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Early Roman Christian Cemeteries

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This article treats briefly of the individual catacomb cemeteries in the vicinity of Rome. For general information on the Roman catacombs, see ROMAN CATACOMBS. This summary account of the individual catacombs will follow the order of the great Roman roads, along which were usually located the Christian cemeteries.


The first popes were buried near the body of St. Peter, "in Vaticano" "juxta corpus beati Petri". St. Anacletus, the second successor of St. Peter raised over the body of the Apostle a memoria , or small chapel (Lib. Pontif., ed. Duchesne, I, 125). This narrow site was the burial-place of the popes to Zephyrinus (d. 217), with whom began the series of papal burials in the cemetery of St. Callistus (Barnes, The Tomb of St. Peter, London, 1900). Among the epitaphs discovered near the tomb of St. Peter are two celebrated ones, dogmatic in content, that of Livia Primitiva, now in the Louvre, and that known as the Ichthys Zonton (Fish of the Living), symbolic of the Eucharist. In the sixteenth century a marble fragment showing the word Linus was found on this site, not improbably from the epitaph of the first successor of St. Peter. The building of two basilicas, the Old St. Peter's in the fourth and the New St. Peter's in the sixteenth century, easily explains the disappearance of the early papal monuments "in Vaticano". The cemetery was probably above ground. From 258 to 260 (de Waal, Marucchi) the bodies of the Apostles reposed in the catacomb of St. Sebastian on the Via Appia, in a cubiculum or chapel (the Platonia), yet extant, whither they were taken from their original resting-places for some not sufficiently clear reason. In the fifth century members of the imperial family found a resting-place in the vicinity of the Apostle's tomb. It was long a favourite burial-place; in 689 the Saxon king, Cedwalla, was laid to rest there, "ad cujus [sc. apostolorum principis] sacratissimum corpus a finibus tenae pio ductus amore venerat', says Bede (H.E., v, 7), who has preserved the valuable metrical epitaph put up by order of Pope Sergius ending with: "Hic depositus est Caedual, qui et Petrus, rex Saxonum," etc. The "Grotte Vecchie" and the "Grotte Nuove", or subterraneous chapels and galleries in the vicinity of the tomb of St. Peter, cover the site of this ancient Christian cemetery ; in them lie buried also a number of popes ; St. Gregory I, Boniface VIII, Nicholas V, Alexander VI. The rich sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, important for early Christian symbolism, is in the "Grotte Nuove" [de Waal, Der Sarkophag des Junius Bassus in den Grotten von St. Petrus, Rome, 1900; Dufresne, Les Cryptes vaticanes, Rome, 1900; Dionisis (edd. Sarti and Settele), Sacrar. Vaticanae basilicae cryptarum monumenta, Rome, 1828-40]

Beyond the Porta Cavallegieri

1. Cemetery of St. Pancratius. A very youthful martyr, probably of the persecution of Diocletian. His body was never removed to a city church as were so many others, hence the cemetery remained open in the Middle Ages. Its galleries have suffered a complete devastation, last of all during the French Revolution, when the relics of the martyrs were dispersed.

2. Cemetery of Sts. Processus and Martinianus , the jailers of St. Peter in the Mamertine Prison, converted by him, and soon after his death beheaded on the Aurelian Way. The pious matron Lucina buried their bodies on her own property. The cemetery, it is believed, extends beneath the Villa Pamfili, and perhaps beyond under the Vigna Pellegrini. The accessible galleries exhibit a complete devastation, also very large loculi , an indication of remote Christian antiquity. In the fourth-century overground basilica St. Gregory preached his sermon "Ad. SS. martyrum corpora consistimus, fratres" etc. (P.L. LXXVI, 1237). Paschal I transported the bodies of the two saints to a chapel in the Vatican. After the twelfth century the cemetery was totally forgotten.

3. Cemetery of the "Duo Felices". The origin of the name is obscure, though connected somehow with Felix II (355-58) and Felix I (269-74); the latter, however, was certainly buried in the papal crypt in St. Callistus.

4. Cemetery of Calepodius , a very ruinous catacomb under the Vigna Lamperini, opposite the "Casale, di S. Pio V", or about the third milestone. Calepodius was a priest martyred in a popular outbreak, and buried here by Pope St. Callistus. Later the pope's own body was interred in the same cemetery, not in the one that bears his name. St. Julius I (337-52) was buried there, and a little oratory long preserved the memory of St. Callistus. His body was eventually transferred to Santa Maria in Trastevere, where it now lies.

The road leading to "Portus" or Porto, the new "Havre" of Rome

5. Cemetery of St. Pontianus , to the right beneath Monte Verde. It is so called, not from Pope Pontianus (230-35) but from a wealthy Christian of the same name mentioned in the Acts of Callistus, and whose house seems to have been the original nucleus of the present Sta Maria in Trastevere, the site once claimed by the cauponarii under Alexander Severus, but adjudged by that emperor to the Christians. It was discovered by Bosio in 1618. Many famous martyrs were buried there, among them Sts. Abdon and Sennen, noble Persians who suffered martyrdom at Rome, it is thought in 257. In an overground fourth-century basilica were deposited the bodies of two popes, Anastasius I (d. 405) and Innocent I (d. 417). Byzantine frescoes of the sixth century attract attention, also the "historic chapel " of Sts. Abdon and Sennen, whose bodies were removed to the basilica magna above ground about 640, finally in 820 to the city basilica of St. Mark, when the cemetery was abandoned.

6. Cemetery of St. Felix , indicated in several "Itineraria" as located on the Via Portuensis, not far from the cemetery of Pontianus, but not yet found; also known as "ad insalsatos" probably a corruption (Marucche) of "ad infulatos", in reference to the Persian tiara of Sts. Abdon and Sennan.

7. Cemetery of Generosa. Generosa was a Roman lady who buried on her property the bodies of the martyrs Simplicius, Faustinus, and Beatrix, transferred later (683) to St. Bibiana, in the city. The cemetery, a poor rural one, is now famous for important inscriptions of the "Fratres Arvales" found there between 1858 and 1874. (Henzen, Acta fratrum Arvalium quae supersunt, Berlin, 1874.) The cemetery probably grew up (Marucchi) from a neighbouring quarry whence later it took in the sacred wood of the ancient pagan brotherhood of "Arvales", who seem to have died off or removed elsewhere about the middle of the third century. An ancient basilica, built by St. Damasus, was also unearthed when the aforesaid inscriptions were discovered. As in most catacombs an overground cemetery grew up, which was used until the eighth century.


8. Tomb of St. Paul . The body of St. Paul was buried on the Ostian Way, near the place of his martyrdom ( ad Aquas Salvias ) on the property ( in proedio ) of Lucina, a Christian matron. St. Anacletus, second successor of St. Peter, built a small memoria or chapel on the site, and about 200 the Roman priest Caius refers to it ( Eusebius, H.E., ii, 25) as still standing. From 258 to 260 the body of St. Paul with that of St. Peter lay in the "Platonia" of St. Sebastian ; in the latter year, probably, it was returned to its original resting-place. In the meantime a cemetery had been growing in the aforesaid proedium of Lucina. Constantine replaced the little oratory of Anacletus with a great basilica. Under Gregory XVI, the sarcophagus of St. Paul was discovered, but not opened. Its fourth-century inscription bears the words PAULO APOST MART (Paul, Apostle and Martyr ). The museum of the modern basilica contains some very ancient epitaphs from the aforesaid cemetery of Lucina, antedating the basilica ; two of them bear dates of 107 and 111. After these we must come down to 217, before finding any consular date on a Christian epitaph. Dom Cornelio Villani proposed (1905) to publish all the ancient Christian epitaphs found here.

9. Cemetery of Commodilla , at a little distance from that of Lucina. Commodilla is an unknown Christian matron, on whose property were buried Felix and Adauctus, martyrs of the persecution of Diocletian. This cemetery, once extensive, is now difficult of access, and its frescoes and inscriptions have disappeared almost entirely. The open loculi are an evidence of the pillage to which such cemeteries were once subject.

10. Tomb of St. Timothy. Timothy was possibly a priest of Antioch, martyred at Rome under Diocletian, and buried by the pious matron Theona in her garden, not far from the body of St. Paul, "ut Paulo apostolo ut quondam Timotheus adhaereret", says the martyrology (22 May). De Rossi identifies with this tomb a small cemetery discovered by him (1872) in the Vigna Salviucci to the left of the Ostian Way, and opposite the apse of St. Paul.

11. Cemetery of St. Thecla , discovered by Armellini in 1870, named from some unknown Roman Thecla, and certainly anterior to Constantine; an epitaph of Aurelia Agape has an early Christian savour and is cut on the back of a pagan epitaph of the time of Claudius Gothicus (268-70).

12. Cemetery of Aquæ Salviæ . There was certainly a cemetery in early Christian times on or near the site of the decapitation of St. Paul (now Tre Fontane); it probably bore the name of St. Zeno. Farther on was the cemetery of St. Cyriacus, mentioned in the "Mirabilia Urbis Romae" and seen by Bosio at the end of the sixteenth century. Its exact site is no longer known. Ostia itself, at the end of the road, had a remarkable Christian cemetery.

To the right of the Appian Way; the ancient Porta Ardeatina between the churches of St. Sabas and St. Balbina was destroyed in the sixteenth century to make way for the fortifications of Sangallo.

13. Cemetery of St. Domitilla (Tor Marancia), the largest of all the Roman catacombs known to Bosio, who thought it a part of Saint Callistus, and nearly perished (1593) in its depths. It is the ancestral burial-place of Flavia Domitilla, wife of the consul Flavius Clemens (95). She was exiled by Domitian for her Christian Faith to the island of Pontia; her faithful servants Nereus and Achilleus , said to have been baptized by St. Peter, followed her into exile, were beheaded at Terracina, and their bodies brought back to the family sepulchre of their mistress. In 1873 De Rossi discovered the important ruins of the large three- nave basilica erected here between 390 and 395 in honour of these saints and of St. Petronilla, whose body was transferred thence to St. Peter's in the eighth century. At an earlier date (1865) he had the good fortune to discover, close to the highway, the primitive entrance to the cemetery, one of the most ancient Christian monuments. It is a spacious room or gallery, with four or five separate niches for as many sarcophagi, the walls finished in fine stucco, with classical decorations. On either side are similar edifices, a little later in date, but evidently used by the guardian of the monument and for the celebration of the Christian agapae or love-feasts. The sarcophagi, whole or fragmentary, the brick tiles, and the names on the epitaphs (Claudii, Flavii, Ulpii, Aurelii) show that the hypogoeum or "vestibule of the Flavians", as it is called, belongs to the early part of the second century. De Rossi believed it the tomb of the martyred consul, Flavius Clemens (95). The site has suffered from the vandalism and greed of earlier visitors, but the frescoes yet extant exhibit great beauty of execution and a rich variety of Christian symbolism. "We are quite sure", say Northcote and Brownlow (I, 126-7), "that we have been here brought face to face with one of the earliest specimens of Christian subterranean burial in Rome ; and it shows us the sense of liberty and security under which it was executed." Not far away was discovered in 1875 the famous epitaph of "Flavius Sabinus and his sister Titiana", possibly the children of Flavius Sabinus, brother of the Emperor Vespasian, mentioned by Tacitus (Hist., III, 65) as a mild, but indolent and austere man, terms that to some seem to make him out a Christian and therefore the origin of the new religion among the Flavii. Quite near also are the touching third-century inscriptions of M. Antonius Restutus "sibi it suis fidentibus in Domino", i.e. for himself and his own who trust in God ; likewise the very ancient and fine crypt of Ampliatus, whom De Rossi identifies with the Ampliatus of Romans, xvi, 8. Not to speak of numerous dogmatic epitaphs, the cemetery of Domitilla is famous for a beautiful third-century Adoration of the Magi, here four in number, and for the venerable second-century medallion of Sts. Peter and Paul, the oldest known monument of Christian portraiture, and a signal proof of their simultaneous presence at Rome and their religious authority. It was also, according to De Rossi, the burial-place of Sts. Marcus and Marcellianus, and the family sepulchre of St. Damasus , whose Mother (Laurentia) and sister (Irene) were buried there, likewise himself. The site was discovered by Wilpert, in 1902.


14. Cemetery of St. Callistus , one of the oldest underground burial-places of the Roman Christians. As a public Christian cemetery it dates from the beginning of the third century. The original nucleus from which it developed was the famous crypt of Lucina, a private Christian burial-place from the end of the first century, very probably the family sepulchre of the Caecilii and other closely related Roman families. From there grew, during the third century, the vast system of galleries and cubicula that then took and has since kept the name of Coemeterium Callisti; early in the third century it was known as The Cemetery ( to koimeterion ) par excellence , and owed its new name, not to the burial there of Pope Callistus (for he was buried in the cemetery of Calepodius), but to his zeal in developing and perfecting the original areoe , or private Roman sepulchral plots, that in his time had come to be the first landed property ever possessed by the Catholic Church. The chief interest of this cemetery lies in the so-called Papal Crypt, in whose large loculi were buried the popes from St. Zephyrinus (d. 218) to St. Eutychianus (d. 283). Of the fourteen epitaphs it once contained there remain but five, more or less fragmentary: Anterus, Fabian, Lucius, Eutychianus, Urban ? (Marucchi, II, 138-144). In the fourth century Pope St. Damasus ornamented richly this venerable chapel, and put up there two epitaphs in honour of the numerous martyrs buried in St. Callistus, among them several of his predecessors. One of these epitaphs was found in situ , but broken in minute fragments. Its restoration by De Rossi is a masterly specimen of his ingenious epigraphic erudition; the closing lines are now celebrated:

Hic fateor Damasus volui mea condere membra
Sed cineres timui sanctos vexare piorum.

(I, Damasus, wished to be buried here,
but I feared to offend the sacred remains of these pious ones).

For a view of the (near-by) countless graffiti or pious scratchings of medieval pilgrims (names, ejaculations) see Marucchi, "Eléments d'archéol. chrét.", II, 140-4. Popes St. Marcellinus and St. Marcellus (d. 304); d. 309) were buried in the cemetery of Priscilla (see below); on the other hand Popes St. Eusebius (d. 309) and St. Melchiades (d. 314) were buried in the cemetery of Callistus, but elsewhere (see below). The neighbouring very ancient crypt of St. Cecilia offers an interesting Byzantine (sixth-century) fresco of the saint, and in the niche whence her body was transferred (817) to the church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere, a recent copy of Stefano Maderno's famous statue of the saint as she was found when her tomb was opened in 1599. In the same cemetery, and close by, separated only by a short gallery, is a series of six chambers known as the "Sacramental Chapels " because of the valuable frescoes that exhibit the belief of the early Roman Christians in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, and are at the same time precious jewels of early Christian art. Pope St. Eusebius, as said, was buried in this cemetery, in the gallery called after him the crypt of St. Eusebius, and in which once reposed quite close to him another martyr pope, St. Caius (d. 296). In the sepulchral chapel of the former may still be seen the epitaph put up by Damasus, and from which monument alone we learn of an unhappy schism that then devastated the Roman Church. On either side are sculptured perpendicularly the words: "Furius Dionysius Philocalus, Damasis pappæ cultor atque amator", i.e. the name of the pope's famous calligrapher, also his friend and admirer. At some distance lies the crypt of Lucina, in which was once buried Pope St. Cornelius. Lucina is identified by De Rossi with the famous Pomponia Graecina of Tacitus (Annales, XIII, 32); the crypt, therefore, is of Apostolic origin, an opinion confirmed by the classical character of its symbolic frescoes and the simplicity of its epitaphs; its Eucharistic frescoes are very ancient and quite important from a doctrinal standpoint. The body of St. Cornelius, martyred at Centumcellae (Civitavecchia) was brought hither and long remained an object of pious veneration, until in the ninth century it was transferred to Santa Maria in Trastevere. His epitaph (the only Latin papal epitaph of the third century) is still in place: "Cornelius Martyr Ep[iscopus]", i.e. Cornelius, martyr and bishop.

15. Cemetery of St. Sebastian . This cemetery, from two to three miles out of Rome, was known through the Middle Ages as Coemeterium ad Catacumbas, whence the term catacomb , a word seemingly of uncertain origin ( Northcote and Brownlow, I, 262-63). The chief importance of this cemetery now lies in the fact that here were deposited (258) for a time the bodies of St. Peter and St. Paul, taken respectively from their Vatican and Ostian repositories under somewhat obscure circumstances; they were restored in 260. The chapel in which they were thus temporarily placed (see Liber Pontificalis , ed. Duchesne, Introd., I, civ-cvii, and i, 212) beneath the church of St. Sebastian , is still accessible. Close by arose in time the cemetery known as "ad Catacumbas" or "in Catacumbas", a local indication that was eventually extended to all similar Christian cemeteries. St. Philip Neriloved to visit the crypts of St. Sebastian ; an inscription in one of them recalls his veneration of these holy places. From the fourth century on, an overground cemetery was formed around the Basilica Apostolorum that was then built and which included the Platonia or aforesaid mortuary chapel of the Apostles. The rich mausolea of this cemetery added to the dignity of the underground burial-place that was, like the others of its kind, no longer used for burials after 410. The body of St. Sebastian, buried there "apud vestigia apostolorum", is still in the church, but in a modern chapel. It was only after the eighth century that the original fourth-century name of Basilica Apostolorum gave way to that of St. Sebastian .

16. Cemetery of Prætextatus , dates from the second century, when the body of St. Januarius, eldest son of St. Felicitas, was buried there (c. 162). The chapel of that saint exhibits a fine Damasan epitaph and elegant symbolical frescoes representing the seasons, with birds, genii, etc. Among the famous martyrs buried in this cemetery were Felicissimus and Agapitus, deacons of Pope Sixtus II and colleagues of St. Laurence, put to death under Valerian in 258, also St. Urbanus, a bishop and confessor mentioned in the Acts of St. Cecilia. Certain portions of this cemetery, hitherto inaccessible by reason of the proprietor's unwillingness, are said to offer traces of great antiquity, and perhaps contain historic chapels or tombs of much importance.


The cemeteries on this road, like those on the Aurelian Way, have never been regularly explored, and their galleries are at present quite choked or dilapidated. Marucchi (II, 229) distinguishes three groups of ancient Christian monuments that appear in the afore-mentioned "Itineraria"; the church of Sts. Gordian and Epimachus; the basilica of Tertullinus, and the church of St. Eugenia with the cemetery of Apronianus, also a large basilica dedicated by St. Leo I to St. Stephen Protomartyr, discovered in 1857, in the heart of an ancient Roman villa, near the remarkable pagan tombs of the Valerii and Pancratii.

Outside the Porta Maggiore

17. Cemetery of St. Castulus , a martyr under Diocletian, and according to the Acts of St. Sebastian the husband of Irene, the pious matron to whose house was brought the body of the soldier-martyr. The cemetery was discovered by Fabretti in 1672 and reopened in 1864, when the railway to Civitavecchia was building, but was again closed because of the ruinous state of the corridors and crypts.

18. Cemetery of Sts. Peter and Marcellinus , known also as ad duas lauros, ad Helenam from the neighbouring (ruined) mausoleum of St. Helena (Tor Pignattara), and sub Augusta, in comitatu , from a neighbouring villa of Emperor Constantine. St. Peter and St. Marcellinus suffered under Diocletian. They were honoured with a fine Damasan epitaph known to us from the early medieval epigraphic collections. Here also were buried St. Tiburtius, son of the city prefect, Chromatius, and the obscurely known group called the "Quattuor Coronati", four marble-cutters from the Danubian region. The splendid porphyry sarcophagus at the Vatican came from the mausoleum of St. Helena. In 826 the bodies of Peter and Marcellinus were stolen from the crypt and taken to Germany, where they now rest at Seligenstadt; the story is graphically told by Einhard (Mon. Germ. Hist., Script., XV, 39). Since 1896 excavations have been resumed here, and have yielded important results, among them the historic crypt of Sts. Peter and Marcellinus and a small chapel of St. Tiburtius. Wilpert discovered here and illustrated a number of important frescoes: Our Lord amid four saints, the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Magi, the Good Shepherd, Oranti, and some miracles of Christ (Wilpert, Di un ciclo di rappresentanze cristologiche nel cimitero dei SS. Pietro e Marcellino, Rome, 1892). Elsewhere are scenes that represent the agape, or love-feast, of the primitive Christians, symbolic of paradise or of the Eucharist. There is also a noteworthy fresco of the Blessed Virgin with the Infant Jesus between two adoring Magi. This cemetery is said to have been more richly decorated with frescoes than any other except that of Domitilla.


19. Cemetery of St. Cyriaca. According to ancient tradition, represented by the pilgrim-guides ( itineraria ), she was the widow who buried St. Laurence ( martyred 6 Aug., 258) on her property "in agro Verano". In 1616 Bosio saw in this cemetery an altar, a chair, and an inscription, with a dedication to St. Laurence. The enlargement of the modern cemetery of San Lorenzo damaged considerably this venerable catacomb. Many important or interesting epitaphs have been found in this cemetery, among them those of a group of Christian virgins of the fourth and fifth centuries ( De Rossi, Bullettino, 1863). In the fourth century Constantine built here a basilica over the tomb ( ad corpus ) of St. Laurence; here were buried Pope Zosimus (418), Sixtus III (440), and Hilary (468); in one of these three niches, later vacant, lie buried the remains of Pius IX. In 432 Sixtus III added another church ( basilica major ) facing the Via Tiburtina; it was not until 1218 that Honorius III united these churches and made the basilica of Constantine the Confessio of the earlier Sixtine basilica, on which occasion the presbyterium , or sanctuary, had to be elevated.

20. Cemetery of St. Hippolytus. On the left of the Via Tiburtina under the Vigna Gori (now Caetani). Considerable uncertainty reigns as to the identity of this Hippolytus, both in his Acts and in the relative verses of Prudentius; possibly, as Marucchi remarks, this confusion is as old as the time of St. Damasus and is reflected in his metrical epitaph, discovered by De Rossi in a St. Petersburg manuscript. According to this document Hippolytus was at first a follower of Novatian, about the middle of the third century, but returned to the Catholic Faith and died a martyr. The famous statue of Hippolytus, the Christian writer of the third century, made in 222, and now in the Lateran Museum, was found in the Vigna Gori in the sixteenth century; our martyr and the Christian scholar are doubtless identical. In 1882-83 a small subterranean basilica was discovered here with three naves and lighted by an air-shaft. According to the "Itinerary of Salzburg " this cemetery contained the body of the actor-martyr Genesius and the bodies of the martyrs Triphonia and Cyrilla, the (alleged) Christian wife and daughter of Emperor Decius, of whom nothing more is known.


21. Cemetery of St. Nicomedes , near the Porta Pia, in the Villa Patrizi, known to Bosio but rediscovered only in 1864. Nicomedes is said to have suffered martyrdom under Domitian and to have been buried by one of his disciples "in horto juxta muros". Very ancient masonry, Greek epitaphs, and other signs, indicate the great age of this small cemetery, that may reach back to Apostolic times.

22. Cemetery of St. Agnes. The body of St. Agnes, who suffered martyrdom probably under Valerian (253-60), was buried by her parents "in praediolo suo", i.e. on a small property they owned along the Nomentan Way. There was already in this place a private cemetery, which grew rapidly in size after the interment of the youthful martyr. The excavations carried on since 1901, at the expense of Cardinal Kopp, have revealed a great many fourth-to-sixth-century graves ( formae ) beneath the sanctuary of the basilica. The cemetery (three stories deep) is divided by archaeologists into three regions, the aforesaid primitive nucleus (third century), a neighbouring third-century area , and two fourth-century groups of corridors that connect the basilica of St. Agnes with the ancient round basilica of St. Constantia. It is not certain that the actual basilica of St. Agnes, built on a level with a second story of the catacomb, is identical with that built by Constantine; there is reason to suspect a reconstruction of the edifice towards the end of the fifth century. St. Damasus composed for the tomb of Agnes one of his finest epitaphs. Symmachus (498-514), and Honorius I (625-38), restored the basilica, if the former did not reconstruct it; to the latter we owe the fresco of St. Agnes between these two popes. In the sixteenth century, and also in the nineteenth ( Pius IX, 1855), it was again restored; in 1901 (25 Nov.) new excavations laid bare the heavy silver sarcophagus in which St. Pius V had deposited the bodies of St. Agnes and St. Emerentiana. In the neighbouring Coemeteium majus (accessible from the cemetery of St. Agnes through an arenaria , or sand-pit) is the famous crypt or chapel of St. Emerentiana , opened up in 1875, at the expense of Monsignore Crostarosa, and identified by De Rossi with the Coemeterium Ostrianum, the site of very archaic Roman memories of St. Peter, a position now strongly disputed by his disciple Marucchi (see below, Cemetery of Priscilla ). In the vicinity of the crypt of St. Emérentiana is an important arcosolium fresco representing the Blessed Virgin as an Orante, with the Infant Jesus before her. It belongs to the first half of the fourth century, and is said by Marucchi (II, 343) to be almost the latest catacomb fresco of Our Lady, a kind of hyphen between the primitive frescoes and the early Byzantine Madonnas; it seems at the same time a very early evidence of the adorational use of paintings in public worship (Le Bourgeios, Sainte Emerentienne, vierge et martyre, Paris, 1895).

23. Cemetery of St. Alexander , between four and five miles from Rome, and within the limits of an early Diocese of Ficulea. It is the burial-place of two martyrs, known as Alexander and Eventius. Whether this Alexander is the second-century pope and martyr (c. 105-15), as his legendary Acts indicate, is quite doubtful ; possibly he is a local martyr of Ficulea. The matron Severina buried here the bodies of the two saints in one tomb, and near to them the body of Saint Theodulus; early in the ninth century they were all transferred to the city, after which the cemetery fell into ruins. As in the cemetery of St. Laurence and in that of St. Symphorosa, there arose here two basilicas, one built by Constantine ( ad corpus ), rediscovered in 1855, another in the fifth century; there remain yet some important relics of the former, an altar with its marble cancellus , or front, in which was opened a fenestella confessionis through which could be seen the bodies of the martyrs, the site of the schola cantorum in front of the altar, and in the apse the episcopal chair.


24. Cemetery of St. Felicitas. This famous Roman matron and her seven sons were put to death for the Christian Faith, under Marcus Aurelius. The very ancient Acts of their martyrdom are extant in a Latin translation from the Greek, and are probably based on the original court records. The place of burial of the mother and Silanus, her youngest son, not given in the Acts, is learned from the fourth-century Liberian Catalogue and from sixth -- and seventh -- century itineraries, as the cemetery of Maximus (otherwise unknown) on the Via Salaria. A basilica, built there in the fourth century, was ornamented with a fine epitaph by St. Damasus (Verdun manuscript ). Early in the fifth century it served Boniface I (418) as a place of refuge from the adherents of the antipope Eulalinus; Boniface was also buried there, according to the "Martyrologium Hieronymianum". Gregory the Great preached there one of his homilies "Ad martyres". The two bodies were transferred to the city in the ninth century, and the cemetery was lost sight of until De Rossi discovered it in 1858, almost simultaneously with his discovery of the crypt of St. Januarius in the cemetery of Praetextatus. In 1884 the "historic crypt " was discovered, beneath a basilica of the fourth century; it is surmised that this must have been the site of the house of Felicitas, or at least of the trial.

25. Cemetery of Thraso, Coemeterium Jordanorum. The cemetery of Thraso, a rich and aged martyr in the persecution of Diocletian, was discovered in 1578 by Bosio. It once contained a fine Damasan epitaph; its chief oratory or crypt was restored in 326 and was open until the end of the thirteenth century. The body of St. Thraso was at some unknown time taken to Sts. John and Paul in the city. In this cemetery excellent third -- or fourth -- century frescoes are still visible, among them an interesting one symbolic of the Eucharist. A little farther on, to the right of the road, is the Coemeterium Jordanorum , possibly, says Marucchi (II, 369), the deepest of the Roman catacombs ; it has four stories, but the groups of galleries are separated by sand-pits ( arenariæ ). The name, says the aforesaid writer, may be a corruption of Germanorum , i.e. the other sons of St. Felicitas. Here, too, it seems, ought some day to be found the arenaria , or sand-pit, in which Sts. Chrysanthus and Daria were buried during the persecution of Valerian (257), and in which (their Acts tell us) some Christians who came there to pray were stoned to death and walled up by the heathen (Via Salaria in arenaria illic viventes terrâ et lapidibus obrui). In the sixth century this venerable sanctuary was still visited, and through its fenestella the bones of the martyrs scattered on the ground within could still be seen (Marucchi, op. cit., II, 371). Many important and interesting epitaphs have been found here.

26. Cemetery of Priscilla. This is the oldest general cemetery of Early Christian Rome (Kaufmann) and in several respects the most important. It takes its name from Priscilla, the mother of the Senator Pudens in whose house St. Peter, according to ancient tradition, found refuge. The sepulchral plot ( area ) of Pudens on the New Salarian Way became the burial-place of Qquila and Prisca ( Romans 16:3 ), and of Sts. Pudentiana and Praxedes, daughters of Pudens. In this manner the history of the very ancient Roman churches of Santa Pudentiana and Santa Prassede, also that of Santa Prisca on the Aventine, being originally the meeting-places ( domesticæ ecclesiæ , Romans 16:5 ), of the little Christian community, became intimately connected with the burial-site of the family to which they originally belonged. In this catacomb were buried Sts. Felix and Philip (two of the seven martyr sons of St. Felicitas ), also Popes St. Marcellinus (d. 304) and St. Marcellus (d. 309), both victims of the persecution of Diocletian. In the basilica (see below) that was soon raised on this site were buried several popes, St. Sylvester (d. 335), St. Liberius (d. 366), St. Siricius (d. 399), St. Celestine (d. 432), and Vigilius (d. 555). Their "fine group of sarcophagi remained intact", says Marucchi (II, 385) until the ninth century, when the transfer of their bodies to various city churches brought about the usual neglect and final decay of the cemetery, above and below ground. Marucchi maintains that here and not at St. Agnes' is the true Coemeterium Ostrianum mentioned in Ancient Roman Acts of martyrs as containing a reservoir where St. Peter was wont to baptize, also the chair in which he first sat (ad nymphas ubi Petrus baptizaverat, sedes ubi prius sedit Sanctus Petrus, etc.) when he began his Roman ministry. With much erudition and acumen he develops this thesis in his oft quoted work (Elements d'archéologie chrétienne, II, 432 sqq.), his principal arguments being based on a detailed study of two ancient reservoirs in this cemetery, according to him the original Petrine baptisteries, through deep veneration for which holy places came about the later development of the cemetery of Priscilla, the burial there of several fourth -- and fifth-century popes, the overground basilica of St. Sylvester, etc. It was only in 1863 that earnest and continuous efforts were made to explore in a scientific way this vast necropolic; in 1887 the finding of the burial-crypts of the Acilii Glabriones amply repaid the efforts of the Sacred Commission of Archaeology. The corridors and cubicula of this portion of the cemetery of Priscilla offer numerous evidences of Apostolic antiquity, and there is sufficient reason to believe

  • that the aforesaid Acilii Glabriones were closely related to the family of Senator Pudens, and
  • that their Christian family epitaphs of the second century began with the (not yet found) epitaph of Manius Acilius Glabrio, consul in 91, and put to death by Domitian for charges (Suetonius, Domit., 15; Dio Cassius, LXVII, 13) now recognized as equivalent to the profession of the Christian religion .
Not far from the modern entrance to the cemetery is the elegant subterranean chapel or crypt known as the Capella Greca, from two Greek epitaphs found there; this crypt is ornamented with very ancient symbolic frescoes, the most important of which is the celebrated Eucharistic painting in the apse, known as the Fractio Panis , because in it a figure (the priest ) is breaking bread and giving it to persons seated at the same table (Wilpert, Fractio Panis, la plus ancienne représentation du sacrifice eucharistique, Paris, 1896). In the vicinity was found in 1820 the epitaph of St. Philomena (facsimile in Christian Museum of the Lateran ); according to Marucchi the current legend of St. Philomena is a nineteenth-century invention. The three tiles of this epitaph were removed at some early date from their original place and used to close another grave, so that the body found in 1820 was not that of Philomena, nor are the tracings on the epitaph those of instruments of martyrdom but anchors, palms, etc. (op. cit., II, 409-10; cf. de Waal, "Die Grabschrift der heiligen Philumena", in "Röm. Quartalschrift", 1898). There is also here a very ancient fresco of the Blessed Virgin holding to her breast the Infant Jesus, while a prophet (Isaias ?; cf. Is., ix, 2; xlii, 6) points to a star above her head. It is a clear evidence of the sentiments of Christian veneration for the Mother of God in the second century, to which period the best archaeologists refer this fresco (see Mary). Elsewhere in Saint Priscilla is the oldest known liturgical fresco of the early Christian Church, the virgo sacra or Deo dicata , i.e. a Christian virgin whose solemn consecration to the service of God is quite dramatically set forth by the artist (cf. Marucchi, II, 417-18, and Wilpert, "Gottgeweihten Jungfrauen", in bibliography). From a theological point of

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