the Middle Ages had given the name of Callixtus to the catacombs opening from the Church of St. Sebastian, at a little greater distance from Rome. In these catacombs the place supposed to be that of St. Cecilia’s grave was pointed out, and an inscription set up to mark * the spot, by a French archbishop, in the year 1409, still exists. Many indications, however, led De Rossi to disbelieve this tradition and to distrust this authority. It contradicted the brief indications of the itineraries, and could not be reconciled with other established facts. Not far from the place where the broken inscription was found was an accidental entrance into catacombs which had been supposed to have been originally connected with those of St. Sebastian, but were believed by De Rossi to be a portion of the veritable Catacombs of St. Callixtus, and quite separate from the former. The paths in this part, however, were stopped up in so many directions, that it was impossible to get an entrance through them to such parts as might determine the question. Again, in the neighborhood of the discovery of the broken stone was an old building, used as a stable, and for other mean purposes. On examination of it, De Rossi satisfied himself that it had been originally one ot the churches erected in the fourth century at the entrance of the catacombs, and he had little doubt that he had now found the place of the main descent into the Catacombs of St. Calllxtns. The discovery was a great one; for near the main entrance had been the burial-place of the popes, and of St. Cecilia. De Rossi laid the results of his inductive process of archaeological reasoning before the pope, who immediately gave orders for the purchase of the vigna, and directions that excavations should be at once begun.13

The work was scarcely begun, before an ancient stairway, long ago buried under accumulated earth and rubbish, was discovered, leading down to the second story of the catacombs. The passages into which it opened were filled with earth, but, as this was cleared away, a series of chambers of unusual size, reaching almost to the surface of the soil, was entered upon. At the right a wide door led into a large chapel. The wallsand by the side of this figure was another painting of a bishop in his robes, with the letters “ fees Ciprianus.” were covered with rudely scratched names and inscriptions, some in Greek and some in Latin. De Rossi, whose eyes were practised in the work, undertook to decipher these often obscure scribblings. They were for the most part the inscriptions of the pilgrims who had visited these places-, and their great number gave proof that this was a most important portion of the cemetery. The majority of these were simply names, or names accompanied with short expressions of piety. Many, for instance, were in such form as this,—"EAaov is EETE — “ Keep Elaphis in remembrance.” Many were expressions of devotion, written by the pilgrims for the sake of those who were dear to them, as,— Vival in Domino, “ May he live in the Lord ” ; Pet[_ite] ut Verecundus cum suis bene naviget, “ Seek that Verecundus with his companions may voyage prosperously.” The character of the writing, the names and the style, indicate that these inscriptions belong mostly to the third and fourth centuries. Among these writings on the wall were one or two which confirmed De Rossi in the opinion that this must he the sepulchre in which the greater number of the popes of the third century had been buried. Carefully preserving all the mass of rubbish which was taken from the chamber, he set himself to its examination, picking out from it all the hits and fragments of marble, upon many of which letters or portions of letters were cut. Most of them were of that elaborate character which is well known to all readers of the inscriptions from the catacombs as that of Pope Darnasus, — for this Pope [A. D. 366-385] had devoted himself to putting up new inscriptions over celebrated graves, and had used a peculiar and sharply cut letter, easy to be distinguished. It was known that he had put new inscriptions over the tombs of the popes buried in the Cemetery of St. Callixtus. After most patient examination, l)e Rossi succeeded in finding and putting together the inscriptions of four of these early popes, and, with Cuvier-like sagacity, he rceonstructed, out of a hundred and twelve separate, minute, and scattered pieces, the metrical inscription in which Dainasus expressed his desire to be buried with them, but his fear of vexing their sacred ashes.14

There could no longer be any doubt; this was the Chapel of the Popes, and that of St. Cecilia must be near by. Proceeding with the excavations, a door leading into a neighboring crypt was opened. The crypt was filled with earth and debris, which appeared to have fallen into it through a luminare, now choked up with the growth and accumulated rubbish of centuries. In order to remove the mass of earth with least risk of injury to the walls of the chamber, it was determined to take it out through the luminare from above. As the work advanced, there were discovered on the wall of the luminare itself paintings of the figures of three men, with a name inscribed at the side of each,—Policamus, Sebastianus, and Cyrinus. These names inspired fresh zeal, for they were those of saints who were mentioned in one or more of the itineraries as having been buried in the same chapel with St. Cecilia. As the chapel was cleared, a large areosolium was found, and near it a painting of a youthful woman, richly attired, adorned with necklaces and bracelets, and the dress altogether such as might befit a bride. Below, on the same wall, was a figure of a pope in his robes, with the name “ Scs Urbanus” painted at the side; and close to this figure, a large head of the Saviour, of the Byzantine type, with a glory in the form of a Greek cross. The character of the paintings showed that they were of comparatively late date, probably not earlier than the sixth century, and obviously executed at a time when the chapel was frequented by worshippers, and before the traditional knowledge of the exact site of 8L Cecilia’s sepulchre had been lost.

The discovery made by Paschal after the place had been deserted was thus repeated by De Rossi after a second, longer, and more obscure period of oblivion, The divine vision which had led the ancient Pope, according to his own account, to the right spot, was now replaced by scientific investigation. The statements of inspiration were confirmed, as in so many more conspicuous instances, by the discoveries of science. Cecilia had lain so near the popes, that she might, as she had said to Paschal, have spoken to him when he was in their chapel, os ad os, “ mouth to mouth.” But the questions naturally arose, Why was it that in Paschal’s time, before this chapel was encumbered with earth, it had been so difficult to find her grave? and, Why had not the Lombards, who bad sought for her sacred body, succeeded in finding it? De Rossi was able to furnish the solution. In several instances he had found walls carefully built up in front of tombs so as to conceal them. It was plain that this must have been done with some definite purpose; and it seems altogether likely that it was to hide these tombs from sacrilegious invaders. The walls had been built when the faithful were forced by the presence of their enemies to desert the catacombs and leave them unprotected. It was a striking illustration of the veneration in which these holy places had been held. Upon examination of the floor in front of the arcosolium of this chapel, traces of the foundation of a wall were discovered, and thus the Lombard failure and Paschal’s difficulty were explained.

So ends the story of St. Cecilia and her tomb. Within her church are the remains of the bath-chamber where she suffered death. The mosaics of the apse and the arch of triumph tell of the first finding of her body; Maderno’s statue recalls the fact of its second discovery long after ; and now this newly opened, long forgotten chapel shows where her precious body was first laid away in peace, brings the legend of her faithful death into clearer remembrance, and concludes the ancient story with dramatic and perfect completeness.

“ The Lord diseovereth deep things out of darkness, and bringeth out to light the shadow of death.”

[ To be continued. ]

  1. The Arts of St. Cecilia sire generally regarded by the best Roman Catholic authorities as apochryphal. They bear internal evidence of their want of correctness, and, in the condition in which they have come down to us, the date of their compilation cannot be set before the beginning of the fifth century. At the very outset two facts stand in open opposition to their statements. The martyrdom of St. Cecilia is placed in the reign of Alexander Severus, whose mildness of disposition and whose liberality towards the Christians are well authenticated. Again, the prefect who condemns her to death, I urchins Almachius, bears a name unknown to the profane historians of Rome. Many statements of not less difficulty to reconcile with fact occur in t he course of the At Is. But, although their authority in particulars be thus destroyed, we see no reason for questioning the reality of the chief events upon which they are founded. The date of the martyrdom of St. Cecilia may be wrong, the reports of her conversations may be as fictitious as the speeches ascribed by grave historians to their heroes, the stories of her miracles may have only that small basis of reality which is to he found in the effects of superstition and excited imagination,—but the essential truth of the martyrdom of a young, beautiful, and rich Roman girl, of her suffering and her serene faith, and of the veneration and honor in which her memory was held by those who had known her, may be accepted without reserve. At least, it is certain, that as early as the beginning of the fourth century the name of St. Cecilia was reverenced in Rome, and that from that time she has been one of the chief saints of the Roman calendar.
  2. The Catacombs of St. Callixtus are among the most important of the underground cemeteries. They were begun before the time of Callixtus, but were greatly enlarged under his pontificate [A. D.219-223 ]. Saint though he be, the character of Callixtus, if we may judge by the testimony of another saint, Hippolytus, stood greatly in need of purification. His story is an amusing illustration of the state of the Roman episcopacy in those times. He had been a slave of a rich Christian, Carpophorus. His master set him up as a money-dealer in the Piscina Publica, a much frequented quarter of the city. The Christian brethren (and widows also are mentioned by Hippolytus) placed their moneys in his hands for safe-keeping, his credit as the slave of Carpophorus being good. He appropriated these deposits, ran away to sea, was pursued, threw himself into the water, was rescued, brought back to Rome, and condemned to hard labor. Carpophorus hailed him out of the workhouse,— but he was a bad fellow, got into a riot in a Jewish synagogue, and was sent to work in the Sardinian mines. By cheating he got a ticket of leave and returned to Rome. After some years, he was placed in charge of the cemetery by the bishop or pope, Zephvrinus, and at his death, some time later, by skilful intrigues he succeeded in obtaining the bishopric itself. The cemetery is now called that of Saint Callixtus, — and in the saint the swindler is forgotten.
  3. The passage in the Acts of St. Cecilia which led to her being esteemed the patroness of music is perhaps the following, which occurs in the description of the wedding ceremonies: “ Cantantibus orgarns, Cæcilia in corde suo soli Domino decantabnt, dicetis: ' Fiat cor meum et corpus meum immuculutum, ut non confundur.’ ”
  4. An inscription set up by Vigilius, pope from A. D. 538 to 555, and preserved by Gruter, contains the following lines:—
  5. “ Dum peritura Gete posuissent eastra sub urbe, Moverunt sanctis bella nefandu prius, Istaque sacrilego verterunt corde sepulchra Martyribus quondam rite saerata piis.
  6. Dirntft Vigilius nam mox lure Papa gemiscens, Hostibus expulsis, omne novavit opus.”
  7. The phials sent by Gregory to Queen Theodelinda were accompanied by a list of the shrines from which they were taken; among them was that of St. Cecilia. The document closes with the words, “ (Quae olea sca temporibus Domini Gregorii Papas addux it Johannes indignus et peccator Dominie Theodelindae reginae de Roma.” The oils are still preserved in the treasury of the cathedral at Monza,—and the list accompanying them has afforded some important facts to the students of the early martyrology of Rome. A similar belief in the efficacy of oils burned in lamps before noted images, or at noted shrines, still prevails in the Papal City. In a little, pamphlet lying before us, entitled Historic Notices of Maria, SSma del Porto, venerated in St. Augnetine's Church in Rome, published in 1853, is the following passage: “ Many wlm visited Mary dipped their fingers in the lamps to cross themselves with the holy oil, by the droppings from which the base of the statue was so dirtied, that hanging-lamps were substituted in the place of those that stood around. But that the people might not be deprived of the trust which they reposed in the holy oil, bits of cotton dipped in it were wrapped up in paper, and there was a constant demand for them among the devout.” This passage refers to late years, and the custom still exists. Superstition flourishes at Rome now not less than it did thirteen hundred years ago: and superstitious practices have a wonderful vitality in the close air of Romanism.
  8. * “ Quadam die, dum ante Confessionem Beati Petri Apostoli psallentimn matutiuali lucescerite Dominica residentes observaremus harmoniam, sopore in aliquo corporis fragilitatem aggravaute.”—Paseludis Papie Diploma, as quoted in L'Histoire de Sainte Cecile, par 1'Abbe Gueranger. The simplicity of the old Pope’s story is wofully hurt by the grandiloquence of the French Abbb: "Le Pontife ecoutait aveo delices Pharmonie des Caritiques que 1’Eglise fait monter vers le Seigneur au lever du jour. Un assoupissemeut produit par la fatigue des veilles saintes vient le saisir sur le siege meme ou il presidait dans la majeste apostolique,” etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam.
  9. It is a remarkable fact, to be explained by the believers in the virtue of relics, that, notwithstanding the body of St. Cecilia was deposited perfect in her grave, and, as we shall see, was long after found complete, no less than five heads of St. Cecilia are declared to exist, or to have existed,—for one has been lost,—iii different churches. One is in the church of the SS. Quattro Coronati, at Home, which possessed it from a very early period; a second is at Paris, a third at Beauvais, a fourth was at Tours, and we have seen the reliquary in which a filth is preserved in the old cathedral of Torcello.
  10. The Titoli of Rome correspond nearly to Parishes. They date from ail early period in the history of the Church.
  11. “ Dormientis instar,” says Bosio, in his Relatio JIncentionis et Repositionis S. Ccecilice et Sociorum. The discovery of the body of the Saint in tins perfect state of preservation has, of course, been attributed by many Romanist authors to miraculous interposition. But it is to be accounted for by natural causes. The soil of the catacombs and of Home is in many parts remarkable for its antiseptic qualities. The Cavaliere de Rossi informed us that he had been present at the opening of an ancient tomb on the Appian Way, in which the body of a young man had been found in a state of entire preservation, fresh almost as on the day of its burial, and With it was a piece of sponge which had apparently been soaked in blood, —for his death had been by violence. In the winter of 1857, two marble sarcophagi were found in one of the passages of the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, in which excavations were then going on, and upon being opened, a body was found in each, in a state, not of entire, but of almost perfect preservation. The skin had become somewhat shrunk, and the flesh was hardened and darkened, but the general form and features were preserved. Possibly these also may have been the bodies of saints. The sarcophagi were kept through the winter in the catacombs where they were found, and their marble lids being removed, covers of glass were fitted to them, so that the bodies might be seen by the visitors to the catacombs. It was a frequent custom, chiefly in the fourth and fifth centuries, to bury the rich in sarcophagi placed within tombs in the catacombs.
  12. This account is to be found in the Annals of Baronius, ad annum 821.
  13. Psalm xlviii. 8.
  14. Song of Solomon, ii. 7.
  15. Another curious point was made by De Rossi previously to the commencement of the explorations. It illustrates the accuracy of his acquaintance with the underground archasology. In one of the itineraries it was said, speaking of the burial-place of Cornelius, that here also St. Cyprian was buried. Now, as is well known, Cyprian was buried in Africa, where he had suffered martyrdom. His martyrdom took place on the same day with that of Cornelius, though in another year; and their memories were consequently celebrated by the Church on the same day, the 16th of September. I)e Rossi declared, that, if he discovered the tomb of St. Cornelius, he should find near it something which would explain the error of the itinerary in stating that Cyprian’s grave also was here. And such proved to be the fact. On the wall, by the side of the grave, was found a painting of Cornelius, with his name, “ Scs Cornelius,”
  16. In another part of the catacombs the remainder of the stone that had been set over the grave of Cornelius was found. It fitted precisely the piece first found by Do Rossi. The letters upon it were CORN EP. The whole inscription then read, Cornelius Martyr, Ep[iscopus.]” It is rare that a bit of broken stone paves the way to such discoveries. But it must be a man of genius who walks over the pavement. Cardinal Wiseman has given an imperfect account of these discoveries in his diverting novel, Fabiola.