Christian archaeology is that branch of the science of archaeology the object of which is the study of ancient Christian monuments. The modern historian who endeavours to reconstruct the life of the primitive Christians has two sources of information to draw upon, namely: literary and monumental sources. By literary sources is commonly understood the existing remains of early Christian literature; monumental sources consist of the various classes of objects of a material character surviving from antiquity, which were produced by Christians or under Christian influence, sepulchral inscriptions, paintings, sculptures churches, and the products of the minor arts. The principal aim of Christian archaeology, as indicated, is to ascertain all that is possible relative to the manners and customs of the early Christians from the monuments of Christian antiquity. Any attempt to determine the date when the period loosely designated "Christian Antiquity" gave place to the medieval period must of necessity be more or less arbitrary. As a consequence of this difficulty, differences of opinion exist among archaeologists as to the chronological limits to be assigned to Christian archaeology. However, such authorities as De Rossi and Le Blant regard the beginning of the seventh century, or the death of Gregory the Great (604), as a date which marks sufficiently well the end of the ancient, and the beginning of the medieval period. In Gaul and Germany Christian monuments preserved much of their ancient character till a century later.
The honour of inaugurating the scientific study of Christian antiquity belongs to an Augustinian monk, Onofrio Panvinio, who in 1554 and 1568 published two important works on the basilicas of Rome (De praecipuis urbis Romae sanctioribus basilicis) and on the cemeteries and sepulchral rites of the early Christians ("De ritu sepeliendi mortuos apud veteres Christianos et de eorum coemeteriis"). Ten years after the publication of the latter work, some labourers accidentally discovered (31 May, 1578), on the Via Salaria an ancient subterranean cemetery containing inscriptions and frescos of an unmistakably Christian character. Among the first to visit the newly-discovered cemetery was the ecclesiastical historian Baronius, who, though he recognized the importance of the find, yet took no part in contemporary explorations. He had, however, already commenced his great historical work, "Annales Ecclesiastici", the composition of which absorbed his whole attention. For fifteen years after the discovery on the Via Salaria the only persons to attempt any explorations in the catacombs were a Spanish Dominican, Alfonso Ciacconio and two Flemish laymen, Philip de Winghe and Jean l'Heureux. Ciacconio accomplished nothing of importance. The investigations of the two Flemish explorers gave promise of better results, but their writings remained unpublished, and consequently had no influence on their contemporaries.
The first to begin the systematic exploration of the ancient Roman cemeteries or catacombs, was the "Father of Christian Archaeology", Antonio Bosio. Born in Malta in 1575, Bosio was placed at an early age under the care of an uncle who resided at Rome, as procurator of the Knights of Malta. At the age of eighteen he was attracted to the study of the early Christian sepulchral monuments of Rome, and from that date till his death, in 1629, a period of thirty-six years, he devoted his life to the exploration of the catacombs. Three years after his death (1632), the results of his investigations and studies were made known to the world in an Italian work entitled "Roma Sotterranea", edited by the Oratorian Severano, and published at the expense of the Order of Malta. The great merit of this work was at once recognized, and led to the publication by Aringhi, in 1651, of a Latin translation for the benefit of the savants of Europe. The scientific character of Bosio's explorations has recently been confirmed by an interesting discovery. De Rossi, in spite of his admiration for Bosio maintained that the cemetery of Sts. Mark and Marcellianus, in which Pope Damasus was interred, lay to the right of the Via Ardeatina and not to the left as Bosio believed. In 1902 both the crypts of Pope Damasus and of Sts. Mark and Marcellianus were discovered by Wilpert, and in the locality indicated by Bosio. Important as was the work of Bosio, it was, however, in one department defective. The copies of catacomb paintings made for his "Roma Sotterranea" have been very often found by Wilpert to be quite inaccurate. This fault must be attributed to Bosio's copyists.
For more than two centuries after the death of Bosio, little advance was made in the exploration of the Roman catacombs, the great treasure-house of the monuments of primitive Christianity. Protestant writers either altogether ignored the discoveries of Bosio or refuted them to their own satisfaction, without ever having seen the monuments. Even Bingham, whose work on Christian Antiquities was published nearly a century after the first edition of Bosio's work appeared, made no use of the results of his investigations. Yet Catholic authors scarcely showed more appreciation of the monuments than their Protestant contemporaries. Unlike De Rossi in our own age, Bosio founded no school of trained archaeologists to carry on the work he so happily inaugurated; the consequence of which was that all systematic exploration ceased at his death. Fabretti, in his collection of inscriptions published in 1699, devoted only one chapter (viii) to Christian inscriptions. Twenty-one years later, Boldetti, who held the office of custodian of the catacombs, published an apologetic work of little value on the "Cemeteries of the holy Martyrs and ancient Christians of Rome". A work of Buonarotti on cemeterial glasses (Florence, 1716) is of greater merit. But the eighteenth century will be longer remembered for the destruction of Christian monuments than for the labours of its archaeologists. Under the direction of Boldetti numerous inscriptions were removed from the places where they were originally erected, and scattered through various Roman churches, without any clear indication of the localities from which they were taken. These inscriptions were afterwards collected by Benedict XIV (1740-58) in the Christian Museum of the Vatican, of which he was founder. Many invaluable frescoes, also, were injured or destroyed during the eighteenth century. It would be natural to expect that the establishment of a department in connection with the Vatican Library for the collection of Christian inscriptions and other relics of the early Church would arouse the curiosity of Roman antiquarians. Such is not the fact, however. For several years after the death of Benedict XIV no one took any interest in the catacombs in view of later occurrences it was, perhaps, as well that this was the case. About 1780, Seroux d'Agincourt visited several of the ancient cemeteries, and copied for publication in his "Histoire de Part par les monuments" (Paris, 1823), a number of catacomb frescoes. But M. d'Agincourt was not always satisfied with copies. Following the example of other explorers in the same field, he was too often desirous of obtaining the original paintings, and their inaugurated a more systematic destruction of monuments than any of his predecessors.
With the first half of the nineteenth century began a new epoch in archaeological studies. The work of M. Raoul Rochette "Discours sur l'origine etc. des types qui constituent l'art du Christianisme" (Paris, 1834), and his "Tableau des Catacombes de Rome" (Paris, 1837) had the merit of arousing interest in the Christian monuments of Rome, although his conclusions were not at all convincing. In Italy, Sarti, Settele, Pasquini, De Minicis, Valentini, Manara, Cordero, and others produced works of minor importance on the subterranean-cemeterial monuments, the Christian sarcophagi, and the early basilicas of their country. The honour of inaugurating really important work, however, belongs to the Jesuit Father Marchi. Marchi was the first to demonstrate the essential difference between the arenaria, or sand-pits in the vicinity of Rome, and the galleries of the catacombs. In 1841 he published the first volume of what he intended to be an exhaustive work on early Christian art, for various reasons he was unable to complete the undertaking. But Marchi had associated with him, from the time he began to devote particular attention to the Christian monuments of Rome (1841), a young man, not yet twenty years of age, who was destined to take up the work of Bosio and elevate Christian archaeology to the dignity of a science. This was Giovanni Battista De Rossi (1822-94). The important work undertaken by De Rossi was and that results of the greatest interest and importance for the history of the early Church might be obtained by systematic investigations carried out on scientific principles. No one was better qualified than himself to execute his plans, a fact recognized by Pope Pius IX, who commissioned him to begin the work destined to be so fruitful in results.
The work of De Rossi which best reveals his immense learning and the scientific manner in which his investigations were carried out is his "Roma Sotterranea" (Rome, 1864-77, 3 vols., fol.). The time that has elapsed since the publication of the last volume of this truly magnum opus has confirmed in the main the theories of its author on the civil and religious conditions of the primitive Christians, and on the symbolic character of early Christian art. In 1863 he began the publication of his "Bullettino d'archeologia cristiana", a periodical almost as indispensable to the student of Christian archaeology as the "Roma Sotterranea". De Rossi left at his death a school of archaeologists, trained in his scientific methods, and capable of continuing his work. The three earliest of his disciples, Armellini, Stevenson, and Marucchi, have published numerous works giving the results of their own investigations, or popularizing the general results of Christian archaeological discoveries, besides continuing the publication of the Bullettino under the title "Nuovo Bullettino d'archeologia cristiana". A publicist who accomplished considerable work of permanent value in the domain of Christian archaeology was the Jesuit Garrucci. His most important publication was a "History of Christian Art" in six volumes, which contains five hundred tables of illustrations. Many of these, however, have been found inaccurate and must be used with caution. His text also has been in a great measure superseded by that of recent writers. The best results achieved since the death of De Rossi are attributable to a young German priest whose love for archaeological studies drew him to Rome nearly two decades ago: Mgr. Joseph Wilpert. Wilpert has devoted himself in a special manner to the study of early Christian painting , a department of archaeology to which De Rossi was unable to give the attention the subject deserved. In 1889 Wilpert published his "Principienfragen der christlichen Archaologie", a brochure defending the principles of interpretation of the Roman school of archeologists against the attacks of German non-Catholic authors. In 1892 appeared his study on "Die Gottgeweihten Jungfrauen", a valuable contribution on the origins of the religious life. In 1895 he published his "Fractio Panis," wherein he describes the cycle of sacred representations in the crypt of St. Priscilla, known as the "Capella Greca", and shows their relation to the principal scene depicted in that chapel, the eucharistic, or sacred-banquet, scene of the apse which he appropriately named "fractio panis" , the Breaking of Bread. The signification of Orantes ( praying ) figures so frequently depicted on early Christian tombs was first satisfactorily explained by this writer in his "Cyclus christologischer Gemalde" (1891). His greatest work is his "Malereign der Katakomben Roms" (Freiburg, 1903). It consists of two folio volumes, one of plates reproducing more than six hundred catacomb frescoes, half of them in colours; the other of text, in which the author, after laying down his principles of interpretation, classifies and describes the various cycles of the cemeterial paintings and interprets their symbolical meaning. Another German priest resident in Rome, Mgr. de Waal, the founder and editor of the "Romische Quartalschrift", has written extensively on archaeological subjects; one of his best known works is a description, with illustrations, of the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus (Rodney 1900).
The impetus given to the study of early Christian monuments by the discoveries and publications of De Rossi was immediately felt in every country of Europe. Two English priests, Northcote and Brownlow, were among the first to appreciate the importance of his work, which they popularized in their excellent "Roma Sotterranea" (London, 1869; second edition, 1878). Dr. Northcote also published a useful work on early Christian inscriptions under the title "Epitaphs of the Catacombs" (London, 1878). The former of these works was translated into French by Allard ; Kraus's "Roma Sotterranea" was partly a translation of Northcote and Brownlow, and partly an original work. Smith and Cheetham's "Dictionary of Christian Antiquities" (London 1875-80) is an evidence of the influence on English Protestants of the Roman explorations, and the recently published manual of Lowrie, "Monuments of the Early Church" (New York, 1901), bears witness to the intelligent interest of American Protestants in the most recent results of Christian archaeological studies. Among the first in France to be influenced by the archaeological revival of De Rossi was the Abbé Martigny, who in 1865 published his, for that time, remarkable "Dictionnaire des antiquités chrétiennes" (third edition. Paris, 1889). Perret's "Catacombes de Rome" (Paris, 1851-55) is a pretentious work of little value; his illustrations are inaccurate, and his text unreliable Deshassayns de Richemont's "Catacombes de Rome" appeared in 1870, and in the following year Allard's translation of Northcote and Brownlow. These works did good service as popular manuals, but original investigations of great importance were carried on by another French archaeologist, Edmond Le Blant. The first volume of Le Blant's "Inscriptions chrétiennes de la Gaule" appeared in 1856, the second in 1865, the third in 1892. These were followed by two volumes on the Christian sarcophagi of Arles and of France (Paris, 1878-86), and various studies on Christian epigraphy. At the present time (1906) a highly useful and excellent work in course of publication, is Cabrol and Leclercq's "Dictionnaire d'archéologie et de liturgie" (since 1903). The discoveries of Count de Vogüé in Central Syria ["La Syrie Centrale" (Paris, 1865)], and in the Holy Land ["Les eglises de la Terre Sainte" (Paris, 1860)] were of great importance for the history of early Christian architecture. The writings of Pere Delattre and of Stephen Gsell are indispensable for the study of the Christian monuments of North Africa. In Germany Professor Franz Xaver Kraus did more, probably, than any other writer to popularize the results of Christian archaeological studies. Besides his "Roma Sotterranea "Kraus edited the excellent "Real-Encyklopadie der christlichen Alterthumer" (Freiburg 1882-86, 2 vols.), and published (Freiburg, 1896-97), an (unfinished) history of Christian art in three volume), of which only the first concerns Christian archaeology. It is the most complete general work on this subject that has yet appeared. Kraus also published in two volumes (Freiburg, 1890-94), a collection of early Christian inscriptions from the Rhineland, besides a number of monographs of an archaeological character. Among German Protestant archaeologists may be mentioned Victor Schultze, whose studies on the catacombs of Naples and Syracuse, and "Archaologie der altchristlichen Kunst" (Munich, 1895) are of importance. Of contemporary German writers on the monuments of Christian antiquity space will not permit more than the mention of a few of the principal: Muller, Ficker, Krumbacher, Strzygowski, Kirsch, Kaufmann, and Baumstark.
The knowledge of early Christian society derived from the study of the oldest existing Christian monuments has thrown light on many obscurities in the Church's early history, as it was known from the literature that has come down to us from the first age of Christianity. It is equally true that the study of Christian monuments would be impossible apart from the study of the various literary sources of Christian antiquity. Christian literature and Christian monuments supplement one another. First among the literary sources indispensable for the study of the monuments is the Christian art from the first century was inspired by the Sacred Scriptures . After this primary source, the Acts of the Martyrs, Christian liturgies, certain liturgical prayers, particularly those relative to death, Church calendars, the so-called Pontifical Books, especially the famous Roman "Liber Pontificalis" ancient missals and sacramentaries, and in general all Christian literature, till well on in medieval times, have proved invaluable aids in the interpretation of the momuments. Especially useful were the medieval pilgrims' itineraries, the Baedekers of their time, because of the indications they contain relative to the topography of the ancient subterranean cemeteries of Christian Rome.
The principal monuments of the earliest Christian ages have been found in the sub-terranean cemeteries of Rome. The oldest portions of several of these cemeteries date from the first century of the Christian Era, so that, within their range, whatever information they supply bears the stamp of the Apostolic Age. The fact that these monuments are of a sepulchral character must always be borne in mind. No one would expect to find in the inscriptions and sculptures of a modern Catholic cemetery a complete exposition of Catholic theology ; neither should such an exposition of dogma be looked for in the inscriptions and frescoes of the catacombs. Any information we might reasonably expect, therefore, from sepulchral monuments should have some relation to the ideas concerning death that were uppermost in the minds of those who erected them. Within this range and to a certain extent beyond it, the monuments are perfectly clear. The inscriptions and paintings of the catacombs, as well as the sculptured sarcophagi of the fourth and subsequent centuries, exhibit in the most unequivocal manner the beliefs of their authors in the momentous question of existence beyond the grave.
The earliest Christian inscriptions are simple in the extreme: they barely mention the name of the deceased, with a brief prayer for his soul -- "Regina, mayest thou live in the Lord Jesus ", "Peace be with you", "In peace", "In God ". By the third century these formula had developed so far as to express belief in the Trinity and the communion of saints ; the Sacrament of baptism is implicitly alluded to in the mention of neophytes, tend in such inscriptions as "Fidem accepit", "post susceptionem suam" (he received the Faith, after his reception); the Eucharist in the two famous epitaphs of Abercius of Hieropolis (q.v.) and Pectorius of Autun. The three highest orders of the hierarchy, and several of the minor orders, are also mentioned, as well as consecrated virgins and widows ; frequent reference is, of course, made to the lay members of the community. Still more interesting, perhaps, are the deductions which may legitimately be drawn from certain peculiarities of these very early Christian memorials. The equality of all before God, for example, is taught by the eloquent silence of the epitaphs as to the worldly rank or titles of the deceased. Allusions to slaves and freedmen, so common in contemporary pagan inscriptions, are found in only a few instances on Christian epitaphs, and then in the kindliest manner. Even more remarkable, in an age when persecution was even imminent, is the silence of Christian inscriptions on that subject. No thought was given to the persecutors, the attention of the followers of Christ was wholly absorbed by the world beyond the tomb. And with regard to this better world they entertained a perfect confidence; the very name of cemetery given by them to their last resting-place ( koimeterion , dormitorium), "a sleeping-place") reveals their confidence in the promises of the Saviour. The metrical inscriptions erected in the latter part of the fourth century by Pope Damasus (366-384) manifest the great veneration in which the martyrs were then held, and at the same time supply valuable data as to their history.
Following the custom then in vogue of decorating the tombs of deceased friends, the Christians of Rome, from the first century, began to adorn with frescoes the burial chambers of the catacombs. The catacombs were, therefore, "the cradle of Christian art ". Although some of the early Christian writers looked upon artistic productions with suspicion, the Roman Church never seems to have had any misgivings in this regard. Art in itself was indifferent; why not adopt and purify it? This was precisely what was done. Even in the oldest paintings of the catacombs, which date from the end of the first century, the process of purification has already begun. The pictorial ornamentation of the Acilian and Flavian family tombs, which belongs to this period, though chiefly decorative in characters like that of contemporary pagan tombs is yet wholly free from idolatrous or indelicate motifs. The foundations of a specifically Christian art were also laid in the first century, in a few frescoes representing Daniel in the lions' den, Noah in the ark, and the Good Shepherd. All of these subjects were symbols, and symbolism was the special characteristic of Christian art down to the fourth century. The source of inspiration of the symbolic paintings of the catacombs was the Bible . In selecting their subjects from the Sacred Writings the artists, or those who directed their operations, did not proceed at random, but followed certain definite regulations. These regulations were suggested by the fact that the frescoes were to form a sepulchral ornamentation. The dominant idea, therefore, in making a selection of subjects was that the latter, according to the views prevailing among Christians should be adaptable, as symbols, to the condition after death of those on whose tombs they were to be erected. The funeral liturgies, consequently, prayers for the dying, and invocations of like tenor served as guides in the choice of symbols. Thus for example, in the Litany for a Soul Departing, still in use, we have the invocation "Deliver, O Lord, the soul of Thy servant, as Thou didst deliver Daniel from the den of the lions". The figure of Daniel standing between the two lions, so frequently depicted in the catacombs, is an early pictured form of this prayer. The cycles of sacred representations of the catacombs were, therefore, selected because of their appropriateness to the condition of the Christian soul after death. From the point of view of doctrine and discipline, many of them are of the greatest importance. For instance, with regard to the sacraments, the cycle of frescoes relative to baptism, some of which date from the early second century, show clearly that baptism was administered by effusion; while several of the cycle referring to the Eucharist indicate quite plainly a belief in the sacrificial character of the Mass. In numerous frescoes belief in the divinity of Christ is manifested, and the prominent place occupied by the Blessed Virgin in the thoughts of the Christians of the first three centuries is apparent in the many representations of Mary (the most ancient belongs to the first half of the second century), with the Infant Saviour in her arms. The gradual development of the idea of Mary's important place in the scheme of redemption is ascertained by comparison of the earlier with the later frescoes of the Mother and Child; a painting of the latter half of the third century in the catacomb of St. Priscilla represents her in the character of model for a virgin taking the veil; while in a fresco of the middle of the fourth century in the Coemeterium majus , she is seen in the attitude of prayer, interceding, according to the interpretation of Wilpert, with her Divine Son, for the surviving friends of the deceased persons on whose tomb this representation appears. The dogma of the communion of saints is as clearly expressed in the paintings, as in the inscriptions of the catacombs. The various Orantes, or praying figures, are symbols of the deceased in heaven interceding with God for friends still members of the Church Militant. Other frescoes represent the particular judgment , with saints in the attitude of advocates pleading with the Judge for their admission to heaven. St. Peter and St. Paul were also favourite subjects with the Christian artists of Rome, especially in the fourth century. The earliest fresco of St. Peter, in the cemetery Ad Duas Lauros , represents the Prince of the Apostles reading from an open roll, in the character of "Legislator of the New Covenant". The high place in which the ecclesiastical authorities were held is indicated by the special garb in which they are represented, the priests administering baptism are clad in tunic and pallium, two articles of apparel which, with sandals, constituted the dress reserved to personages of a sacred character.
During the first age of the Church a specifically Christian sculpture was almost unknown. Many reasons have been given to account for this circumstance, the chief of which, besides that of cost, is the practical difficulty encountered in producing works distinctively Christian without the knowledge of a hostile public and Government. Only a few statues and sarcophagi with representations inspired by the Scriptures survive from the first three centuries. Christian sculpture, consequently, began its real development in the fourth century, in the age of peace inaugurated by Constantine. The principal sculptured monuments of this period consist of the many sarcophagi, mostly found in Rome, Ravenna, and in various parts of France, in which Christians of the Constantinian and post-Constantinian epochs were interred. Being sepulchral monuments, the symbolic subjects of the catacomb frescoes were equally appropriate on Christian sarcophagi. But Christian sculptors quickly felt the influence of the new development of Christian art first seen in the basilicas erected under Constantine. The triumphant symbols of the basilcas, and the historical scenes depicted on their walls, are also found on Christian sarcophagi, side by side with some of the earliest and most venerable symbols of the catacombs. The transition from symbolic to historic art is, consequently, nowhere better represented than in the carved sarcophagi of the fourth and following centuries.
According to the Acts of the Apostles the first Christians were accustomed to meet in private houses for the celebration of the liturgy : "Breaking bread from house to house" ( Acts 2:46 ). The first separate places of worship of the Christians were, therefore, the homes of those among them which were sufficiently large to accommodate a considerable number of people. Down to the reign of Constantine the custom thus established in the Church of Jerusalem, of assembling for the celebration of the liturgy in private residences, seems to have been generally followed. It is very probable, however, that there were churches of the basilica type in Asia Minor before Constantine. The church at Nicomedia, destroyed in the persecution of Diocletian, was erected in the third century. According to an ancient tradition, the house of Senator Pudens at Rome, as well as that of Saint Cecilia, was used for such a purpose. The third-century romance known as the "Clementine Recognitions" has two references of interest in this regard: the author tells of a certain Maro who invited St. Peter to preach in a hall of his mansion, capable of holding five hundred persons (Recog., iv, 6), and, in another place, he speaks of a man named Theophilus who had a similar hall of his house consecrated as a church (ibid., x, 71). The Christian churches of the fourth century, known as basilicas, derived their name, and some of their principal features, either from the public basilicas, like those of the Roman forum, or from the private basilicas of great mansions, such as the halls of Maro and Theophilus. These churches consisted of a large oblong hall, divided by columns into a central nave and two or four aisles. The apse at the extremity of the hall opposite the entrance derives, according to Kraus and others, from such early structures as the three-apsed cemeterial churches, two of which may still be seen in the cemetery of St. Callistus. The apse, however, is a feature of the two civil basilicas of Trajan and Maxentius. The atrium, or court-yard before the entrance is a feature of the Christian basilica not seen in the civil basilicas, and is evidently a reminiscence of the domus ecclesiae of the first the three centuries.
The baptisteries erected adjacent to basilicas, were, as a rule, circular or polygonal in form. Circular edifices were also erected as mausoleums; two of the best examples are the church of St. Costanza in Rome and the mausoleum of King Theodoric at Ravenna. Following the precedent of the church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, circular or octagonal churches also were sometimes erected; the church of St. Vitale at Ravenna is the best known Western structure of this type. The inferior decoration of the earliest Christian basilicas exhibits a new development in Christian art. The symbols depicted in the catacombs were perfectly appropriate for the purpose for which they were intended, but a different style of adornment was demanded in edifices whose object was not so immediately associated with death. Moreover, the Church of Christ had at length triumphed over paganism, and this triumph suggested to the Christian artists of the Constantinian Age the idea of commemorating the victory in the new basilicas. In this way a new symbolism, representing Christ triumphant on His thrones came into existence. Historical scenes from the life of Christ or from the Old Testament were frequently represented in the frescoes and mosaics of basilicas, and these served not only as all appropriate adornment, but also as an excellent illustration of the Sacred Scriptures .
Under this heading are usually classified such remains of early Christian times as textile fabrics, liturgical clothing and implements, objects of devotion, domestic articles, coins and medals, and illustrations in miniature. The last named are of especial importance for the history of art in the Middle Ages. (See CATACOMBS, and DE ROSSI, GIOVANNI BATTISTA.)
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