The Early Modern Invention of Late Antique Rome 1108471897, 9781108471893

In The Early Modern Invention of Late Antique Rome, Nicola Denzey Lewis challenges the common understanding of late anti

823 146 7MB

English Pages 350 [445] Year 2020

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD FILE

Polecaj historie

The Early Modern Invention of Late Antique Rome
 1108471897, 9781108471893

Citation preview

The Early Modern Invention of Late Antique Rome In The Early Modern Invention of Late Antique Rome, Nicola Denzey Lewis challenges the common understanding of late antique Christianity as dominated by the Cult of the Saints. Popularized by historian Peter Brown, the Cult of the Saints presupposes that a “corporeal turn” in the fourth century CE initiated a new sense of the body (even the corpse or bone) as holy. Denzey Lewis argues that although present elsewhere in the late Roman Empire, no such “corporeal turn” happened in Rome until the early modern period. The prevailing assumption that it did was fostered by the apologetic concerns of early modern Catholic scholars, as well as contemporary attitudes toward death, antiquity, and the survival of the Church against secularism. Denzey Lewis delves deeply into the world of Roman late antique Christianity, exploring how and why it differed from the set of practices and beliefs we have come to think flourished in this crucial age of Christianization. Nicola Denzey Lewis holds the Margo L. Goldsmith Chair in Women’s Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University. She is the recipient of research fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Academy of Religion, and the International Catacomb Society. Denzey Lewis serves on the editorial boards of Gnosis and the Journal of Early Christian Studies. A social historian of imperial and late antique Rome and the processes that enabled the Christianization of the Roman Empire, Denzey Lewis has published extensively. This is her fifth book and her second specifically on late antique Rome, after her highly acclaimed examination of ancient Roman women's lives, The Bone Gatherers (2007).

he Early Modern T Invention of Late Antique Rome Nicola Denzey Lewis Claremont Graduate University

University Printing House, Cambridge cb2 8bs, United Kingdom One Liberty Plaza, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10006, USA 477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia 314–321, 3rd Floor, Plot 3, Splendor Forum, Jasola District Centre, New Delhi – 110025, India 79 Anson Road, #06-04/06, Singapore 079906 Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence. www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9781108471893 DOI: 10.1017/9781108646826 © Nicola Denzey Lewis 2020 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2020 Printed in the United Kingdom by TJ International Ltd, Padstow Cornwall A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Denzey Lewis, Nicola, 1966- author. Title: The early modern invention of late antique Rome / Nicola Denzey Lewis, Claremont Graduate School, California. Description: Cambridge, United Kingdom ; New York, NY, USA : Cambridge University Press, 2020. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2019053084 | ISBN 9781108471893 (hardback) | ISBN 9781108458566 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Christian saints--Cult--Italy--Monselice--History. | Monselice (Italy)--Church history. | Church history--Primitive and early church, ca. 30-600. | Rome (Italy) Classification: LCC BX2333 .D46 2020 | DDC 235/.20945321--dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019053084 ISBN 978-1-108-47189-3 Hardback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

For Denise, with gratitude for forty-five years of delightful friendship

Contents

List of Illustrations and Maps

page ix

Acknowledgments

xi

List of Abbreviations

xv

Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 1 The Reinventio of the Hidden City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 2 Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)������������ 71 3 Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse). . . . . . . . . . . . . 127 4 Peter’s Bones. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165 5 De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes. . . . . . . 211 6 Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones . . . . 251 7 Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 297 8 Inventing Christian Rome. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 343 Bibliography Index

375 419

vii

Illustrations and Maps

Illustrations and maps follow page 6. Illustrations 1 The Virgin Martyr Faustina, 2016. 2 M. A. Boldetti, Osservazioni sopra i cimiterj de’ santi martiri, ed antichi cristiani di Roma. Aggiuntavi la serie di tutti quelli, che sino al presente si sono scoperti, e di altri simili, che in varie parti del mondo si trovano: con alcune riflessioni pratiche sopra il culto delle sagre reliquie, lib. II, cap. III, p. 339, 1720. In the public domain. 3 Charles Louis de Frédy, The Kiss of Peace in the Catacombs, late nineteenth century. 4 Jan Styka, Saint Peter Preaching in the Catacombs, 1902. 5 Jules Eugène Lenepveu, The Martyrs in the Catacombs, 1855. 6 Alejandro Ferrant y Fischermans, The Burial of Saint Sebastian, 1877. 7 Antonio Circignani, Martyrdom of Pope Anicetus, 1560–1620. 8 Gaetano Giulio Zumbo, A Damned Soul, 1700. 9 Caterina de Julianis, Time and Death, ca. 1727. 10 Pola Casket, ca. 400 CE. 11 Giovanni Battista De Rossi, Roma Sotterranea Cristiana, Book I, Tav. II, III, 1893. 12 Papal inscriptions, 2019. 13 Gold glass featuring Jewish motifs, ca. 400 CE. 14 Grave of Karl Marx, 2015. 15 Floorplan of funerary basilica at Sant’Agnese fuori le mura, 2012. Maps 1 Map of martyr burials according to the Calendar of 354. 2 Map of martyr sites promoted by Damasus. ix

Acknowledgments

Writing a book is always a paradoxical expression of a desire to be caught in the most fascinating conversations with learned friends and the solitary pursuit of reading and thinking. Let me begin by acknowledging the role of my learned friends for fascinating conversations. In Rome, I have many people to thank: Greg Snyder for gamely exploring cemeteries, catacombs, private and access-prohibited fields (his idea), and for thinking with me on the Palazzo Altemps chapel; the amazing Chiara Messineo for exerting pressure at just the right places; Sarah Madole Lewis and Linda Nolan for catacombs, cats, and company; Michele Salzman at the American Academy in Rome and in Claremont, California; and Sander Evers at the Loyola Rome Center. A conference on “Pagans and Christians in the Fourth Century” at the Hungarian Academy in 2012 put me in splendid dialogue with Marianne Sághy, Dennis Trout, Gitte Lønstrup Dal Santo and Matthew Dal Santo, Jonas Bjørnebye, and Leonard Rutgers. I would also like to formally thank the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology (especially Raffaella Giuliani and Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai for arranging a visit to his excavations of the Via Ardeatina funerary basilica) and Alberto Marcocci at the Catacombs of Vigna Randanini. Special thanks to Alex Dwiar, who was not in Rome but ought to have been and whose hard work and special pleading got me valuable time at the Memoria Apostolorum. Although I can be tough in this book on catacomb guides, it must be said that many of the young Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology (PIAC) student guides I have had over the years have been truly wonderful and inspiring and in no way reflect some of the intransigent attitudes toward Christian antiquity in Rome that characterized the PIAC of the

xi

xii

Acknowledgments

nineteenth century. Thanks, then, go to Giovanni at the Ad Decimum catacombs (and Andreina del Pozzo); Anthony Vella, Rosie Bianco, Valentina at the Vatican Necropolis; and the student guides at the Catacombs of St. Thecla. Thank you, too, to Nicola DeGuglielmo and the Comitato Catacombe di Generosa for time spent at the Catacombs of Generosa (and to Dan Curley for tagging along that day). I spent the 2015–2016 academic year as a visiting scholar at Princeton University’s Department of Religion, which felt like a true homecoming. I wish to thank Leora Batnitsky, AnneMarie Luijendijk, and Elaine Pagels for welcoming me. At Princeton, I am also grateful to Lorraine Fuhrmann, Jeff Stout, and Moulie Vidas. I was tremendously lucky to have the opportunity to learn again from Peter Brown and Anthony Grafton in the Department of History. At Brown University, I was inspired and supported by the work of John Bodel, Ross Kraemer, and Evelyn Lincoln. I have to acknowledge the undergrads who “crashed” my research trip to Rome in 2013: Rachel Himes, Wes Durand, Noah Heyworth, Eli Petzold, and Sabrina Ergun, for showing as much excitement for the catacombs as I myself felt even while they were jetlagged and probably hung over, although they swore to me they were not. Special thanks goes to Brown for providing me with an Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award (UTRA) to be able to hire Alex Sogo as a full-time research assistant for the summer of 2013. Poor Alex, who just wanted to know what it was like to be a real academic, found himself organizing bibliographies, ordering interlibrary loan books, and above all, alphabetizing files and scanning literally thousands of pages so that I had the leisure of working at home or abroad. His help with this book was absolutely invaluable. I want to acknowledge the International Catacomb Society but particularly Annewies van den Hoek for her support, knowledge, and intellectual curiosity; Robin Jensen for her wisdom; and especially Jessica Dello Russo, researcher extraordinaire, from whose diligent work on the catacombs I have benefitted immensely. Others who have inspired and encouraged me along the way include David Frankfurter, David Brakke, Jacob Latham, Éric Rebillard, Kate Cooper, Alan Thacker, Bernadette Brooten, Lucy Grig, Jörg Rüpke, Cliff Ando, and Philip Rousseau. I am hugely indebted to Tina Sessa, Karen Stern, Sarah Bond, Mark Humphries, and Jessica Dello Russo for reading either parts of or the whole manuscript and making many wonderful suggestions and catching many inaccuracies.

Acknowledgments

Now for the solitary pursuit of reading and thinking: a yearlong fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) allowed me the tremendous luxury of time to write away from teaching and advising responsibilities. This was followed by a second, equally luxurious year of teaching leave afforded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I am more than grateful for their generous support. This book would not have been written as quickly and pleasantly without that which we, as scholars, need most: time and money to live the life of the mind. I am grateful for the opportunity to have presented early drafts of this work at conferences and in public lectures over the past few years. A condensed version of Chapter 2, entitled “Damasus and the Derelict Relics,” appeared in Early Modern Europe 26.4 (2018). I presented a draft version of Chapter 5 at the University of Erfurt in June 2015 at a small conference organized by Jörg Rüpke and Martin Mulsow on how historiography creates religion; that paper, “The Early Modern Invention of Late Antique Rome: How Historiography Helped Create the Crypt of the Popes,” was published in Creating Religions by Historiography, edited by Jörg Rüpke and Martin Mulsow (2018). My gratitude goes to Ross Kraemer for her invitation to present the Jewish catacombs material that comprises Chapter 6 at the Moskow Seminar at Brown in 2015 and to Rebecca Sharbach Wollenberg for the invitation to present a more developed draft of the same chapter at the University of Michigan’s Frankel Center for Judaic Studies’ Beyond the Book colloquium in the fall of 2016. I gave related presentations at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Antonio, and later at the University of Erfurt at a conference organized by Claudia Dorit Bergmann in June 2017. Thank you, too, to Karen Stern for reviewing Chapter 6 on the Jewish catacombs and for inviting me to speak at Brooklyn College and to Tina Sessa for her invitation to speak at Ohio State in 2014, especially for encouraging me to look more closely into the Crypt of the Popes at the Catacombs of Callixtus. I presented a version of Chapter 4 on Peter at the 2017 “Peter, Popes, and Politics” conference at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam, thanks to the invitation from Roald Dijkstra, Dorine van Espelo, and Olivier Hexster. I followed this up with related presentations at the First Millennium Network at the University of Maryland, College Park, thanks to Jennifer Barry and Antoine Borrut, and at the University of California, Santa Barbara, thanks to Christine Thomas.

xiii

xiv

Acknowledgments

My two “anonymous” readers at Cambridge University Press offered wonderfully sage observations and suggestions; at Claremont Graduate University, I received wonderful support and encouragement, including editorial help from Sarah Eckert and Richard Parnell. Also, I want to thank Beatrice Rehl, editrix extraordinaire. A special shout-out is reserved for my BFF, Denise Bolton, who was with me on my very first trip to Monselice, Italy, with its “creepy saints,” which ignited some of my fascination with the material in this book; it was with great delight to have her with me again sixteen years later to return to the same spot as I worked on this book’s introduction. My greatest gratitude, finally, I reserve for my family: to Lola for her benevolent condescension toward a mother seemingly obsessed with dead people; to Isobel for usually containing her exasperation for a mother who, monstrously, denied her endless “screen time” seemingly without ever putting a real cap on my own. As far as solitary pursuits go, I promised some outstanding young female colleagues that I would thank myself for being the one to fetch myself healthy snacks and other feats of self-care while writing because, let’s face it, I have neither a doting wife nor a servant nor a secretary to make me grain bowls or type my manuscript or entertain the children while I write – unlike our male colleagues of a generation or two ago. But last of all, I must acknowledge my fantastic husband, Thomas A. Lewis, who (although he does not make me grain bowls) always ensures, daily, that I have the time, space, and care I need to be productive and engaged. This book could never have been written without his love, patience, and encouragement.

Abbreviations

I have used standard abbreviations for authors and titles of ancient works cited in the body of the text: e.g., Eusebius, HE = Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica. Below are abbreviations for book series and journals cited more than once in this book. Book Series AA. SS.

Acta Sanctorum quotquot toto orbe coluntur. Anvers, 1643– ANF Ante-Nicene Fathers. Editors A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886 BAC Bulletin archéologique du Comité des Travaux Historiques et Scientifiques CBCR Corpus Basilicarum Christianarum Romae. Editor R. Krautheimer. 4 vols. Vatican City, 1937–1980 CIJ Corpus Inscriptionum Judaicarum I: Europe. Editor J. B. Frey. Vatican City, 1936 CIL Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 6.2–4: Tituli Sepulcrales. Editors E. Bormann, G. Henzen and Chr. Huelsen. Berlin, 1882–1894 Cod. Theod. Codex Theodosianus CRAI Comptes rendus des séances de l’Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres CSEL Corpus scriptorium ecclesiasticorum latinorum DACL Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie. Editors F. Cabrol, H. Leclercq, and J. Marrou. Paris, 1907– xv

xvi

List of Abbreviations

GCS ICL

Die grieschischen Christlichen Schriftsteller Inscriptiones Christianae Latinae. Editor Ernst Diehl. Berlin: Apud Weidmannos, 1925 ICUR Inscriptiones Christianae urbis Romae septimo saeculo antiquiores. Editor G. B. de Rossi. Nova series, editor A. Silvagni. Romae: Ex Officina Libraria Pontificia, 1857– JIWE 2 Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe. Editor David Noy. Vol. 2: The City of Rome. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995 LCL Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA, and London LP Le Liber Pontificalis. Texte, introduction et commentaire. Editor Louis Duchesne. Vol. 1. Paris, 1886 LTUR Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae. Editor Eva Margareta Steinby. Rome: Quasar, 1993–1999 LTUS Suburbium = Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae. Suburbium, 1–8, editors V. Fiocchi Nicolai, M. G. Granino Cecere, and Z. Mari, Rome, 2001–2008 MGH SRM Monumenta Germaniae historica Scriptores rerum merovingicarum (Berlin, Hannover, and Leipzig) NPNF A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 2nd series (reprinted Grand Rapids) PL Patrologia Latina (Paris) SC Sources Chrétiennes Journals ANRW AJA AJAH DOP HTR HUCA JAAR JAC JBL

Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischer Welt American Journal of Archaeology American Journal of Ancient History Dumbarton Oaks Papers Harvard Theological Review Hebrew Union College Annual Journal of the American Academy of Religion Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum Journal of Biblical Literature

List of Abbreviations

JECS JEH JLA JRS JTS LASBF MAAR MDAI MEFRA PBSR RAC ZKG

Journal of Early Christian Studies Journal of Ecclesiastical History Journal of Late Antiquity Journal of Roman Studies Journal of Theological Studies Liber Annuus. Studium Biblicom Franciscanum, Jerusalem Memoires of the American Academy in Rome Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archaeologischen Instituts Mélanges de l’École Française de Rome, Antiquité Papers of the British School at Rome Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte

xvii

Introduction

D

 eep in the Veneto countryside, travelers in the seventeenth and eighteenth century might easily bypass the Italian town of Monselice, overshadowed as it was by the graceful Renaissance cities of Padua and Ferrara. Fortunately for Monselice, the little hamlet had its own attraction that lured wayfarers who might not otherwise have bothered to scale the heights of the rocky promontory against which Monselice was poised if they were hastening between the two great cities which framed it. It was not the town’s sturdy duomo that drew people – any town of consequence had one of these – nor the castello that stubbornly topped the promontory with a crenellated crown; it was something quite unexpected that greeted a pious Christian pilgrim this close to the powerhouse of Venice: a microcosmic, sacred Rome artfully arranged according to a symbolic, secret order. A curving path up Monselice’s mountain, just beyond its duomo and city center, revealed a series of six identical chapels strung out like rosary beads. Each chapel represented – indeed, was metonymically identical to – six of Rome’s seven great pilgrimage churches. As the faithful ascended Monselice’s monte sacro, each chapel visit conferred a new papal indulgence, just as visiting the real pilgrimage churches in Rome did. The regular pulse of these tidy, white-stuccoed shrines – built almost perversely not to resemble Rome’s churches but in the style of Roman pagan aediculae – continued up the curve until the sixth chapel brought its panting pilgrims, hearts pounding with exertion, up to a flat, open space marked out by regular, geometrical gardens; a surging fountain; a handsome and capacious villa; and the seventh chapel – different from the rest, but in a significant sense, the jewel in the site’s crown. It was the first and most important of the shrines: the Oratory of San Giorgio. 1

2

Introduction

Twenty years ago, I found myself, entirely by happy accident, standing on this plateau, my gaze fixed on the panorama of verdant farms and fields that the site commanded. Studying Italian in Siena, I had chanced to meet some architecture students from the University of Pennsylvania who invited me to visit them at the place the university had set up for them to stay: the Villa Duodo, a Renaissance palace once owned by the noble Venetian Duodo family that had commissioned the construction of Monselice’s monte sacro complex. There were only a handful of us, and we had the run of the twenty-room estate to ourselves. Inside, the villa was flea-infested and had a mournful, neglected air of forgotten nobility; outside, the planned gardens, complete with a huge stone exedra, stood preserved in perfect Renaissance tidiness. The site was largely, even oddly, silent, except for the chapel’s bell tower, from which each fifteen-minute interval was punctuated by two dull, thudding bells. The bell tower sprouted from the San Giorgio Oratory, which adjoined the oldest wing of the villa. It was kept open during regular hours, but the Penn students steered clear of it because it contained “creepy saints.” One afternoon I ventured inside. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw at the back of the small chapel’s double rooms six rows of glassfronted cabinets, four fronts to a row. Drawing nearer, I saw, with growing horror and fascination, that each glass-fronted cabinet revealed a sort of bed with what appeared to be large dolls inside. But they were not dolls: they were human mummies, each dressed up with satin and lace bonnets, with dehydrated flesh faces and lusterless hair still sometimes poking out from their headdresses. All clutched miniature chalices, wired into their skeletal hands; they were also shod in little satin slippers that mice had gnawed away, revealing tiny bone toes. These twenty-four “shrunken saints” had, I learned, been brought from Rome’s catacombs in the seventeenth century to reside there, high up on Monselice’s plateau, making the Oratory of San Giorgio a holy place and the Duodo family very powerful indeed. In fact, San Giorgio housed an impressive host of saints: Veneranda, Liberata, Chiara, two female saints by the name of Faustina (one a virgin martyr, the other a mother), Felicita, Febronia, Elite, Clemente, Fruttoso, Ilocio, Celestino, Emiliano, Gregorio, Bovo, Bonifacio, Rusticiano, Pio, Teodoro, Venanzio, Martino, Alessandro, Giustino, Benedetto, and two child saints: Faustina’s son Costantino, and Rusticiano son of Rusticiano, “who lived for five years, eleven months, and twenty-four days,” according to his epitaph, still preserved

Introduction

3

in the church. It could even boast the bones of St. Valentine, San Valentino – the patron saint of lovers. But here at Monselice on his feast day, February 14, people came to Valentine not to bless their romances but to protect their children from epilepsy – his local specialty. How could power, secular or sacred, come from the desiccated human bodies of Rome’s long dead? And how could the presence of these moldering catacomb bones mark out another Rome, a sacred city, here in the green hills of the Veneto? *** The example of Monselice’s monte sacro illustrates how the Cult of the Saints in early modern Rome effectively reordered topography, replicating Roma sancta in backwater towns such as Monselice, effectively and literally putting them “on the map.” Architectural and ecclesiastical visionaries engaged in an active “imagineering” of Rome that extended far beyond the confines of the city itself.1 Monselice’s monte sacro project was developed by the great Renaissance architect Vincenzo Scamozzi, at the request of Pietro Duodo and his sons, Francesco and Domenico, in the 1590s.2 It was the height of the Counter-Reformation, and the Duodo family wanted to expand their familial site beyond the oratory of San Giorgio. The little chapel needed a complete overhaul, for which Scamozzi devised the idea – borrowed from other monte sacro sites in the Veneto – of using the natural slope of the hillside to form a Via Romana with seven chapels that would correspond to Rome’s seven pilgrimage



On “Imagineering,” see Dennis Trout, “Theodelinda’s Rome: ‘Ampullae,’ ‘Pittacia,’ and the Image of the City,” MAAR 50 (2005): 134; Trout borrows the term from E. Soja, “Los Angeles 1965–1992,” in A. Scott and E. Soja, eds., The City: Los Angeles and Urban Theory at the End of the Twentieth Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996). 2 For an architect’s analysis of Scamozzi’s project at Monselice, see Ann Marie Borys, “Number, Spoils, and Relics: Totemic Images in a Mnemotopia,” Journal of Architectural Education 54/1 (2000): 28–34. On Renaissance sacri monti including Monselice, see Judith Wolin, “Mnemotopias: Revisiting Renaissance Sacri Monti,” Modulus 18 (1987): 37–38; on the most famous of the sacri monti at Varallo, see David Leatherbarrow, “The Image and Its Setting: A Study of the Sacro Monte at Varallo,” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 14 (1987): 107–22. On Villa Duodo in relation to other Renaissance villas, see Adalbert dal Lago, Villas and Palaces of Europe (London: Paul Hamlyn, 1969). 1

4

Introduction

churches.3 Ascent would be a sort of spiritual exercise, a drawing close to God. However, there was an immediate problem: San Giorgio already stood at the crest of the plateau, and the Duodi did not want it substantially altered. Long consecrated to Saint George, the chapel posed an additional challenge: it did not correspond to any one of Rome’s seven key pilgrimage churches that were to form the model for the sacra via. As a solution, Scamozzi devised that his sixth chapel would represent both the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul – a natural pairing, to be sure, since Peter and Paul had stood together as the twinned patron saints of Rome since the late fourth century. Nevertheless, there is something remarkable about the most important of Rome’s pilgrimage churches being combined such as to effectively redraw Roman sacred landscape to place the obscure, and untwinned, San Giorgio at the pinnacle of Scamozzi’s sacra via. There was only one way that Rome’s sacred landscape could be radically reordered at Monselice, and it hinged, curiously, upon human corpses. Relics provided the answer to the problem of San Giorgio. The lesser six miniature pilgrimage chapels along the sacra via were devoid of relics; their importance lay purely in their symbolic, metonymous correspondence with their Roman prototypes. But only San Giorgio contained the source of true power – the twenty-seven saints. Beginning in 1652, their bodies were carefully removed from the catacombs and placed here, far from Rome, patiently awaiting the resurrection in their silken beds. While they waited, they were at the disposal of the Duodi and those pilgrims who trudged up the hill, dutifully pausing at each shrine. They were there to cure the aigue, powerful fevers, to offer comfort to the sick and bereaved. The saints’ removal from the Catacombs of Rome happened long after Villa Duodo’s Via Romana was completed and consecrated. In 1605, the pope, Paul V, had decreed that pilgrims to Monselice’s shrines would receive the same indulgences as they might for visiting the actual Roman churches upon which they were modeled. Yet, in truth, Villa Duodo’s sacred way was at best a modest site architecturally and visually, so the spiritual boon to be granted from a visit more than made up for the impression made on the early modern visitor. Still, in a curious way, the simplicity and emptiness of the chapels was too austere – too Protestant,

Thomas K. Davis, “Scamozzi’s Duodi Estate in Monselice: Affirming an Architecture of Ambiguity,” The Architecture of the In-between 78 (1990): 55–65.

3

Introduction

even – for Counter-Reformation sensibilities. For there to be any kind of real payoff for trudging up Monselice’s hill, there had to be something special at the top: something to really see and wonder at. There had to be holy bones. And these, too, could only come from Rome, naturally. Niccolò Duodo set about procuring some. Time and space prevent me from a full history of all twenty-seven saints at San Giorgio, and so I will tell the story of only one of them: Saint Faustina, a virgin martyr, whose body resides just to the left of the main altar in the back chapel. Her red robes, embroidered with golden thread, are now shabby, and her white-gloved hand rests slackly against the gold-painted chalice with the words vas sanguinis written on it. Her left hand holds a gold paper palm leaf. Her skull is yellowed and, like others in the chapel, seems to have had its eye sockets filled in and nose built up with a sort of plaster. At the front of the case, the label in a sure, cursive hand reports that Faustina, virgin and martyr, was excavated from the Catacombs of St. Callixtus along with her tombstone, which reads “FAVSTINAE VIRGINI FORTISSIMAE, QVE BIXIT AN. XXI” (Figure 1). How did Faustina arrive here, in this modest hamlet so many hours from Rome? In 1672, Pope Clement X established a new papal office, the Custode delle ss. Reliquie e dei cimiteri, to regulate and establish control of Rome’s catacombs. Those men who held the position of custodian had the task of “protecting” relics from unscrupulous theft or sale; ironically, however, they themselves trafficked in sacred commodities, perhaps even manufacturing them to suit the orders and predilections of their friends and sponsors. Marco Antonio Boldetti (1663–1749), canon of Santa Maria in Trastevere and himself a Custode, was one of the great brokers of the holy.4 Fascinated by the early martyrs, his book Osservazioni sopra i cimiterj de’ Santi Martiri (1720) marked out a sacred

Marco Antonio Boldetti (1663–1749), a Jewish scholar, comes across badly in the work of W. H. C. Frend’s study of Christian archaeology as “a collector and hoarder” (W. H. C. Frend, The Archaeology of Early Christianity: A History [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998], 24). Appointed by Clement XI (1700–21) as Custodian of the Sacred Cemeteries, in 1720 Boldetti published his Osservazione sopra i cimiterj de’ santi martyri ed antichi cristiani di Roma, “a useful, if not always accurate work” (Frend, 24). Boldetti was responsible for removing inscriptions, and frescoes, and opened more tombs in search of relics. “On his death in 1749 at the age of 86,” remarks Frend, “his church and presbytery must have resembled a cross between a repository for antiques and a charnel house” (24).

4

5

Introduction

Photo by Denise Bolton, 2016.

6

Figure 1.  The Virgin Martyr Faustina, 2016.

history of early Christians in Rome based on a fanciful reconstruction drawn from the material culture of the catacombs.5 Boldetti, as some of his contemporary critics noted, played rather fast and loose with the category of “martyr.”6 Indeed, he averred that most bodies in the catacombs were those of holy martyrs: at any rate, certainly those buried with small glass bottles of what he claimed was dried blood still visible inside (later discovered to be perfume to cover the stench of corpse), or those with tomb inscriptions featuring palm leaves or birds – very common motifs in catacomb art.7 In Boldetti’s Osservazioni sopra i cimiterj de’ Santi Martiri, we come across the following notice: Marco Antonio Boldetti, Osservazioni sopra i cimiterj de’ santi martiri: ed antichi cristiani di Roma. Aggiuntavi la serie di tutti quelli, che sino al presente si sono scoperti, e di altri simili, che in varie Parti del Mondo si trovano: con alcune riflessioni pratiche sopra il Culto delle Sagre Reliquie (Rome, 1720). 6 Ann Marie Yasin, “Displaying the Sacred Past: Ancient Christian Inscriptions in Early Modern Rome,” International Journal of the Classical Tradition 7/1 (2000): 46–48. 7 Boldetti, Osservazioni, lib. II, cap. III, p. 339. As Ann Marie Yasin notes (“Displaying the Sacred Past,” 48, n. 34), these criteria are not Boldetti’s own but are based on a 1668 decree of the Congregation of Rites.



5

Introduction Il corpo di questa S. Martire contrassegnato col suo vaso di vetro col Sangue fuori del sepolcro, fu da me trovato nel gran Cimitero di Calisto … Tutte le ossa del sagro suo Corpo si trovarono entro il Sepolcro candide, e intere, e molto ben conservate, ed insieme colla lapida tutto il sagro Corpo, col vaso di Sangue, fu sino d’allora conceduto dal Signor Cardinal di Carpegna ad un Personaggio riguardevole di questa Corte, da cui poi finalmente è passato alle mani del piissimo Signor Cavaliere Niccolò Duodo Ambasciatore della Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia al Regnante Pontefice. The body of this sacred martyr labeled with its glass vase of Blood outside the grave, was discovered by me in the great Cemetery of Callixtus. All the bones of this holy Body were found inside the Grave, white and complete, and very well preserved, and together with the stone marker and with its vase of Blood, this whole sacred Body was immediately handed over to the Cardinal of Carpegna, a highly regarded Person in this Court, and from whom finally it passed into the hands of the most pious Signor Cavaliere Niccolò Duodo, Ambassador to the most Serene Republic of Venice to the reigning Pontiff.8

The “holy Body” Boldetti discusses here belonged to an unmarried woman of twenty-one, whose name Boldetti gives only as “Faustina.” She died, Boldetti maintained, as a witness to her faith, bravely resisting the forces of evil arrayed against her. He discovered her body, gloriously uncorrupt, at Callixtus and delivered her along with her engraved tombstone to the Cardinal, then on to Duodo, who installed her at San Giorgio. She was not the first saint to reach Monselice; Boldetti writes of the seven pilgrimage churches of the Duodo family and how they were granted special privileges in Paul V’s bull, and of the many relics and holy bodies (Corpi Santi) that rested in the sanctuary of this site.9

8

Boldetti, Osservazioni, lib. II, cap. III, p. 339. … ad effetto d’illustrare con esso una della sette Chiese esistenti nel Castello di Monselice nella Diocese di Padova Padronato della sua Nobilissima Famiglia; alle quali la sa. Me. Di Paolo V. concedette con Bolla special le stesse Indulgenze, e Privilegj, che godono le sette Chiese di Roma; Per secondare poi le divote brame del mentovato Signor Cavalier Duodo, oltre le numerose Reliquie, e Corpi Santi, che da molti anni si venerano nel Santuario di quelle sette Chiese, nel tempo della sua gloriosa Ambasciaria in Roma, è stato anche onorato di varie altre Reliquie, e Corpi di Martiri da molti Porporati, e Vescovi di varie Diocesi (Osservazioni, lib. II, cap. III, p. 340).

9

7

8

Introduction

Faustina still rests with her sisters and brothers in a glass-fronted display in San Giorgio. But her curious story is not yet over. *** Twenty years after my initial visit, in 2016 I once again climbed Monselice’s hill. The oppressive heat – just under 100 degrees Fahrenheit on an otherwise clear early September day – slowed my long trek from the train station until I found myself again walking into San Giorgio, engulfed by its dark, curved walls. My shrunken saints still lay in their moth-eaten glass coffins, unmoving, unseeing, as visitors – some moved, some disinterested, some frankly unnerved – moved in and out of the gloom like shadows. Unlike my first trip here as a graduate student, I now knew these saints: how they had come to rest here on this hill; where they had come from, and who had lifted them from over a thousand years of slumber in the catacombs, so far away in Rome. My creepy saints had come to Monselice as ready-packed little assemblages of holiness: not only their bodies were here, but the glass vials holding the perfume once believed to be their blood had been gouged out of the mortar of the catacomb galleries and placed in the coffins too; with them, as well, were their funerary inscriptions – little stone “certificates of authenticity,” so to speak. I peered into Faustina’s glass coffin and read her epitaph: “FAVSTINAE VIRGINI FORTISSIMAE, QVE BIXIT AN. XXI.” This time, however, I noticed something else I had not noticed before: her epitaph is almost certainly a fake. Nothing about it, to me, suggests authenticity. The carving is regular in size, spacing, and lettering – virtually classical in style – far different from most late antique Christian epitaphs. The unique phrasing of Faustina’s epitaph – that she was a “steadfast” or literally, “most strong” virgin – evokes the image of a martyr withstanding tortures, not an unmarried woman or even a consecrated virgin of the church. This is an image drawn from later martyr narratives, not from the social history of late antique Rome. To confirm my hunch, I researched the language used on Christian inscriptions from late antiquity to commemorate virgins. My search for inscriptions commemorating virgins on the University of Bari’s database (EDB) of early Christian inscriptions in Italy, returned 198 examples,

Introduction

most from Rome.10 Of these, twenty were established by parents commemorating their daughters, some of whom died while still very young.11 Four are from husbands to their “virgins,” a practice not uncommon in late antique Christian circles; these were probably celibate Christian marriages, not virgins consecrated by the Church. Only a small handful of these forty-three commemorate virgins buried without mention of family, and these all seem to be relatively late judging from their distinctive language, style, or consular dating.12 None of these were identified as martyrs on their inscriptions. Some adjectives associated with named virgins on late antique Christian epitaphs are casta, chaste (ICUR 4 10953); dulcissima, sweetest (ICUR 8 22074); innocentissima (ILCV 1591); and sanctissima (ICUR 6 17162), although the most common adjectival phrase used is “well deserving,” as on most Christian funerary inscriptions. While authentic Christian inscriptions do occasionally commemorate women as “virgins,” the phrase “virgo fortissima” is found exactly once in the entire Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae (ICUR) collection, which records 40,000 Christian inscriptions: here, in Faustina’s epitaph (numbered and reproduced as ICUR 3 8879). The last part of Faustina’s inscription, “…QVE BIXIT AN. XXI,” also seemed very curious. The use of the vernacular Latin “bixit” (“lived”) would be nonsensical next to the formal Latin virgo of the first line. Why would “virgin” be written with a “v,” but “vixit” (the proper form) be changed to the vernacular “b” (as late antique Christians clearly pronounced “v” as “b” and thus, when uneducated, came to write “bixit” in place of “vixit”)? Put simply, if whoever inscribed Faustina’s stone was A search for “virgine” returns 3 examples and virgini, 42; for “virgo,” 139, and for “birgo,” an additional 14. 11 For example, Athanasia dies at 2  years, 5  months, and 6  days (ICUR 8 20910); Laurentia at 3 years, 3 months (ICUR 6 15530); Marina at 6 years, 11 months (ICUR 1 1687). Of the remainder, where age is given or still legible, one commemorates a daughter of 12; two, a daughter of 14; two, a daughter of 15; one, a daughter of 16, and two, a daughter of 17. 12 Examples are: “THEODORA VIRGO” (ICUR 6 16514, from Catacombs of Peter and Marcellinus); ICUR 7 18464; “PLAGINIANE VIRGO” (ICUR 5 14551, from the Catacombs of Praetextatus); “IRENE VIRGO” (ICUR 3 6760, Catacombs of Domitilla); “PRIMITIBA VIRGO” (ICUR 1 382, now lost); “EUSEBIA VIRGO” (ICUR 7 18718); “BALSAMIA V(irgo) R(e)Q(uiescit)” (ICUR 7 20623, now lost).



10

9

Introduction

In the public domain.

10

Figure 2.  M. A. Boldetti, Osservazioni sopra i cimiterj de’ santi martiri, ed antichi cristiani di Roma. Aggiuntavi la serie di tutti quelli, che sino al presente si sono scoperti, e di altri simili, che in varie parti del mondo si trovano: con alcune riflessioni pratiche sopra il culto delle sagre reliquie, lib. II, cap. III, p. 339, 1720. In the public domain.

educated enough to write “virgin” with a “v,” that person was educated enough to know (especially with a classical-style inscription) that vixit was also spelled with a v.13 Given how dubious Faustina’s funerary epitaph appears to the trained eye, I was even more interested when I found her stone reproduced in full in Boldetti’s Osservazione (Figure 2). Only the top half of Faustina’s stone is visible at San Giorgio; it is not clear to me if it is broken off or merely hidden; but seeing a drawing of the whole stone does nothing to convince me that it was authentic. The images of the bird and anchor are standard ones, as is the acclamation “in pace.” The christogram within a martyr’s crown is, however, suspect; I do not know of any other authentic examples where a chi rho (a very common emblem) is enclosed in a martyr’s crown. The idea that a Christian epitaph – here used to authenticate the body of a martyr – might have been faked is somehow more disturbing

13

The vernacular “birgo” for “virgo” certainly appears: see, for instance, ICUR 10 27370; ICUR 10 26656 (commemorating a “birgo” named “Bictoria” rather than “Victoria,” but then uses “vixit” rather than “bixit”); ICUR 2 4498; ICUR 3 8998; ICUR 7 20235; ICUR 3 6822; ICUR 3 6930; ICUR 7 18518; ICUR 7 19105; ICUR 7 19374, died aged 3; ICUR 7 19464, a male virgin (birgo) who dies aged 30; ICUR 1 2038, a “birgo dei” named Victora, qui “vixit”…; ICUR 4 10305. The quality of these inscriptions are overall low, with poor script, misspellings, and grammatical errors – very different from Faustina’s epitaph.

Introduction

11

than the revelation that in fact most bodies dredged from the Roman catacombs at this period were the bodies of ordinary dead, not martyrs. After all, one requires merely a strong faith to see in a nameless, faceless skeleton the conviction that this person died as a witness to Christian truth; a forged epitaph, on the other hand, is rank fraud. Nevertheless, we know of early modern forgers who concocted false epitaphs, partly in service of legitimating skeletons such as poor Faustina’s.14 If, indeed, Faustina was ever her name. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries marked an era, more generally, in which noble families worked closely with the papacy – with which they were intimately connected through ties of flesh and blood – to remove human remains from the Roman catacombs and to establish them within their family chapels. The Cult of the Saints took on, in this era, a particular visceral power – a power that included the ability of the long dead to transform profane space into sacred place. I am fascinated by this phenomenon of the sanctification of space by the use of human remains – a mark of the Cult of the Saints, and, supposedly, a phenomenon that began in late antiquity before coming into full flower in the Counter-Reformation. I begin this book on Rome with the Monselice story – a place outside Rome – not only because it is a nice example of the adage that “all roads lead to Rome,” even in the seventeenth century, and even in the case of a sacred place a few days’ journey from Rome, but also because it is a wonderful example of how when it comes to antiquity or late antiquity, things were often simply not as they seem. When it comes to something as ostensibly central as the Cult of the Saints, what we too often see in or around Rome has been passed through the hands of early modern interpreters, who gathered, manipulated, suppressed, or occasionally made up data that we use, often enough naively, to reconstruct the past. Early modern scholars quite literally invented late antique Rome to suit their own interests. In this book, I investigate how they did it and why we scholars of late antiquity so often fall for their version(s) of Rome’s Christian past. *** I argue in this book that the creation of Roma Sancta based on its history of martyrs, and the conceptual acts of mapping the city as a network of

See ch. 5 on other forged Christian epitaphs; Silvia Orlandi, “Forgeries Transmitted in Manuscripts or in Printed Works,” and Maria Letizia Caldelli, “Forgeries Carved in Stone,” in C. Bruun and J. Edmondson, eds, The Oxford Handbook of Roman Epigraphy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 42–48; 48–54.

14

12

Introduction

holy martyr sites working together to create a sacred landscape, was a feature of Counter-Reformation piety. This stands directly against the bulk of late antique scholarship that sees the genesis of Roma Sancta in late antiquity, drawing on attestations from sources like Prudentius, Jerome, and Damasus. I argue, by contrast, that the broader cultural work that the Cult of the Saints performed in late antiquity – particularly in fourth- and fifth-century Rome – cannot be accessed without considering first the cultural work that it did in Counter-Reformation and early modern Rome. This is because the main sites for the Cult of the Saints that we still use today in our scholarly reconstructions were so deeply recrafted in the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries that we cannot at all be sure, much of the time, that what we think is “late antique” is really not the product of this much later re-crafting. This reconceptualization of the Cult of the Saints in early modern Rome was all encompassing – it affected, and effected, everything from the archaeology of these sites, the ideologies that drove that archaeology, the texts that discuss the Cult of the Saints, and the “modern” analytical tools by which we read them. Put more bluntly, the Cult of the Saints in Roman late antiquity – at least before the seventh century – is largely a mirage, an illusion carefully crafted a thousand years later. That is not to say that we cannot access the realities of fourth- and fifth-century Roman Christianity. We can, but it is a largely deconstructive exercise, arrived at only after stripping away the detritus of a later age. I focus in this book predominantly on the “invention” of the catacombs as sacred martyr shrines in Counter-Reformation Rome and early modern Italy so that we may approach the ancient with more knowledge of what came after, and know the difference. *** This is also, profoundly, a book about the dead. More broadly, it is about the space and place occupied by the dead in the city of Rome, and their crafting and revisioning by a series of influential men. In particular, I take on a particular truism in the study of late antique Christianity: that between the fourth and fifth centuries, we can detect a “corporeal turn” where bodies (and more specifically, dead bodies) – hitherto considered by Romans as defiled – were newly regarded with reverence as sacred relics. The key study to have shaped this notion is Peter Brown’s tremendously erudite The Cult of the Saints (1981), which introduced into scholarship a new category, the “Very Special Dead” who, by the sheer

Introduction

force of their numinous power, had the power to “unite heaven and earth.”15 Brown conjures a remarkable and eloquent picture of the role of the corpse in the late antique imagination – not as macabre but as the puissant patronus par excellence, whose power translated earthly authority to a heavenly register. Following Brown’s sympathetic and compelling reconstruction of the power of the “Very Special Dead” in late antiquity, it would be impossible to overestimate the importance that scholars of late antiquity have assigned to relics in late antiquity. Relics were, in much modern scholarship, considered the new currency of the age. They were bought and sold, traded and bartered, stolen and hidden, then miraculously revealed in brilliant thaumaturgical displays. Relics made behaviors and performances; they directed ceremony. They had agency and supernatural power. Relics consecrated and radically reoriented space, whether within a chapel or in a subterranean saint’s shrine. Relics obliterated the dubious power of pagan holy space; they intimidated bishops and emboldened whoever held them. People clamored to be next to them, even in death choosing to cluster close by in “ad sanctos” burials. Their worship turned a city inside out – moving the centers of pious worship and pilgrimage from inside the walls to the suburbs, and then, when they were brought back inside the walls 200 years later, turned the city back outside in, as people followed the bones into churches for worship, or were buried “ad sanctos” inside the walls for the first time in Rome’s history. This book argues that Peter Brown’s category of the “Very Special Dead” merits careful reevaluation, and that the centrality and vigor of the late antique relic trade was not an empire-wide phenomenon. The evidence for the Cult of the Saints looks quite different if we keep our focus on one single city – Rome – and one highly complicated and transitional period: from the Constantinian period (306–37) through the decades after the Sack of Rome to the era of Pope Gregory the Great (540–604). This book, then, offers a microhistorical approach to balance Brown’s sweeping macrohistory of the late Empire, focusing on key figures involved in debates concerning corporeal sanctity – Jerome, Damasus, and Gregory – and key sites: St. Peter’s and the catacombs and martyrial shrines that ringed the ancient city.

Peter R. L. Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 69–85.

15

13

14

Introduction

In late antiquity, Rome was unique from other cities in the late Empire, carrying with it the substantial weight of its own history of cultural and political exceptionalism. Romans quite clearly had their own way of thinking about the dead, and the rise of the cult of relics elsewhere did not particularly move Romans of varied social classes and influence – from ordinary citizens to educated sub-elites such as Jerome or Gregory the Great – to break from what Gregory termed “the Roman custom” of keeping the dead unfetishized (Ep. 4.30). In the city of Rome itself, the cult of relics remained peripheral, at best, in shaping late antique Roman Christianity. To make this argument, this book engages new archaeological evidence published in the past thirty years, which disrupts the picture so prevalent in modern scholarship after Brown of late antique Rome as a city turned inside out as Christians streamed out to martyrial sites. The bone trade was simply not a key feature of fourth- to sixth-century Rome. No accounts of miracle-working bones exist from late antique Rome, no contemporary accounts of people marveling over them, fetishizing them, honoring them. Chapels were chapels, churches were churches, even without bones; altars did not contain relics. Liturgy and processionals did not form around them; they were not adored. People were not buried just to be close to them, and burials inside the city’s walls did not follow the arrival of relics but predated them and existed separately from them. This new, revisionist reading of the Cult of the Saints in Rome reveals lively debates in the late Empire concerning the status of the dead. Burial practices continued following old, traditional patterns of patronage and proximity. New innovations were based on purely practical need, and, occasionally, the strenuous efforts of a select few men to introduce something like the Cult of the Saints to a generally disinterested populace – but that came only much later, in the seventh and eighth centuries. It may not even have happened then, to the degree that we expect. Our sources are few, as the early history of Rome falls largely into darkness until its sixteenth-century Renaissance. At that point, as we shall see, very interesting things happen with Rome’s Cult of the Saints indeed. If the Cult of the Saints did not exist in fourth- and fifth-century Rome, why have we been so misled as to believe that it did? Chief among these reasons, this book argues, has been our own ambivalent attitude toward human remains. Late antique Roman Christianity – the Cult of the Saints – remains, for many of us, tantalizingly exotic. It bespeaks an attitude toward the body that is superstitious, fetishistic, macabre,

Introduction

15

and fascinating. That is not a late antique Roman mentality, however; it emerges, I argue, with full force in the sixteenth century and again in the nineteenth century, the very eras in which the catacombs – the chief data sets for reconstructing the Cult of the Saints in Rome – are first explored, plundered, and presented to the public. Thus, a key to uncovering the genesis of the Cult of the Saints as representative of late antique Christianity is to examine both the role of relics in sixteenthand nineteenth-century Rome, and critically, the Catholic Church’s “invention” of the catacombs as sacred space. *** My chief data sets, so to speak, in this book are the catacombs that ring Rome – silent, subterranean testimony to countless, nameless dead Romans. They contain the bodies of perhaps two million late antique inhabitants. Burial spaces hewn out of rock and soil, they constituted a pragmatic solution to the problem of too many dead. A town with 10,000 inhabitants would contend with the disposal problem of perhaps 350 dead a year; thus, a city of one million like Rome at its second-century zenith would face about 35,000 dead a year. Their even minimally respectful disposal would consume about 100 acres’ worth of land annually. Inevitably, the old dead needed to make way for the newly dead. In some cultures – but not late antique Rome – the bones of the dead were moved into ossuaries or charnel houses, often carefully sorted or arranged. In Rome, old skeletons were brutally displaced or tombs were added to by new, unrelated squatters. The resultant jumble of burials was chaotic, unsustainable. In the third century, much of the area ringing the city walls – newly built in 275 CE – was already congested with aboveground burials and shallowly dug mausolea. People – likely those without substantial financial resources – hit upon the idea of reusing old industrial excavations such as quarries or cisterns for disposing of bodies. The first of these areas, a short distance beyond Rome’s southern gates off the Via Appia, was known as “kata kumbas,” or “around/beyond the hollows.” There, in a site now occupied by the basilica and Catacombs of San Sebastiano, the catacombs were born. The catacombs were neither exclusively Christian sites nor were they homogeneous; all sorts of people were buried there. And despite the predominance of certain grave types such as loculus or “slot graves,” bodies could be placed in sarcophagi or inserted into various shaped hollows, buried under shallow earth or disused roof

16

Introduction

tiles, rolled into lead burritos, stacked like cordwood, thrown in haphazardly, even tucked into someone else’s tomb despite dire, inscribed warnings against doing so. Some were marked; most were not. These vast cities of the dead grew almost like living organisms, pushing ever outwards and downwards as new passages and new graves were dug, swallowing up older subterranean tombs, in worm-twisted tunnels or fishbone orderliness. For archaeologists and social historians, cemeteries provide extremely useful data sets. Painstaking excavation, properly analyzed, can yield tremendously useful information on the customs and habits of people in the past. Grave goods can recover diurnal life or religious beliefs. Funerary inscriptions can identify everything from cultural habits to elementary demographics. Most useful of all are bodies themselves, which can provide fascinating information on life expectancies, lifestyle, diet, population shifts, and disease. Those sixteenth-century catacomb explorers such as Antonio Bosio, followed by Giovanni Battista de Rossi in the nineteenth century, attempted to apply the best systematic scientific approaches they could to their studies of the catacombs, recording and sorting data. Their analytical impulses, however, were tempered by their Catholic faith, which saw the holy bodies of martyrs where we might see skeletons for DNA analysis, and chapels where we might see tomb chambers filled with vital clues to late Roman society. Today, the Roman catacombs are still considered sacred sites, administrated by a Roman curia established 500 years ago, the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology. Of the fifty or so catacomb sites that ring the city, only six – Commodilla, Domitilla, Sebastiano, and Callixtus to the south of the city, and Priscilla and Agnese to the northwest – are reliably open to the public, greeting some one million visitors each year.16 The visitors are a mix of Catholic faithful, many of

Recently, the Catacombs of Peter and Marcellinus have reopened, albeit on a smaller scale with a single, wonderful, hardworking guide, Dr. Angela di Curzio; the Jewish Catacombs of Vigna Randanini are also now open regularly, as are the rural Ad Decimum catacombs beyond Rome’s Anagnina metro stop right before the small hamlet of Grottaferrata. Intrepid and patient visitors to Rome may also manage visits to the small catacombs beneath the parish church of San Pancrazio off Via Aurelia Antica. All other closed catacombs require obtaining special permission from the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, along with a substantial fee.

16

Introduction

whom come in church groups as pilgrims, and the merely curious. The obligatory tours, each about 20–30 minutes long, lead groups of up to thirty through well-worn paths. I found them frustrating twenty years ago on my first forays into the catacombs; while researching and writing this book, I returned for more of these tours, going undercover, so to speak, to get the “tourist’s tour” instead of a more learned conversation between scholars. For me, these tours ranged from completely insufferable to downright comical. My inadvertent back-row guffaws, though stifled, turned more than one or two steely-eyed glances in my direction; one semiprivate tour was so dreadfully kindergarten-level that I had to break cover, protesting that I was a professor of Christian archaeology and had written extensively on the catacombs – this made no difference to the guide, who simply glared at me and continued his rehearsed talking points. One particularly feisty and wonderful guide, spying me scribbling notes at the back of the group, marched over and pulled them from my hand. Flipping through my notebook, she looked up and declared to the group, “Ah! La professoressa will continue the tour from here!” My conclusion, after twenty years of studying the catacombs and too many private and public tours to count, is that they are the most consistently misleading “sources” for early Roman Christianity into late antiquity presented to the public. One of my undergraduate students half-jokingly termed public tours at the major catacombs as “Lies Catacomb Guides Tell.” Some of this misinformation is deliberately ideological because the catacombs, for the Roman Catholic Church, are not neutral archaeological sites but actively sacred space. As such, they are presented to visitors as primarily Christian shrines (Mass is offered daily in the major catacombs, and pilgrims are invited to pray, sing hymns of praise, or participate in the liturgy), and secondarily, as teaching sites about the true nature of early Christianity in Rome, of which they are seen as primary evidence. The short pedagogical offerings of the guides go something like this: (1) the catacombs were sites of (exclusively) Christian burial but also accurately reflect the nature of early Christian faith aboveground; (2) Christians did not hide out in the catacombs as was previously thought, but they did go there often to pray; (3) the Church had control of these sites from the third century; (4) Christians, unlike pagans, offered their own a respectable burial; (5) the sites are largely barren now because barbarians ransacked them; (6) scores of pilgrims came to honor the many bones of martyrs in these holy catacombs.

17

18

Introduction

Each one of these statements is either wrong or profoundly misleading. This book, then, offers a more complex picture of how these statements came to be proffered as truth. The legacy of early, ideologically driven catacomb scholarship as misinforming the public bothers me less, frankly, than the legacy of sloppy modern scholarship in which early modern fictions are uncritically perpetuated. When we present information to the general public, a certain amount of abbreviation, simplification, narrative embellishment, and theater constitutes part of the “show” of public scholarship. But I am also guilty of thoughtlessly repeating inadvertent half-truths or bits of misinformation in my scholarship – a consequence of not thinking hard enough about the material at hand, or of relying on the research of others. To give an example, the most oft-repeated piece of misinformation I find in catacomb scholarship is that the Church administrated Rome’s catacombs from the third century, when Pope Zephyrinus appointed the deacon Callixtus to oversee the city’s cemeteries. In some versions of this account, Callixtus is appointed but only over the large cemeterial complex that bears his name, the Catacombs of Callixtus, on the Appian Way. Which was it? And how do we know that any of this is factual? The source of this misinformation comes partly from the Liber Pontificalis, an early medieval source that anachronistically retrojects a more organized, powerful Catholic Church into the third century. Historian Éric Rebillard has shown the basic account – that Zephyrinus appointed Callixtus over the catacombs – to be a “cooked” translation of the original Greek of Hippolytus’ Refutatio, orchestrated by perhaps the greatest of the early modern catacomb scholars, Giovanni Battista de Rossi.17 De Rossi was also the one to identify the catacomb complex he was excavating with the otherwise unnamed “cemetery” in Hippolytus’ text.18 In reality, Christians in third-century Rome were not well organized and had no centralized hierarchy. The office of “pope” was not yet established; Zephyrinus had no authority or jurisdiction over property, since “the Church” did not as yet hold any. There is no indication that clergy were in any way responsible for burials or cemeteries in the third Éric Rebillard, “L’Eglise de Rome et le dévéloppement des catacombes,” MEFRA 109/2 (1997): 741–63; for the argument in English, see É. Rebillard, The Care of the Dead in Late Antiquity, trans. Elizabeth Trapnell Rawlings and Jeanine RoutierPucci (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004), 2–12. 18 Rebillard, Care of the Dead, 2–3.



17

Introduction

19

century; property was either imperially or privately held. Burials might happen on imperial or private land, but in either case, the “Church,” such as it was, had nothing to do with it. Professional cemetery workers took care of selling and preparing graves, and perhaps with preparing bodies; what the professionals did not handle, families managed themselves. Taking for granted that Zephyrinus’ appointment of Callixtus over the catacombs is historical and factual perpetuates an anachronistic and simply inaccurate picture of third-century Christianity in Rome. All subsequent scholarship based on this picture, then, contains a fatal flaw; it gets third-century Rome completely wrong. Without using later, ideologically motivated ecclesiastical sources, however, third-century Christianity is frankly terribly difficult to see. Our work as historians becomes immeasurably harder, but it should be done. This book can represent only a modest contribution here, since the third century is not the primary time period of interest to me in this volume. I do, however, spend more time considering the later historiographical constructions and assumptions of this claim, along with its fundamental assertion: that we can use later sources to uncritically reconstruct earlier realities. My aim in this book is to consider carefully the sources we use to reconstruct the past, how we read them, and what drove both their composition and our own readings of them. I demonstrate that tremendously influential early modern scholarship on late antique Rome presented and repeated as “fact” what was, in reality, early modern Catholic ideology. I then attempt to hold these later sources at bay and consider only late antique sources – frustratingly fragmentary and difficult to interpret as they are – to build an alternative impressionistic portrait (for it can never be complete) of late antique Rome. *** I begin this book by considering the city of Rome as sacred space. Chapter 1, “The Reinventio of the Hidden City,” begins at Rome’s urban periphery, above the Catacombs of Callixtus off Via Appia. Here at the site of Rome’s largest and oldest Christian cemetery, signs warn joggers to respect this “holy place.” This chapter interrogates the concept of sacred space – particularly sacred space that is associated with the burial of the dead. For whom is it sacred, and how did it become so? Drawing on the works of Jerome and Prudentius – both of whom redraw conceptual maps of late-fourth-century Rome in their writings – I consider

20

Introduction

theoretical approaches to space and place from Jonathan Z. Smith to the environmental psychologist Kenneth Craik. I ask the question: how do we reshape the past through invocations of place and reorientation of space? How was this done in late antiquity and then in the great eras of catacomb exploration and discovery? Was the “hidden city” of Rome’s Christian catacombs truly part of a late antique system of seeing and experiencing Rome? Chapter 2, “Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata),” delves more deeply into the insights of the first chapter, considering the process of mapping sacred space. The process of mapmaking not only abstracts one’s experience of space; it also comes to direct and determine that experience. Maps can withhold information or magnify the significance of specific data. But mapmaking itself is also largely an endeavor that first emerges in modernity – or I should say, modern maps differ from ancient ones. In this chapter, I focus on two late antique “case studies” – a list of the burial sites of early Roman Christian martyrs, the so-called Depositio Martyrum from the Calendar of 354, and the work of the controversial pope Damasus (366–384 CE) in promoting specific saints’ shrines on the urban periphery. In the nineteenth century, this list, along with the inscriptions that Damasus installed at his saints’ shrines, were both read, for the first time, spatially; that is, the early modern tendency to make maps drove scholars to interpret these materials as determinative of the late antique Christian conquest of space. This chapter re-situates both Damasus and the Depositio into their native context, to produce a different model of Christianization based on local traditions, land ownership, and private patronage. Chapter 3, “Remains to Be Seen (or, ‘On the Holy Corpse’),” approaches the issue of corporeal sanctity. Was the corpse considered polluted or holy in fourth-century Rome? I draw on the theoretical frame of historian Thomas Laqueur, who considers the cultural “work” that corpses have performed in the modern West.19 I argue here that unlike other fourth-century Christians elsewhere, Roman Christians refrained from fetishizing the corpse as a precious object. No primary source from Rome does so; even two centuries later, Gregory the Great actively resists the cult of corporeal relics as against “the Roman custom” (Ep. 4.30). Only much later, in the wake of the Reformation, did Catholics come to

Thomas Laqueur, The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015).

19

Introduction

regard the holy corpse with new fascination and ardent devotion. It was during this era – not incidentally – that catacomb discovery and renovation began in earnest. This chapter argues, further, that this charnel piety redoubled again in the late nineteenth century, once again driving catacomb exploration and excavation, bringing with it a distinctively corporeal valuation of martyrs. Not only did this piety change the nature of Catholic space within churches, it also initiated significant interventions in catacombs and, indeed, retrojected itself into our understanding of the “work” that corpses performed in late antique Rome. Chapter 4, “Peter’s Bones,” delves into the remarkable history of St. Peter’s. Ostensibly built on top of the bones of the apostle Peter, this basilica constitutes ground zero for Catholics’ life, identity, and connection to their sacred past. Yet does Peter really lie under the church? This chapter explores the complicated history of St. Peter’s as a sacred site: although early sources mention that there was a tropaion to Peter present there from the end of the second century, key late antique sources identify Peter’s resting place as at the Memoria Apostolorum off the Via Ardeatina. What investment did late antique Rome have in Peter, who perhaps did not even set foot in the city? This chapter argues that St. Peter’s and the Memoria Apostolorum were significant, even “holy” sites in late antiquity because of the apostles’ ethereal presence, not their relics or bodies. It challenges us to consider new models for holy space apart from corporeal presence. Some of these models are, in fact, traditional Roman ways of conceptualizing and memorializing divine presence. Chapter 5, “De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes,” begins in the so-called Crypt of the Popes in the Catacombs of Callixtus. The room bears testimony to the antiquity of Rome’s apostolic past, containing the burials of a succession of popes from the second and third centuries. Upon close examination, however, the site is not as it seems. Far from being an authentic, untouched papal burial site since the third century, I argue that the Crypt of the Popes is a (re)constructed mnemotopia for the benefit of a Catholic audience – engineered by the famed Roman “sacred archaeologist” Giovanni Battista de Rossi (1822–1894). Spurred on by the Catholic policy of presenting itself semper eadem at a crucial political juncture for the Roman Church, de Rossi participated in an active program of transmuting “sacred history” into experiential and performative acts of piety – not only through the institution of the liturgy in catacomb spaces, but through formal, organized “catacomb

21

22

Introduction

tourism.” The Crypt of the Popes was, at that time, deliberately crafted into mnemotopic space that re-created and reinstituted a fictive apostolic, papal past. Chapter 6 is titled “Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones.” Rome’s Jewish catacombs play a major role in reconstructing the nature and identity of the late antique city’s Jewish population. In part because these catacombs have not fallen under the jurisdiction of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, they are widely regarded as providing historically reliable data sets. And yet, a closer and critical examination of these sites reveals that there is much to question about the wisdom and accuracy of reconstructing late antique Roman Judaism based on the catacombs. This chapter uncovers a long history of papal-sponsored anti-Semitism, religious and cultural bias, coupled with the positivism of modern scholars with clear preconceived notions of what “Judaism” looked like in antiquity. In the end, I question whether such a thing as a “Jewish catacomb” ever truly existed in isolation in late antique Rome, and what such a thing might reveal about Jewish-Christian relations in the fourth and fifth centuries. Chapter 7, “Disposing with Depositio (Ad Sanctos),” calls for a reevaluation of the way in which we see and understand burial patterns in late antique Rome. Much of the evidence for the Cult of the Saints in Rome is based on the idea of ad sanctos burials: people clamoring to be close to the bodies of the saints. In fact, there is no connection, necessarily, between ad sanctos and burial patterns in late antique Rome. Recent archaeological work reveals that in the city the construction of altars predates the arrival of relics under those altars; there was in Rome no relationship, necessarily, between relics and altars in a church until the early modern period, when bones were moved and elaborate reliquaries constructed. In a similar vein, the idea that burials inside the walls followed holy bones and relics on their transfer inside the walls during the Cult of the Saints is false, at least for Rome. Excavations have revealed plenty of late antique intermural burials in random locations, including the Forum, the Colosseum, the Baths of Caracalla, and the Palatine Hill. The truth is that in late antique Rome following 410 CE, bodies were buried anywhere. Those with more money had better burials – they were bigger and more centrally located, as had always been the case. Many ad sanctos burials are simply not that at all but the normal pattern for extended family graves, where the paterfamilias’ grave dominates the chamber and the members of the family radiate outwards, in relation

Introduction

to the social hierarchy of the extended family. Even in the case of something that might be ad sanctos, it is not because the body is holy, but because the saint takes over as the paterfamilias from familial patterns – enjoying the prestige, or favor, in relationships based on patronage. Burial ad sanctos becomes, then, not a measure of the power of the Cult of the Saints in Rome, but an example of a modern tendency to see burial patterns where they did not necessarily exist. The final chapter, Chapter 8, is “Inventing Christian Rome.” If it was not all about the Cult of the Saints, what was the nature of Christian activity in late antique Rome? I argue that alterations in the city’s built environment from the fourth to the sixth century were not oriented around the bodies of the saints. This chapter examines changing land use, particularly the rise of major Christian complexes, including, crucially, monasteries, and xenodochia. “Rewiring the sacred circuit” of the city, to borrow an elegant phrase from historian Simon Ditchfield, had far less to do with relics of the dead and far more to do with patronage, power, and new emphases in Christian ethical formation: in particular, caring for the sick and poor.20 These changes – and the building of a new Christian infrastructure – were only very slowly brokered with nonChristians in a city where traditional cults still continued on for perhaps another century, and where traditional ideas of space and sacrality still exercised a profound influence.



20

“Rewiring”: see Simon Ditchfield, “Thinking on the Saints: Sanctity and Society in the Early Modern World,” Critical Inquiry 35 (2009): 577.

23

1. The Reinventio of the Hidden City “Rome” was the head, centre, and sum of the “world”; the “world” was only the expanded version of the City.1

I

t is a brilliant October day just outside Rome. Afternoon sunlight diffuses through the city’s majestic umbrella pines and lays down glorious wide stripes across my path. I’m standing on a thin strip of land, a paved stripe of asphalt ribboning up a gentle crest of hill to the south, with grasslands on either side. Cypresses, elegant green spires that crown the lands of the dead in the Mediterranean, line the path. The air is cool and sweet, as if the city’s alleys clogged with diesel exhaust and dirt were a million miles away. And yet all is not entirely peaceful in this pastoral idyll. Here at the Catacombs of St. Callixtus off the Via Appia, this cypress-lined path intended for Christian tourists is favored by modern-day joggers, relieved to find freedom from dodging cars on the city’s perilous roads. But as much as the joggers make perfect sense as human additions to this pastoral landscape in the twenty-first century, they are not welcome in this place. Newly erected signs display stick-figure joggers encircled by a thick red interdiction circle, with the stern admonition “SACRED PLACE.” What makes these grounds “sacred”? And to whom? Can we be more precise about what “sacred” means? Even among academics, the word is rarely explained, as if its meaning were self-evident. And yet,



24

1

R. A. Markus, Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St. Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 26.

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

the term bears some consideration. It is not precisely the landscape here off the Via Appia that is labeled “sacred”; it is considered so because of the hidden city of graves and corpses beneath it. The holiness of the ancient Christian bodies buried deep underground seeps upward like an invisible mist, blanketing this stretch of parkland. And yet it, “the sacred,” is both invisible and contested – hence the joggers blithely pushing through, earbuds in ears, clothed in spandex and intent on their exercise, ignoring the prominently placed signs censuring them. Perhaps even subconsciously in our minds, “sacred” is only one half of an often unstated binary. “Sacred” stands in marked tension with its opposite, “profane” or else “polluted.” The opposite of “sacred” might also be “ordinary” or “secular.” Here off the Via Appia, the joggers in spandex, minds far away from the hundreds of thousands of Christian (and non-Christian) dead beneath their feet, epitomize, to those who hold these lands as sacred, the essence of profane. This interplay between sacred and profane is marked, physically, onto the landscape with the “SACRED PLACE” signs, held in tension between ordinary human activity and those who perceive the ordinary as illicit and inappropriate in this spot. After all, most cemeteries in the West prohibit jogging, dog-walking, picnicking, lounging around, making out, taking photographs without a permit, bicycling and skateboarding, or any other form of “profane” normative human behavior, as if doing what the living do or expressing happiness were completely offensive and antithetical to the dead, to whom proper deference needs to be paid. But there is that other inherent tension behind the erection of the “SACRED PLACE” signs: the issue of symbolic pollution – specifically, the pollution associated with human corpses. One might rightly ask if the catacomb complexes outside the city are “sacred” sites because they hold the corpses of the “holy dead” – that is, the martyrs and first Christians (and a mixed symbolic category certainly worthy of interrogation) – or because they are (also) filled with the ordinary dead. Many so-called “secular” people are uncomfortable in cemeteries: it is somehow dangerous/inappropriate/downright creepy to, for example, walk across a patch of grass over someone’s grave. We like our dead tucked away, our landscapes of the dead tidied up and planted over, to remove from us the taint of rot and stench. Romans of the High Empire apparently thought similarly; contact with corpses incurred death

25

26

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

pollution and plenty of sources consider burial grounds liminal, even frightening places.2 Latin literature is replete with stories of ghosts, undead, and werewolves thought to haunt cemeteries. Lucan features in his Pharsalia the witch Erictho, who lives among tombs and violates human corpses (6.507–88). Horace, in a more satirical vein, gives an account of two crones on Rome’s Esquiline Hill who dig up corpses for necromantic purposes (Satire 1.8). Among second-century Roman writers, Apuleius includes in his satire The Golden Ass the character Pamphile, a witch who draws upon a stable of conventional objects drawn from corpses and cemeteries, including crucifixion nails and body parts (3.15–18). At the same time, as for the Victorians, there were also Roman attempts to pretty up necropoleis, to stave off the stark reminder of our dark, inevitable demise with beautiful tombs and evocative epitaphs, benches for contemplation and commemoration, and attractively planted tomb gardens.3 Do the signs remind us that these lands are “sacred” in this sense, that we have nothing to fear from death pollution? The tension between sacred/profane, pure/polluted, and the need for explicit signage to direct human behavior here in the hinterlands of Rome raise questions for me as a historian of late antiquity: did late antique Roman Christians understand landscape – this particular cemeterial landscape outside the city – to be sacred? What did landscape require to make it “holy,” and how did that designation affect different responses to it? ***



See, for instance, H. M. Lindsay, “Death-Pollution and Funerals in the City of Rome,” in V. M. Hope and E. Marshall, eds., Death and Disease in the Ancient City (London: Routledge, 2000), 152–73; J. A. North, “These He Cannot Take,” JRS 73 (1983): 169; John Bodel, “Dealing with the Dead: Undertakers, Executioners and Potter’s Fields,” in Hope and Marshall, eds., Death and Disease, 128–51; Mario Erasmo, “Among the Dead in Ancient Rome,” Mortality 6/1 (2001): 31–43. 3 See, for example, Barbara E. Borg, “What’s in a Tomb? Roman Death Public and Private,” in Mors omnibus instat. Aspectos arqueologicos, epigrificos y rituals de la muerte en el Occidente Romano (Madrid: Liceus, 2011), 51–78; Michael Koortbojian, “In commemorationem mortuorum: Text and Image Along the ‘Streets of Tombs,’” in Jaś Elsner, ed., Art and Text in Roman Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 210–33; Nicholas Purcell, “Tomb and Suburb,” in H. von Hesberg and P. Zanker, eds., Römische Gräberstraßen (Munich: Bayerische Akademie), 25–41. 2

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

There are many ways to approach Rome in late antiquity, particularly in the transitional age of the fourth to fifth century. Outstanding studies have been written on the social aspects of Christianization, from concise prosopographies to sage observations on the nature of the relations between Christianity and the late Roman aristocracy.4 Equally illuminating are the economic and political histories,5 the studies of a nascent

The three volumes of A. H. M. Jones’ Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire (PLRE) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971–) remain indispensible resources for precise prosopographical work. For an example of a useful followup, see Lellia Cracco Ruggini, “Rome in Late Antiquity: Clientship, Urban Topography, and Prosopography,” Classical Philology 98 (2003): 366–82. On the late Roman aristocracy, the bibliography is immense, but most notable are Herbert Bloch, “A Pagan Revival in the West?” in Arnaldo Momigliano, ed., The Conflict between Christians and Pagans in the Fourth Century (Oxford: Clarendon, 1964); Alan Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); S. J. B. Barnish, “Transformation and Survival of the Western Senatorial Aristocracy, ca. 400–700,” PBSR 56 (1988): 120–55; Michele Salzman, The Making of a Christian Aristocracy: Social and Religious Change in the Western Roman Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002); Peter Brown, “Aspects of the Christianization of the Roman Aristocracy,” JRS 51 (1961): 1–11. For an archaeological perspective on these matters, see now David Gwynn, “The ‘End’ of Roman Senatorial Paganism,” in Luke Lavan and Michael Mulryan, eds., The Archaeology of Late Antique ‘Paganism’ (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 35–63; as well as the recent collection of essays edited by Michele Renee Salzman, Marianne Sághy, and Rita Lizzi Testa, Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome: Conflict, Competition, and Coexistence in the Fourth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016). 5 Economic histories: for instance, S. Barnish, “Pigs, Plebeians and Potentes. Rome’s Economic Hinterland c. 350–600 A.D.,” PBSR 55 (1987): 157–86; J. Durliat, De la ville antique à la ville byzantine: le problème des subsistances (Rome: École Française de Rome, 1990); Andrew Gillett, “Rome, Ravenna and the Last Western Emperors,” PBSR 69 (2001): 131–67; Mark Humphries, “The City of Rome and Valentinian III (424–55): Patronage, Politics, and Power,” in Lucy Grig and Gavin Kelly, eds., Two Romes: Rome and Constantinople in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 161–82; Federico Marazzi, “Rome in Transition: Economic and Political Change in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries,” in Julia M. H. Smith, ed., Early Medieval Rome and the Christian West: Essays in Honour of Donald A. Bullough (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 21–42, and the essays in W. V. Harris, ed., The Transformations of Vrbs Roma in Late Antiquity. Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 33 (Portsmouth, RI, 1999) as well as Neil Christie and Simon T. Loseby, eds., Towns in Transition: Urban Evolution in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1996).



4

27

28

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

Church,6 and the careful cataloging of inscriptions, basilicas, and new Christian topographies.7 But none of these sources and studies answers my question, “How did Rome become Roma Sacra or Roma Sancta?” Rather, too many of them take this process as a given, just as the ill-defined quality of “sacredness” is too often assumed rather than queried. What drives me here is even broader than my opening question concerning how and why the catacomb territory of the Via Appia constitutes, to some, sacred space; it is the quest to uncover an ephemeral history of the ancient city – not even what Rome meant in the minds of late antique Romans, but what it meant, perhaps, in their hearts. And in this quest, the extant data often fails us. Let me be clear: this is not an imaginative, fictive book where I fill holes with sentimental or romantic hypotheses concerning what might have happened in a historical process that is as sweeping and monumental as it is opaque. The quest for the origins and shape of a notion or attitude can be every bit as empirical as a study of literature or archaeology; on the other hand, in all our endeavors to uncover Rome, I am more and more convinced that even supposedly empirical studies indulge in a large dose of speculative hole-filling. One of those instances is precisely here, with the question of Rome and “the Holy.” At fault – if it is fair to call it “fault” – is a history of Christian scholarship that consciously or unconsciously sees the Constantinian and post-Constantinian era, the “Christianization” of Rome, as the sure beginning of a process by which a pagan and spiritually moribund city was transformed into a holy site that drew Christian pilgrims already in the fourth century.

History of the Catholic Church: the foundational work remains Charles Pietri, Roma christiana: recherches sur l’Église de Rome, son organization, sa politique, son idéologie, de Miltiade à Sixte III (311–440), 2 vols (Rome: École Française de Rome, 1976); see also R. Krautheimer, Three Christian Capitals: Topography and Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983) and the extremely useful book by Federico Marazzi, La ‘Patrimonia sanctae Romane ecclesiae’ nel Lazio (secoli IV–X). Strutture amministrative e prassi gestionali (Rome, 1989). 7 Outstanding works of cataloging information include A. Silvagni, ed., Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae Septimo Saeculo Antiquiores (ICUR) Nova series 2 (Rome: Ex Officina Libraria Pontificia, 1935); Richard Krautheimer et al., eds., Corpus Basilicarum Christianarum Romae (CBCR) (Città del Vaticano: Pontificio Istituto de Archeologia Cristiana, 1939–59); Eva Margareta Steinby, ed., Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae (LTUR) (Rome: Quasar, 1993–1999). 6

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

29

I argue here that most citizens of the fourth-century Empire neither experienced nor perceived Rome as Roma Sancta. Even those relatively few Christians who wrote about it as such – and here, I am at a loss to name anyone who seriously did so in the fourth century besides the outsider Prudentius – did so with a certain degree of ambivalence. Jerome’s complex relationship with the city, for example, I will have the opportunity to discuss presently. Things were different in later centuries. By the sixth century, Rome experienced a sort of spiritual revival at precisely the same time as it suffered numerous natural and economic catastrophes, but there can be no question that the tide had shifted in the direction of a Holy Rome.8 Still, I see the genesis of the notion that Rome was a sacred city because it held the bodies of holy martyrs as something that developed not in the fourth century, nor in the sixth century, nor even in the Middle Ages, but most aggressively in the Counter-Reformation. It was then that most of the data sets crucial to our reconstructive work began to be assembled – the inscriptions, maps, topographical surveys, collections of literature, and above all, excavations of the catacombs and martyrial sites – all compiled, notably, by men of the Church. The answer to my question, “How did Rome become holy?” lies not in the data itself, but in the logic behind its compilation – in the imposition of classifications, the parsing into tacit rubrics of “important” versus “unimportant” data, the imposition of a religious conviction that Christianity was positively transformative onto the blank canvas of landscape. In other words, the genesis of Roma Sacra is revealed not in the ancient sources themselves, but in the way in which we are led to see it, refracted, as it is, through the lens of those who very much understood what was meant by “sacred Rome.” *** But let us start with late antiquity, which I see as beginning in the fourth century. As Christianity began to grow and take root, what can be said about the process of transformation of Rome into a holy city? Béatrice

8

The best evocations of a sixth-century Holy Rome include Dennis Trout, “Theodelinda’s Rome: ‘Ampullae,’ ‘Pittacia,’ and the Image of the City,” MAAR 50 (2005): 131–50; Conrad Leyser, “The Temptations of Cult: Roman Martyr Piety in the Age of Gregory the Great,” Early Medieval Europe 9 (2000): 289–303, and the essays in Kate Cooper and Julia Hillner, eds., Religion, Dynasty, and Patronage in Early Christian Rome, 300–900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

30

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

Caseau begins her useful and comprehensive discussion of sacralization in late antiquity with its opposite, desecration, which is perhaps easier to nail down as a series of human behaviors.9 We somehow recognize what constituted an act of desecration in late antiquity far better than its opposite, particularly when Christians of the time – unlike more traditional Romans earlier – lacked fundamental rituals of sacralization. Within the world of late antique Christianity, desecration was easier to effect than consecration. The ransacking of temples or smashing of “idols” were clear and aggressive acts designed to disrupt or negate their sacredness; by contrast, however, there were no moments of ritual dedication of Christian cemetery lands to a deity or a saint, no formal ceremonies, no burning of incense, or no marking off of inaugurated space. If, in late antiquity, the cemeterial landscape symbolically shifted, in people’s minds, toward the opposite direction – that is, from polluted charnel grounds to the sacred territory of the blessed dead – this process happened invisibly, without formal rituals or even a textual tradition that we can trace. This shift – the perception of the corpse or grave from polluted/profane to holy, here in Rome – is one of the central mysteries that occupies me in this book. Like the shift in late antiquity from visiting the “ordinary dead” who filled cemeteries to venerating the “Very Special Dead,” as Peter Brown calls them – the saints and martyrs whose presence in those cemeteries eventually came to consecrate them – these transitions in ways of perceiving space, place, and body are far from having been effectively explained, only eloquently and movingly described in contemporary scholarship, beginning with Brown’s landmark The Cult of the Saints (1981).10 In her essay on sacred landscapes in late antiquity, Caseau writes, “The phenomenon of sacralization includes the dedication of something or somebody to a divine being. Space, in particular, can be transformed into or revealed as a place of interaction between human Béatrice Caseau, “Sacred Landscapes,” in G. W. Bowersock, Peter Brown, and Oleg Grabar, eds., Interpreting Late Antiquity: Essays on the Postclassical World (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001), 21–59. For other studies of the city of Rome as a set of imagined or symbolic landscapes, see François Hinard, “Rome dans Rome,” in François Hinard and Manuel Royo, eds., Rome: l’espace urbain et ses representations (Paris: Presse de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 1991), 31–54; see also C. Edwards and G. Woolf, eds., Rome the Cosmopolis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). 10 Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).

9

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

31

beings and gods.”11 This description of ritual process, though, works only discomfortingly for late antique Christian catacombs like Callixtus. Cemeteries were never formally dedicated to divine beings, and even if we were to categorize saints and martyrs as “gods,” their presence in cemeteries was informal, ad hoc, invented after the fact, contested, or frequently overlooked. Bones of supposed martyrs could also be removed (“translated” is the technical term) – as they have been at Callixtus – without diminishing the “sacredness” of the territory. In other cases, the material – that is to say, corporeal – presence of the saint was apparently unnecessary for the land to be considered sacred. And, crucially, cemeteries became sacred space without the benefit of any formal ritual process.12 So, how? And when? Caseau sees the process of sacralization as part of a larger pattern of social contestation: “Defining sacredness in each religion,” she writes, “required the setting of the boundaries of licit and illicit behavior, as well as restricting access to some categories of persons. What was impure for one religion was not for another; what was considered impious by some was perceived as pious by others.”13 This is certainly true of the Christian catacombs becoming sacred space, but – and here I argue this quite vociferously – not in late antiquity. It occurred much later: in the sixteenth century, and again in the nineteenth century. Its effects are still felt today, as we see in the signs that line the territory of Callixtus. During these key eras, catacomb scholars effectively set the boundaries of licit and illicit behavior, as Caseau puts it, in relation to Christian sacred space. Furthermore, they did so within a cultural environment foreign to late antiquity – one in which the Catholic Church exercised a great degree of power, and one in which the “corporeal turn” that valued corpses and bodies as sacred had already taken root within early modern psyches. Romans of the first four or five centuries of the Common Era simply did not think this way. ***

Caseau, “Sacred Landscapes,” 21. As far as formal rites of consecration go, the story is often told of the first Christian “consecration” of a pagan temple, the Pantheon in 609. This was accomplished, in theory (and perversely, as is my point), by the translation of cartloads of bones from the Catacombs off the Via Appia. In reality, the story of these relic translations is a Catholic legend dating no earlier than 1700. Pagan temples in Rome were still used through late antiquity or the early Middle Ages, or else lay in ruins, or were repurposed for Christian burial. 13 Caseau, “Sacred Landscapes,” 22. 11

12

32

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

Did ancient Romans have a sense of the landscape beyond Rome’s walls as “sacred”? Yes, but never in association with human burial. Territory around the urban periphery could be what we (but not the Romans themselves) might call “sacred” in two separate ways: first, from the existence of consecrated space in the form of rural shrines or sacellae that dotted the land at frequent intervals, and second, more broadly for their “sense of the numinous.” These sacellae were dedicated to various genii, ruling spirits associated with place; the focal points for small acts of devotion, these rural shrines were the visible markers of an unseen network of puissant beings. How much Romans “believed in” these beings is not an answerable question; at any rate, it draws on a vocabulary that presumes a particular, Christian understanding of belief as the standard for measuring religiosity. On the other hand, we are on no firmer territory with the “sense of the num­ inous” – itself, a Protestant formulation originating with the Lutheran theologian Rudolf Otto, who famously described the numinous power of God as the mysterium tremendum, a type of unmediated religious sense of dread.14 Protestant though it may be, we can find such a notion as the “sense of the numinous” in Latin literature if we look for it. When Virgil penned his great Aeneid, he wrote a scene in which Evander leads Aeneas to the Capitoline Hill, “golden now, but once wild and overgrown with woodland thickets” (aurea nunc, olim silvestribus horrida dumis): Even then a fearful dread of the place pressed on the timid countryfolk, even then they trembled at the forest and the rock. “This grove,” Evander said, “this hill with its wooded peak is inhabited by a god, but what god is unknown.” (Virgil, Aen. 8.347–51)15

Rudolf Otto, Das Heilige. Über das Irrationale in der Idee des Göttlichen und sein Verhältnis zum Rationalen (1917); published in English as The Idea of the Holy (London: Oxford, 1957). 15 Hinc ad Tarpeiam sedem et Capitolia ducit 14



aurea nunc, olim silvestribus horrida dumis. Iam tum religio pavidos terrebat agrestis Dira loci, iam tum silvam saxumque tremebant. “hoc nemus, hunc’ inquit ‘frondoso vertice collem (quis deum incertum est) habitat deus

Quoted also in S. MacCormack, “Loca Sancta: The Organization of Sacred Topography in Late Antiquity,” in Robert Ousterhout, ed., The Blessings of Pilgrimage (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 10.

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

In a stark reversal of values, four centuries later Jerome would allude in his writings to this very passage, as we shall see later in this chapter, to express his sense that the Capitol had been stripped of its inherent topographical sacrality, returned to primal forests that were now empty of the power of the gods. For now, we can notice that at least Virgil and his readers were charged with the conviction that deep in the woods dwelt a divine numen so electric that it raised the hairs on one’s arms. Caseau draws on a wonderful quotation from Seneca expressing something similar: If you have ever come upon a grove that is full of ancient trees which have grown to an unusual height, shutting out a view of the sky by a veil of pleached and intertwining branches, then the loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the spot, and your marvel at the thick unbroken shade in the midst of the open spaces, will prove to you the presence of a deity. (Seneca, Letter 41.3, trans. R. Gummere, LCL, p. 273)16

As Caseau herself points out, it wasn’t just an individual’s sense of the numinous that might account for the “sacredness” of the landscape. It could also be deliberately and ritually created. On the other side of an individual’s experience of sacred landscape was land that was formally consecrated through Rome’s state-directed religion. The ritual of consecratio performed for the benefit of the populus could transform land into a res sacra, a sacred space where sacrifices to the gods were offered. But the Roman notion of the res sacra maps only imperfectly onto modern notions of “the sacred.” Tombs, for example, were “religious things” in a Roman legal context, which meant only that their desecration was a punishable offense.17 The punishment was severe: exile to an island for those of a higher social class, labor in the mines for humiliores.18 “Si tibi occurrerit vetustis arboribus et solitam altitudinem egressis frequens lucus et conspectum caeli ramorum aliorum alios protegentium summovens obtentu, illa proceritas silvae et secretum loci et admiratio umbrae in aperto tam densae atque continuae fidem numinis faciet.” 17 J. M. C. Toynbee, Death and Burial in the Roman World (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971), 76–77; O. Robinson, “The Roman Law on Burials and Burial Grounds,” The Irish Jurist 10 (1975): 175–86. On the juridical status of tombs, see M. Kaiser, “Zum römischen Grabrecht,” Zeitschrift der Savignystiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Romanistische Abteilung 95 (1978), 32. 18 See Sean Lafferty, “Ad sanctitatem mortuorum: Tomb Raiders, Body Snatchers and Relic Hunters in Late Antiquity,” Early Medieval Europe 22/3 (2014): 250.

16

33

34

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

A Roman cemetery constituted sacred space inasmuch as it was composed of many tombs and mausolea, all of which were “sacred” in the sense that their destruction was criminal according to Roman law, but not in the sense that they were formally consecrated or overseen by a particular deity.19 The extent to which these places were considered “polluted” depends largely on whether or not we find it useful to impose a binary drawn from structural anthropology onto an ancient landscape that we ourselves know only dimly through literary accounts; on the one hand, literature (and some legal accounts) leave us with the impression of Roman cemeteries as polluted and polluting; on the other hand, archaeology of land use outside Rome indicates that cemeterial lands were frequently interspersed with actively farmed land, producing food for Roman citizens in a proximity that some of us would find disconcerting.20 How did this legislated and ritually marked “sacred space” compare to Evander’s or, better, Seneca’s experience of the numinous in the woods outside Rome? Were they the same? Surely not. Our language leaves us bereft; the term “sacred” is slippery, ambiguous, subjective. Even if we should go “old school,” so to speak, and claim that Romans allowed that the thick, verdant land beyond the city walls was “sacred” because it was infused with the power of invisible beings, we must note that it was not homogeneously so, and we should not over-romanticize the landscape in the Roman imagination. Suburban or rural landscapes could instantly move across that invisible symbolic border to be rendered sacred or equally quickly desecrated due to any number of things: human or animal activity; the presence of a corpse or ordure; the festival that temporarily transformed territory into “sacred,” which it would not ordinarily have been; the tethering of landscape to memory (and whose memory, then?). We too often treat “sacrality” as fixed and immutable. We should not be scandalized to learn that cemetery land was also richly productive land providing food for a hungry city, farmed by The superscription DM or DMS on tombstones, for Dis Manibus or Dis Manibus Sacra, was convention rather than an indication of cult. 20 See Purcell, “Tomb and Suburb”; John R. Patterson, “On the Margins of the City of Rome,” in V. M. Hope and E. Marshall, eds., Death and Disease in the Ancient City (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), 101. There is the issue of the emperor Julian’s edict of 363, which prohibited daytime funerals, using language reminiscent of impurity notions associated with the corpse. See Lafferty, “Ad sanctitatem mortuorum,” 251, here, but the edict is not directed at Roman practice.



19

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

people who were unconvinced by the cemetery’s liminality and probably vexed by any pilgrims who trudged through their field to find the saints. This close proximity meant that our classic binaries of inside/outside, polluted/pure were, in real life, lived differently than the rigid boundaries of structural anthropology allow. We persist in holding onto the Aurelian walls as a fixed limen, more stark and literal than it really was. But by the fourth century, and certainly by the fifth, the city walls had ceased to define the limits of Rome’s habitable zone; this was not a result of urban growth, but its dissolution; the city had bled beyond the walls into little cells and clusters of habitations, and the tautness of living space within the walls had disentangled into an irregular fabric of inhabited and abandoned areas.21 With the erasure of the threshold marked by the Aurelian walls must come a softening of categories, a relaxing of our assumed categories that death or bodies had to be either polluted or pure rather than merely present in the landscape in a way that people simply accepted and worked around as a fact of life. Tombs could be used, for instance, to house those who had no other place to go; 22 even early on, prostitutes, too, were known to do business in the cemeteries (Martial 1.34, 3.93.14–15; Juvenal 6.15–16). All that having been said, some sort of conceptual shift in the perception of cemeteries clearly happened in Christian late antiquity; that much is beyond dispute. As Ann Marie Yasin observes, “On the question of the possibility of locating the divine in the physical world … Christians seem to have made an about-face around the early fourth

The change is well noted; see Lucrezia Spera, “Characteristics of the Christianization of Space in Late Antique Rome: New Considerations a Generation after Charles Pietri’s Roma Christiana,” in T. Kaizer, A. Leone, E. Thomas, and R. Witcher, eds., Cities and Gods: Religious Space in Transition (Leuven: Peeters, 2013), 121–42; G. Cantino Wataghin, “The Ideology of Urban Burials,” in G. P. Brogiolo and B. Ward-Perkins, eds., The Idea and Ideal of the Town between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 147–80; Marazzi, “Rome in Transition”; Marios Costambeys, “Burial Topography and the Power of the Church in Fifth- and Sixth-Century Rome,” PBSR 69 (2001): 174; Nicholas Purcell, “Town in Country and Country in Town,” in E. Blair Macdougall, ed., Ancient Roman Villa Gardens, Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture 10 (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1987), 185–203; R. Coates-Stephens, “The Walls and Aqueducts of Rome AD 500–1000,” JRS 88 (1998): 166–78. 22 Digest 47.12.3.11; Patterson, “On the Margins,” 102. 21

35

36

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

century.”23 If tomb epitaphs of the imperial period implored passersby to stay and rest there for a while, by the third century, Christians appear to have hunkered down in cemeteries in groups – a behavior that more traditional Romans found perverse and troubling. An Edict of Valerian against Christians in 257 CE states: “It is always forbidden for you, and others, to meet in or under into places known as koimeteria” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 7.11.10). About fifty years later, Maximinus Daia repeated the edict. By the middle of the fourth century, the Emperor Julian was describing Christians as the nekroi, “those who hung around the dead” (Misopogon 33.36). It was not a compliment. In the late fourth and fifth centuries, writes Peter Brown, “Christian bishops brought a shift in the balance between the town and the nontown out of the desert and right up to the walls of the city: they now founded cities in the cemetery.”24 In Rome, it was not quite that; there was no desert from which to move, and the new interest in cemeteries was not necessarily instigated by the city’s bishops. But still, something was clearly going on. Brown speaks eloquently of subconscious barriers broken in the minds of “Mediterranean men,” barriers that had held apart categories of place: the world of the living versus the world of the dead, the sacred versus the profane, the pure versus the hopelessly defiled.25 Éric Rebillard, in his important work on the Christian care of the dead in late antiquity, notes that the very coinage of the Greek word for cemetery, “koimeterion” – a place associated with sleep rather than death and decay – indicates a profound conceptual shift.26 And yet, this marked transition in fundamental attitudes toward the dead has been described more than analyzed. Christian meetings in their new koimeteria were, as Marios Costambeys nicely puts it, “one thrust in the Christian conquest of space.”27 Different





Ann Marie Yasin, Saints and Church Spaces in the Late Antique Mediterranean: Architecture, Cult, and Community (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 14. See also MacCormack, “Loca Sancta,” 7–40; Robert Markus, “How on Earth Could Places Become Holy? Origins of the Christian Idea of Holy Places,” JECS 2/3 (1994): 257–71. 24 Brown, Cult of the Saints, 8. 25 Ibid., 9. 26 Éric Rebillard, “KOIMHTERION et COEMETERIUM: tombe, tombe sainte, nécropole,” MEFRA 105/2 (1993): 975–1001 as well as his major study, Éric Rebillard, The Care of the Dead in Late Antiquity, trans. Elizabeth Trapnell Rawlings and Jeanine Routier-Pucci (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009). 27 Costambeys, “Burial Topography,” 170. 23

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

37

reasons are put forth for why they began to happen. Theologically tinged arguments often assert that Christian funerals were simply bigger, more community-based than, strictly speaking, familial, and thus more visible than pagan funerals.28 I dislike this argument, based as it is upon an assumption that Christians cared more about their dead and about each other than pagans did. Besides, Minucius Felix notes that Christian funerals were, in essence, no different from pagan ones (Octavius 28.3–4). Some assert, with Peter Brown, that the saint becomes the new patronus of the community, but again, the issue of “why” and “how” remains largely unexplored; the hypothesis is based on the idea that Christians of the fourth century had a well-formed and unified social identity as a community marked by its own otherness, and I am not yet ready to concede that there existed such a Christian community at that point in time. There are also arguments such as Ramsay MacMullen’s, which claim that there was in fact no major transition between Christian and pagan attitudes toward the dead in the Constantinian era; we only more or less conjure one by failing to note the continuities between pagan “ancestor worship” and Christian martyr cults. I find myself generally in agreement with MacMullen, here. And then there are the unknown unknowns: the immense complexity of cultural forces like tradition and innovation against the matrix of hundreds of thousands of individual Romans with their own ideas about whether the dead were “holy” and the cemetery “sacred.” We simply cannot see this shift; we posit, rather, that it happened, because a few edicts across the late Empire suggest that it did and because, frankly, so many of us find anything different to be incomprehensible. Are the saints not self-evidently holy? Is the land that holds their memory, the memory of the Church, not sacred? But again, this is not explanation; it is theology. Instead, I seek the root of the idea of the catacomb’s holiness. *** Let us return for a moment to a terminological problem of modernity: our definition of “the sacred” lies within the frame of religion; that is, to say that landscape is “sacred” is to imagine that it was necessarily imbued with either numinous power, as unparseable as it is unmistakable, or else, filled with unseen, “nonobvious” beings, ethereal but puissant.

Lucrezia Spera, “The Christianization of Space along the Via Appia: Changing Landscape in the Suburbs of Rome,” AJA 107/1 (2003): 24; Yasin, Saints and Church Spaces, 61–69.

28

38

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

The attempt to “sacralize” the pre-Christian Roman landscape is linked with nineteenth-century Romanticism, but in truth, it is difficult to find many declarations of it in Latin literature. What we do find is what I would call a “pre-Modern” Roman sense of the sacred, where “sacred” is a legal and political term, not a “religious” one. It is in this sense that, for example, Rome’s famous pomerium marked out “sacred” territory, just as it is in this sense that the city’s great thinkers imagined Rome as a “sacred” city. Rome was “sacred” in the sense that it was the urbs aeterna (Tibullus 2.5.23), caput orbis terrarum (Livy 1.16.7).29 We might consider the wise words of Robert Markus with which I began this chapter: “‘Rome’ was the head, centre, and sum of the ‘world’; the ‘world’ was only the expanded version of the City.”30 Until it wasn’t. There can be no question that the map of “sacred Rome” in this political, hegemonic sense required substantial rethinking in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. The late antique city of Rome and its immediate environs present a particularly fascinating phenomenon, in that the triumph of Christianity brought new challenges to the conceptualization of what constituted “the sacred” and its new manifestation in the materiality of the city and its landscape.31 On the one hand, Roman exceptionalism saw Rome as identical with “the world,” as its thrumming heart. On the other hand, the city was resolutely and perhaps irreparably “pagan,” thus immediately incapable of Christian rehabilitation; purging or desecrating sacred sites – destroying or defacing temples, massacring priests – was not the civic Roman way. As is well known, the first pagan temple to be “reconsecrated” as a Christian church did not happen until the transformation of the Pantheon into the church of Santa Maria ad Martyres in 608 CE. In the fourth century – even into the fifth – pagan temples still stood; sacred law still held. “How were Rome and its traditions to be viewed now that Christianity was triumphant?” asks Michael Roberts of the early fifth-century poets.32 C. Edwards, Writing Rome: Textual Approaches to the City (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). 30 Markus, Saeculum, 26. 31 There exists a substantial bibliography on the Christianization of Rome but to begin, see the essays in W. V. Harris, ed., The Transformations of Vrbs Roma in Late Antiquity (Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Archaelogy, 1999). 32 Michael Roberts, “Rome Personified, Rome Epitomized: Representations of Rome in the Poetry of the Early Fifth Century,” American Journal of Philology 122 (2001): 563.

29

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

For learned Christians, as we shall see, one response to this perceptual dilemma of how Rome might now still hold inherent religious value was to conceptualize a profound shift or inversion of “the sacred.” The center of the city, with its forum and temples, became a place of ruin and despair; by contrast, the urban periphery with its empty lands of the dead became the new locus of power. The reevaluation of Rome’s “sacred” status was necessary following the sack of the city under Alaric’s forces in 410 CE. Devastating in its consequences, those who survived were not just directly affected economically but also left with pressing questions of theodicy. For those who connected Rome’s primacy with its “sacrality” – meaning both the supposed eternity of its political hegemony but, relatedly, its favor with the gods – the breaching of the city’s walls signified a rupture in the natural order of things. As Peter Brown so eloquently put it, Rome “was not an entirely ruined city. But it was a city whose nerves had been shattered.”33 It is no wonder, then, that one response was to devalue what lay inside the walls and to come to think differently about the city’s urban periphery.34 The task of imagineering a new Rome fell to men like Jerome and Prudentius as the culture-makers of the age. Let us start with Jerome. As Lucy Grig playfully observes, “To say that Jerome’s relationship with the city of Rome was complex would be something of an understatement.”35 Born ca. 347 CE, in Stridon, Dalmatia, Jerome was not a native Roman but moved to the city as a child and was educated there in the late 350s and 360s.36 Baptized in Rome, he embarked upon a cosmopolitan Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 372. 34 See Gareth Schmeling, “Urbs Aeterna: Rome, a Monument of the Mind,” in Sheila Kathryn Dickison and Judith P. Hallett, eds., Rome and Her Monuments: Essays on the City and Literature of Rome in Honor of Kathryn A. Geffcken (Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 2000), 95–98, on the significance of 410 CE for mental maps. 35 Lucy Grig, “Deconstructing the Symbolic City: Jerome as a Guide to Late Antique Rome,” PBSR 80 (2012): 126. 36 The classic study remains J. N. D. Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies (New York: Harper & Row, 1975); for details, see Alan Booth, “The Chronology of Jerome’s Early Years,” Phoenix 35/3 (1980): 237–59; Y. M. Duval, “Jérôme et l’histoire de l’Église du IVe siècle,” in B. Pouderon and Y. M. Duval, eds., L’historiographie de l’Église des premiers siècles (Paris: Beauchesne, 2001), 381–408.

33

39

40

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

career that found him in Trier, then Aquileia, then Antioch, Chalcis, Constantinople, and back to Rome in 382 CE after a twenty-year absence. A prominent Christian voice allied with Pope Damasus (ca. 366–384 CE), Jerome’s fortunes were to decline dramatically after his patron and protector’s death. Charges were brought against him in episcopal court, although details remain vague. Jerome –whether freely or by compulsion – departed Rome in shame and anger to take up residence in Jerusalem, where he ended his days perhaps in 419 or 420.37 As Michele Salzman has highlighted, much of Jerome’s writing on Rome, in the broadest sense, was negative.38 He was not above referring to it, even, as Babylon.39 It was, even within his own historical memory, a “slander-loving place” where “it was the triumph of vice to disparage virtue and to defile all that is pure and clean.”40 And yet, writing from the Holy Land, Jerome was bereft at the arrival of the Goths: “It is the end of the world; words fail me, my sobs break in: I cannot dictate” (Ep. 127.12). Jerome’s famous statement on Rome’s symbolic reversal – really, a symbolic inversion – is found in Letter 107 to his friend Laeta: Auratum squalet Capitolium, fulgine et aranearum telis omnia Romae templa cooperta sunt, movetur urbs sedibus suis et inundans populus ante delubra semiruta currit ad martyrum tumulos. For all its gilding the Capitol is beginning to look shabby. Every temple in Rome is covered with soot and cobwebs. The city has shifted its foundations and a flood of people pours past their halfruined shrines to visit the tombs of the martyrs. (Ep. 107.1)

In Jerome’s telling, Christian Rome was indeed the new holy city of the martyrs, although in an inverted sense: as a consequence of the barbarian Jerome’s letters can be found in Latin in I. Hilberg, ed., Sancti Eusebi Hieronymi Epistulae, CSEL 54-6, pars I–III (Vienna, 1996); in English: P. Schaff and H. Wace, eds., The Works of Saint Jerome, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, vol. 6 (Oxford, 1893). 38 Michele Renee Salzman, “Apocalypse Then? Jerome and the Fall of Rome in 410 CE,” in Paul B. Harvey, Jr. and Catherine Conybeare, eds., Maxima Debetur Magistro Reverentia: Essays on Rome and the Roman Tradition in Honor of Russell T. Scott. Biblioteca di Athenaeum 54 (Como: New Press Edizioni, 2009), 175–92. 39 Jerome, Ep. 46.12, ed. I. Hilbert (CSEL 54), 341–42. 40 Jerome, Ep. 127.3, ed. I. Hilbert (CSEL 56), 147: Difficile est in maledica civitate et in urbe, in qua orbis quondam populus fuit palma vitiorum, si honestis detraherent et pura ac munda macularent, non aliquam sinistri rumoris fabulam trahere.

37

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

sacks, the center lay derelict, while the urban periphery was the site of power and activity. But how literally can we take his words? In an elegant article on Jerome’s sense of Rome as a symbolic city, Lucy Grig dispenses with the idea that Jerome’s Christian Rome was either new or holy.41 First of all, his description in Letter 107 was not an eyewitness account, thus not what we can call “historical description.” Jerome wrote not from Rome but from faraway Jerusalem; his cityscape existed only in the imagination of an emotionally conflicted old man.42 Grig points out the slippage between the “real Rome” and the Rome of Jerome’s Virgilian-steeped imagination. His emphasis on the Capitoline as the symbolic center of Rome, for example, harkens back to the very passage of Virgil that I cited earlier: Hinc ad Tarpeiam sedem et Capitolia ducit, Aurea nunc, olim silvestribus horrida dumis. From there [Evander] leads him to the Tarpeian seat and the Capitol, golden now, but once wild and overgrown with woodland thickets. (Virgil, Aen. 8.347–8)

Jerome in Letter 107 delivers, fittingly, a jeremiad on the return of the Capitol to a state of wild nature, but this was literary, symbolic Rome. Neither can we count on Jerome to paint for us any reliable details about the contours of Roma Christiana as sacred territory. Grig points out that Jerome gives very little information about the general topography of Rome.43 Even his account of the martyr shrines – what really interests us here – is terse and unelaborated. If he conceived of the urban periphery and catacombs as particularly sacred, he doesn’t explicitly say, even in this passage.



Grig, “Deconstructing the Symbolic City,” 135–36. Earlier attempts: K. Sugano, Das Rombild des Hieronymus (New York: Peter Lang, 1983); F. Paschoud, Roma aeterna: études sur le patriotisme romain dans l’occident latin à l’époque des grands invasions (Rome: Institute Suisse, 1967). 42 Grig, “Deconstructing the Symbolic City,” 135–36; see also Yasin, Saints and Church Spaces, 61–69, esp. 62–63, who notes that Jerome writes this from Bethlehem “whose social and geographical distance from Rome afforded him creative license,” and Jacob Latham, who says the same in his article: “From Literal to Spiritual Soldiers of Christ: Disputed Episcopal Elections and the Advent of Christian Processions in Late Antique Rome,” Church History 81/2 (2012): 306, n. 31. 43 Grig, “Deconstructing the Symbolic City,” 131. 41

41

42

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

Lucy Grig also usefully reminds us of the context of Jerome’s words on the city – not just as produced within the shadow of Rome’s sack in 410, but more to the point: the conversion of the city from pagan to Christian here stands for, metonymically, the conversion of individuals to Christianity. Alluding to Laeta’s father, still a traditional “Roman of Rome,” Jerome believed that transformation was inevitable; his emphasis, then, was not so much giving an accurate account of religious behavior in the city, but of using Rome’s spiritual “inversion” as a metaphor for an individual’s profound change of allegiance. In the end, Grig notes that Jerome gives us a Rome that is a “palimpsest, made up of literary, as well as experiential, reminiscences,”44 or what she terms a “soft city,” borrowing the term from Jonathan Raban, “…of illusion, myth, aspiration, nightmare.”45 We might come to similar conclusions about Prudentius (348–ca. 413 CE). A Spaniard, provincial governor, student of law, and ardent devotee of the martyrs, Prudentius’ writings amply demonstrate his erudition. He had visited Rome, probably around 401/402 CE, and perhaps once before. Prudentius’ Contra Symmachum and particularly his Peristephanon 9 and 11 give the poet’s perspective on the city, drawing on very similar language of civic inversion and the new power of the martyrs to transform topography.46 Prudentius’ poetry in his Peristephanon provides perhaps our best evidence for the sacralization of the city’s urban periphery in the early fifth century. At the tomb of St. Hippolytus, tucked in close along the Via Labicana, Prudentius waxes lyrical: mira loci pietas et prompta precantibus ara spes hominum placida prosperitate iuvat. … ipsa, illas animae exuvias quae continet intus, aedicula argento fulgurat ex solido. Wonderful is the grace that attaches to the spot, and the altar, ever ready to receive its suppliants, fosters the hopes of men with kindly favour … The shrine itself which holds within it that body which the soul sloughed off, gleams with massive silver. (Perist. 11.171–84, trans. H. J. Thomson, p. 317, LCL)

Ibid., 135. Ibid., 143. 46 For studies, see Anne-Marie Palmer, Prudentius on the Martyrs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989); Roberts, Poetry and the Cult of the Martyrs.

44

45

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

And, Talibus Hippolyti corpus mandatur opertis, propter ubi adposita est ara dicata Deo. Illa sacramenti donatrix mensa eademque custos fida sui martyris adposita servat ad aeterni spem vindicis ossa sepulcro. Pascit item sanctis Tibricolas dapibus. Such is the place of concealment to which the body of Hippolytus was committed and by it has been set an altar dedicated to God. That table both gives the sacrament and is set there as faithful guardian of its martyr; it keeps his bones in the tomb for the hope of their everlasting deliverer and feeds the dwellers on Tiber’s banks with the holy food. (Perist. 11.168–74, trans. H. J. Thomson, 317, LCL)

Prudentius gives his readers a very clear sense of what he himself understood by the term “sanctity”: a shining, ornamented place where the bones of a martyr nestled, where people clamored to have their wishes granted and their needs fulfilled. Above all, the saint’s shrine was a busy place. At Hippolytus’ feast day, Michael Roberts notes, “even the impressive church built to accommodate devotees of the saint has difficulty taking in the ‘flood’ of worshippers.”47 Prudentius writes, “The love of their religion masses Latins and strangers together in one body (conglobat in cuneum Latios simul ac peregrinos permixtim populos religionis amor)…The majestic city disgorges her Romans in a stream; with equal ardor patricians and the plebeian host are jumbled together, shoulder to shoulder, for the faith banishes distinctions of birth” (urbs augusta suos vomit effunditque Quirites, una et patricios ambitione pari confundit plebeia phalanx umbonibus aequis discrimen procerum praecipitante fide).48 Like Jerome – in fact, perhaps suspiciously too like Jerome – Prudentius explicitly focuses on the shift of people and pilgrims, from its former center in the city out to its periphery. He singles out for particular mention the tomb of Peter at the Vatican to the northwest (C. Symm. 1.583–86), and the martyr shrines of Laurence and Hippolytus (Perist. 11.189–94 and 199–202) on the city’s southeastern fringe. Sanctity is to be found (only) at the extreme ends of these poles; the center is devoid of spiritual heft.

Roberts, “Rome Personified,” 556. For “undas,” see Perist. 11.227; cf. Jerome, Ep. 107.1: “inundans populus.” 48 Prudentius, Perist. 11.191–202, trans. H. J. Thomson, 319, LCL.

47

43

44

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

But was Prudentius witnessing an actual symbolic shift of sanctity from center to periphery? I am not persuaded that he was. As Lucy Grig has done for Jerome’s Rome, Michael Roberts has investigated what he sees as Prudentius’ imaginary, symbolic Rome. He explains, Prudentius shows himself particularly sensitive to the value of such schematic topography to provide a Christian mental image of the city. In the Contra Symmachum he emphasizes that the Roman populace, especially the senatorial class, is turning from the sites in the monumental center of Rome to the Lateran and the basilicas of the martyrs.49

Roberts plumbs the spatial language in Prudentius’ writings on the martyrs. Looking for geographical markers in the poems, Roberts finds Prudentius at his “most systematic” in Peristephanon 12 on the apostles Peter and Paul. As Prudentius writes about the apostles, he seeds them into the cityscape, marked out by the Tiber: “The Tiber separates the bones of the two [Peter and Paul] and both its banks are consecrated as it flows between the hallowed tombs” (dividit ossa duum Tybris sacer ex utraque ripa. Inter sacrata dum fluit sepulcra) (Perist. 12.29, trans. H. J. Thompson, p. 325, LCL). Here the poet conceptualizes Rome in “schematic terms” observes Roberts, “as united by the Tiber and by the basilicas of the two apostles, which stand on either bank of the river to the north and south.”50 In mapping the sacred in its relation to the city’s chief geographical feature, Prudentius provided what Roberts notes is “an emotionally charged, readily recollectible system of coordinates for the Christian map of Rome.”51 Michael Roberts suggests an intriguing link between Prudentius’ sense of geography and his recollection of the martyrs. Roberts wonders if Prudentius’ careful sense of spatiality might be a memory technique, in which data (in this case, the commemoration of particular saints) is mentally “mapped” so as to facilitate its recollection.52 Educated late Roman men may well have drawn on classical Roman memory techniques, mentally constructing “memory palaces” that, by emplacing the saints onto a mental map of the city’s most basic and prominent geographical features, over time came to determine a more concrete link

Roberts, “Rome Personified,” 562. Ibid. 51 Ibid. 52 On the construction of memory palaces, see Mary Carruthers, The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400–1200 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 10–16, 40–44, and 54–57.

49 50

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

between the saints and the city’s topography. Put slightly differently, we read accounts such as Jerome’s symbolic Rome and Prudentius’ schematic Rome as historical description when they were, in a sense, two different types of rhetorical exercise. But perhaps it is no surprise that Prudentius’ and Jerome’s descriptions of the new Roma Sancta loom so very large in descriptions of the late antique city, since theirs are in fact the sole extant ancient literary sources to attest to the cult of the martyrs and the subsequent “sacralization” of the landscape in the late fourth or early fifth century. Yet as we have seen, they do so only sparingly, and from a distance. Michael Roberts and Lucy Grig are certainly wise enough to know that we cannot take Jerome’s and Prudentius’ accounts of urban symbolic reversal or inversion of sacred space as anything other than rhetorical posturing and exaggeration. Abundant archaeological work in recent years indicates that even at the beginning of the fifth century, many traditional temples were still open, and the famous gilding of the Capitoline to which Jerome alludes was still in place until Geiseric (428–477 CE) (Procopius, Wars 1.5.4).53 While the Forum of Augustus lay in ruins, the adjacent Forum of Trajan still flourished as an economic center.54 As Grig wryly observes, Jerome’s claim that the “Capitolium squalet is not to be taken literally.”55 As for the Roman countryside, its cemeterial lands – even around major Christian burial sites such as the Catacombs of Callixtus, Domitilla, and Sebastiano – bear no marks of heavy visitation around martyr shrines in late antiquity. Archaeologist Kim Bowes notes that field surveys around the martyrial shrines in these areas have identified only a few structures and habitations clustering around these shrines, “nothing like the apparatus one would expect from a reading of Prudentius, who describes frenetic late fourth-century Roman pilgrimage traffic.”56 And only fifty years after Jerome and Prudentius were writing, Pope Leo I complained that

Kristina Iara, “Lingering Sacredness: The Persistence of Pagan Sacredness in the Forum Romanum in Late Antiquity,” in Aude Busine, ed., Religious Practices and Christianization of the Late Antique City (4th–7th century) (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 141–65. See also Lavan and Mulryan, The Archaeology of Late Antique “Paganism” and my Chapter 8, pp. 351–58. 54 Roberto Meneghini and Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani, Roma nell’alto medioevo: topografia e urbanistica della città dal V al X secolo (Rome: Libreria dello Stato, Istituto poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 2004), 175–88. 55 Grig, “Deconstructing the Symbolic City,” 139. 56 Kim Bowes, “Early Christian Archaeology: A State of the Field,” Religion Compass 2/4 (2008): 603. 53

45

46

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

“more effort is spent on demons than on the apostles, and the wild entertainments draw greater crowds than the shrines of the martyrs.”57 As Richard Lim argues, the games continued to focus the attentions and resources of citizens well into the fifth century58; we still have fifth-century inscriptions erected in the Colosseum that attest to its use.59 But this reality was ill-suited to a new class of late antique Christian poets and ideologues, who replaced the hard reality of a divided but still vibrant city of complex and fungible religious affiliations and identities with the comforting ideations of their “soft city” of martyr-shrines. Still, as Michael Roberts muses, “Jerome exaggerates, but it is significant that he speaks of the conversion of the inhabitants as a reorientation of urban geography.”60 It is indeed remarkable. “At stake,” continues Roberts, “are imaginative structures and signifying practices that are in uncertain relationship with the reality of urban life in late antique Rome.”61 But why are these “imaginative structures and signifying practices” so powerful as to override historical reality? *** Recent work in environmental psychology – that is, the impact of landscape on individual psyches – trends toward considering individuals rather than generalities. From this perspective, there can be no general phenomenon as “the sacred,” or “sacred landscape,” in that such a perspective is humanly created, contingent, and highly idiosyncratic – the result of an individual’s complex relationship to landscape as filtered through internal factors (personality) and external ones (for instance, culture). The environmental psychologist Kenneth Craik explains, “Landscape itself I take to be a human phenomenon, an emergent of the interplay between the observer, on the one hand, and landform and land use on the other.”62 He continues,



Leo, Sermons 84.1, trans. J. P. Freeland and A. J. Conway, St. Leo the Great: Sermons (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1996), 363. 58 Richard Lim, “People as Power: Games, Munificence, and Contested Topography,” in W. V. Harris, ed., The Transformations of Vrbs Roma in Late Antiquity, 65–81. 59 S. Orlandi, Anfiteatri e strutture annesse con una nuova edizione e commento delle iscrizioni del Colosseo. Epigrafia anfiteatrale dell’Occidente Romano VI = Vetera 15 (Rome, 2004). 60 Roberts, “Rome Personified,” 555. 61 Ibid., n. 50. 62 Kenneth Craik, “Psychological Reflections on Landscape,” in Edmund C. Penning-Rowsell and David Lowenthal, eds., Landscape Meanings and Values (London: Allen and Unwin, 1986), 48. 57

The Reinventio of the Hidden City First, the experience of a particular landscape depends upon the characteristics of the observer. Do the fool and the wise man see the same tree? How do the background and prior personal environments of the observer affect perceptions of a specific setting? How do newcomers and natives differ in their perceptions of a landscape? How does professional training of one sort or another influence or shape landscape perception?63

Craik and other environmental psychologists also perceive landscape as a thing that cannot be known directly through empirical observation, but only through, as Craik puts it, “hearsay or rumour,”64 or, better, through “personal environmental histories, as revealed by autobiographical accounts.” In other words, “landscape” is for environmental psychologists an accumulation of land features as parsed through the human psyche, including an individual’s emotions, memories, history, and dispositions. Craik continues, “These highly distinctive personalised affective ties and memories make one individual’s muddy little cove another person’s inestimably valuable and prized childhood vacation spot.”65 I suggest this is useful for thinking about “sacred landscapes” in late antiquity. Translated into a late antique register, for example, Jerome’s famous autobiographical aside on the catacombs as a dark place where he experiences a kind of “holy terror” does not work when we use it to generalize about the general psychological value or impact of the catacombs in late antiquity.66 Craik’s methodology provides a useful thing to keep in mind: we tend to perceive and define sacred landscape through the literary accounts of a few late antique men, some of whom (like Jerome or Prudentius) were not even present in Rome, but wrote

Craik, “Psychological Reflections,” 48. Ibid., 51. 65 Ibid., 55. 66 Jerome, Commentary in Ezekiel 12.40: “When I was a boy, receiving my education in Rome, my school friends and I, on Sundays, used to make the circuit of the tombs of the apostles and martyrs. Many a time did we go down into the catacombs. These are excavated deep in the earth, and contain, on either side as you enter, the bodies of the dead buried in the wall. It is all so dark there that the language of the prophet seems to be fulfilled: ‘Let them go down quickly into hell.’ Only occasionally is light let in to mitigate the horror of the gloom, and then not so much through a window as through a hole. You take each step with caution, as surrounded by deep night, you recall the words of Virgil: Horror ubique animos, simul ipsa silentia terrent.” I will discuss the passage more fully in Chapter 2, pp. 96‒97. 63

64

47

48

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

about it from afar. What we have in these accounts are a series of learned responses to environment, culturally directed, but filtered through individual perceptions and experience. It may be that Rome, by virtue of its long history as a symbolic city, was perhaps especially a site of imaginative recrafting. Lucy Grig reflects, Where “Roma” is involved there is always a certain ambivalence: Rome is not just an urbs, even the urbs (as she was for so many of her inhabitants): there is always slippage between the city and the idea, urbs and imperium, urbs and orbis. The city of Rome was both symbol and society, material and immaterial, its topography both symbolically redolent and endlessly polyvalent.67

She is right: what we see, as historians of late antiquity, is not Rome as it was, but an image of Rome as others projected and described it. The city, including its periphery, is not a phenomenological space; huge and filled with individual free agents – each of whom experience the landscape in a distinct, individual, idiosyncratic way – a certain degree of theorization is necessary to impose order and sense. The term “late antique Rome” is a condensed and specific shorthand for the city that we know, that we can detect at a distance of some sixteen centuries, built up from a paucity of sources. It is a city of our own crafting more than it is an accurate conceptualization, a reflection or representation or memory, of something far more complex and grand. The Christianization of Rome in late antiquity, beginning with the city’s urban periphery, appears to have brought with it alterations in ideas of what constituted the “sacred.” But perhaps it did not do so as much, nor as definitively, as we might expect. The conceptualization of early Christian Rome as “sacred” came about not organically, but as the result of a series of choices, convictions, and perspectives – a projected Rome born of wishful thinking, strategic global positioning, a canny sense of self-importance, and a sense of exceptionalism had always been the particular engine that drove Roman interests. *** So we return to the problem, the driving theme, of this chapter. Can we see how, and when, Rome’s cemeterial grounds outside the city became “sacred”? Was it part of the Christianization of the landscape?

67

Grig, “Deconstructing the Symbolic City,” 127.

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

And if so, when precisely did this shift happen? There has been a strong tendency, since Peter Brown’s The Cult of the Saints, to see this transformation as one of the prime characteristics of late antiquity. “The late-antique cult of the martyrs,” writes Brown, “represents …  a consistent imaginative determination to block out the lurking presence, in the cemeteries of the Mediterranean world, of ‘black death’.”68 But the degree to which a change in the symbolic valence of a cemetery from polluted to sacred happened in Rome, specifically, is more difficult to pin down with any precision, as we have seen. The minor passages of Prudentius and Jerome upon which we rely to support our picture of a martyr-filled Roma Sancta turn out to be more imagineered than real. The most Rome-centered study of death and martyr cults, Ramsay MacMullen’s The Second Church, offers a dynamic picture of the cult of the dead in fourth-century Rome but avoids explanation or analysis.69 For MacMullen, the Christian cult of the dead in late antiquity looked an awful lot like the traditional Roman cult of the dead in earlier eras; martyrs and saints simply (and without explanation) replaced ancestors as objects of veneration. People behaved, graveside, as they always had done, with a mixture of reverence toward the dead and raucous celebration of life. Any fear, reticence, or superstition was overwritten by individuals’ memories of the dead and the promise of boons the living might receive from them. Ramsay MacMullen’s description of tombside celebration in fourth-century Rome leaves little room for applying conventional understandings of the term “sacred” to the late antique grave; a similar impression is conveyed in Peter Brown’s lively essay, “Enjoying the Saints in Late Antiquity,” in which the historian paints a colorful picture of martyr festivals in North African saints’ shrines from Augustine’s own descriptions – marked by “the din of dirty songs,”



Brown, Cult of the Saints, 71. Ramsay MacMullen, The Second Church: Popular Christianity A.D. 200–400 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009); see also his article that makes an identical argument in condensed form: “Christian Ancestor Worship in Rome,” JBL 129/3 (2010): 597–613. For earlier material on the Roman cult of the dead, see H. M. Lindsay, “The Romans and Ancestor Worship,” in M. Dillon, ed., Religion in the Ancient World: New Themes and Approaches (Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1996), 271–85.

68

69

49

50

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

dancing, and not a small amount of illicit sexual activity.70 As Brown observes, “The effect of Augustine’s rhetoric has been to drain away from our image of such [martyr] feasts the heavy charge of sacrality that lay at their centre.”71 He continues, “The impression that [Augustine] leaves is that the hommes moyens sensuels of Carthage came to the feasts to have fun, when they should have come to have religion.”72 Augustine himself, as a young man in the 370s, had some direct experience: “When I went to vigils as a student in this city,” he writes in a recently published sermon, “I spent the night rubbing up beside women, along with other boys anxious to make an impression on them and, who knows, should the opportunity present itself, to ‘make it’ with them.”73 Perceiving a “sacred” landscape around the catacombs – even ones that contained the bones of the martyrs – then, lies entirely within the framework of the subject who feels it to be so. There was, for most, no particular connection between burial and sacrality, even in Christian late antiquity. To cut the Gordian knot between them, we might note that recent Roman archaeologists have discovered that, in the late antique city, human burials were everywhere, complicating any division between “sacred” and “profane.” By the fifth century, even the great temple to Magna Mater on the Palatine was used as a necropolis.74 More secular – but nonetheless symbolically fraught – landscapes transformed into ad hoc burial spots were the areas around the Colosseum,75







Peter Brown, “Enjoying the Saints in Late Antiquity,” Early Medieval Europe 9 (2001): 1–24. The phrase “din of dirty songs” comes from Augustine, Sermon Mayence 5, quoted in Brown, “Enjoying the Saints,” 4. 71 Brown, “Enjoying the Saints,” 6. 72 Ibid. 73 Augustine, Sermon Mayence 5, quoted in Brown, “Enjoying the Saints,” 6. 74 P. Pensabene, “Roma—Saggi di scavo sul tempio della Magna Mater del Palatina,” Archeologia Laziale 1 (Rome, 1978), 53–101. There is a longer bibliography in Andrea Augenti, “Continuity and Discontinuity of a Seat of Power: The Palatine Hill from the Fifth to the Tenth Century,” in Julia M. H. Smith, ed., Early Medieval Rome and the Christian West: Essays in Honour of Donald A. Bullough (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 46, n. 10–15. See also G. Rizzo, F. Villedieu, and M. Vitale, “Mobilier de tombes des VIe-VIIIe siècles mises au jour sur le Palatin (Rome, Vigna Barberini),” MEFRA 3 (1999): 351–503. 75 C. Panella, “La valle del Colosseo nell’antichità,” Bollettino di Archeologia 1–2 (1990): 87; R. Rea, “Roma: L’uso funerario della valle del Colosseo tra tardo antico e alto medioevo,” Archeologia Medievale 20 (1993): 645–58.

70

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

51

the Porticus Liviae,76 the insulae on the Caelian Hill,77 and the Crypta Balbi.78 These, however, are not commemorated today as “sacred” lands, nor are burial areas such as the vast late antique Christian cemeterial grounds outside the church of Sant’Eusebio on the Esquiline.79 Clearly, the Catholic Church’s insistence today that the catacombs constitute “sacred space” has only partially to do with the factness of their Christian burials within. Instead, their status had everything to do with their deliberate formation as sacred sites – a process that began at a precise moment in historical time. *** The centrality of the Roman catacombs to Catholic constructions of holiness has not always been the case. It began with their “rediscovery” fortuitously one day in 1578, when workers laboring at the Vigna Sanchez off the Via Salaria punctured the soft tuff to discover a vast labyrinth of graves below.80 Although the argument is often put forth that the catacombs had since their inception been “sacred,” in fact, it took a concerted effort only in the sixteenth century, and then again in the nineteenth century, for these charnel tunnels to be reconceptualized, even “marketed,” as holy sites. Before 1578, they had lain largely unremarked since the ninth century, a vast subterranean city of the dead, long abandoned to landslides and the sinewy tree roots that snaked down and around the







M. Marcelli, “Su alcune tombe tardo-antiche di Roma: nota preliminare,” Archeologia Medievale 16 (1989): 525–40; R. Meneghini and R. Santangeli Valenzani, “Sepolture intramuranee e paessagio urbano a Roma tra V e VII secolo,” in P. Delogu and L. Paroli, eds., La storia economica di Roma nell’alto medioevo alla luce dei ricenti scavi archeologici (Florence: All’insegna del Giglio, 1993). 77 C. Pavolini, ed., Caput Africae, I. Indagini archeologiche a Piazza Celimontana. La storia, lo scavo, l’ambiente (Rome: Istituto poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, Libreria dello Stato, 1994), 43–51, 161–68. 78 L. Sagui, “Crypta Balbi (Roma): conclusione delle indagini archeologiche nell’esedra del monumento romano. Relazione preliminare,” Archeologia Medievale 20 (1993): 409–18; D. Manacorda, “Trasformazioni dell’abitato nel Campo Marzio: l’area della Porticus Minucia,” in P. Delogu and L. Paroli, eds., La storia economica, 31–42. 79 See Costambeys, “Burial Topography,” 169–89, esp. 175 ff. 80 The story is recounted in virtually every book on the catacombs. For an early version, see Rodolfo Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1892), 329; in the modern period, see for example, Leonard Rutgers, Subterranean Rome: In Search of the Roots of Christianity in the Catacombs of the Eternal City (Leuven: Peeters, 2000), 12–41. 76

52

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

tombs. But upon their discovery in 1578, this hidden city, this mirrored chthonic Rome of the dead, was shot through with paleo-­Christian, Catholic-tinged piety, at least as early modern Catholics saw it. The British historian Simon Ditchfield writes evocatively of how, upon the discovery of the catacombs, sixteenth-century Romans shuddered with “positively febrile excitement.”81 The hidden city had, according to one anonymous account, “a holiness so venerable, that all who enter [were]  …  overcome by a certain awe and brought to tears.”82 Curiously, there was little new to the discovery of this “hidden city.” In truth, the first to set about exploring the catacombs in the early modern period had discovered them almost exactly a century before Vigna Sanchez’s discovery in 1578. The Italian humanist Pomponius Laetus (Leto) (1428–97) and his friends receive credit as the first “academic” discoverers of the catacombs (perscrutatores antiquitatis), entering the Catacombs of Callixtus off the Via Appia already in January of 1475. Leto and his companions also discovered the Catacombs of Praetextatus nearby; further west, off the Via Labicana, they explored the Catacombs of Peter and Marcellinus. The graffiti they left – smudged across millennia-old frescoes with candle soot and charcoal – still remains as testimony to their presence. Leto also removed a good number of inscriptions and other treasures from the catacombs, which he used to enrich his private collections at his Accademia Romana on the Quirinal Hill. But Leto’s interest in all things Greek and Roman – and specifically in reviving an ancient scholasticism – earned him enemies in the papal courts. Charged with sodomy in 1466 for composing perhaps imprudently ardent Latin poems dedicated to his students, Leto was then arrested and tortured in Rome, charged with paganism and conspiracy against the Pope.83 His irreverent attitude toward the Christian catacombs could not have helped his cause. Frankly, after Leto’s arrest, no one much wanted to explore the catacombs any more. But the case of Pomponius Leto and his friends proves that Christian subterranean



Simon Ditchfield, “Thinking with the Saints: Sanctity and Society in the Early Modern World,” Critical Inquiry 35/3 (2009): 556. 82 See Andrea Polonyi, Wenn mit Katakombenheilige aus Rom Neue Traditionen begründet werden. Studien zur Theologie und Geschichte 14 (St. Ottilien, 1998), 41. 83 W. H. C. Frend, The Archaeology of Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 12. 81

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

53

burial spaces were surely known before 1578.84 To the Church, however, they were not useful until the relentless pressure of the Protestant Reformation demanded the response of the Counter-Reformation. Hence it was on this date, 1578, that the Church openly celebrated the “rediscovery” of the catacombs, not as ancient cemeteries, but as a hidden, chthonic city that revealed the antiquity of Roman Catholicism, an ancient, subterranean Christianity that proved to Protestant detractors that the Church was semper eadem – always as it had been. *** To interpret Rome’s catacombs as a “hidden city” required a com­plicated series of theological positions and ideological efforts, for they were not naturally the sorts of places that one could easily interpret as such. The catacombs were clogged with backfill and tree roots, dank and dark and terrifyingly huge, their tombs often smashed open with bones scattered on the soil. Exploring them required a combination of tenacity and a steeliness of nerve. The nineteenth-century archaeologist and antiquarian Rodolfo Lanciani reports that large sections of the Catacombs of Priscilla had been violently ransacked – not by the barbarians in antiquity, but by superstitious people in the seventeenth century, in an effort to exorcise the demons that dwelled there.85 The early, profane explorations of Christian holy territory – whether by casual visitors or erudite humanists – were reversed by the efforts of one man, Antonio Bosio (1575–1629), the so-called “Christopher Columbus of the catacombs.” Bosio was only three years old when the Vigna Sanchez catacomb was discovered, and he was far from Rome, on the pale-yellow limestone island of Malta that was his birthplace. Like many elite Maltese men, he moved easily between the island and Rome, where he settled as a young man to study law.86



Irina Taissa Oryshkevich, “The History of the Roman Catacombs from the Age of Constantine to the Renaissance” (PhD dissertation, Columbia University, 2003); see, further, Ditchfield, “Thinking with the Saints,” 556, on the “staged” nature of the catacomb rediscovery in deploying potent counter-Protestant rhetoric. For the catacombs before their Renaissance rediscovery, see J. Osborne, “The Roman Catacombs in the Middle Ages,” PBSR 53 (1985): 278–328. 85 Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome, 8. 86 For more on Bosio, see Frend, Archaeology, 13; for an early, full, and encomiastic biography, see Antonio Valeri, Cenni biografici di Antonio Bosio. Con documenti inediti (Rome: Tip. dell’Unione cooperativa editrice, 1900). 84

54

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

Embarking on a sort of macabre “Grand Tour” that was still the order of his day, in 1593 Bosio’s pals took him down into the Catacombs of Domitilla off the Via Appia. Perhaps it was a dare; certainly it was a dangerous adventure. The catacombs were a gruesome hall of mirrors: Bosio encountered miles upon miles of the faceless dead. Young Antonio’s adventure took a turn for the worse: the stubs of candles he and his friends had brought proved meager against fifteen kilometers of subterranean tunnels; after turn after turn, their last bits of candles slowly, inexorably, extinguished. Antonio and his companions were lost in the pitch blackness, left alone with thousands of moldering bodies. It occurred to them, as their initial panic gave way to a bone-chilling boredom, that they might well die down there, “polluting this holy monument with [their] impure bodies,”87 forever lost in the numbing monotony of identical gallery opening off of identical gallery. Bosio did not die that day. Instead, he resolved to never again arrive unprepared for the uncharted depths and to begin to trace their subterranean meanderings, carefully recording each gallery, chamber, light well and stairwell. The lesson he learned – to respect huge subterranean labyrinths, the logic of whose construction is lost to us – remains in the Vatican’s rule that visitors to the catacombs today must stick carefully to a well-inscribed path, led by a sure-footed guide, through wide and safe galleries illuminated by electric lights. Even for scholars well-acquainted with a catacomb ordinarily closed to the public, the Vatican insists that a fossor – a modern “guide” who remains silent but expertly winds his or her way through the darkness, gas lamp blazing – lead the way. Bosio’s first, perilous catacomb exploration ignited in him a fire that would not soon be extinguished. His approach turned systematic; scouring the martyr acta and late antique and medieval pilgrims’ itineraries to discover hidden locations, he soon uncovered numerous catacombs, long lost. From the itinerary of William of Malmesbury (1120–40) designed for the crusaders, for instance, Bosio discovered the entrances to no fewer than thirty catacombs.88 Thanks to the Catholic Church’s rich repository of manuscripts and monastic networks, within twenty years of the Vigna Sanchez discovery, the age of catacomb exploration had arrived. It was, in this form – not only systematic, but ideologically



87

Rutgers, Subterranean Rome, 16. Frend, Archaeology, 15.

88

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

55

laden and largely textually driven – that a new class of “sacred archaeologist” used texts to guide their trowels.89 *** A second, prominent Catholic movement also contributed to the perception of these newly discovered catacombs as holy sites. In 1575, Philippo Neri (1515–95) founded the Congregation of the Oratory, a spiritual renewal movement that actively used Rome’s catacombs as sites for vigil and self-reflection.90 Neri was known for his stays in the Catacombs of Sebastiano and Callixtus, where he would stay as long as three days and nights with neither food nor sleep.91 An early British Catholic guide recounts one remarkable incident: on one occasion, when he was twenty-nine years old … he was preparing for the feast of Pentecost with extraordinary fervor in this catacomb [San Sebastiano], when suddenly a luminous sphere, like a globe of light, entered into his breast. He felt, as it were, on fire, and fell to the ground. Recovering after awhile, he arose with a strange palpitation of the heart and a swelling on his left side just over the heart. After his death the large swelling was found to be caused by the opening of two of his ribs, as if to allow more room for the beating of his heart. Ever after the miraculous event, he felt this palpitation when saying Mass, or giving absolution or Holy Communion, or when speaking on spiritual subjects.92

From this point forward, the catacombs became places for potent spiritual revelations and hierophanies, a place where God was present. God was there because the city’s earliest Christians were there; their faith, still powerful after death, conjured Him. Consequently, Oratorians organized huge masses in the catacombs, a thousand faithful strong, where Simon Ditchfield, “Text Before Trowel: Antonio Bosio’s Roma Sotterranea Revisited,” in R. N. Swanson, ed., The Church Retrospective, Studies in Church History 33 (Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 1997), 343–60. 90 The order was formally recognized by Gregory XIII (1572–85) as the “Congregazione dell’Oratorio.” On its foundation, see Antonio Cistellini, San Filippo Neri: gli scritti e le massime (Brescia: Editrice La scuola, 1994). 91 As recounted in his vita by Antonio Gallonio, The Life of Saint Philip Neri, ed. Jerome Bertram (Oxford: Ignatius, 2005). 92 P. J. Chandlery, Pilgrim-walks in Rome: A Guide to the Holy Places in the City and Its Vicinity (New York: America Press, 1908), 242–43.



89

56

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

the faithful were regaled with sermons and homilies about the early Christians who had lived in hiding in that very spot. Neri’s influence assured that San Sebastiano would earn a place in every pilgrim’s itinerary through Rome to visit the city’s most sacred sites, which had to that point been restricted to Rome’s seven principal pilgrimage churches. The catacombs, under the organizing and sacralizing force of the Oratorians, became prime sites for conversion, or at least, profound personal encounters with the Christian past. One British visitor to Rome in 1670 explains: …no man enters into the catacombes but he comes better out, than he went in. Catholicks come out far more willing to dye for that faith, for which so many of their ancestors have dyed before them. The Adversaries of the Roman Church come out even more staggered in their faith, and more milde towards the Catholick religion, to see what piety there is even in the bowels of Rome; Atheists come out with the belief that surely there is a God, seeing so many thousands of Martyrs have testifyed it with their blood.93

Thus, primarily, catacomb visitation became, for some, the locus of spiritual experience by virtue of the catacombs’ proximity to martyrs – a place for conversion and a deep sense of interiority, wonder, and repentance. On the other hand, let us not overplay the sacralization of the landscape to all people. Robert Gaston records the scorn of scores of Protestant visitors to the catacombs who found them to be repellent charnels, with the ordinary dead scandalously elevated to the status of saints by unscrupulous Catholic clergy. Even good men of the Church could bring less than properly pious intentions. Upon their sixteenth-century rebirth, the catacombs were both defaced with graffiti by esteemed sacred archaeologists – Boldetti, Bottari, Marangoni, and others – and widely plundered for pretty objects. Rodolfo Lanciani bitterly reports: From that time to the first quarter of the present century, we have to tell the same long tale of destruction. And who were responsi­ ble for this wholesale pillage? The very men—Aringhi, Boldetti, Marangoni, Bottari—who devoted their lives, energies and talents to the study of the catacombs, and to whom we are indebted for many

From Robert W. Gaston, “British Travellers and Scholars in the Roman Catacombs 1450–1900,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 46 (1983): 150.

93

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

57

standard works on Christian archaeology. Such was the spirit of the age. Whether an historical inscription came out of one cemetery or another did not matter to them; the topographical importance of discoveries was not appreciated. Written or engraved memorials were sought, not for the sake of the history of the place to which they belonged, but to ornament houses, museums, villas, churches and monasteries. In 1863, de Rossi found a portion of the Cemetery of Callixtus, near the tombs of the Popes, in incredible confusion and disorder: loculi ransacked, their contents stolen, their inscriptions broken and scattered far and wide, and the bones themselves taken out of their graves. The perpetrators of the outrage had taken care to leave their names written in charcoal or with the smoke of tallow candles; they were men employed by Boldetti in his explorations of the catacombs, between 1713 and 1717.94

The antiquarian Pietro Santi Bartoli (1635–1700) reports that a Christian cemetery outside the Porta Portese – perhaps the Catacombs of Ponziano – yielded “a beautiful set of the rarest medallions (bellissima serie di medaglioni rarissimi), works in metal and crystal, engraved stones, jewels, and other curious and interesting objects,” which catacomb laborers sold to supplement their income.95 Another catacomb, this one beyond the Porta San Pancrazio (probably the small catacomb now under Villa Doria Pamphili), could not be excavated due to its ruinous state, but which nevertheless yielded a large polychrome cameo, forty centimeters by twentyfive, of a Bacchanalian feast. It was given, Santi Bartoli reports, as a gift to Cardinal Massimi.96 It is difficult to avoid the impression from reports such as these that the piety of Counter-Reformation “archaeologists” was perhaps not as powerful as their greed: catacombs were not cathedrals; they were quarries for privileged men. *** Since the sixteenth century, then – but arguably, not before – the catacombs have been central components in the visioning and revisioning of the sacred city. In his Annales Ecclesiastici on the events of 1578, the church annalist Cesare Baronio was rapturous:



Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome, 329–30. Pietro Santi Bartoli, in Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome, 331. 96 Ibid. 94 95

58

The Reinventio of the Hidden City How marvelous to relate that we often saw and explored the cemetery of Priscilla, which was discovered and unearthed on via Salaria three milestones from Rome; we can find no better term for it than “subterranean city,” due to its immense size and diverse streets, and the way in which the main road commencing at its entrance is broader than the numerous others which branch out from it in every direction and which, in turn, split up into diverse lanes and alleys; then again, just as there are certain established sites, such as for example, in cities, here there are larger spaces decorated with the images of saints for holding religious assemblies; nor is there any lack of pieced apertures – though now blocked – to let in light from above. Rome was stunned when she realized that she had hidden cities in her suburbs – former Christian colonies from the era of persecutions – nowadays, however, packed with graves; what she had read on paper, or perceived in certain other, only partly accessible cemeteries, she now better understood; for seeing with her own eyes the very things she had read about in Jerome or Prudentius, she perceived them to be that much more astonishing.97

Gregory XIII had commissioned Baronio to write church historiography in 1578, the same year the catacombs were first “discovered.”98 Was this a coincidence, then, that the spectacular eruption of ancient graves into the theological landscape of the Counter-Reformation emerged when it did, promoted, as they were, by Baronio and others? Certainly not: this was the era of new ecclesiastical histories, written as true histories of the Roman Catholic Church. But it is worth noting what Baronio was up to in his description of Rome’s “subterranean city.” As historian Irina Oryshkevich notes, he focused on the city-like features of the catacombs, barely mentioning its graves.99 She comments, Annales Ecclesiastici, vol. II, anno 130, i–ii, pp. 117–18. On Baronio, see A. Pincherle, Dizionario biografico degli italiani, vol. 6 (Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana, 1964), 475–77; Giuseppe Antonio Guazzelli, “Cesare Baronio and the Roman Catholic Vision of the Early Church,” in Katherine van Liere, Simon Ditchfield, and Howard Louthan, eds., Sacred History: Uses of the Christian Past in the Renaissance World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 52–71; Simon Ditchfield, “Baronio storico nel suo tempo,” in Giuseppe Guazzelli, Raimondo Michetti, and Francesco Scorza Barcellona, eds., Cesare Baronio between Sanctity and Historical Writing (Viella: Rome, 2012), 3–21. 99 Irina Oryshkevich, “Roma Sotterranea and the Biogenesis of New Jerusalem,” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 55/56 (2009): 176.



97

98

The Reinventio of the Hidden City The reader thus falls under the impression that the cemeteries were conceived and built as shelters, filled with bodies only later, after three centuries of persecutions had taken their toll, and – most importantly – were already immense, highly organized settlements by the first half of the second century.100

The first-century date for the catacombs – far earlier than their actual construction – proved central to the Church’s case for the primacy of the Roman see. Baronio was certainly not the only scholar to date the catacombs so early. Onofrio Panvinio’s De ritu sepeliendi mortuos apud veteres Christianos et eorundum coemeterijs (1568) places the apostle Peter at the Coemeterium Ostrianum, performing baptisms.101 Thus in a real sense, for scholars of the Counter-Reformation, the catacombs were the first Christian spaces – invisible “anti-cities” teeming with activity. They were places of refuge against Roman persecution, but more subversively, they seeded or colonized Christianity invisibly into the rich soil of Romanitas. On the surface, Romans might persecute Christians; beneath the surface, however, Christians thrived, building networks and a civic infrastructure that would erupt, triumphantly, with Constantine’s legalization. Under Hadrian’s reign, Oryshkevich observes, “Christian Rome – genetically encoded with roads, sacred imagery, fora, liturgical space and other amenities essential to its future primacy – was already taking shape in utero.”102 For Bosio, as for the clerics of his day who met secretly in Baronio’s “hidden city,” the catacombs were not charnels but sacred places that revealed a pristine primitive Catholic faith – marked by simplicity, piety, a righteous poverty, the spirit of cooperation, and perseverance in the face of a world that could not understand them. Strikingly, this faith was expressed within the framework of a city, as if the urban infrastructure of the catacombs’ “roads” and “intersections” were a key element of nascent Christianity itself. Christianity – faith or devotion – was “mapped” onto landscape in an act that was as literal as it was subversive. Christianity’s growth in the subterranean suburbs was just a prelude, a necessary warming-up period prior to its proper takeover of urban space. Bosio writes,

Oryshkevich, “Roma Sotterranea,” 176. O. Panvinio, De ritu sepeliendi mortuos apud veteres Christianos et eorundum coemeterijs (Cologne, 1568), 10; Oryshkevich, “Roma Sotterranea,” 178. 102 Oryshkevich, “Roma Sotterranea,” 180.



100 101

59

60

The Reinventio of the Hidden City When the Church, who had once celebrated the cult of martyrs … with worthy rites in cemeteries, caves and subterranean crevices due to the conditions of the time – first emerged from the constraints of persecution into the broad field of liberty, she began to celebrate these same things with supreme glory, and to venerate the martyrs in basilicas which had been built in their memory and to which their bodies had been translated and placed in silver chests and silver-covered chapels furnished with vases glittering with gold and jewels.103

The image is one of containment and its opposite: once contained in the catacomb, Christianity erupts into the city, where again the basilicas – and within them chests, chapels, and vases – contain the holy. The cult of martyrs, by this measure, becomes a set of Chinese boxes. The ideological Christianization of space that took place in the sixteenth century, despite Counter-Reformation claims to the contrary, was by no means natural, nor even phenomenologically true. It was an ideological position that saw a hidden Christian city beneath Rome’s “pagan” landscape, a seed slowly sinking taproots before breaking forth on the surface. What, then, made the catacombs holy to sixteenth-century Catholics? It was not primarily their status as cemeteries but their conceptualization as sites of early Christian worship. In these sites took place rites and practices still recognizable – indeed, identical with – the rites of the Catholic Church. Remarkably, the Counter-Reformation conviction that the catacombs were sacred from the rites once performed in them predated the “rediscovery” of the catacombs themselves in 1578. Onofrio Panvinio had already written his comprehensive volume on early Christian sacraments, De ritu sepeliendi mortuos, a full decade earlier. Panvinio did not know the catacombs firsthand but marshaled a variety of written sources to fill out the texture of early Catholicism. For the next 200 years, Panvinio’s book provided a textual template that guided the trowels of excavators. Any explicit connection with death, corpses, bodies, decay, or burial was carefully bracketed in favor of a new focus on a vibrant ancient Christian community that used catacomb tunnels to carry on with their worship lives unhindered by Roman opposition and persecution. The principle of continuity that marked Panvinio’s volume – of the Church as semper eadem – was carried through in annals such as Baronio’s. The catacombs, these palaces of death, were reinvented as a hidden city, full of life.

A. Bosio, Annales Ecclesiastici vol. IV, anno 324, cxiv, 67–68.

103

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

61

At the same time, the memory of the Church’s martyrs began to be felt full force in the sixteenth century, displacing the interest in preserving the “hidden city” as a monument to “original” Christianity in the city. I will return to the significance of the martyrs in conceptualizations of the catacombs in the next two chapters; for now, I want only to draw attention to one aspect of the veneration of martyrs: their portability. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the catacombs were quarries not just for pretty things that might end up in the cabinets of well-heeled gentlemen, but for their masses of bones used to consecrate churches and chapels as part of Catholicism’s long reach. After these bones were removed, the hidden city was abandoned, once again, to the forces of nature and inevitable decay. *** Despite their rediscovery in the sixteenth century amidst the rapturous rhetoric of Catholic scholars, it was in fact not until the nineteenth century – the age in which organized catacomb tourism began – that the catacombs became showcases for Catholic piety, open to the interested public. Why they did so at this point had less to do with piety, interestingly enough, and more to do with a nineteenth-century preoccupation with death. This period, in the words of art historian Paul Koudounaris, “marks a point at which the interest in art based on human remains crossed from sacred interests into secular and popular culture.”104 In Koudounaris’ gorgeously grisly cultural history of ossuaries, The Empire of Death, he directs our attention to his photographs, along with a series of nineteenth-century lithographs, of the Paris catacombs. Not “proper” ancient catacombs as in Rome, the Paris catacombs are a vast series of abandoned quarries used to store bones. They were developed initially as a public service; the soil of aboveground cemeteries was spent and could no longer break down flesh, and several urban graveyards had become fetid, stinking open mass graves. The Lieutenant-General of the Paris Police, Alexandre Lenoir, proposed in 1786 using the quarries to store the bones from the cemetery of Les Innocents. Initially, workers dropped the bones willy-nilly into the depths, in a process that took fifteen months of grim, nocturnal labor. The name “catacombs” was chosen for these bone pits, so that Paris, too, could have catacombs like her rival, Rome.

Paul Koudounaris, The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2011), 93.

104

62

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

In 1810, prompted by Napoleon who wished to outdo the Roman catacombs, the new Inspector-General of the Quarries, Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, began a project to rearrange the haphazard bone piles of an estimated six million anonymous Parisians into ordered piles, clearing out spaces for solemn reflection, meditation on the passing fragility of human life. The entrance was marked with a foreboding sign: “Arrête! C’est ici l’Empire de la Mort.” The age of Death Tourism had arrived. Tickets to the Paris catacombs – limited to tours of merely 200, and held on the first Monday of every month by candlelight – became Paris’ hottest commodity. Periodicals and artists featured images of visitors in the bone-tunnels; others staged spectacles within, such as the 1897 performance of Chopin’s Funeral March, Saint-Saën’s Dance of Death, and Beethoven’s Funeral March from the Eroica, performed by a forty-five-piece orchestra in the catacomb’s Rotonde des Tibias. Just as the Paris catacombs launched a grand civic project centered around the display of ancient death, the Roman catacombs came to be profoundly changed in this era. It was not merely the removal of vast quantities of human remains, the shifting of dust and detritus, and its transformation into the magical medium of miracles and newly conferred sanctity. It was the reengineering of the catacombs into pristine cavities of volcanic earth to be filled with crowds of the pious, jostling for space amidst soft brown walls. It was their transformation from moldering tombs into subterranean churches, replete with candles and altars and clergy to offer up daily masses. So powerful a shift was this, from mass grave to church, that still today Rome’s major catacomb sites constitute consecrated space where throngs of the faithful come from around the world to celebrate the liturgy in the hidden city. *** The romanticization of Rome’s catacombs as sacred space became part of a powerful current evident in the visual arts and literature of the nineteenth century. I can list only a small selection of paintings here, primarily by French and Spanish artists, that featured gorgeously anachronistic readings of activities in the catacombs: The Kiss of Peace in the Catacombs, by Charles Louis de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin (1822– 1908); A Martyr in the Catacombs (1886) by Jules Cyrille Cavé; Luis de Madrazo Y Kuntz, Entierro de Santa Cecilia en las catacumbas de Roma (1852); Alejo Vera’s The Burial of Saint Lawrence in the Catacombs in Rome (1862); and Alejandro Ferrant y Fischermans, The Burial of Saint

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

Source: Bridgeman Images.

63

Figure 3.  Charles Louis de Frédy, The Kiss of Peace in the Catacombs, late nineteenth century.

Sebastian (1876). German and Italian painters also favored these new images of piety, such as Victor Schnetz’s Funeral of a Young Martyr in the Catacombs of Rome During the Time of Persecutions (1847); Karl Otto’s The First Christians in Rome (1869); the Funeral of Saint Laurence by Giuseppe Grandi (1843–94); The Slaughter of the First Christians in the Catacombs by Gustavo Mancinelli (1842–1906); and Christians Surprised in the Catacombs by Francesco Sagliano (1826–1890). These paintings fell into two predictable categories: they might show a romanticized, anachronistic depiction of liturgical life in the protoCatholic Church set in the catacombs, or they might focus on the catacomb burials of prominent martyrs. Charles Louis de Frédy’s The Kiss of Peace in the Catacombs follows one particular theme in Catholic devotional painting that sought to emphasize the antiquity of the sacraments; as such, these paintings, like Baronio in his Annales, focused not on the catacombs as sites of death or charnel, but saw them as ancient churches (Figure 3). In this painting, the architectural features of the catacomb resemble buildings on the

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

Source: Alamy.

64

Figure 4.  Jan Styka, Saint Peter Preaching in the Catacombs, 1902.

surface; no tombs are visible, only arches, a broken mosaic floor, and only a sole urn set into the wall evokes the specter of death. Our attention falls on the figures, in clear poses of devotion – a mix of ages and gender. A priest in rich green and gold brocade lifts the Eucharistic cup before an image of the Madonna as orans, as a beam of diffused sunlight illuminates him. Another example of a retrojected Catholic piety in the “hidden city” of the catacomb is Saint Peter Preaching in the Catacombs by the Polish painter Jan Styka (1858–1925) (Figure 4). It was painted in Paris in 1902 – thus after the fashion of catacomb paintings had crested in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. The catacombs here are depicted as a round masonry hall with a vaulted ceiling. At the bottom right, a solitary lantern casts faceted light – paltry against the hidden but vibrant source of light issuing from the ground in front of the circle of Christians surrounding the apostle. The catacombs here function as a place of refuge, not burial; there is no imagery evoking the dark humility of human death. Their bareness becomes an ideal backdrop for the human action: listening to the gospel, praying, and witnessing the faith. In the second category – paintings of the catacombs as burial places for the martyrs – is The Martyrs in the Catacombs (1855) by the French artist Jules Eugène Lenepveu (1819–1898) (Figure 5). Painted during the

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

Source: Bridgeman Images.

65

Figure 5.  Jules Eugène Lenepveu, The Martyrs in the Catacombs, 1855.

Parisian artist’s long sojourn in Rome following the Prix de Rome at the French Academy in Rome, it displays all the characteristics of Catholic Romanticism. In the gloom of the catacombs, it is as if the bodies of the martyrs are the sole source of light. Hieratic and devotional, the sharp verticality of the figures stands in contrast with the horizontal lines of the loculi tombs and the martyr’s body on the ground. As with all the paintings in this genre, it is replete with anachronisms: the papal vestments, the presence of a book for a liturgy – indeed, the celebration of a mass focused on the bodies of the dead. Worthy of consideration, finally, is Alejandro Ferrant y Fischermans, The Burial of Saint Sebastian (1876) (Figure 6). Painted in a less romantic style than some of the earlier catacomb paintings, The Burial of Saint Sebastian’s figures are rendered with skillful realism. Sebastian’s limp body is winched down onto a burial slab covered in brocade. Attendants – a woman and a child – stand by with burial preparations for the body. The palette of oranges and pinks from the exposed flesh of Sebastian and those helping to move him stand out against the background of the catacombs: heavy, gray, with ashlar masonry, stairs, and large arches. There is little to connect them with the visual impression produced by an actual catacomb; this is an imagined place, an imagined moment. If the romanticism of the catacombs made for a new genre of Catholic devotional art, they might also inspire literature. The catacombs make their debut in the nineteenth century as settings for novels, particularly

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

Source: © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

66

Figure 6.  Alejandro Ferrant y Fischermans, The Burial of Saint Sebastian, 1877.

Victorian British novels.105 Two of the most celebrated are Fabiola, or the Church of the Catacombs, by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, first published in 1854, and Callista: A Tale of the Third Century, by John Henry Newman.106 These deeply pious romances expressed none of the antiCatholic sentiments as the book that inspired them: Charles Kingsley’s Hypatia, or New Foes with an Old Face (1852). Novels and popular articles like these helped to perpetuate the Catholic myth of persecution, and to conceptualize the catacombs as the backdrop for the development of Christianity not as a hidden city, but as a hidden society. In reality, of course, the catacombs were no place to hide – a fiction that even modern Catholic catacomb guides are quick to dispel. More entrenched, however, is the idea that the catacombs accurately reflect the vestiges of authentic Christian experience in their built environment. This idea did not appear from nowhere, but was the product of several hundred years of re-crafting them as such. See Amy Hirschfeld, “An Overview of the Intellectual History of Catacomb Archaeology,” in Laurie Brink and Deborah Green, eds., Commemorating the Dead (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), 22–24. 106 See Leon B. Litvack, “Callista, Martyrdom, and the Early Christian Novel in the Victorian Age,” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 17/2 (1993): 159–73.



105

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

67

*** The extensive rehabilitation of the catacombs and their insertion into the Catholic imagination by means of art and print media was not only motivated with a distinctly nineteenth-century preoccupation with death. Rather, the era saw the Catholic Church in a time of particular crisis, as Italy came together as a modern state in the Risorgimento. The papal states lost control of the city on September 20, 1870. It is no coincidence that the events that framed this era – the 1815 Congress of Vienna and end of Napoleonic rule to 1871, when Rome became the chief city of the new Kingdom of Italy – also served as bookends for a period of destabilization and frank loss of power for the papacy. The era was one of industrialization, technological advances, the rise of modernity, and, above all, one in which secularism gained a foothold as a civic and national virtue. The mentality of the age was profoundly threatening to the very existence of the Papal States. At the outset a forward-looking, progressive pope, Pius IX (1846–1878) granted the Papal States in 1848 their own Constitution. The First Vatican Council, beginning in 1869, attempted to shore up the authority of the papacy in the doctrine of papal infallibility, but proceedings were interrupted by Italian attacks on the Papal States and never resumed. As papal authority waned in Italy, one response from the Church was an unprecedented promotion of Rome’s catacombs that represented the antiquity and authority of the popes and martyrs of the city.107 Pius IX’s many jubilees brought thousands of pilgrims to the city and the catacombs, from the 300th anniversary of the closing of the Council of Trent in December 1863 that brought renewed esteem to corporeal relics; the 1800th anniversary of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul; and the spiritual pilgrimages of 1873, 1875, and 1877. In 1853, Pius created the Pontificia Commissione di Archeologia Sacra to further the work of Giovanni Battista de Rossi and others within the catacombs, and to safeguard the catacombs themselves. He also sponsored the collection of Christian artifacts in the Vatican’s Pio Cristiano Museum and the Collegium Cultorum Martyrum, an association dedicated to venerating the martyrs buried in the catacombs. These organizations all continue their robust work to this day.

Jamie B. Erenstoft, Controlling the Sacred Past: Rome, Pius IX, and Christian Archaeology. N.p.: ProQuest. PhD dissertation, University of Buffalo, 2008.

107

68

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

Perhaps the most remarkable demonstration of the Papal States’ turn to its past as self-justification was its entry into the 1867 Great Exhibition in Paris. While visitors entered the Italian exhibit – a neo-Renaissance pavilion by Antonio Cipolla trumpeting Florence as the paragon of culture and prestige – a few feet away lay the exhibition mounted by the Papal State: a faithful and painstaking reproduction of the catacombs, engineered by de Rossi under Pius IX’s patronage.108 *** In November 2015, Rome’s Pontifical Urban University convened a daylong seminar. The topic was something known as the Catacomb Pact, and 2015 marked its fiftieth anniversary. On November 16, 1965, some forty bishops gathered in the Catacombs of Domitilla for a secret Mass, known only to a few within the Vatican walls. It was a historic turning point for the Catholic Church, the eve of the Second Vatican Council, a rite of rejuvenation for Catholics that the Vatican hoped would fight secularization and draw positively on modernity to gather the faithful back to the fold. Over two thousand churchmen vowed, as Pope John XXIII had put it, to restore the Roman Catholic Church as “the Church of the Poor.” At these catacombs, among the bodies of 100,000 dead, the bishops agreed to “try to live according to the ordinary manner of our people in all that concerns housing, food, means of transport, and related matters.” Renouncing personal possessions, names and titles, and other trappings of personal authority, the bishops declared their intention to spend their lives in service to the poor and powerless. Such was the Catacomb Pact. Despite the momentousness of the occasion, it passed virtually unrecorded, unnoticed, in the annals of Catholic history. Today, only one signatory survives: Luigi Bettazzi, formerly bishop of the Italian diocese of Ivrea. The Catacomb Pact may have passed unnoticed in the history books, until the surprise election in 2013 of Pope Francis, an Argentine Jesuit. Francis’ commitment to re-visioning the Church as the “church of the

Giovanna Capitelli, “L’archeologia Cristiana al servizio di Pio IX: ‘la catacomba in fac-simile’ di Giovanni Battista De Rossi all’Esposizione Universale di Parigi del 1867,” in Adele Coscarella and Paola De Santis, eds., Martiri, santi, patroni: per una archeologia della devozione. Atti X Congresso Nazionale di Archeologia Cristiana, Università della Calabria, 15–18 settembre 2010 (Arcavacata di Rende: Università della Calabria, 2012), 555–66.

108

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

poor” has been evident since shortly after his election; that it drew tacitly on the Catacomb Pact was evident. By his actions, Francis has made it clear that his vision for the Church was one of radical simplicity and service. But what had this vision of radical simplicity to do with the catacombs? The Catacombs of Domitilla were chosen because, in 1965 as today – and as in 1593 – they represent the unsullied piety of early Christians – poor, faithful, simple in their commitment to Jesus and to one another. On Rome’s surface stood massive marble monuments to human greed, ambition, and our basest appetites – the Colosseum, Nero’s circus, the Hippodrome – but underground, ordinary Christians commemorated their dead with pebbles and clay, flowers, spices, and crudely scratched epitaphs. Their subterranean city had no grand monuments, only empty brown space devoted to God. This is not to say that the catacombs were this. To the contrary, Catholic theologians used the catacombs to invoke a fictive sacred past. This past had twin poles, so to speak. One pole was the lives of ordinary Christians and their life of simplicity and devotion. Such was readily apparent in the humble graves and occasional, barely literate inscriptions they had left behind by the thousands. Beginning in the early Renaissance, these were copied, published, removed by the hundreds, and placed on conspicuous display. “The frescos were regarded as an armory for Catholic apologists,” comments W. H. C. Frend, “providing evidence for the primitive status of the cult of the Virgin, for prayers for the dead, for the Catholic Eucharistic liturgy and the heroic continuity of the Roman Church itself.”109 The other pole celebrated the “stars” of early and late antique Christianity, its martyrs. The catacombs were not primarily martyrial sites, although as we will discuss in the next chapter, they came to be. “The sacred” is a subjective category often deployed polemically, used to construct and police boundaries between one group’s territory and another’s. The Catacombs of Rome are only sacred to some groups or individuals; the content or substance of the claim to their sacredness makes sense only to this group of people who share a similar orientation. For them, the sacredness of the catacombs both is taken for granted and, paradoxically, needs to be constantly asserted; its margins are policed to push away either those people or those ways of thinking that find a cemetery the opposite of “sacred,” whether

Frend, Archaeology, 17.

109

69

70

The Reinventio of the Hidden City

“profane” (in the sense of secular) or “polluted” (in the sense that mass graves and contact with human corpses are unclean). Ultimately, these binaries – “sacred” versus “profane/polluted” – are humanly created, just as the “sacred landscape” of early Christian sites outside the city walls is humanly created. Furthermore, these binaries were not fully articulated in late antiquity, when we might expect to find them, but very much later, in the early modern period. It was then, I argue, that the Catacombs of Rome became reshaped, re-crafted, into holy shrines of the Catholic dead.

2. Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata) In cartography … the standpoint of the observer has a profound effect on his or her worldview, the way he or she puts together the scattered data at his or her command. And the place where the observer stands is always a place in time as well as in space, not only the center of the world but the end of a journey.1

W

e use maps – sometimes even just “mental maps” – to make sense of jumbled or overwhelming information. Maps allow us to project order, to provide a stable and comprehensible picture of a baffling and chaotic landscape.2 Even things unseen can be mapped – the spread of ideas, wind patterns, or that ephemeral quality that scholars of religion call “the sacred.” With conceptualizations of “the sacred” inlocating within Rome’s urban periphery in the early modern period came distinct but interrelated ways of encountering it. It was preferable to visit Rome’s sacred sites, but if a direct encounter were not possible, then there were other ways and means. A map was one such means, offering a specific, mediated way of encountering landscape. But how do we map “the sacred”? And indeed – a better question: in what way does a map reinforce, even create, notions of a sacred landscape? In this chapter, I will consider a few maps of Roma Sancta – late antique, early modern, and modern. Each one does more than simply record where things are in space.

Loveday Alexander, “Mapping Early Christianity: Acts and the Shape of Early Church History,” Interpretation 57/2 (2003): 164. 2 On mapping and our tendency to create maps in scholarship, see Alexander, “Mapping Early Christianity,” 163–73. 1

71

72

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

A map depends on two things: first, it shares with its viewer(s) an implicit ideological view that the landscape it represents is somehow valuable; second, that landscape must be sufficiently inscrutable such that some sort of map is necessary to navigate and comprehend it. A map’s function is to help move the reader/traveler effectively through landscape, but also to amplify and make specific and concrete what is significant about that landscape in the first place. To be effective (indeed, to be necessary at all), space must also be granulated or constellated into specific sites; were space uniformly undifferentiated, a map would hardly be necessary. Maps create “place” out of “space.” Maps also create opportunities for, or else support, human movement between specific places. Interestingly, a map does not mean that people will actually move between one site and another; because of the way it plots out sites within the landscape, studying it alone produces an analog for the direct experience of the sites themselves – hence, the phenomenon of the “armchair traveler.” Maps, then, parse out a landscape spatially. They depend upon the localization or focalization of landscape on specific, recognizable features that can be noted both for generally orienting a viewer in space and for pointing out particular things of note. The information they convey is not neutral but decidedly interested. If, as I have argued in the last chapter, sacred place is humanly created – the result of cognitive projection onto territory – the map represents further human attempts to impose meaning onto place. More broadly, landscape, writ large, is a projection of human experience; maps aim to regularize, universalize, organize, and disseminate that projection. But as the historian of religion Jonathan Z. Smith famously noted, map is not territory, although we have a tendency to forget this.3 It is a second-order object, not the reality that it interprets and represents. Map is not territory, but neither is it landscape. And yet, maps work to support the construction of sacred landscape, just as they can work to convince us of something, in this case, the way in which Christianity grew in Roman late antiquity. ***



Jonathan Z. Smith, Map Is Not Territory: Studies in the History of Religions. Studies in Judaism in Late Antiquity 23 (Leiden: Brill, 1978). The quotation “map is not territory” is not Smith’s invention but derives from the Polish-American philosopher Alfred Korzybski.

3

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

Spread out before me is a very nice map, quite large but still easily foldable, included with my edition of an official Vatican publication on the catacombs: The Christian Catacombs of Rome (1999).4 I have studied this map, on and off, for twenty years. It has long been my silent companion as I write; I’ve folded and unfolded it countless times until its seams have become flimsy and no longer forgiving; I have brought it to classes and on my sabbaticals; oddly, I realize, I’ve never brought it to Rome. Bearing the title “Early Christian Monuments in Rome and Its Suburbs (3rd–6th Century),” my eye is drawn first to the city of Rome itself. Hemmed all around by a thickish crimson line following the circuit of the Aurelian walls, the city is a busy blastocyst, cut through on one end by the meandering squiggle of the Tiber. Ghost outlines of major ancient structures – the Iseum, Castra Pretoria, Colosseum – jostle for space inside the blastocyst. Most of the map highlights not the city but its urban periphery – miles and miles of it, in a soothing pale celadon green. Rome’s major roads snake outward from the city walls, dropping off the sides of the map. “Early Christian Monuments in Rome and Its Suburbs (3rd–6th Century)” lists, down its left side, 121 Christian and Jewish sacred sites: churches, basilicas, monasteries, and catacombs. It also marks luxury villas, hospices, bath complexes, libraries, and porticoed streets, filling out the urban fabric, although these are comparatively rare. Churches are differentiated: titular churches are marked differently from nontitular or votive churches and martyria; baptisteries, again, are separate. Most clearly marked on the map are catacombs and cemeteries, the majority of which are clustered in the lower eastern quadrant of the urban periphery, along the Via Appia and first part of the Via Latina. On this map, Christian Rome looks busy and full, well-rooted, expansive. Conceptually, this map is based on the approach of the Belgian Catholic scholar Louis Reekmans.5 Reekmans produced a pioneering study of Christianization of Rome’s urban periphery, which he presented as a series of “implantations” of Christian edifices of varying types.

Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai, F. Bisconti, and D. Mazzoleni, The Christian Catacombs of Rome. History, Decoration, Inscriptions (Regensburg: Schnell and Steiner, 1999). 5 Louis Reekmans, “L’implantation monumentale chrétienne dans le paysage urbain de Rome de 300–850,” RAC 44 (1968): 173–207.



4

73

74

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

This implantation model provided a more helpful and accurate way of thinking about Christianization than an older, “replacement” model, in which Christians took over public structures such as temples or administrative buildings. While this sort of thing might have happened elsewhere, Christians of Rome generally adapted either private residences for worship within the city walls, or created purpose-built structures outside the walls. This map from The Christian Catacombs of Rome duly records all these “implantations.” What it does not do, however, is present these Christian structures within the existing suburban framework of non-Christian space. Structures such as the Colosseum are there for spatial reference, not because they represent significant non-Christian sites. So, while this map in a sense shows “implantations” rather than “replacements” of one kind of sacred space with another, without a fuller sense of the fabric of what we might loosely call “traditional Roman religious sites” these Christian sites seem impressively hegemonic. Still, conceptualizing Christianization in Rome as a series of “implantations” comes with its own set of problems. In many ways an excellent and useful map, “Early Christian Monuments in Rome and Its Suburbs (3rd–6th Century)” nevertheless organizes, orders, and presents information in subtly non-neutral ways, as all maps do. It does so in a variety of ways. Besides significantly oversimplifying the urban and suburban fabric, it compresses chronology; the 300 years between the third century and the sixth saw monumental changes in Rome, not the least of which was the complicated and protracted process of Christianization. Here, 300 years are a single moment, synchronic. We have no sense from looking at it what was involved in Christianity’s topographical creep. Did it happen gradually? At a stroke? Through conquest, or through the gradual absorption of abandoned lands? The map also suppresses difference. All cemeteries and all churches are marked by symbols that never vary in size, although some sites were large and others tiny. Size matters. The Roman historian Ramsay MacMullen produced, less than a decade ago, a study in which he calculated how many worshippers a large Constantinian basilica might hold, and from then moved to examine prior historians’ estimations of the numbers of Christians in fourth-century Rome.6 MacMullen’s estimate



Ramsay MacMullen, The Second Church: Popular Christianity A.D. 200–400 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009).

6

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

was substantially less than others had guessed; from this, he was led to the conclusion that either the number of Christians in fourth-century Rome was in fact much lower than historians had previously imagined, and that what “Christian worship” looked like at that point was not centered around the Constantinian basilicas but in the cemeterial sites of the urban periphery. Most likely, both of his conclusions were at least partially correct. But the sense of Christian “implantation” on a map of Rome marked with equally sized symbols scattered across might lead us to a falsely inflated sense of Christian “triumph.” A Constantinian basilica might hold some 2,500 worshipers; a small parish church, perhaps only 2  percent of that. Catacombs, in fact, are similar: what is marked on the map as a Christian catacomb did not contain only Christian ­burials – far from it, in fact. This holds until the sixth century, anyway, when the population was, in theory, all Christian. At that point, however, the catacombs had long fallen out of use. Crucially, we can determine no sense of late antique behavior in relation to the Christian sites on this particular map. Were some sites more popular than others? Was there factionalism? Competition? Cooperation? Centralization and oversight? To what degree, finally, does the map in front of me actually represent what it purports to represent: early Christian monuments in late antique Rome? “Early Christian Monuments in Rome and Its Suburbs (3rd–6th Century)” presents Rome, in toto, as a landscape of articulated sites, each different and yet all linked, all part of Rome as one big network of holy hot spots. The “Early Christian Monuments in Rome and Its Suburbs (3rd– 6th Century)” map is a direct descendent of those developed within the Roman Catholic Church, not in antiquity, but beginning in the sixteenth century. In this tremendous era of expansion, renovation, and urban renewal, maps and their more discursive counterparts, guidebooks, were produced for the scores of devout pilgrims visiting the city. The influential work of the Sacred Congregation of Rites and Ceremonies established under Sixtus V in 1588 included mapping, topographically, the “sacred spots” of the city with important liturgical works such as the Roman Martyrology, which Cesare Baronio had annotated in 1586 and again in 1589 and 1598. This was a robust text, which added hundreds of local martyrs to the Catholic liturgical calendar. The book also provided prime opportunities for the Church to indulge in “geographical thinking,” as papal sponsors saw the clear advantages of creating stages for liturgical performance, prayer, and vigil within subterranean Rome.

75

76

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

But there were also rising opportunities in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries not only to read texts like the Roman Martyrology topographically, but to create a new genre of guidebook to Roma Sancta.7 The Holy Year 1575 occasioned the arrival of pilgrims to the city and a renewal of Catholic faith. At least as contemporary guidebooks such as the Mirabilia Urbis Romae (first published in 1550) describe the city, the streets thronged with ardent devotees spilling from the numerous churches on virtually every street, overwriting the city’s “evil” pagan past by tracing out with their pilgrimage the contours of Roma Sancta. One of the first – and certainly tremendously influential outside of Rome – was Reverend Gregory Martin’s gazetteer, Roma Sancta (1581).8 Gregory Martin (1542–1582) – best known for producing the Rheims and Douai Bible, the first English language translation of the Vulgate – was an Oxford-trained theologian, and a deeply devout Catholic priest who knew firsthand the pain of persecution; his close friend Edmund Campion was killed by Protestants and considered fully a martyr of the Church. Martin himself chose self-exile to the continent, helping his colleague William Allen establish the English College in Rome’s Regola neighborhood in 1579. In the next 100 years, forty-four of its students would suffer martyrdom, consolidating the seminary’s reputation as somewhat of a nursery for young, zealous Catholic martyrs. In this charged environment of persecution, then, Martin composed upon his return to Rheims his Roma Sancta, which focused on the city’s ancient martyrs. It is a book of strong feeling and erudition, from its citation of relevant passages of Church Fathers on pilgrimages (citing Jerome charmingly in sixteenth-century English: “where in any other place do they runne so earnestly and so thicke to the Churches, and the tumbes of Martyrs?”) to the descriptions of churches with their relics, to its familiarity with other books of the same genre, such as Le Cose

See Ludwig Schudt, Le guide di Roma (Vienna: Ausburg, 1930); for a more updated, comprehensive list, G. Sicari, Bibliografia delle guide di Roma in lingua italiana dal 1480–1850 (Rome: Sotto gli auspici dell’associazione culturale “Alma Roma” ed. fuori commercio, 1990), and the recent study of Jessica Maier, Rome Measured and Imagined: Early Modern Maps of the Eternal City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015). 8 Gregory Martin, Roma Sancta, ed. George Bruner Parks (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1969).



7

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

Merevigliose dell’Alma Città di Roma, Onofrio Panvinio’s De Praecipuis Urbis Romae sanctioribusque basilicis, and Marco Attilio Serrano’s De Septem Urbis Ecclesiis. Martin’s Roma Sancta is a work of learning, but above all, a work of love for an imagined, remembered city for which Martin clearly yearned. In 1588, Pompeo Ugonio published his popular pilgrim’s guide, Historia delle stationi di Roma, dove oltre le vite di’santi alle chiese di quali è Statione, si tratte delle origini, fondazioni, siti, restaurationi, ornamenti, reliquie e memorie di esse chiese antiche e moderne, boasting of Rome’s precious “ornaments” that rivaled even Jerusalem: the “bones, blood, and ashes” of the martyrs.9 The year 1600 was a Holy Year in Rome, and accordingly, it saw the publication of new and expanded pilgrim’s guides. Among the most influential was I Tesori Nascosti nell’Alma Città di Roma, the Hidden Treasures of the Beloved City of Rome, by Ottavio Panciroli (1554–1624).10 This guide, like others composed and published in the Counter-Reformation, could direct pilgrims more usefully and pointedly than any earlier iterations had done. What was meant by “hidden,” in the case of I Tesori Nascosti, was the invisible abundance that Rome offered to its pilgrims in the form of formal Church indulgences gained through visiting the city’s sacred sites, including, naturally, the catacombs. I Tesori Nascosti begins, typically, by comparing Rome with Jerusalem. The competition for primacy of sanctity between the two cities had been fought since late antiquity. Panciroli saw both parallels and differences between them: while earthly Jerusalem is the “clear and illustrious figure” of the heavenly Jerusalem, ancient Rome is “like a shadow, and a figure” of Christian Rome.11 Christ is manifest – visible, even – in Christian Rome, Panciroli averred, where countless relics receive devotion and “where people gather to see the caves, cellars, caverns … as if they were beautiful palaces and marvelous gardens.” In this

P. Ugonio, Historia delle stationi di Roma, 1588, 4. On Ugonio’s mapping project and its effects, see Carolyn Valone, “Women on the Quirinal Hill: Patronage in Rome, 1560–1630,” The Art Bulletin 76/1 (1994): 135. 10 O. Panciroli, I Tesori Nascosti nell’Alma Città di Roma (Rome: Appresso Luigi Zannetti, 1600). 11 Maarten Delbeke and Anne-Françoise Morel, “Roma Antica, Sacra, Moderna: The Analogous Romes of the Travel Guide,” Library Trends 61/2 (2012): 400.



9

77

78

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

city, he promised the visitor, “we shall discover secrets that are no less attractive than marvelous … these are the ‘hidden treasures’ of Rome.”12 This era saw the periodization of Roman history – or more precisely, the topographical history of the city – organized into three phases: ancient Rome, sacred Rome, and modern Rome. These were not exactly diachronic, but rather, conceptual; they might exist in the same place. Rome was, and remains, a palimpsest. Roma antica, its prominent ruins still visible in Panciroli’s day, offered visible markers of a past decadence to be more or less ignored, or at least, to be set into the context of the much more significant and wondrous Roma Sacra, the hidden city. In a fascinating article on the deliberate Counter-Reformation creation of Roma Sacra, Anne-Françoise Morel and Maarten Delbeke observe that Panciroli compared “the decayed and eroded marvels of Rome with the subterranean, and therefore invisible, spaces of the catacombs and caves, the new monuments of Christianity.”13 Interestingly, the point of Panciroli’s guidebook was not to edify the pilgrim, but to generate images (imagine) within the minds of readers that would “astound the devout visitor and convert the unbeliever.”14 Morel and Delbeke point to the importance of Catholic guidebooks as not merely propaganda but as devices that could select and arrange “aspects of the city – real as well as imaginary – into a coherent representation of that city.”15 Newly published guidebooks from the sixteenth century onward reflected, they argue, “not only the far-going physical transformation of the city during that period but also new ways of thinking about the identity of Rome.”16 Here, again, the catacombs could be presented both as a “hidden” Christian Rome but also, perhaps more significantly, as a hidden Christian Rome that had the power to sanctify the otherwise profane, secular space of roads, ancient tombs, and stillused pasture lands outside the city. This is “geographical thinking” at its most holistic and powerful. *** Panciroli, I Tesori Nascosti, 10–11. Delbeke and Morel, “Roma Antica,” 401; See also Simon Ditchfield, Liturgy, Sanctity, and History in Tridentine Italy: Pietro Maria Campi and the Preservation of the Particular (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 87. 14 Panciroli, I Tesori Nascosti, 14. 15 Delbeke and Morel, “Roma Antica,” 397. 16 Ibid.



12 13

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

When did Rome’s “geographical thinking” begin? As Loveday Alexander reminds us, the mental map of a wide circle emanating from Rome and her emperor dates back to the days of Augustus, for centuries driving cognitive perceptions of Empire.17 Christians, however, developed a new mental map of Empire that shifted the center away from Rome. In their conceptualization, the city of Rome itself collapsed in late antiquity under the weight of its arrogance and idolatry, only for a new center to form at its periphery. For Eusebius, the ekklesia grew outward, almost organically, from a human center: the circle of apostles.18 From there, notes the church historian Justo González, “everything else was periphery, valid only to the degree to which it reflected the values and understandings of the center.”19 We have seen this mental shift clearly already in writings of Prudentius and the letters of Jerome, particularly Letter 107 in which Jerome’s rejection of Rome’s squalid Capitolium stands in rhetorical contrast with the vibrancy of the city’s periphery, filled with pilgrims and martyrs.20 Jerome’s brief mention in his Letter 107 to Laeta of the city moving its seat to the suburbium as crowds flood to martyr shrines is significant, because it points to what scholars of late antiquity consider the era’s most vital and distinctive perceptual shift: the point at which “the sacred” became lodged within the material. No longer the locus for ­otherworldly, numinous experience, landscape in the late fourth century became sacred – not through rites of consecration, not through human experience, but, perversely, through human bone. Christianization happened, not with all the quotidian messiness that such a shift naturally entailed, but rather suddenly, when the diffuse sacredness of the Roman pastoral landscape was at a stroke replaced by a new overlay of “holy hot spots” directly connected to shrines of the saints. So for the historian Robert Markus, explaining how sacred space “happened,” the creation of Christian holy places was directly



Alexander, “Mapping Early Christianity,” 165. Alexander draws heavily on the work of C. Nicolet, Space, Geography and Politics in the Early Roman Empire (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991), 192; and O. A. W. Dilke, Greek and Roman Maps (London: Thames and Hudson, 1985), esp. 112–29. 18 Alexander, “Mapping Early Christianity,” 66. 19 J. L. González, The Changing Shape of Church History (St Louis: Chalice, 2002), 17. 20 Jerome, Ep. 107.1; see my ch. 1, p. 47. 17

79

80

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

connected to the rise of local martyr cults.21 Sabine MacCormack notes, similarly, that in the late antique West, “space was ordered in a system of focal points of sacred power – that is, by the saints in their churches, most of whom were in turn surrounded by hosts of departed Christians awaiting the Last Day in their graves.”22 These scholars and scores of others owed their analysis to Peter Brown’s tremendously erudite and influential chapter, “The Holy and the Grave,” in his landmark The Cult of the Saints. In it, Brown had no trouble in seeing the late antique grave as not just “a fine and private place,” but a place of the “Very Special Dead,” a hierophanic space that represented nothing less than the joining of heaven and earth.23 Brown’s analysis of the tomb as the point where heaven and earth joined was influenced by the University of Chicago historian of religion Mircea Eliade’s theorization of space as divided between “sacred” and “profane,” with the “axis mundi” joining heaven to earth.24 But few scholars deployed Eliade’s theories with the elegance and erudition of Brown, and thus Eliade’s theories came to be dismissed as essentializing, if not also somewhat romanticizing. As Eliade’s theories waned in popularity, the work of another Chicago historian of religion, Jonathan Z. Smith, rose in ascendency. Smith’s first essay on the sacred, “The Bare Facts of Ritual” (1980) – published the same year as The Cult of the Saints – presented sacred places as “focusing lenses”: an active middle zone where humans and gods might see one another clearly, for the first time.25 Smith’s work became increasingly functionalist over time; “place” (J. Z. Smith’s distinctive term that replaced Eliade’s “sacred space”) is sacred, he asserted, because of rituals that are performed – at







Robert Markus, “How on Earth Could Places Become Holy? Origins of the Christian Idea of Holy Places,” JECS 2/3 (1994): 257–71. 22 Sabine MacCormack, “Loca Sancta: The Organization of Sacred Topography in Late Antiquity,” in Robert Ousterhout, ed., The Blessings of Pilgrimage (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 18. 23 Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 1. 24 For Eliade on sacred space, the literature is immense. See Mircea Eliade, “Sacred Architecture and Symbolism,” in D. Apostolos-Cappadona, ed., Symbolism, the Sacred, and the Arts: Mircea Eliade (New York: Crossroad, 1986); Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. Willard Trask (New York: Harper & Row, 1959). 25 J. Z. Smith, “The Bare Facts of Ritual,” HR 20 (1980): 112–27. 21

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

the catacombs, for instance – rather than because there is something essentially ontologically different about that place.26 Where Rudolf Otto (and even Eliade) drew on philosophy and theology, Smith and his colleagues drew on anthropology and sociology, united in seeing “the holy” as something humanly created rather than a quality of the divine. The American anthropologist Roy Rappaport’s Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity (1999) holds that the sacred is manufactured through ritual performance; when that ritual performance ends, the sacred no longer exists. As J. Z. Smith famously argued, people are not placed; they bring place into being.27 But was there in the fourth century a generalized sense of a network or map of martyrial sites and graves across the city that soon began to draw pious visitors? It seems that fourth- and fifth-century citizens did not yet engage in “geographical thinking” of this particular sort. For late antique Romans, the city was composed of the wandering lines of their days, the rough divisions into imperial, civic, and residential quarters, and some awareness of the difference qualitatively between the congested, urban “inside” and the expansive, treed outside, where tombs, temples, and villas gradually gave way to verdant rolling hills, the ring of the Apennines always visible beyond. Denizens of the high Empire had spent their days sitting in a crowded bowl with a river running through it. Even with the massive depopulation of the early fifth century, Rome’s summers were still fetid; if pilgrims went to the saints’ memoriae, it may only have been to escape the oppressiveness of the city rather than a driving piety. Besides, as we have seen in the last chapter, the cemeteries were where one could go to have fun, not a somber experience of the numinous. Jerome and Prudentius seem to have been mistaken, in short, if they really thought that Rome had shifted its priorities and boundaries to refocus on martyrs. Late antique pilgrims did not flock down into the suburban martyr graves to see human remains. As late as the seventh century, writes historian Alan Thacker, “the vast majority of



For a critique of J. Z. Smith’s theory of “place” as it relates to Eliade, on the one hand, and ritual, on the other, see Ronald Grimes, “Jonathan Z. Smith’s Theory of Ritual Space,” Religion 29 (1999): 261–73. 27 Jonathan Z. Smith, To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual. Chicago Studies in the History of Judaism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 28. 26

81

82

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

the Roman martyrs remained undisturbed in their original niches in the catacombs.”28 He notes that since the subterranean martyr shrines were “cramped,” there would have been time for only a short prayer before visitors moved on. He adds, “The saint was evidently not generally expected to bestow his benefits at the tomb, and even when he did it was not in response to a prolonged period of ritual waiting.”29 A new mental map centered around people rather than city – even if by “people” what was actually meant was “bones” – was still unfamiliar to native Romans throughout late antiquity. To the degree that it existed, it did not differ much from the local traffic that Romans had always paid to their ancestral dead, simultaneously present and absent on the fringes of the city. One might well ask, then, to what degree the internalized map of Roma Sacra that fourth- and fifth-century Romans carried within themselves were similar to the imagineered maps of CounterReformation Catholicism, and what part the saints and martyrs of the city played in that. It is difficult to say, but two separate yet related sets of evidence from the fourth century lead us nicely into the “geographical thinking” of two different fourth-century Romans. The first set is a codex – our earliest Christian codex with full-page illustrations, in fact – and particularly a list within it, the Depositio Martyrum, a working document enumerating saints and their burial spots outside the city. It was neither a guidebook nor a map, but it contained the seeds of both. The second is a set of inscriptions, established by Pope Damasus (366–384 CE) and erected at a variety of sites around Rome’s urban periphery. Together, these sets – written in the same era under the same bishop – represent the first clear efforts to chart Roma Sacra by means of its “holy hot spots.” *** Let us consider first a remarkable fourth-century codex. The Calendar of 354, also called the Chronography of 354, the Almanac of 354, or the Philocalian Calendar, takes its name from its original calligrapher, Furius Dionysus Philocalus. It was commissioned for a wealthy fourth-century

Alan Thacker, “In Search of Saints: The English Church and the Cult of Roman Apostles and Martyrs in the Seventh and Eighth Centuries,” in Julia M. H. Smith, ed., Early Medieval Rome and the Christian West: Essays in Honour of Donald A. Bullough (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 251. 29 Thacker, “In Search of Saints,” 251–52. 28

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

Roman Christian, Valentinus, who is otherwise unknown. Our earliest Christian codex calendar, the original book has unfortunately been lost, but the contents are preserved in several Carolingian and Renaissance copies.30 A composite document comprised mainly of a variety of lists primarily for reckoning time in different ways (festal, astrological, political, and so on), one particular section of the Calendar of 354, the Depositio Martyrem – a relatively short list of saints and the dates of their commemoration – has drawn attention since the nineteenth century. It is not so much its evidence for the Christianization of time that intrigued catacomb scholars such as Giovanni Battista de Rossi (1822–1894), but its implications for the Christianization of space. Never before had a Christian document, prepared in Rome, inlocated the martyrs within the landscape of the city’s urban periphery. Here is the codex calendar’s martyr list, with the dates of their feast days removed. I have kept the original order by date of commemoration: Fabian, [commemorated] in [the Catacomb of] Callixtus. Sebastian, ad catacumbas [now called the Catacomb of San Sebastiano]. Agnes, on Via Nomentana. Perpetua and Felicitas, in Africa. Parthenus and Caloceris, in [the Catacomb of] Callixtus. Peter, ad catacumbas. Paul, at Via Ostiense. Felix and Philip, in [the Catacomb of] Priscilla. Martialis, Vitalis and Alexander, in [the Catacomb of] the Giordani. Silanus, in [the Catacombs of] Maximus. Abdos and Semnon, in [the Catacomb of] Ponziano, by the “bear with a hat” (ad ursum piliatum).

The first modern edition was published by Theodor Mommsen, Chronographus Anni CCCLIIII, Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Auctorum Antiquissimorum, part 9: Chronica Minora Saec. IV–VII, vol. 1. (Berlin, 1892). For a full study, see Michele Salzman, On Roman Time: The Codex-Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990); for a concise and useful summary of manuscript transmission, see R. W. Burgess, “The Chronograph of 354: Its Contents, Manuscripts, and History,” JLA 5/2 (2012): 345–96; Jörg Rüpke, “Roles and Individuality in the Chronograph of 354,” in É. Rebillard and J. Rüpke, eds., Group Identity and Religious Individuality in Late Antiquity (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 2015), 247–69.

30

83

84

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata) Sixtus, in [the Catacomb of] Callixtus. Agapitus and Felicissimus, in [the Catacomb of] Praetextatus. Secundus, Carpophorus, Victorinus, and Severianus, at Albano. Cyriacus, Largus, Crescentianus, Memia, Julianes and Ixmaracdi, on Via Ostiensis. Laurence, on Via Tiburtina. Hippolytus, on Via Tiburtina. Pontianus, in [the Catacomb of] Callixtus. Timothy, on Via Ostiensis. Hermes, in [the Catacomb of] Bassilla, with Protus and Hyacinth. Acontius, Nonnius, Herculaneus and Taurinius, in Portus. Gorgonius, on Via Labicana. Cyprian, celebrated in [the Catacomb of] Callixtus. Bassilla, on Via Salaria. Callixtus, on Via Aurelia. Clemens, Sempronianus, Clavus, and Nicostratus, “in comitatum.” Saturninus, in [the Catacomb of] Thrasus. Aristus, in Pontus.

Why these particular martyrs and no others appear on this list is a mystery. Were they really the only ones known in the middle of the fourth century? Were there more, but this list selects only a few? Unfortunately, this document gives us only a very small window into a process that remains almost entirely opaque. It would be wonderful to know what came first: the “popular” commemoration in the form of a feast on certain days associated with a saint? Or was this a top-down decision, expressing purely episcopal or even private, lay desires to establish a liturgical calendar? In other words, how much is the Depositio designed for Valentinus’ own kind of Christianity as opposed to an official, ecumenical Christian Rome? I suggest we consider the Calendar of 354’s Depositio calendar-list as the load-bearing identity mechanism of a new Roman Christian community, but one which is nevertheless shaped in its “public” presentation by one or a few individuals. I say ­“public” here in quotation marks, because there is every indication that the Depositio, like the Calendar codex itself, was a private rather than a public document. Despite its use from the nineteenth century forward to make solid the tenuous links between Rome’s martyrs and the landscape,

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

I believe that the compiler of the Depositio Martyrum was not overly concerned with making this connection. I agree with Alan Thacker, who calls it “a working document, ref lecting experimental liturgical arrangements still to be stabilized.”31 Put differently, the list is really about the Christianization of time, not of space; this is particularly clear from its literary context, an extended calendar listing (among other ways of reckoning time) the days of the weeks and the months, auspicious and inauspicious days, a list of consular dates, a list of Roman traditional festivals, and the dates of Easter calculated for a full century. But our own tendency to engage in “geographical thinking” means that we can’t resist the urge to zero in on its geographical details. Read this way, the list generates a protomap of holy martyr sites in the city. We learn about nine different named catacombs containing notable saints: the Catacombs of Priscilla on Via Salaria; the great complex at Callixtus, already growing in the third century; the Catacombs of the Giordani (these were the first catacombs rediscovered in 1578); the Christian burial complex ad catacumbas, that is, the catacombs that give catacombs their name, now called the Catacombs of San Sebastiano; the small complexes of Maximus, Thrasus, and Bassilla; and the larger sites of Ponziano and Praetextatus. Were we to list the named catacomb sites from this longer list, we would have the following: At Priscilla: Felix and Philip At Callixtus: Fabian, Parthenus and Calocerus, Sixtus, Cyprian At the Catacombs of the Giordani: Martialis, Vitalis, and Alexander Ad catacumbas (Catacombs of San Sebastiano): Sebastian, Peter At the Catacombs of Maximus: Silanus At Ponziano: Abdon and Semnon At Bassilla: Hermes, Protus and Hyacinth, Bassilla At Praetextatus: Agapitus and Felicissimus At Thrasus: Saturninus



31

Alan Thacker, “Rome of the Martyrs: Saints, Cults and Relics, Fourth to Seventh Centuries,” in Éamonn Ó. Carragáin and Carol Neuman de Vegvar, eds., Roma Felix: Formation and Reflections of Medieval Rome (Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007), 21.

85

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

86

0

500

1500 metres

1000

2000 yards

ETU

S

r

RIA V

Rive r A n

Priscilla

Thrasus

SA

A RI LA

VA NO

INIA

NO

Giordani VI A

FLAM

Bassilla

io

VIA

VIA SALA

River Tib e

0

1000

NA TA

VIA

Maximus

EN M

VIA TIBURTINA

Basilica of St Peter VIA CORNE LIA

NESTINA

VIA PRAE VIA A AURELI

VI

A

LA

BIC

AN

IENSIS

e River Ti b

r

N

LA TI

NA

RD TI N EA

Callixtus

W

E S

A PI AP

A

VIA OST

A

A VI

Praetextatus

A

VIA CAM PA N

A

IS

VI A P ORT UEN S

VI

A VIA

Source: Ancient World Mapping Center.

Ponziano

Aurelian walls Cemetery

San Sebastiano

Map 1.  Map of martyr burials according to the Calendar of 354.

A map of these martyrial sites, so far, would look like this (Map 1). If we were then to continue to try to map the Depositio topographically, we would encounter some obstacles. Several saints are associated with a major road rather than a specific burial complex: On Via Nomentana: Agnes On Via Ostiensis: Timothy, Paul, Cyriacus, Largus, Crescentianus, Memia, Julianes and Ixmaracdi

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata) On Via Salaria: Bassilla, Hermes, Protus, and Hyacinth On Via Aurelia: Callixtus (at the third milestone) On Via Tiburtina: Lawrence, Hippolytus On Via Labicana: Gorgonius

When we have corroborating textual or epigraphic evidence to help us to pinpoint where along these roads a martyrium might have lain – such as for Agnes on Via Nomentana, Bassilla on Via Salaria, and the shrine of Hippolytus on Via Tiburtina – things seem clear enough. But where along the length of Via Ostiensis were the graves of Timothy, Cyriacus, Largus, Crescentianus, Memia, Julianis and Ixmaracdi? Close to the site where Paul was commemorated? In that precise spot, or just nearby? Were they all together in one area, or in different places on the same road? Where along the Via Labicana was Gorgonius’ grave? Perhaps a site was simply so well known to the compiler of this list that a more specific location was deemed unnecessary. Now, however, any attempts to map the saints associated with a road rather than a known burial complex meets with some frustration without further corroborating evidence. Perhaps – and this is my main point – the precise location was not noted because the Depositio is not a map, or meant to be read topographically. Rather, it forms part of a calendar, the point of which was to fully Christianize time, not space. The same might be said of later martyrologies, including the seventh-century Martyrologium Hieronymianum, which assigns saints to virtually all the days of the year. Despite its origins embedded in a calendar codex, reading the Depositio Martyrum nowadays as essentially a document experimenting more with time than with place is to read it rather subversively. Since the nineteenth century, it has generally been taken at face value as a document that records, more or less faithfully, the landscape of martyr worship in mid-fourth-century Rome. Many assume that it was used as a sort of itinerary. But considered in isolation, it is really just a list, and the practical purpose for which it was employed is far from clear. In fact, as an itinerary it is rather useless – places are vague, such that you either knew or had to ask where a site was. It is no guidebook – not even a vestigial one. This is not to say that the Depositio got its saints and their places all muddled up. There is little doubt that it correctly locates particular martyrs in the principal sites of their commemoration. Many (including Agnes, Lawrence, Hippolytus, Sixtus, and Sebastian) are still

87

88

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

associated with those locations today. Some came to light very late – catacomb scholars rejoiced when, in 1845, the undisturbed grave of Hyacinth was discovered in a Catacomb off the Via Salaria, which also held various inscriptions dedicated to Bassilla, another saint associated with the complex.32 Whoever compiled the Depositio, then, had access to correct information connecting a martyr and the place of her or his veneration in the fourth century. Still, the list’s author may have exercised restraint in his enumeration of Rome’s martyrs. It is useful to think of the Depositio as a carefully circumscribed document that drew a line around those saints whose lives were considered meritorious, who were the spiritual ancestors not of all Roman Christians, but only those involved in the document; like the genealogies at the fronts of old family Bibles, the skeleton list of the Depositio is selective, not comprehensive. Linking martyrs with place, then, is an unmistakable feature of the Depositio, and significant as the first Roman document to do so. But we should still note that there are some obvious problems with such a linkage. Perpetua and Felicitas, for instance, have no Roman site for their commemoration, unlike their compatriot Cyprian. Why, then, are they on the list? Where were they commemorated in Rome, if the list presumed a connection between martyr body and its veneration? In addition, there is in many cases no specific connection between saints’ bodies and the place where they were commemorated; the most vexing problem (and by far the bulk of scholarship on the Depositio) concerns the document’s double listing of Peter, commemorated on two different dates. One is connected explicitly to place – the commemoration of Peter “ad catacumbas,” that is, at the Memoria Apostolorum off the Via Appia, whereas the second listing, for June 29, commemorates the “natale Petri de cathedra,” which scholars take to mean the Vatican. Often, too, the martyrs on this list have no extant martyrial shrine in that catacomb, meaning either that particular martyr cult did not “catch on,” or the list is simply incorrect. The phenomenon that we see reflected in the Depositio – that martyrs were not consistently associated with a specific shrine – reveals that martyrologies were not generated from martyrial sites; the textual or oral tradition of a saint’s burial was earlier: first story, then place.



32

Nicolai et al., Catacombs of Rome, 175.

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

In fact, in martyrologies, where the saint is eventually buried constitutes a rather insignificant part of the narrative – a sort of footnote, along with the date of commemoration. These “footnotes” remind us that traditions of burial site and even date of commemoration were yet another unstable element of the overall narrative – both might change following local tradition. Agnes, for instance – buried on the Via Nomentana according to the Depositio – came to have a different commemorative site inside the walls, albeit one that seemed to have developed not prior to the sixth century. Saint Peter, too, even within the Depositio, has two sites associated with his burial and two dates of commemoration. The extant Acts of Peter that contain the account of his death at Rome ­mention neither, although they do furnish the curious detail that a man by the name of Marcellus laid Peter’s body in his own tomb, embalming him in honey (Acts of Peter, XL). Another clue that there was no connection between late ancient martyrology and fixed burial site is the disjuncture at Rome between the name of the catacomb – often after a private founder – and the martyr commemorated in that place. Hermes, Protus, and Hyacinth, for instance, were all buried at the Catacombs of Bassilla according to the Calendar of 354, and indeed, their martyr shrines were uncovered there in the nineteenth century. Catacombs were rarely named after the martyr buried in them, except in the cases of Hippolytus or Novatian, which were, at any rate, small hypogea with a few loculi burials rather than massive cemeterial complexes. Martyrizing was a late process, and not just one connected to a new way of thinking about bodies, but a new way of thinking about ecclesiastical power, patronage, and authority.33 In other words, the martyr was first constructed as a necessary idea and then “located” in the physical space of the catacomb.34 Even then, the presence of a martyr was marked by the ethereal and immaterial – a papal document, a martyrology read aloud, an oral tradition – not by the concrete presence of a corpse. This much is clear from the double attestation of Petrine festivals in two different places, the celebration



Lucy Grig, Making Martyrs in Late Antiquity (London: Duckworth, 2004). Jean Guyon, Le cimetière aux deux lauriers. Recherches sur les catacombes romaines, Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome 264 (Rome: École Française de Rome, 1987), 325: “ce n’est pas pour les martyrs qu’aurait été créé la basilique, mais bien la basilique qui aurait créé les martyrs.”

33 34

89

90

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

of the African bishop Cyprian at Callixtus, and the commemoration of Perpetua and Felicitas, unmoored from place. What, then, do we learn from the Depositio Martyrum? Primarily, the “geographical thinking” in this document is present but only vestigial. It is also conceptual rather than actual, by which I mean that any attempt to properly transform this list into a map immediately encounters insurmountable problems. On the other hand, it does indicate that by the middle of the fourth century, place (and specific places) were becoming significant. Christianity was acquiring a spatiality that not only marked time, it also marked place. And just as we must not mistake map for territory, we must not mistake list for historiography. The most we learn about the Depositio Martyrum, perhaps, is that in the fourth century, being Christian meant, for some, to engage in list-making. The Depositio, as far as we can tell, was a custom document ordered by a wealthy man of the senatorial elite. He used the same calligrapher as another prominent fourth-century Roman Christian, the redoubtable bishop Damasus, to illustrate his codex. Like Valentinus, Damasus, too, was engaged in the process of thinking with martyrs. In fact, Damasus’ work promoting the Cult of the Saints has earned him – wrongly, I argue – the reputation as the first Roman Christian to systematically wed martyr to landscape, creating a new Christian topography. *** Damasus is one of the darlings of Catholic historiography, celebrated by scholars with a robust bibliography and, all too frequently, emerging as a heroic figure in the Christian conquest of ancient Rome particularly through his topographical “interventions” in the city’s suburban lands.35 If there was any one figure believed to have Christianized space and landscape after Constantine ordered his famous basilicas built in the city, it is Damasus, who famously erected a series of monumental epigrams to the martyrs in various sites around Rome.36



Specific article citations are below; for now, see the important collection of essays gathered in Saecularia Damasiana: atti del convegno internazionale per il XVI centenario della morte di papa Damaso I (11-12-384-10/12-12-1984) (Vatican City, 1986). 36 The critical edition for epigrams remains A. Ferrua, Epigrammata Damasiana (Vatican City: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 1942). An important new supplement is D. Trout, Damasus of Rome: The Epigraphic Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). 35

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

The Catholic historian of Rome, Charles Pietri, was the first to credit Damasus with establishing a “holy topography” in Rome.37 Since then, the connection between Damasus and sacred topography is often found in scholarly literature. Marianne Sághy claims, for example, that Damasus “literally inscribed the sanctity of the Roman church into the topography of the city.”38 For Maya Maskarinec, Damasus “helped map out an extramural topography of ‘Christian heroes’.”39 For Robert Markus, Damasus’ “cult of martyrs turned the spatial world into a network of holy places.”40 Furthermore, scholars conceive of Damasus’ projects in language that is not merely spatial but which invokes the imagery of wreaths, rings, or wheels around Rome. In her chapter on sacred landscapes in late antiquity, Béatrice Caseau writes, “By engraving poems near the tombs of fifteen unknown saints whose days were added to the church festal calendar, Pope Damasus created a wreath of oratories around the city, defining an urbs sacra surrounded by martyrs.”41 Marianne Sághy favors belt or ring imagery: “… the martyrs’ tombs came to form a belt of sacred shrines around Rome. Damasus rewrote the topography of the urbs and created Christian Rome, the holy city of the apostles and the martyrs”42 and, again, “Damasus’ production of martyrial space and martyrial lore, his crowning of Rome with a ring of holy shrines …”43 or, more fully, “Damasus’s creation of a ring of holy shrines around Rome created dynamic contacts between city and











C. Pietri, Roma Christiana: Recherches sur l’Église de Rome, son organisation, sa politique, son l’idéologie de Miltiade à Sixte III (311–440) (Rome: École Française de Rome, 1976), 529. 38 M. Sághy, “Renovatio Memoriae: Pope Damasus and the Martyrs of Rome,” in R. Behrwald and Ch. Witschel, eds., Rom in der Spätantike: Historische Erinnerung im städtischen Raum (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2012), 247. 39 M. Maskarinec, “The Carolingian Afterlife of the Damasan Inscriptions,” Early Medieval Europe 23/2 (2015), 129. 40 R. Markus, The End of Ancient Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 142. 41 B. Caseau, “Sacred Landscapes,” in G. W. Bowersock, P. Brown, and O. Grabar, eds., Interpreting Late Antiquity: Essays on the Postclassical World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 42. 42 M. Sághy, “Pope Damasus and the Beginnings of Roman Hagiography,” in Ottó Gecser, Jozsef Laszlovsky, Balázs Nagy, Marcell Sebök, and Katalin Szende, eds., Promoting the Saints: Cults and their Contexts from Late Antiquity until the Early Modern Period (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2001), 14. 43 Sághy, “Pope Damasus,” 15. 37

91

92

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

suburb, town and tomb, and subtly transformed the notion of the ‘center,’ for it was the suburbs that gave meaning to the pomerium.”44 With this last statement, Sághy also invokes the image of the inverted circle or ring: “Beginning in the late fourth century a new Christian topography of Rome began to develop, turning the classical city inside out.”45 Damasus’ work was not merely to sow sacred sites into the Roman countryside; it was more dynamic than that, in that his interventions inverted the established, archaic conceptual order of the sacred. The sacred limes of ancient Rome’s pomerium, tucked so close to the city center and forming a ring of inaugurated space in its heart gave way cognitively in the minds of late antique citizens, who were now drawn by a mystical centrifugal force exerted by the bodies of Damasus’ “new stars.” Damasus’ interventions in the landscape are also characterized as systematic: Marianne Sághy writes, “Damasus systematically mapped the holy tombs in the underground maze of the Roman suburbia and placed his poetry in almost every catacomb outside Rome.”46 So, too, Sabine MacCormack: One of the first to describe this new understanding of the environment systematically was Pope Damasus. His epitaphs of the Roman martyrs not only designated specific places as holy, but also guided the devout visitor through Rome. And they informed the visitor of the city’s Christian topography that had been superimposed on the sacred topography of republic and empire.47

Damasus, then, emerges from scholarly literature as the first Christian urban planner of late antique Rome, deliberately and systematically altering topography outside the city walls in order to arrange and sacralize suburban space. Where once there existed only a polluted chaos of broken and forgotten graves, Damasus’ program birthed the Roman Cult of the Saints from the dark chthonic womb of the catacombs. “The epigrams were popular, because they were useful,” argues Sághy. “As many sacred ‘billboards,’ they showed the way to the holy places. Once collected, these epigrams formed a sort of



46 47

44

45

Sághy, “Renovatio,” 258. Maskarinec, “Carolingian Afterlife,” 129. Sághy, “Pope Damasus,” 15. MacCormack, “Loca Sancta,” 19.

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

guidebook for the pious t­ ourist.”48 Damasus’ interventions, then, are understood in much contemporary scholarship to have had a lasting impact, forming the basis of Christian guidebooks and pilgrim itineraries for centuries to come. First, I maintain that Damasus’ intention was not to Christianize the city for pilgrims; he followed no grand, systematic, master plan. With Dennis Trout and Steffen Diefenbach, I agree that his aim was perhaps subtler: to inculcate specific “memories” or to create ­“memory theaters” at specific Christian sites.49 These were not for public display, however, but for a much smaller-scale audience. Second, I argue that Damasus was not interested in relics; his “Cult of the Saints” was connected to place and memory, not to venerating human remains. Third – and here, I share my view with other scholars of late antiquity – the impact in his own day of his many interventions was modest, not paradigm shifting. We know of it only from much later writings, many of which elevate this complex and cunning personality into a saint. Even these later writings, however, refrain from reading Damasus topographically – at least, until the strenuous efforts of one nineteenth-century Roman Christian archaeologist: none other than Giovanni Battista de Rossi. De Rossi’s obsession with re-creating a late antique Christian social topography led him deep into a lifelong work that found, in Damasus’ epigrams, rich source material for his understanding of Damasus’ episcopacy as the first, definitive Christian conquest of Roman space. *** The emphasis we find in studies of Damasus – that the bishop instituted a shift in Christian devotionalism from center to periphery – I find entirely imaginary. It was not Damasus’ intention to valorize periphery in contrast to the center. The issue was far more pragmatic than that. His project, even his ambitions, could not make much headway in a city where so much Christian land was privately held. Even if he had



Sághy, “Pope Damasus,” 12. See D. Trout, “Damasus and the Invention of Early Christian Rome,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 33/3 (2003): 517–36; S. Diefenbach, Römische Erinnerungsräume: Heiligenmemoria und kollektive Identitäten im Rom des 3. bis 5. Jahrhunderts n. Chr., Millennium-Studien 11 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2007).

48

49

93

94

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

left his mark inside the walls, telling us baldly (as he did) which saints we should venerate, we would likely be unable to see them now, in this city constantly being overwritten. For Damasus to be (and remain) the chief architect of Christian sanctity in late antique Rome, he needed two things: a space that remained undisrupted and resistant to change, and a patron or agent to preserve his vision, even to develop it into something it never was. He found the first in the catacombs – abandoned space in his own day, and by all indications, abandoned shortly afterward but not before his inscriptions were copied and textualized by medieval intellectuals impressed by his Christian, Virgilian-tinged erudition. He found the second in de Rossi, who pieced together text and spolia to construct this new vision of Damasus as a culture-maker. De Rossi had dedicated his first volume of his landmark La Roma sotterranea cristiana to Pope Pius IX (1846–78) as the “second Damasus”; in a curiously symbiotic relationship, de Rossi’s student Orazio Marucchi called Damasus “the first Christian archaeologist.”50 The late antique Christian conquest of space was, for de Rossi, a forgone conclusion, and one that could most definitively be marked out by Damasus’ inscriptions, such that the pope’s attempts at rewriting Rome’s ecclesiastical history and sowing messages of concord could only be seen as systematic and enduring. Where there was a landscape of considerable divisiveness and discord, de Rossi saw only burgeoning unity around the bodies of Rome’s martyrs. Although this may have been Damasus’ chief aim, it did not become “real” for several more centuries. The landscape that de Rossi perceived to characterize fourth-­ century Rome was not real; it was a projection of his own worldview, not the least significant of which was the centrality of the martyrs within nineteenth-century Roman Catholicism and the catacombs as their sacred palaces. De Rossi – and his successors through Charles Pietri and Louis Reekmans until now – made the key error of mistaking map for territory. The Damasan ring-map is linked conceptually with the idea of conquest, giving the impression that Damasus had thoroughly penetrated and Christianized the whole of Rome’s periphery. Not only is that not empirically true, it imposes a false reality onto the fourth



50

O. Marucchi, Manuale di archeologia cristiana (Rome: La Libreria dello Stato, 1933), 28.

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

century that later interpreters have been too quick to see as historical. We, too, mistake map for territory. Further, this map shifts the locus of the sacred from center to periphery, inverting normative models that privilege the center and declaring it an unknowable and unimportant “empty set,” merely profane broken temples of an idolatrous empire properly replaced by what was truly sacred – Rome’s martyr shrines. The shift from center to periphery is supported and justified with accounts of pilgrims jostling elbow-to-elbow to crowd close to the late empire’s new stars. The reality, as we have seen in the last chapter, was rather different. There were indeed by the late fourth to early fifth century already shrines to the martyrs dotting the urban periphery, but solid evidence for their popularity is lacking. Furthermore, evidence for Christian devotional activities of any kind (particularly domestic Christian practices such as assembly for prayer, administering of the sacraments, and so on) in the center of the city is absent – partly because the urban center was architecturally and archaeologically overwritten and evidence erased, partly because these behaviors were not committed to writing and often performed without the sanction of the nascent Church, and partly because so much emphasis has been placed on the cult of the martyrs in the modern period as the sine qua non character of late antique Christian devotionalism. Many outstanding scholars of late antiquity, from Charles Pietri to (most recently) Marianne Sághy and Dennis Trout, point to the very idea of a visitable subterranean Roman martyr tomb as being, if anything, the sole “invention” of Damasus.51 Damasus himself noted that there was no real “cult of the martyrs” in fourth-century Rome, and that their tombs in his day lay undiscovered and uncelebrated. “Aged Time,” Damasus writes in an epigram dedicated to a group of unknown martyrs, “could not retain their names or their number.”52 He saw For Pietri, see footnote 4; see also Marianne Sághy, “Scinditur in partes populus: Pope Damasus and the Martyrs of Rome,” Early Medieval Europe 9/3 (2000): 273–87; idem, “Martyr Bishops and the Bishop’s Martyrs in Fourth-Century Rome,” in John S. Ott and Trpimir Vedriš, eds., Saintly Bishops and Bishops’ Saints (Zagreb: Hagiotheca Humaniora, 2012), 13–30; See also J. Guyon, “Damase et l’illustration des martyrs: les accents de la devotion et l’enjeu d’une pastorale,” in M. Lamberigts and P. van Deun, eds., Martyrium in Multidisciplinary Perspective: Memorial Louis Reekmans (Peeters: Leuven, 1995), 157–78. 52 Damasus, Epigram 42: “Sanctorum […] nomina nec numerum potuit retinere vestustas.”



51

95

96

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

himself as the cultor martyrum – the sole figure to remember, and care for, the many martyrs of Rome. It is interesting, then, that when Damasus claims that the Cult of the Saints lay fallow, we refuse to take him at his word. Many scholars see a fourth-century Rome with a robust Cult of the Saints already in full swing. Paul-Albert Février simply argued that Damasus did not singlehandedly create interest in the martyrs because they were everywhere; one only had to mention a name and everyone would remember their stories.53 And despite conceding that “prior to Damasus, little information exists about martyrial cults at Rome,” and that “Roman practice [concerning martyrs] seems to have been remarkably reserved,” Sághy also considers Damasus’ lamentation about the lack of martyr memories a mere rhetorical ploy to promote his own saints over those sustained by other Christian factions.54 The historian Alan Thacker, however, is more circumspect: “Damasus in fact had very little to work with: his saints have no history and often no name. Far from blotting out or selecting from a countless multitude, he was adding and elaborating, seriously enriching Rome’s martyrial traditions by providing the city with saints and feast days that had never before existed or had been remembered so dimly that they had to be reinvented.”55 I suggest we take Damasus at his word when he claims that in the third quarter of the fourth century, there was no full-blown cult of the martyrs. Jerome, too, in a famous passage makes it clear that the catacombs were abandoned and terrifying places during his childhood, disconnected from any Cult of the Saints: When I was a boy, receiving my education in Rome, my school friends and I, on Sundays, used to make the circuit of the tombs of the apostles and martyrs. Many a time did we go down into the

P.-A. Février, “Quelques inscriptions damasiennes de la Via Salaria,” in Quaeritur inventus colitur: Miscellanea in onore di Padre Umberto Maria Fasola, Studi di antichità Cristiana 40 (Vatican City, 1989), 306. See too his “Un plaidoyer pour Damase: Les inscriptions des necropolis romaines,” in M. Christol et al., eds., Institutions, société et vie politique dans l’Empire romain au IVe siècle ap. J. C., Collection de l’École Française de Rome 159 (Paris: École Française de Rome, 1992), 497–506. 54 Sághy, “Renovatio,” 248. 55 Thacker, “Rome of the Martyrs,” 36.



53

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata) catacombs. These are excavated deep in the earth, and contain, on either side as you enter, the bodies of the dead buried in the wall. It is all so dark there that the language of the prophet seems to be fulfilled: “Let them go down quickly into hell.” Only occasionally is light let in to mitigate the horror of the gloom, and then not so much through a window as through a hole. You take each step with caution, as surrounded by deep night, you recall the words of Virgil: “Horror ubique animos, simul ipsa silentia terrent.” (Jerome, Commentary in Ezekiel 12, 40)

Jerome’s words are consistently cited as evidence that a martyr cult existed in his day, since he notes that making the circuit of martyrs’ tombs on Sundays was a regular occurrence when he was a boy. It is curious, however, that rarely do modern catacomb scholars note that Jerome is making a rather different point: he dissociates the catacombs from martyr tombs and finds the catacombs themselves abandoned and horrifying places, evocative of hell. These are not organized visits to honor the saints; make no mistake – these are schoolboys on a dare. Much evidence points to more of a desolate suburban landscape in Damasus’ day, unable to sustain groups of pilgrims. By the fourth and certainly by the fifth century, Rome was caught in a profound downward spiral of decentralization and depopulation. This was a city largely lacking a palpable imperial presence; there was no organization of local clergy, only rampant factionalism, spasmodic violence, and disorganization.56 Food shortages rocked the city in 306–312 CE, then again in 359 CE shortly before Damasus became bishop, then in 382–383 CE during his episcopacy, and again in 388 CE four years after his death. City riots, blazing in reaction to food shortages, turned ugly crowds against two of the city prefects, Symmachus in Trastevere



The bibliography is immense, but worth particular note: John Curran, Pagan City and Christian Capital: Rome in the Fourth Century (Oxford: Clarendon, 2000) and the essays in Brian Croke and Jill Harries, eds., Religious Conflict in Fourth-century Rome: A Documentary Study (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1982); S. J. B. Barnish, “Transformation and Survival of the Western Senatorial Aristocracy, ca. 400–700,” PBSR 56 (1988): 120–55; Lellia Cracco Ruggini, “Rome in Late Antiquity: Clientship, Urban Topography, and Prosopography,” Classical Philology 98 (2003): 366–82.

56

97

98

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

in 365 CE, and Lampadius on the Quirinal near the Constantinian baths in 366 CE, the first year that Damasus was bishop.57 The food shortage of 382–383 CE turned into a full-blown famine in 384 CE, the year of Damasus’ death. There was another crippling famine in 397 CE, combined that year with an epidemic that swept through Rome.58 Alan Thacker estimates that the city lost some 300,000 beneficiaries between 408 and 419 CE, with the numbers falling by another threequarters by the next century.59 By the fifth century, Rome was in serious decline. At the same time, Rome’s urban landscape was far from one of unmitigated economic catastrophe. There was plenty of money left in the city during the late fourth and early fifth centuries. Archaeologists have excavated over 150 sumptuous villas, all with well-appointed audience halls, still flourishing in fourth-century Rome.60 The occupants of these villas were those same families that controlled the city’s food supply; some were Christian, many were not.61 Elite Christians likely ran much of the Christian activity in the city from those audience halls. There were also just as many suburban villas at that time – huge

Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 27, chs. 3, 4, 8 (ed. Clark, 2.423–4). Dionysius Stathakopoulos, Famine and Pestilence in the Late Roman and Early Byzantine Empire: A Systematic Survey of Subsistence Crises and Epidemics (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004). See also Nicholas Purcell, “The Populace of Rome in Late Antiquity: Problems of Classification and Historical Description,” in W. V. Harris, ed., The Transformations of Vrbs Roma in Late Antiquity (Portsmouth, RI, 1999), 150. 59 Alan Thacker, “Patrons of Rome: The Cult of Sts Peter and Paul at Court and in the City in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries,” Early Medieval Europe 20/4 (2012): 380–406; similar numbers from Jean Durliat, with a fall of up to 60  percent in distribution of corn between the fourth and fifth centuries: J. Durliat, De la ville antique à la ville byzantine: le problème des subsistances (Rome: École Française de Rome, 1990), 90–123. 60 F. Guidobaldi, “L’edilizia abitativa unifamiliare nella Roma tardoantica,” in A. Giardina, ed., Società romana e impero tardoantico, 4 vols (Rome, 1986), II: Roma: politica, economia, paesaggio urbano, 165–237; F. Guidobaldi, “Transformations urbaines, sociales et religieuses à Rome au Ve siècle,” in H. W. Pleket and A. M. F. W. Verhoogt, eds., Aspects of the Fourth Century AD (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 43–53. 61 S. J. B. Barnish, “Pigs, Plebeians and Potentes. Rome’s Economic Hinterland c. 350–600 A.D.,” PBSR 55 (1987): 157–86.



57

58

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

landholdings with their own mausolea attached.62 Fewer of these, it seemed, belonged to Christian families. This was the backdrop for Damasus’ Rome, not an imaginary landscape of glittering Christian monuments of martyrial triumph outside the wall, drawing throngs of the pious. *** Damasus had no particular intention to Christianize Rome’s suburbs for the benefit of pilgrims; he followed no grand, systematic, master plan. It is easy to come to this conclusion, however, if only from the massive number of his inscriptions: arguably as many as sixty monumental marble plaques at various Roman sites – mostly in the catacombs, but with some notable exceptions, which we will consider presently.63 All were a consistent group, sharing the same distinctive script developed by his scribe, Furius Dionysius Philocalus. His language draws heavily on Virgilian imagery and turns of phrase, with epigrams written in either hexameter or pentameter. The cohesiveness of this group makes it easy to see Damasus as a master planner or systematizer. There may have been some truth to this – that is, Damasus may have conceived of the set before executing them – or it is also possible that he began with writing and placing one or two, to which he gradually added over the years of his episcopacy. Nevertheless, the “groupness” of the inscriptions has led scholars to imagine a grand vision that extended to Damasus’ choice of commemorative site. The particular location of the shrines, at various cemeteries mostly outside the city walls, has been a central component

Kimberly Bowes, Houses and Society in the Later Roman Empire (London: Duckworth, 2010); for Rome in particular, see Kim Bowes, “Christianization and the Rural Home,” JECS 15/2 (2007): 143–70; Jochen Griesbach, “Villa e mausoleo: trasformazioni nel concetto della memoria nel suburbia romano,” in B. Santillo Frizell and A. Klynne, eds., Roman villas around the Urbs. Interaction with landscape and environment. Proceedings of a conference held at the Swedish Institute in Rome, September 17–18, 2004 (The Swedish Institute in Rome. Projects and Seminars, 2, Rome, 2005). 63 Ferrua lists only thirty-one in his critical edition; it is difficult, even for such a master, to distinguish between authentic Damasiana and pseudo-Damasiana. Many inscriptions were not found in situ, but were collected in medieval syllogae, and his poetic style was much imitated. For a listing and description of the syllogae, see Trout, Damasus of Rome, 63–65.



62

99

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

100

0 0

2000 yards

S

ETU

RIA V

Priscilla

FLAM

Giordani

Thrasus VI A

INIA

Bassilla

SA

A RI LA

VA NO

Sant’ Agnese

NA TA

VIA

NO

Felicitas

EN M

S. Lorenzo in Lucina

VIA CORNE LIA

VIA TIBURTINA

S. Lorenzo in Damaso

Basilica of Lawrence Ager Veranus

S. Maria Maggiore

Basilica Anonima Praenestina VIA

Basilica of Julius

VIA A AURELI

S. Clemente

INA PRAENEST

VI

A

Lateran Basilica

LA

BIC

AN

A

r

A

Basilica Marci

N W

Balbina

TI N EA

Marcus and Marcellianus Callixtus Praetextatus

A

San Paolo fuori le mura

Catacombs of Peter and Marcellinus

LA TI

NA

RD

Domitilla Commodilla

A VIA

River Ti b e

VI

A PI AP

VIA OST

VIA

IENSIS

VI A P ORT UEN S

IS

S. Sabina

A

1000

io

VIA

Valentinus

Basilica of St Peter

VIA CAM PA N

1500 metres

Rive r A n

Hippolytus

Source: Sarah Bond.

1000

r

VIA SALA

River Tib e

Milvian Bridge

Ponziano

500

Memoria Apostolorum

E S

Aurelian walls Church Cemetery

to Generosa

Map 2.  Map of martyr sites promoted by Damasus.

of the argument that Damasus worked systematically and holistically, Christianizing the suburbs in a “ring” or “wreath.” Let us consider first where he did establish his inscriptions, working, as most scholars have done, by major road out of the city. I will begin with St. Peter’s at the Vatican, and move clockwise (Map 2): 1. VIA CORNELIA, St. Peter’s: Epigram 3, to Peter (on landscaping around the ancient cemetery); Epigram 4, to Peter (at baptistery).

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

2. VIA FLAMINIA, Catacomb of  Valentinus: Epigram 49, to unknown, but likely to Valentinus.64 3. VIA SALARIA VETUS, Catacomb of Bassilla: Epigram 47 to Protus and Hyacinth; Epigram 48 to Hermes (Ferrua suspects this may be post-Damasan). 4. VIA SALARIA NOVA, Catacomb of Priscilla: Epigram 39 to Felix and Philip; Epigram 40 to Pope Marcellus. Catacomb of the Giordani: Epigram 41 Alexander. Catacomb of Thrasus: Epigram 42 to unknown martyrs; Epigram 43 to the sixty-two unnamed martyrs; Epigram 46 to Saturninus. Church of SS. Chrysanthius and Daria (part of the Catacomb of Thrasus); Epigram 44 to Maurus; Epigram 45 to Chrysanthus and Daria.65 5. VIA NOMENTANA, Catacomb of Agnese: Epigram 37 to Agnes. 6. VIA TIBURTINA, crypt of Hippolytus: Epigram 35 to Hippolytus. Catacomb of Cyriaca: Epigram 33 to Lawrence. 7. VIA LABICANA, Catacomb of Peter and Marcellinus: Epigram 28 to Marcellinus and Peter; Epigram 31 to Tiburtius; Epigram 32 to Gorgonius. 8. VIA APPIA, Catacomb of Callixtus: Epigram 15 to Tarsicius; Epigram 16 the companions of Xystus; Epigram 17 to Pope Xystus II; Epigram 18 to Pope Eusebius; possibly Epigram 50 to Pope Mark (location unclear); Epigram 19 on the renovations at tomb of Cornelius. In San Sebastiano ad catacumbas: Epigram 20 to Peter and Paul; Epigram 21 to Eutychius. In Catacomb of Praetextatus: Epigram 24 to Ianuarius; Epigram 25 to Felicissimus and Agapetus.66

This may or may not have been the martyr Valentinus; Augostino Amore, I Martiri di Roma: A cura di Alessandro Bonfiglio (Todi: Tau Editrice, 1966 [2013]) argued that there was no fourth-century cult dedicated to a Roman martyr named Valentinus on the Via Flaminia, but that the Liberian Catalogue refers to a wealth patron, Valentinus, who funded Pope Julius’ catacomb project at this site. Amore is refuted by Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai, “Il culto di S. Valentino tra Terni e Roma: Una messa a punto,” in G. Binazzi, ed., L’Umbria meridionale fra tardoantico ed altomedioevo (Perugia and Rome: Università degli Studi and Accademia Bessarione, 1991), 165–78. 65 Trout, Damasus of Rome, 163, notes that the Catacomb of Thrasus was heavily damaged in late antiquity; all the epigrams there are known from syllogae. He, as others including Ferrua, argues that Damasus did not compose Epigram 45, and Epigram 43 draws exclusively upon language and phrases Damasus has used elsewhere. 66 Trout, Damasus of Rome, 71, includes as authentic various very fragmentary epigrams here at Via Appia: #62, #22, #23, #26, #27, to Quirinus (?) at Praetextatus. 64

101

102

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

9. VIA ARDEATINA, Catacomb of Domitilla: Epigram 8 to Nereus and Achilleus. 10. VIA OSTIENSIS, Catacomb of Commodilla: Epigram 7 to Felix and Adauctus. 11. VIA PORTUENSIS, Catacomb of Ponziano, Epigram 5 to unknown, but perhaps Abdon and Sennen: Catacomb of Generosa: Epigram 6 to unknown but perhaps Faustinus and Viatrix. When we map this list, the martyr sites do not actually form a ring around the city. The western half of the city is far less populated with inscriptions than the eastern, although there were Christian sites on these roads as well. Via Ostiensis’ connection with Paul was apparently known to Damasus, if not fully exploited, and his intervention at Commodilla is only conjecture; Via Portuensis had only one very brief Damasan inscription on a marble balustrade (“[pres]BYTER HOS ORUS R HONOR [i/em]”) at the Catacombs of Ponziano and one even briefer on a marble architrave at the Catacombs of Generosa (“[fau]STINO – VIATRICI”), and Damasus did not install any inscriptions anywhere on the Via Aurelia despite a number of Christian catacombs there, including the Catacombs of Ottavilla, Processus and Martinianus, Due Felici, and Calepodius and despite the fact that the Calendar of 354, produced perhaps under Damasus, mentions that Pope Callixtus was commemorated at the third milestone of Via Aurelia. Many of Damasus’ choices were also not innovations; that is to say, he did not “Christianize” the landscape. It had long been given over to Christian burial, particularly off the Via Appia in the southern quadrant of the city, and to a lesser extent, at the Catacombs of Priscilla off the Via Salaria Nova.67 These were massive complexes, even in Damasus’ day, and the extent of his interventions must be noted in proportion to a site like Priscilla, with thirteen kilometers of tunnels but only two Damasan epigrams. All the roads out of the city would have been absolutely packed with burials, so the introduction of a single inscription by Damasus along the many miles of tombs on a road such as the Via Flaminia or the Via Labicana was hardly a

67

On the pre-Damasan history of Christians on the Via Appia, see Lucrezia Spera, “The Christianization of Space along the via Appia: Changing Landscape in the Suburbs of Rome,” AJA 107/1 (2003): 23–43; Spera, “Cal(l)isti coemeterium (Via Appia),” LTUR Sub 2 (2004), 37–38 and 41–42.

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

robust conquest of space. It was, in fact, the minutest of interventions – particularly when Damasus introduced a new saint not already on diverse Christians’ mental horizons. Who would have known to have gone to see a “new” saint like Hermes at the Catacombs of Bassilla, when surviving inscriptions honor only Bassilla? Finally, on Via Latina – again, a site with a number of Christian catacombs (Gordianus and Epimachus, Apronianus, Cava della Rossa, and the admittedly far-out Catacomb ad Decimum) – there were no Damasan interventions at all. All this makes me cautious in speaking confidently about Damasus’ “systematic” approach to Christianizing Rome. We might ask, instead, what logic there was behind his choice of site. All these sites were, in the fourth century, already Christian, and already popular – not as martyria, necessarily, but as cemeteries. His choice may have had much to do with accessibility. The Catacombs of Callixtus seems to have been in the Christian domain for a long time, even if we rightly reject the account that its land was administered by Callixtus at the instigation of Pope Zephyrinus since the third century.68 Other sites Damasus developed more extensively had their origins as private lands donated for Christian burial: besides Callixtus, the Memoria Apostolorum at San Sebastiano, Ponziano, Domitilla, and Priscilla to the north. These must have been relatively accessible, and interestingly, Damasus had clearly made friends with the fossores who would have helped him in his renovation efforts – they were part of a corps of hired thugs Damasus used to intimidate his enemies.69 Since catacombs were businesses with apparently no central oversight, only money was necessary for getting any excavating done; a close relationship with the catacomb laborers who dug cubicula to order could only help him to accomplish his ambitions. To further his cause, Damasus may also have taken advantage of lands that formed part of the emperor’s private patrimony. He established inscriptions at Praetextatus, the Constantinian burial complex at Via Casalina (ancient Via Labicana), the compound associated with Agnes, See, on this, Éric Rebillard, The Care of the Dead in Late Antiquity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009). 69 Collectio Avellana 1.7 = CSEL 35.3: “Tunc Damasus cum perfidis invitat arenarios quadrigarios et fossores omnemque clerum cum securibus gladiis et fustibus et obsedit basilicam hora diei secunda septimo Kalendarum Novembrium die Gratiano et Dagalaifo conss. et grave proelium concitavit.”



68

103

104

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

the church associated with Lawrence, and St. Peter’s – all of them imperial land extensively used by Christians. All had cemeterial basilicas built on them, with the exception of Praetextatus.70 At the Via Labicana site, Constantine had erected a monumental mausoleum for his mother, Helena, on top of the cemetery of the equites singulares, the imperial horse-guards. It was not altogether a perverse choice for Constantine to bury his mother in imperial lands already used for inhumation. The concern did not seem to be that Helena be buried ad sanctos, either: no martyrs were recognized there until Damasus located the tombs of the “forgotten” saints Marcellinus and Peter. In one of his more biographical epigrams, Damasus tells visitors to the complex that he had heard of their martyrdom by the man who had executed them; after their deaths, the matron Lucilla had moved their “most holy members” there.71 At the same complex, Damasus also commemorated Tiburtius and Gorgonius, adorning their tomb with marble and enlarging the access stairs to this area.72 This was perhaps Damasus’ most successful intervention; in time, the imperial cemetery at Via Labicana came to be named after the saints whom Damasus found there: the Catacombs of Peter and Marcellinus. In a similar manner, Damasus intervened at another imperial territory on Via Nomentana, the site associated with the local Roman martyr, Agnes. There was, earlier in the fourth century, a circiform funerary basilica built at this site, but recent excavations revealed there was no martyrial burial associated with Agnes.73 The site was known for its beautiful mausoleum for the Constantinian princesses, which still stands today. By honoring Agnes at this site, Damasus insinuated himself visibly into imperial territory, as he did at Via Labicana; as an added bonus, the Agnes compound was the stronghold of his enemies, the followers of his rival, the bishop Ursinus. The site, even without Agnes’ body – her bones were not translated from the nearby Cimitero Maggiore until the ninth century – had already been associated with Agnes’ protection. For Praetextatus as an imperial landholding, see Barbara Borg, Crisis and Ambition: Tombs and Burial Customs in Third-century CE Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). 71 On Lucilla as a legendary figure, see Nicola Denzey, The Bone Gatherers (Boston: Beacon, 2007), introduction; K. Cooper, “The Martyr, the Matrona and the Bishop: The Matron Lucina and the Politics of Martyr Cult in Fifth- and Sixthcentury Rome,” Early Medieval Europe 8/3 (1999): 297–319. 72 Guyon, Le cimetière aux deux lauriers, 381–415. 73 David J. Stanley, “New Discoveries at Santa Costanza,” DOP 48 (1994): 257–61.



70

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

Liberius, Ursinus’ predecessor, had made up two marble platomae at the basilica in gratitude for her intercession. With two reasons to flex some episcopal muscle – an imperial cemetery and the conquered territory of his enemy – Damasus erected his own elegy for Agnes, in which he begs humbly for her intercession from heaven.74 It is interesting, however, that the elogium is absent from the syllogae, but the inscription was found in 1728 – where it was being used as a paving stone, inscription facing downward, in the seventh-century basilica to Agnes built by Pope Honorius I (625–638 CE).75 Obviously, Damasus’ command over the site was apparently rather limited in both scale and duration. Damasus seemed to have only cautiously approached sites favored by the senatorial elite – including, notably, St. Peter’s – as well as the diaconate associated with the Roman martyr Lawrence.76 Here, predictably, Damasus had less success in securing prime real estate for his projects. It is no doubt significant that Damasus’ only elogium to the apostle Peter was not at the basilica, but at its adjoining baptistery – a second-rate placement at best. His inscription describing his acts of landscaping and engineering in the environs of St. Peter’s mentions nothing about the apostle. In fact, as Marianne Sághy points out, Damasus fails to note any apocryphal story associated with Peter, including his martyrdom, in either inscription.77 At the diaconate associated with Lawrence, aristocrats lavished their money on the saint’s commemoration, which Damasus could not match, only acknowledge.78



Damasus, Epigram 37. Trout, Damasus of Rome, 151. 76 Sághy, “Pope Damasus,” 9. 77 Sághy, “Pope Damasus,” 11. 78 See Sághy, “Pope Damasus,” 9; Kate Blair-Dixon, “Damasus and the Fiction of Unity: The Urban Shrines of Saint Lawrence,” in Federico Guidobaldi and Alessandra Guidobaldi, eds., Ecclesiae Urbis: Atti del Congresso internazionale di studi sulle chiese di Roma (IV–X secolo); Roma, 4–10 settembre 2000, Studi di antichità Cristiana 59 (Vatican City: Pontificio Istituto de Archeologica Cristiana, 2002), 331–52. See also Federico Marazzi, “Rome in Transition: Economic and Political Change in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries,” in Julia M. H. Smith, ed., Early Medieval Rome and the Christian West: Essays in Honour of Donald A. Bullough (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 23: “We gather from the fourth-century papal biographies of the Liber Pontificalis that the endowment of these Christian buildings engaged amounts of money which reached at the most a few thousand solidi. These sums are only a tiny fraction of what Rome’s aristocratic families could lavish every year on the far more important task of organizing games and spectacles.” 74

75

105

106

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

He certainly had no control over such funds.79 The era during which Damasus held the episcopacy was one in which the urban aristocracy invested heavily in the building of titular churches, growing them steadily in number and grandeur. The catacombs, on the other hand, lay virtually fallow.80 It seems likely, then, that Damasus had no master plan but, in a sense, began with the sites of least resistance – established Christian cemeteries that were virtually abandoned, where he could intervene with his epigrams and, in some cases, direct modest renovation projects in spaces where no one was likely to intervene or protest. The Constantinian sites he chose, additionally, had the benefit of being both open for interventions but also carrying added imperial prestige. Damasus also appears to have selected “forgotten” sites of little consequence to those who brokered more power in this nascently Christian city than he himself. If Damasus did anything systematic, then, it was to “map” his own episcopal gaze relatively cautiously onto already Christian sites in a safe zone for quiet and modest intervention. The advantage to this plan was that it could be infinitely expanded – Christian burials sites were, by the third quarter of the fourth century, literally everywhere outside the walls, and each new conquest of episcopal control (or claim to it) could be marked, somewhere, onto the suburban landscape without inciting more open conflicts with wealthy Christians, against whom Damasus was clearly outgunned.81 ***

Marazzi, “Rome in Transition,” 23: “We should also remember that in Rome church endowments were organized into a system of titular churches, and that this did not allow for the overall management of these resources by the popes.” 80 Marazzi, “Rome in Transition,” 36. 81 Federico Marazzi, I Patrimonia sanctae Romanae ecclesiae’ nel Lazio (secoli IV–X). Strutture amministrative e prassi gestionali (Rome: Istituto storico italiano per i medioevo, 1998), 43–47, runs the numbers for us: According to the Liber Pontificalis, the annual income of all the Rome churches of the fourth and fifth centuries whose patrimony is listed comes to 25,000 solidi. To put this number in perspective, Marazzi notes that in the third quarter of the fourth century, senators invested up to five times as much just for the ludi praetorii of their children, and that these same men offered 115,000 solidi for the games celebrating the decennial of Valentinian II’s coronation. See also A. Marcone, “L’allestimento di giochi annuali a Roma nel IV secolo d.C.: aspetti economici e ideologici,” in Sergio Roda, ed., La parte migliore del genere umano: aristocrazie, potere e ideologia nell'occidente tardoantico: antologia di storia tardoantica (Turin: Scriptorium, 1994), 307–25. 79

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

I do not see any evidence that Damasus worked systematically to sacralize suburban topography by installing his elogia or his martyr shrines, all of which were on preexisting Christian sites, even if his choice of martyr associated with the site was new. In addition, the degree of the intervention was modest archaeologically, indicating that he likely had neither the money nor the power for more substantive interventions. This point has not been lost on Marianne Sághy: Damasus could not compete either with the splendor of the imperial foundations or with the aristocratic generosity of a Pammachius or of the Probi … It is therefore likely that the catacombs became the chosen ground of papal “propaganda” not only because of the profound spiritual content inherent in martyrdom, but also because the erection of marble tombstones was a less expensive enterprise than the construction of churches.82

Archaeologist Kim Bowes, too, warns us against overestimating Damasus’ influence in creating a map of Christian Rome. She notes that his martyrial structures were small in scale, and commemoration occurred principally through a series of finely carved verse inscriptions. The sites chosen for commemoration and the content of the inscriptions were not simply reflective of popular piety, but reflected a subtle attempt on Damasus’ part to discredit his rival, Ursinus, and bolster support for his tumultuous episcopate.83

We should not forget, too, that the number of churches within the city walls were, by Damasus’ time, increasing. These, too, may have commemorated martyrs, but they were likely, as sites connected to private donors, off-limits to Damasus. The abandoned cemeterial sites may have been the only “neutral” Christian territory available to him to leave his mark. Damasus’ work in the catacombs was on varying scales, but still very modest, even “paltry,” as Bowes puts it.84 His works are known



Sághy, “Scinditur,” 279. K. Bowes, “Early Christian Archaeology: A State of the Field,” Religion Compass 2/4 (2008): 588–89. 84 Bowes, “Early Christian Archaeology,” 609. 82

83

107

108

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

as “interventions” rather than “innovations” or “inventions” or even “building programs” because his method was to add to or renovate preexisting sites. An “intervention” might mean the simple addition of an epigram. Or, it might be more thoroughgoing: Damasus could enlarge a cubiculum and/or the staircase leading to it, face it with marble, build a shrine around the tomb, or introduce other architectonic elements such as columns or stone tables. The so-called Crypt of the Popes at the Catacombs of Callixtus, for example, was redone in Damasus’ day, with the bishop adding to the chamber at least one epigram addressed to Sixtus and to unknown martyrs.85 Damasus was probably responsible for facing its central grave with marble, adding columns and a new altar. According to the Liber Pontificalis, he also expanded two separate cubicula in the catacomb on the Via Labicana, joining them underground and adding small tables for lamps or offerings.86 There is evidence of similar expansions at the subterranean basilica of Nereus and Achilleus at Domitilla; and Felix and Adauctus at Commodilla.87 Finally, Damasus may have marked out clear routes to martyrial shrines by erecting masonry walls along the galleries leading to the crypts at the Catacombs of Callixtus, Praetextatus, and Peter and Marcellinus, and plastering these over.88



See V. Fiocchi Nicolai, and J. Guyon, “Relire Styger: les origins de l’Area I du cimetière de Calliste et la Crypte des papes,” in V. Fiocchi Nicolai and J. Guyon, eds., Origine delle catacombe romane (Vatican City: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 2006), 121–61, and my chapter 5. 86 Liber Pontificalis (ed. Duchesne, 1.212): “Hic multa corpora sanctorum requisivit et invenit, quorum etiam versibus declaravit.” See Trout, Damasus of Rome, 133; J. Guyon, “L’Oeuvre de Damase dans le cimetière ‘aux deux lauriers’ sur la via Labicana,” in Saecularia Damasiana, 228–38; Guyon, Le cimetière aux deux lauriers, 381–97. 87 Spera, “Interventi di papa Damaso nei santuari delle catacomb romane: il ruolo della committenza privata,” Bessarione 11 (1994): 111–27; P. Pergola, “Nereus et Achilleus martyres: l’intervention de Damase à Domitille,” in Saecularia Damasiana, 203–24. 88 Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai, “History of the Catacombs,” in V. Fiocchi Nicolai, F. Bisconti, and D. Mazzoleni, eds., The Christian Catacombs of Rome, 52. See also L. Reekmans, “L’oeuvre du pape Damase dans le complexe de Gaius à la catacombe de S. Callixte,” in Saecularia damasiana, 259–321, and F. Tolotti, “Ricerca dei luoghi venerati nella spelunca magna di Pretestato,” RAC 53 (1977), 58–87; Spera, “Interventi,” 113. 85

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

Prominent archaeologists at the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology have recently doubted that the expansion and renovation of subterranean martyrial spaces such as Nereus and Achilleus, or Hermes at the Catacombs of Bassilla were actually Damasus’ work.89 While Damasus did have a few “ecclesiastical gerousiarchs” – as Vatican archaeologist Lucrezia Spera terms them – assisting with minor elements in his interventions, Damasus’ reputation as an impresario of the saints saw him credited with further, deeper, and more impressive interventions in the catacombs than that which he himself had the means to accomplish.90 Later popes with more authority and deeper coffers were content to come into these spaces to renovate and extend them, making it challenging to ascertain what precisely Damasus had done rather than his successors. Interestingly, the Liber Pontificalis is largely silent on Damasus’ achievements, certainly leaving out any specifics or giving any sense of their impressiveness.91 The martyrial tombs themselves are quite ordinary and, although their cubicula were newly faced with marble, this material could be relatively easily gathered as spolia, and was therefore less costly than stucco or mosaic, even the fine opus sectile work that characterized grander tombs. Only a very modest number of “pilgrims” might have fit in his shrines at any one time. Although Damasus writes on his final epigram that he did his work ut accessus melior, populisque paratum auxilium sancti “that there might be better access, and that the help of the saint be made convenient for the people,” he likely intended them for a much smaller audience: fellow, even rival clerics who would have been a far better audience for his Virgilian-tinged Latin prose than pilgrims gathering to honor forgotten saints. *** If Damasus’ minor interventions marked by high, florid Latin inscriptions lacking any hagiographical narrative were hardly suited to establishing programmatic Christian martyrial shrines for the masses, what was the bishop really up to? Steffen Diefenbach and Dennis Trout have both penned erudite and penetrating analyses of Damasus’ use see R. Krautheimer, CBCR I, 195–208; III, 129–35; Pergola, “Nereus et Achilleus,” 203–18. 90 On his friends, with examples, see Spera, “Interventi,” 115–16. 91 See here note 53.



89

109

110

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

of martyr sites as sites of reconciliation or as “memory theaters” of a fictive but potent Catholic past.92 It was the fraught papal election of 366 CE that triggered Damasus’ interest in the martyrs. The city was riven by, on the one hand, the Arian crisis, and on the other, by local groups – Nicene, Novatianist, Melitian, Donatist – who claimed various martyrs and martyrial sites as their own. It is unclear how Damasus’ subtle critiques and commentaries of local Roman factionalism or rehabilitation of Hippolytus, for instance, would have resonated with any fourth-century pilgrims who came from outside the city. It is more likely that his message was directed at local Christians. For Steffen Diefenbach, Damasus’ wide distribution of epigrams marked an attempt to use martyr shrines to “spatially project” an impression of a unified Christian community under the control of the Roman Church.93 Thus the epigrams represent “a unifying view of martyr topography” (eine vereinheitlichende Sicht der Märtyrertopographie) that bound the city together, emphasizing not merely apostolic, Petrine power, but the collective presence and weight of Christians as a community with a history inside, and outside, the city. Damasus also exploited a distinctly Roman political sense of what it meant to be Roman, transforming Roman political space into Christian sacred space. This new space was formed, and given substance, by collective memory of the martyrs. For Dennis Trout, “Damasus’s invention of early Christian Rome around the tombs of the saints relied as heavily upon remembering as forgetting.”94 Trout argues that the inscriptions, taken together, present a purely Damasan fiction, with the bishop himself at the center as the interpreter of tradition. Thus, Damasus’ work on the catacombs was not a transformation of the Roman Christian world so much as it was one selective vision of it. Nevertheless, this vision drove the early Church of Rome inexorably forward. In Damasus’ “imagineered protogeography,” history would be “pulled forward and reflection turned back; here, while the future became ‘a thing of the past,’ the past was also restaged to keep pace with the present.”95 Diefenbach, Römische Erinnerungsräume. Trout, “Damasus and the Invention of Early Christian Rome.” 93 Diefenbach, Römische Erinnerungsräume, 274. 94 Trout, “Damasus,” 521. 95 Ibid., 527.

92

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

The particular strength of both Trout’s and Diefenbach’s work is that it localizes Damasus’ vision, contextualizing his concerns within the narrow, if fissile, world of Roman ecclesiastical politics. While this is inarguably the correct approach, they simultaneously afford Damasus too much ground in transforming, Christianizing, or orchestrating a new Rome organized around martyrial shrines. This view is endemic within scholarship. Marianne Sághy, for instance, places Damasus in the broader context of martyr-veneration in the late empire: It is well known that the second half of the fourth century experienced a sea-change in the commemoration of the martyrs. Bishops seized control of busy cemeteries: they regulated funerary banquets, the laetitiae at the holy graves, and integrated private commemorations into the public liturgy of the church.96

While this was perhaps true in North Africa, it is not the case that Damasus “seized control” of any of Rome’s cemeteries, nor did they have the authority to influence the widespread activities around them. It is also not clear that Damasus’ elogia aimed either primarily or secondarily to change the behaviors of pilgrims, to bring them to shift allegiances from one martyr to another, or to offer their own petitions or devotions. As Dom Duchesne remarked, Damasus’ inscriptions were useless from the perspective of creating a robust and exciting historiography;97 Sághy herself notes wryly, “no miracle stories, no gossip.”98 There is no question that, generally speaking, the fourth century witnessed the dramatic beginnings of the Cult of the Saints, particularly when those saints were martyrs now invested with tremendous new corporeal power. This era witnessed the first martyr “translations” or formal, ritualized movement of relics. At some point between 313 and 343 CE, the bones of Victor of Lodi were transferred to Milan and

Sághy, “Renovatio,” 248–49, citing J. Quasten, “Vetus superstitio et nova religio: The Problem of Refrigerium in the Ancient Church of North Africa,” HTR 33/4 (1940): 253–66; Brown, Cult of the Saints, and Kim Bowes, Private Worship, Public Values, and Religious Change in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 76–96. 97 Louis Duchesne, Histoire ancienne de l’Église (Paris: De Boccard, 1910), 2.482–83. 98 Sághy, “Scinditur,” 286.



96

111

112

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

buried in a chapel near the city’s main basilica99; in 383 CE, Florentius of Ostia moved the body of Macarius into the city’s basilica. In 386 CE, two years after Damasus’ death, Ambrose of Milan initiated the most famous and showy of the fourth-century martyr translations – that of Gervasius and Protasius, from the cemetery where they were buried to his own church.100 Ambrose’s exploitation of the martyr cult has been well studied; he did not introduce veneration of the martyrs but was, in the elegant words of Peter Brown, “like an electrician who rewires an antiquated wiring system: more power could pass through stronger, better-insulated wires toward the bishop as leader of the community.”101 Brown presents us with another conceptual map; here, at the center, stands not the apostle or the martyr, but the newly powerful bishop. Could Damasus have been anticipating Ambrose? Was he trying to do for Rome what Ambrose would do for Milan? In his zeal for consolidating the power of the monepiscopacy, Damasus certainly used the burgeoning interest in saints’ bodies. If anything, Damasus used the bodies of the martyrs not to sacralize Rome as a whole, but as true “interventions” in a different sense: his elogia in fact disrupt any potential “corporeal turn” graveside. Rather than turning the viewer’s attention to truly corporeal sanctity, his epigrams continuously emphasize that the saints are not actually there but have been “caught up” to the heavens. Damasus urges the visitor to focus not on their corporeal veneration, but on their status as heroes in the celestial realms.102 And rather than gruesome, corporeally focused martyrologies, Damasus used his inscriptions to emphasize the goals and qualities he found meritorious: professing the Catholic faith, the need to suffer exile or death for the sake of one’s integrity and the integrity of a communion. Of the martyred bishop Eusebius, for example, he writes, “Although the bishop [Eusebius] had kept intact the peaceful communion/ he gladly suffered exile …,” and of Hippolytus, “he said that all should follow the Catholic faith. So professed, he deserved to be our martyr.”103 Ambrose, Hymn 10, 32. Augustine, Confessions 9.7.16. 101 Brown, Cult of the Saints, 37. 102 This polarity is already well noted by Dennis Trout, “Damasus,” 523, as “the bivalency of presence and absence.” 103 On Eusebius, see Epigram 18: Integra cum rector servaret foedera pacis./Pertulit exilium domino sub iudice laetus. On Hippolytus, see Epigram 35: Catholicam dixisse fidem sequentur ut omnes; sic noster meruit confessus martyr ut esset.



99

100

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

How many of Damasus’ interventions, then, made a real difference to the face of ordinary piety in late antiquity? Is there any evidence that he grew these new saints, or actively advanced the veneration of relics? Those pilgrims who did come – and I suspect there were hundreds over the centuries, not thousands – would experience the saint’s remains securely tucked away in ossuaries, tombs, or tomb shrines. There was no direct viewing of relics at his sites, and no touching of human remains. It is telling that Gregory of Tours, recounting a deacon’s visit to the shrine of Chrysanthus and Daria, believed that Damasus had deliberately closed off their shrine to prevent the theft of their relics.104 One wonders if the core of this tale might have been true. Certainly, Damasan saints’ shrines appeared to have had the quality of cold marble boxes, with transennae and only small fenestellae confessionis. Although the viewer is welcomed to venerare sepulchrum, “venerate the tomb,” Damasus was making certain that Rome’s saints did not leave Rome.105 At the same time, his insistence on the saints being in heaven pushed a remarkably utopian sense of the location of the holy away from material Christianity – the direction it was turning – to make the point that attention must be paid not to the material containment of the holy, but to its translation onto a different register – untouchable, yet knowable through faith and meditation on earth. *** Because of his enthusiastic promulgation of the Cult of the Saints, Damasus is widely regarded as a Roman who actively participated in late antiquity’s “corporeal turn.” Although painted as a resolutely materialist thinker, remarkably, Damasus’ epigrams rarely mention bodies or corpses.106 He shows a slight preference for the word tumulus to refer to tombs in his epigrams – traditionally, a covered earthwork grave mound – as opposed to sepulchrum, a tomb built of masonry

Gregory of Tours, Liber in Gloria Martyrum, c. 37. “Venerate the tomb”: see, for instance, Epigram 21 to Eutychius, Ep. 42.1 to the unnamed martyrs of Thraso; Ep. 46.11, to Saturninus. 106 The most corporeally oriented is his Epigram 37 to Agnese, but it is to the martyr’s still living, suffering body, to which he alludes twice, not her corpse or bones. A similar case is the epigram to Lawrence (#33), although the martyr’s sufferings are detailed without mentioning his flesh or body. In neither case does Damasus connect their physical remains to the place where he leaves his epigram.



104 105

113

114

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

or marble.107 Likewise, he never uses the word “relic,” although he does occasionally mention bones (ossa, although he prefers the more abstract membra),108 the “bodies of the saints” (corpora sanctorum), and the “holy ashes” (cineres sanctos) of the martyrs. Perhaps his most ­v isceral epigram is this one to the unnamed martyrs of the Catacombs of Callixtus, the companions of Pope Sixtus II: Hic congesta iacet quaeris si turba piorum corpora sanctorum retinent veneranda sepulcra sublimes animas rapuit sibi regia caeli. Hic comites Xysti portant qui ex hoste tropaea; Hic numerus procerum servat qui altaria Christi. Hic positus longa vixit qui in pace sacerdos, Hic confessores sancti quos Graecia misit. Hic iuvenes puerique senes castique nepotes quis mage virgineum placuit retinere pudorem. Hic fateor Damasus volui mea condere membra sed cineres timui sanctos vexare piorum. Here collected lies, if you ask, a throng of the pious. Revered tombs hold the bodies of saints; The palace of heaven has taken up their lofty spirits for itself. Here the comrades of Xystus who carry trophies from the enemy; Here a company of nobles who guard the altars of Christ. Here is buried a bishop who lived in long peace; Here the holy confessors whom Greece sent; Here young men and boys, old men and chaste grandsons, For whom it was more pleasing to keep virginal modesty. Here, I confess, I Damasus wished to set my limbs But I feared to disturb the holy ashes of the pious.109

On the face of it, we have here what appears to be a fairly normative plaint from a promoter of the Cult of the Saints. Damasus makes a reference to graves or tombs that warrant veneration, filled with the holy Tumulus: 9 inscriptions (7, 11, 19, 25, 32, 44, 45, 47, 51); sepulchrum: 6 inscriptions (16, 21, 28, 41, 42, 46). Epigram 45 uses both words, as does #46, but in this second case, the two lines in which the term tumulus occurs may be a later interpolation; see Trout, Damasus of Rome, 166. 108 “The hiding place which holds the bones of the innocent is exposed. He was sought, found, he is honored, he offers his favor, grants everything.” 109 Damasus, Epigram 16, trans. Trout, Damasus of Rome, 114.

107

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

bodies of the saints. The immediacy of such locative holiness is marked by his insisted repetition of “hic”: here are the bodies of the saints, in this place – or perhaps better, at this place. The repeated use of tumulus throughout his elogia and his occasional references to the saints’ burial deep below the ground conjure a picture of Damasus and his intended audience for the inscriptions standing on the catacombs’ surface-level cemeteries, rather than deep in the bowels of the earth. It is interesting, too, that Damasus decided against having himself buried ad sanctos – whether his position was ideological or rhetorical we cannot say – but this grand impresario of the Cult of the Saints chose not to be buried around the shrines of any martyrs, and continued in the tradition of a separate, family sepulcher. In his epigram to Sixtus’ companions we might note Damasus’ specific positioning of the sacred: the visitor stands at or somewhere over the tomb, but the inscription emphasizes, on the other side of any earthly immediacy, the heavenly translation of the saints: their animas sublimes, “lofty spirits,” are snatched up to the kingdom of heaven. The saints, then, may be physically present, but they are spiritually absent; they “sought heavenly homes and the realms of the saints.” Damasus therefore urges the visitor to focus not on their veneration, but on their status as heroes in the celestial realms.110 His view is what J. Z. Smith would have termed “utopian”: the site of the holy is not on earth, but in the heavens.111 His epigram to Felicissimus and Agapitus at the Catacombs of Praetextatus follow virtually identical language to that of the unnamed companions of Sixtus: Aspice, et hic tumulus retinet caelestia membra sanctorum subito rapuit quos regia caeli hi crucis invictae comites pariterque ministri rectoris sancti meritumque fidemque secuti aetherias petiere domos regnaque piorum unica in his gaudet Romanae Gloria plebis quod duce tunc xysto Christi meruere triumphos.



This polarity already noted by Dennis Trout, nicely, as “the bivalency of presence and absence” (Trout, “Damasus,” 523). 111 J. Z. Smith, “Here, There, and Anywhere,” in S. Noegel, J. Walker, and B. Wheeler, eds., Prayer, Magic, and the Stars (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003), 21–36. 110

115

116

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata) Behold! This tomb, too, preserves the heavenly limbs of saints whom suddenly the palace of heaven snatched up. These, at once comrades and attendants of the unconquered cross, Imitating the merit and faith of their holy bishop, Won an aetherial home and the realms of the righteous. The singular glory of the Roman people rejoices in them because with Sixtus as their leader at the time they merited Christ’s triumphs.112

The tomb or tumulus (a word evocative of ancient hero-shrines, not catacomb graves) is brought to the viewer’s attention but only as a non-site, because all that remains there are earthly bodies. The corporeality of the bodies is not emphasized, only the place of burial. And the immediacy of the tumulus contrasts with the snatching up of the heavenly limbs or caelestia membra of the kingdom of heaven, with a doubling up of caelestia and caeli, partnered in “aetherias domos” of line 5. As Dennis Trout observes, “The Christ-given ‘rewards of (eternal) life’ had to override the gravity of the tomb; bodies might be earthbound but souls shot upward.”113 Damasus’ conceptualization of a dual presence of the saints – that a memorial spot contains merely earthly remains but also gives the opportunity to remember their eternal heavenly praesentia – is consistent across many Damasan epigrammata. Peter and Paul are not present at their tomb (in fact, neither tumulus nor sepulchrum is mentioned in this epigram at their commemorative shrine off the Via Appia), but are “new stars” in the “aetherial realms.”114 The martyr Tiburtius, buried at the Catacombs of Peter and Marcellinus, enjoyed Christ’s company from heaven: “a distinguished martyr … seeks out heaven’s heights, blessed with Christ’s companionship” (egregius martyr … aetheris alta petit Christo comitante beatus) (Ep. 31). Damasus’ epigram to Gorgonius at the same catacomb uses similar language: Martyris hic tumulus magno sub vertice montis Gorgonium retinet servat qui altaria Christi Hic quicumq(ue) venit sanctorum limina quaeret; Inveniet vicina in sede habitare beatus, Ad caelum partier pietas quos vexit euntes.

Damasus, Epigram 25, trans. Trout, Damasus of Rome, 127. Trout, “Damasus,” 526. 114 Damasus, Epigram 20. 112 113

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata) This martyr’s tomb beneath the lofty peak of a hill Holds Gorgonius, who guards the altars of Christ. Whoever comes here, let him seek the thresholds of the saints; He will find that blessed ones dwell in the area roundabout, Whom at the same time piety sent sailing heavenward.115

Interestingly, Damasus considers the martyr’s tomb a limen – the frontier between realms; the real value to be gained from proximity to the tumulus, though, is that the saints lurk about as ethereal presences, able to hear the supplications of the living. Dennis Trout writes, The martyrs, as bodies, bone, and ash, may have been fully present at their graves, but they had also been swept heavenward, where their unfettered souls enjoyed the rewards of virtual in the starry palace of heaven. Damasus’ elogia insist on this polarity with a sense of urgency that underscores the paradoxical force of their claims. The saints were simultaneously here and there, intimately available … yet powerfully remote.116

This language, striking as it is, was not unique to Damasus; it spills over into the funerary commemorations of ordinary Christians. The language of astral transcendence was commonplace in Christian epitaphs of the fourth and fifth century, as literally scores of epitaphs record.117 *** Rarely acknowledged in studies of the Roman church in late antiquity is that Damasus, like other late antique popes, became both more famous and more saintly over time. This is not to say that Damasus did not make a substantial impression among the learned elite of the late empire; already in late antiquity, Damasus was known and imitated but as a poet rather than a bishop; his language was mimicked by Prudentius, Paulinus of Nola, Arnobius the Younger, and Venantius Fortunatus.118

Damasus, Epigram 32, trans. Trout, Damasus of Rome, 137. Trout, “Damasus,” 525. 117 Carlo Carletti, Epigrafia dei cristiani in Occidente dal III al VII secolo: ideologia e prassi (Bari: Edipuglia, 2008). 118 Maskarinec, “Carolingian Afterlife,” 132, 140; see also G. Bernt, Das lateinische Epigramm im Ubergang von der Spätantike zum frühen Mittelalter (Munich: Arbeo-Gesellschaft, 1968), 57; Trout, Damasus of Rome.



115

116

117

118

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

Even the Liber Pontificalis notes Damasus’ famous verse inscriptions as perhaps his most notable achievement: “he searched for and discovered many bodies of holy martyrs, and also proclaimed their [acts] in verses.” Historian Maya Maskarinec, in a study of Damasus’ inscriptions in the Carolingian era, points to their robust afterlife in the West. The epigrams, she reveals, were still beloved as fine examples of classicizing poetry even five centuries after their composition. However (and this is key), they were not generally incorporated into guidebooks or itineraries designed for pilgrims.119 In fact, throughout the Middle Ages the inscriptions were bundled with other classicizing inscriptions, reducing the tendency to read them as any kind of a spatial guide or aid to Rome’s martyrial shrines. The ninth-century manuscript known as Vatican Palatine Latin 833 is devoted entirely to inscriptions from Rome, the last quarter of which contains over twenty Damasan inscriptions. From the same century dates Einsiedeln 326, with its collection of Rome-centered material, including only four Damasan inscriptions of roughly eighty Christian and non-Christian ones. The tenth-century Verdun 45 contains both Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History and a collection of assorted Roman Christian inscriptions. Only the Einsiedeln 326 contain a set of “itineraries,” noting important sites around the city, including the city walls; the itineraries are separate from the Damasan collection, however. The Carolingian itineraries nowhere directly reference Damasus’ inscriptions or use them to guide their own “maps” for pilgrims; on the other hand, virtually all of Damasus’ saints appear on these itineraries. De locis sanctis martyrum quae sunt foris civitatis Romae lacks Eutychius from San Sebastiano; the Notitia ecclesiarum Urbis Romae lacks both Eutychius and Tarsicius.120 The first two of the influential Mirabilia Urbis Romae’s sections, compiled and copied in the 1140s, include copious information about Rome’s infrastructure but do not order it logically or topographically.121 Its third section is more deliberately an itinerary,



Maskarinec, “Carolingian Afterlife,” 134. Ibid., 137, n. 37. 121 Stefano Riccioni, “Rewriting Antiquity, Renewing Rome. The Identity of the Eternal City through Visual Art, Monumental Inscriptions and the Mirabilia,” Medieval Encounters 17 (2011): 442.

119 120

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

although it draws not on Damasus but diverse martyr acta, legends, and the Liber Pontificalis.122 Let’s now return to my initial observation above: the tendency of so many modern scholars to “spatialize” Damasus’ work, seeing his interventions as creating a new Christian topography that mapped out a sacred itinerary. Maskarinec’s study makes it clear that it was only extraordinarily late in Damasus’ historical afterlife that his epigrams came to be read topographically, as if he were the author of a guidebook for Christian pilgrims. Often sown deep underground, without a master text or manuscript, there was nothing initially to translate Damasus’ inscriptions spatially into a map. The conquest of Rome’s suburban space in toto was probably not his primary aim, as I have argued, but a small-scale set of interventions at places where his point could be made. From this, we can conclude that Damasus had some impact on the topography of sainthood in Rome, but this appears to have happened at a distance both temporally and geographically, through later compilations of written source material copied and bound elsewhere. With the preservation of Damasus’ elogia in textual form, the new city of martyrs was literally written into being.123 Maya Maskarinec does furnish an example of one possible set of virtual guides for the Roman catacombs that may have come from Damasus’ inscriptions and been used for readers north of the Alps.124 She hastens to say, however, that there is no such surviving guide, but she does find two manuscripts – the tenth-century Verdun 45 and the



Riccioni, “Rewriting Antiquity,” 442; Dale Kinney, “Fact and Fiction in the Mirabilia Urbis Romae,” in Éamonn Ó. Carragáin and Carol Neuman de Vegvar, eds., Roma Felix: Formation and Reflections of Medieval Rome (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007), 235–52. As S. Riccioni points out, the point of the Mirabilia was not to order space, but to provide a comprehensive register of church property in the twelfth century. As such, it was included in the administrative books of the Camera apostolica, “the most important institution of the Roman church in terms of economic management” (442). 123 I have borrowed the phrase “written into being” from Riccioni, “Rewriting Antiquity,” 440. It is noteworthy that Dennis Trout, in his new edition of Damasus’ epigrams, continues this trend of “topographizing” them by maintaining Ferrua’s division of the inscriptions according to their original location and then augmenting this relationship by including lengthy excerpts from the itineraria at the head of each chapter. 124 Maskarinec, “Carolingian Afterlife,” 137. 122

119

120

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

eleventh-century “Sylloge Turonensis” within the Klosterneuburg, Augustiner-Chorherrenstift, Stiftsbibliothek 723 – suggestive. Verdun 45 is a guidebook comprised of thirty-two martyrial inscriptions – only ten of them Damasan – along one of Rome’s major roads, the Via Salaria Nova, which runs northeast out of the city toward the Adriatic coast. Each inscription is precisely labeled topographically, such that readers might situate them in Rome’s landscape.125 It must be repeated, however, that two-thirds of these inscriptions are not from Damasus. Similarly, the Klosterneuburg manuscript, as a whole, is a collection of Christian verses – some of them Damasan – celebrating the city’s martyrs and popes without any topographical markers.126 In the end, these late Carolingian collections of Damasus’ inscriptions themselves do not even do the work of “mapping” Roma sancta – giving only a learned and impressionistic overview of the holy city through significant inscriptions rather than relics. *** If pilgrims – whether late antique, Carolingian, or later medieval – did not follow Damasus’ new conceptual map of holy sites, did anyone? How did we come to the impression that Damasus’ vision effectively and systematically Christianized Rome’s suburban landscape? It seems that it was only under Giovanni Battista de Rossi that the idea developed that Damasus came to “map out” the city systematically. De Rossi had served as scriptor at the Vatican Library before becoming one of the city’s foremost “sacred archaeologists.” His interest in “sacred history” was as deep as his passion for “sacred archaeology” – two things inexorably linked in de Rossi’s mind. To prove the sanctity and antiquity of the catacombs, de Rossi dug deep into the Vatican Library stores to find sources such as the syllogae and itineraria that connected Catholic sacred history to topography. De Rossi’s goal was to assert Damasus’ importance as early in church history as possible. He himself, then, along with his student Angelo Silvagni, undertook the first systematic study of all the manuscripts in the West that contained Damasan inscriptions. De Rossi maintained that all these diverse manuscripts must have had a



Ibid. Ibid., 143.

125 126

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

common seventh-century ancestor, although that inscription collection has never been found.127 He also insisted that these collections were arranged topographically, thus tied conceptually to the Roman landscape for use by pious visitors to the city. For example, about the “Sylloge Turonensis,” despite having only a quarter of its inscriptions from Damasus and a rather inchoate organizational scheme, de Rossi argued that its inscriptions were systematically arranged, moving clockwise through Rome’s extra-urban roads. In truth, such a schema was difficult to discern by anyone other than those who wished to find in Damasus a grand systematizer of saints’ shrines. But when he discovered fragments of the inscriptions themselves during the course of his catacomb excavations, he believed that he had found perfect, and concrete, proof of the ancient episcopal conquest of space. Giovanni Battista de Rossi represented a new brand of learned Catholic devotionalism that emphasized a collective sacred past. He and his fellow Catholics stood to gain considerable social power by creating a collective, commemorative ritual that developed and perpetuated a new, Christian social memory. He did so by beginning the practice of “catacomb tourism,” organizing didactic and liturgical visits into the catacombs and their martyrial shrines. These visits translated the principles of “sacred history” into the frame of the performative and experiential; not only could one read (or listen to) one of Damasus’ famous elogia, one could be led down into the catacombs to experience that text in the presence of the martyrs. Once such visits were established, Damasus’ epigrams to the martyrs – often reconstituted or reconstructed by nineteenth-century sacred archaeologists – became inexorably tied to the city’s topography. But this movement reflected early modern Catholic sensibilities, not late antique ones. *** In view of the evidence, then, we must not overstate Damasus’ role as an instigator of the Christianization of Rome’s topography. Damasus neither Christianized nor sanctified Rome’s extra-urban landscape – he



A. Silvagni, ICUR, Nova series I, Roma (Rome, 1922), xviii–xxviii. See Maskarinec, “Carolingian Afterlife,” 134–35; C. Leyser, “The Temptations of Cult: Roman Martyr Piety in the Age of Gregory the Great,” Early Medieval Europe 9/3 (2000): 298.

127

121

122

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

simply left us the earliest and most enduring papal monuments to survive the ages. The idea that he “authorized” this landscape by giving a papal imprimatur to particular martyrs comes closer to the truth, but it must be recognized that his authorization likely meant little until the dominance of the Catholic Church in later centuries. The Church of Rome in Damasus’ day resembled, in truth, more the Christianity of third-century Rome – with neighborhood-based factions and no clear ecclesiastical hierarchy or monepiscopacy – than some would like to see it: Damasus as a powerful figure wielding civicwide influence with his visionary building program, forever altering Christian topography. Kim Bowes has it right: To imagine Damasus striding through a Rome in which the episcopate was relatively poor and weak and the majority of his parishioners still met in houses allows us to see his (and Prudentius and Jerome’s) images of fourth-century Christian Rome for what they are – science fiction, imaginings of a world that might be, that could be made to be by the sheer power of the word. Damasus’ inscriptions thus become not a grand belt of holy power, but more like the carefully carved epitaphs of early imperial freedmen, small-scale appropriations of the script of Roman power, designed to channel some of that power to his own, embattled episcopate.128

Granting him a “belt” or “wreath” of official (and popular) shrines is to give Damasus more regional authority than he himself likely had, as Damasus’ taking advantage of what amounted to a low-pressure zone in the abandoned catacombs is interpreted, centuries after the fact, as the monarchic episcopal conquest of space. What then, might we do with the Damasan conceptual map of late antique Rome? I suggest we leave it behind us, and consider instead the fascinating possibilities of alternate conceptual maps. One might show, for instance, a division into districts, sites, shrines and sites “sacred” to different Christian factions, showing considerable local variations in both practice and authority, more Harnack than de Rossi.129 There were, active in Rome during Damasus’ episcopacy, a wide array



Bowes, “Early Christian Archaeology,” 609. Adolf von Harnack, Mission and Expansion of Christianity, trans. and ed. J. Moffatt, 2 vols. (London: Williams and Norgate, 1908).

128

129

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

of Christian groups, including Donatists, Priscillianists, Arians, Marcionites, Sabellians, Novatianists, Pelagianists, and Origenists.130 Damasus actively worked to have these groups suppressed at the Synod of Rome in 378, pleading for Emperor Gratian’s assistance;131 whether or not he was successful at the time, later maps of Rome that focus exclusively on Damasus’ “holy hot spots” effectively scour the Christian landscape of any activity outside his immediate concern as if his Christianity were the only one present and thriving – particularly ironic considering that many of these groups operated in the urban periphery, the same zone that Damasus attempted to claim as Catholic ­territory.132 This map would more realistically depict the fissile world of late antique ecclesiastical Rome, while sacrificing the model of unity and monarchical authority upon which the Damasuscentered conceptual maps are built. Another alternate map might give a fuller picture of the Roman suburbs that included other installations, from bathhouses, ­private villas and their mausolea, to farms and industrial lands. Again, this map would lack the specific “cone of vision” that a Catholic, Damasus-centered map imposes upon a diverse landscape, one by no means devoid of human activity separate from the veneration of dead human beings. Yet another map might include contemporaneous non-­Christian “sacred space,” both within and outside Rome’s walls. This map would disrupt the myth of Christianization in fourthcentury Rome, giving a more proportional perspective on traditional cults that continued to thrive well into the period when we are told they were in decline. A final alternative map might chart the “nonlieux” of Christian burial sites that lacked a martyr shrine as their focus, but which were nevertheless visited and consistently in use. Not all Christian burial sites in Rome were clustered around a martyr’s burial; in fact, most were not. Nevertheless, it is fair to conceptualize these forgotten, non-lieux cemeteries as part of the Christianization of Rome’s topography.



Harry O. Maier, “The Topography of Heresy and Dissent in Late-Fourth-Century Rome,” Historia 44/2 (1995): 232–49; L. Duchesne, Early History of the Christian Church (London, 1931), 2.366. 131 Maier, “Topography,” 238. 132 For “heretical” groups exiled to Rome’s periphery, see C. Th. 16.5.53. 130

123

124

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

But perhaps the idea of a non-lieux map is, of itself, absurd and impossible. After all, it is the very creation of a map, and the act of mapping, that renders space as lieux in the first place. The non-lieux of forgotten or “unimportant” ordinary Christian burials or factions that lost in the gradual triumph of Catholicism in Rome are the by-products of Catholic geographical thinking, which assigned value in the CounterReformation and the nineteenth century only to places associated with its own struggles and reimagined origins. *** A last question: Why did de Rossi read Damasus’ elogia as he did? The answer is simple: to early modern Catholic minds, it was impossible to conceptualize the Christianization of space without the instrument of martyrs’ bodies. The same mechanism accounts for the interest in “topographizing” the Depositio Martyrum, in reading a list primarily concerned with the Christianization of time as the basis for a map of the Christianization of space. This unbreakable link between sacred body and sacred place led to a retrojection of understandings concerning how late antique holy space was made. The process of what historian Simon Ditchfield has elegantly termed “rewiring the sacred circuit” – that is, the transformation of profane space into sacred place through the use of human remains – endures as a central and distinctive feature of Roman Catholicism, manifested in literally countless towns across Europe.133 Corpses of the long-dead were the building blocks of this renewal project, for what made Rome sacred in the sixteenth century and beyond was its bounty of martyrs.134 It was the potent memory of the city’s first Christian martyrs that ignited the imagination of Counter-Reformation clerics. By the late sixteenth century, it was widely believed that in the second century, the Tiber itself had run crimson with blood, choked with bodies of martyrs. Indeed, their blood still sanctified the city.

Simon Ditchfield, “Thinking with the Saints: Sanctity and Society in the Early Modern World,” Critical Inquiry 35 (2009): 577. 134 The term comes from a papal bull issued by Sixtus V (1585–1590) on February 13, 1586, intended to revive Rome as a new Christian centerpiece in the city’s sixteenth-century revitalization. See Helge Gamrath, Roma sancta renovata: Studi sull’urbanistica di Roma nella seconda metà del sec. XVI con particolare riferimento al pontificato di Sisto V (1585–1590), Analecta Romana Instituti Danici, Supplementum 12 (Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider, 1987). 133

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

Guided by their belief that martyrs and Rome were deeply connected, scholars pumped up the topographical connections between saints and their places. This might be done through the creation of a text, a guidebook, or a map. The creation of a map, it seems, constitutes the final stage in thinking through the transformation of “space” into “place.” Martyr legends in Rome (including those to which Damasus refers in his elogia) spawned text upon text – inscriptions, then martyrology after martyrology, ever increasing in recensions and textual complexity in transmission and translation as they passed through Catholic scriptors. The medieval itineraria for Rome that had a limited circulation outside the city transmuted martyrology and liturgy into conceptual maps for the armchair traveler; impossible to walk in real life, these itineraries imagineered Rome, increasing the city’s fame because they insisted that there were – should one visit – dozens and dozens of holy bodies hidden in the city’s subterranean hollows. But the final stage of finding and collating these itineraria, and producing from them an actual map such as the “Early Christian Monuments in Rome and Its Suburbs (3rd–6th Century),” began with Catholic sacred archaeologists such as de Rossi. Then again, perhaps the cartographic impulse – or the impulse to see Rome as, most importantly, a treasure map of wondrous martyr bones – was both far earlier than de Rossi and far later than many scholars imagine: in the Counter-Reformation’s reinvention of Roma Sacra. The perception of the sacred, subterranean city was made more concrete through elaborately staged rituals of reinventio, with relic discoveries, the reading of martyrologies, the performance of public liturgies, and relic translations and installations into elaborate, often purposebuilt churches that became virtually omnipresent in the city. The most impressively theatrical of these relic translations was a four-hour-long procession of the relics of the eunuch slaves Nereus and Achilleus from the church of San Martino ai Monti (where they had been translated by Gregory IX) to the titular church of the Fasciola by the baths of Caracalla. The date was May 11, 1597.135 The procession wound its



135

See R. Krautheimer, “A Christian Triumph of 1597,” in E. F. Jacob, ed., Essays in the History of Art Presented to Rudolf Wittkower (London: Phaidon, 1967), 174–81, although Krautheimer mistakenly writes “Galliano” in place of “Gallonio” throughout.

125

126

Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata)

way from the ancient senate house – by the sixteenth century, reconsecrated as the Church of S. Adriano ai Fori – around the Capitoline to the Gesù, back across the Capitoline through the Forum with its triumphal arches (given a new inscription to commemorate the historic translation) and the southern flank of the Palatine before reaching a church close to the baths of Caracalla.136 This ancient titular church had stood in ruins until Clement VIII had given it to Cesare Baronio in 1596; immediately, Baronio set about carefully restoring it, bringing to bear all he had learned about early Christian archaeology.137 Thus restored, all it needed to make it a bright new star in Roma Christiana were the bones of some martyrs. Beginning in the sixteenth century, then, the catacombs – as the ostensible burial sites of these martyrs and a vast mine for martyr bones – formed the outer ring of the city’s holy sites, encircling Rome like a necklace. In those decades, the Church most trenchantly developed the Cult of the Saints, sowing holy bones from the catacombs within dozens of private and public chapels, changing definitively the topography of the sacred by affirming the power of human bones as relics.138 The catacombs were widely and shamelessly plundered for their bones through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Catacomb relics were big business for the Church; The Church’s corps of grave robbers, the corposantari, were quick to remove the bones from these marked graves to help fill the demand for relics. With this, we turn next to the phenomenon of the sacred corpse.



Simon Ditchfield, “Reading Rome as a Sacred Landscape, ca. 1586–1635,” in W. Coster and A. Spicer, eds., Sacred Space in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 174. 137 Alexandra Herz, “Cardinal Cesare Baronio’s Restoration of SS. Nereo ed Achilleo and S. Cesareo de’Appia,” The Art Bulletin 70/4 (1988): 590–620. 138 On this phenomenon, see now the important volume of Stéphane Baciocchi and Christian Duhamelle, eds., Reliques Romaines: invention et circulation des corps saints des catacombes à l’époque modèrne (Rome: Ecole Française de Rome, 2016). 136

3. Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse) We endlessly invest the dead body with meaning because, through it, the human past somehow speaks to us.1

L 

ess than a hundred meters from Piazza Navona in downtown Rome, the small private chapel within the Palazzo Altemps consecrated to the Madonna of Clemency and Pope Anicetus (155–166 CE) still stands, a Baroque curiosity now open to the public and incorporated into the Museo Nazionale di Roma.2 The chapel had been commissioned by Giovanni Angelo Altemps in memory of his father Roberto, who had been beheaded by Sixtus V for adultery. Altemps had, not unusually, friends in high places: his godfather was Pope Clement VIII, and it was Clement who allowed the remains of Anicetus to be removed from the catacombs in 1603 and installed in a large basin of antico giallo marble at the front of the altar. Anicetus’ body was the most precious relic in an entire chapel populated with catacomb bones, and – since the remains of early popes were customarily reinterred with much pomp at the Lateran basilica – quite a coup for young Giovanni to have Anicetus securely placed in what amounted to a private family chapel. Thomas Laqueur, The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), 6. 2 On the chapel’s context, see Francesco Scoppola and Stella Diana Vordemann, Museo nazionale romano, Palazzo Altemps (Rome: Electa, 1997), 132–61; Niccolò del Re, “Giovanni Angelo d’Altemps e le reliquie di St. Aniceto Papa,” Strenna dei Romanisti 62 (2001): 175–90. See also F. Scoppola, “Influssi della ‘giustizia’ sistina sulla produzione artistica successiva: Il restauro della cappella della Madonna della Clemenza e di S. Aniceto in palazzo Altemps,” in Marcello Fagiolo and Maria Luisa Madonna, eds., Sisto V, 2 vols. (Rome: Istituto poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, Libreria dello Stato, 1992), 1.773–823.



1

127

128

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

Not a particularly aesthetically pleasant space, the dark polychrome marble chapel, shot through with fetishized death, draws in viewers. Visitors enter by passing a small room called a coretto for the private viewing of the Mass. At some point, the coretto was artfully frescoed to look like the inside of a catacomb.3 The visitor stepping inside the coretto participated, experientially, in a powerful memento mori, as dim candle or lamplight played off the walls to reveal open loculi tombs filled with shrouded bodies. More significantly, the visitor to the coretto was transported back, visually, to the moment, circumstance, and immense spiritual significance of the saint’s recovery. The bones of an ancient pope had come to rest here, in a private residence. The paintings on the chapel walls beyond the coretto tell his story in a terse, condensed style, focusing on his tragic beheading by Roman authorities, which occupies most of the northern wall. Curiously, the early sources that record the life and death of Anicetus say only that he was martyred in 161 CE.4 They do not specify how. The claim that he met his death precisely the same way as Roberto Altemps is the particular, and clever, conceit of this chapel. Why Anicetus, of all the early popes? Perhaps he was chosen because of his name, “unconquered.” The irony of the Greek pun would particularly have resonated for the Altemps clan. If there was any family in Rome that might have enjoyed and cultivated such learned wordplay, it was the Altemps family; their private library of “sacred history” was virtually unrivaled in a city full of books and scholars.5

On coretti, see Fabio Barry, “‘Pray to Thy Father Which Is in Secret’: The Tradition of Coretti, Romitorii, and Lanfranco’s Hermit Cycle at the Palazzo Farnese,” in Joseph Imorde et al., eds., Barocke Inszenierung (Emsdetten: Edizione Imorde, 1999), 191–221. Simon Ditchfield, “Thinking with the Saints: Sanctity and Society in the Early Modern World,” Critical Inquiry 35 (2009): 557, n. 11, notes that the coretto’s frescoes may be as late as the beginning of the nineteenth century, which would correspond to the renewed interest in Rome in the catacombs and specifically, saints and bodies. 4 The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis), trans. Raymond Davies (Liverpool: University Press, 1989), 5; Irenaeus, cited in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, 5.24, translated by G. A. Williamson, Eusebius: History of the Church (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965), 232ff. 5 Simon Ditchfield, “What Was Sacred History? (Mostly Roman) Catholic Uses of the Christian Past after Trent,” in Katherine van Liere, Simon Ditchfield, and Howard Louthan, eds., Sacred History: Uses of the Christian Past in the Renaissance World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 76, notes that outside the Vatican, the greatest collection of books under the rubric historia sacra was



3

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

By his very presence at the Palazzo, Anicetus the Unconquered “answered” Sixtus V’s treacherous and impious judgment against Roberto Altemps. It is tempting to say, “the chickens came home to roost.” It was not merely that family honor was restored; the tables had been turned, so to speak, against Sixtus’ claim to ancient authority. Catacomb relics were deployed in the battle between secular and ecclesiastical elites, providing the last word in disputes about worldly and otherwordly power.6 Relics of the saints and martyrs had always played a significant role in Christian politics. To draw on only two famous examples from late antiquity, in Carthage around 311, the widow Lucilla carried with her in a little precious box the bones of a martyr. She deployed her relic to sway the election of her favorite bishop.7 Paulinus of Nola, the impresario of the martyr Felix, used the power of his relics to rewire the flow of energy, attention, and cash away from Milan and Rome. What differed in the late sixteenth century is the degree of charnel that accompanied and legitimated such a use. The Altemps chapel draws not only on the trope of death, but on all the unpleasant elements surrounding death. The wall paintings by Antonio Circignani show, in unflinching detail, scenes of Anicetus’ beheading, surely meant to invoke the beheading of Roberto Altemps himself.8 In one panel, Anicetus’ decapitated body throbs blood; the painter ensured that the viewer sees not just the body, but the open cut side of the neck, a circle of red with a white spot of severed spine in the center, like a gruesome ham steak. A woman on her hands and knees gathers Anicetus’

in the collection of Giovanni Angelo Altemps (1586–1620). Listed in the inventory were 338 titles on sacred history. Notably, Giovanni Angelo Altemps composed a book on the life of Anicetus, Vita sancti Aniceti papae, et martyris: Cum rebus memorabilibus, quae eo pontifice in Ecclesia sedente acciderunt, in 1617, the year of the Altemps chapel’s formal inauguration. 6 For a smart analysis of the connection between saints’ bones and secular power at the Altemps chapel, see Ditchfield, “Thinking with Saints,” 557–59. 7 On Lucilla, see Optatus of Milevus, Against the Donatists 1.16; Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 34. 8 Antonio was the son of the more famous Niccolò, who had painted some of the most grotesque scenes of martyrdom to be found in Rome at the church of San Stefano Rotondo. See Ditchfield, “Thinking with the Saints,” 557.

129

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

Photo by Nicola Denzey Lewis, 2015.

130

Figure 7.  Antonio Circignani, Martyrdom of Pope Anicetus, 1560–1620.

blood into sodden, gory cloths (Figure 7).9 On the ceiling, meanwhile, a cheery parade of putti cavort, waving aloft instruments of torture with chillingly dulcet smiles.10 Supporting this visual feast of dismemberment and gore are two sober black marble panels on either side of the pews, carefully inscribed. Should viewers tire of looking at the paintings, the panels are there to further immerse them into this strange visceral world. They list, comprehensively, all the relics at the high altar. I translate here only one of the two: Heads of Simon and Judah and body of Anicetus (under the main altar) Tooth of St. Stephen Two arms of Innocentius, martyr

As Ditchfield notes, the woman was supposed to evoke St. Pudenziana and her fellow “early Christian holy sponge ladies” (“Thinking with the Saints,” 558). On Pudenziana as a different sort of “bone gatherer,” see Nicola Denzey, The Bone Gatherers (Boston: Beacon, 2007), 149–50; 154. 10 The iconography for the torture instruments is lifted directly from Antonio Gallonio’s Trattato de gli instrumenti di martirio, e delle varie maniere di martoriare vsate da' gentili contro christiani, descritte et intagliate in rame. Opera di Antonio Gallonio romano sacerdote della congregatione dell' oratorio. Con la tauola nel fine di tutte le cose piu notabili (Rome, 1591). 9

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse) Arm bones of Peter, Secundus, Valentinus, Hilarianus, Felix, and Pope Mark Various body parts of the Holy Innocents (“SS. Innocentiuum variae corporum partes”) Spinal vertebra of Blassus, pope and martyr Scapula of Longinus Heads of Agapitus, Vitalus, and Marcellinus Finger bones of Abundantius, Polycarp “de nervis” of Concordia Two teeth, and some of the jaw, of Lucianus, presbyter and martyr Teeth of Agapetus, Bibiana, Marius, Theodore, Felicissimus, Sixtus, Eustathius, and John Chrysostom Two vertebrae of Valentina Two (complete) ribs of Mendosa, along with most of his body in small fragments Rib of Barnabas, apostle Arms of Sebastian, John, Vicentius, Processus, Magnus, Alexander, and Aurelius Finger of Andrew, apostle Arm of a holy martyr, “whose name is known to God alone” (“brachium sancti cuius nomen soli deo cognitum est”) Femur and coccyx of Quirinus Sacrum of Pope Zosimus Kneecaps of Annias and Paul Finger of Maximus, presbyter Two fingers of Cyril and John Finger of Theodosius, martyr Bones of Laurentius, martyr Four teeth of Martinus, presbyter Teeth of Cyprianus, John, Valentinus, Saturninus, Faustian, Cassiodorus, Susanna, and Cyrilla Two ribs of Victoria, along with two femurs and coccyx, kneecap, hand, and a great number of fragments of her body

One of the most remarkable things that stays with the modern viewer is this attitude toward the corpse, so different from our own. The relics of Palazzo Altemps, so listed, are ghastly. And in the late sixteenth century,

131

132

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

they sanctified space. But how ancient is this attitude toward the dismembered, disaggregated saintly body? *** The “corporeal turn” in twentieth-century critical theory, so provocatively explored by Michel Foucault and others, elaborated a new theory of body as socially constructed.11 Much has been written on the “corporeal turn” in late antiquity.12 But by “body,” these theorists and scholars of late antiquity understood living bodies, not corpses. To help us to think about the work of the corpse – the true “corporeal turn” – one can still usefully turn to the cultural anthropologist Robert Hertz, a student of Marcel Mauss and Emile Durkheim. For Hertz, the dead have two existences: the first in nature, the second in culture. In nature, a corpse is merely a corpse – stinking, food for carrion. In the realm of culture, however, the dead become social beings, the central focus of rites of remembrance around which a community might negotiate or consolidate its identity.13 The work of the dead, then, lies in the uneasy interface between these two states of being – on the one hand, mere biological matter, bone and ash; on the other, still vibrant and puissant agents. As historian Thomas Laqueur claims in his monumental study The Work of the Dead, “the dead make civilization on a grand and an intimate scale, everywhere and always: their historical, philosophical, and anthropological weight is enormous and almost without limit and compare.”14

Anthony Synott, “Tomb, Temple, Machine and Self: The Social Construction of the Body,” BJS 43/1 (1992): 79; Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1995); Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990). 12 See the work of Patricia Cox Miller, especially “The Little Blue Flower Is Red: Relics and the Poeticizing of the Body,” JECS 8/2 (2000): 213–36; and Patricia Cox Miller, “Visceral Seeing: The Holy Body in Late Ancient Christianity,” JECS 12/4 (2004): 391–411, culminating in her full-length study, The Corporeal Imagination: Signifying the Holy in Late Antique Christianity (Pittsburgh: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009). For other useful examples of the corporeal turn in late antiquity, see Derek Krueger, “The Unbounded Body in the Age of Liturgical Reproduction,” JECS 17/2 (2009): 267–79; Gillian Clark, “Bodies and Blood: Late Antique Debates on Martyrdom, Virginity and Resurrection,” in D. Montserrat, ed., Changing Bodies, Changing Meanings; Studies on the Human Body in Antiquity (London: Routledge, 1998), 99–115. 13 Robert Hertz, Death and the Right Hand, trans. Robert and Claudia Needham (Aberdeen: Cohen and West, 1960). 14 Thomas Laqueur, The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), 11. 11

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

Laqueur’s claim, “the dead make civilization” is as grand as it is intriguing. In this chapter, however, I’m working on a more intimate scale. I begin with the Altemps chapel because it is a wonderful illustration of the cultural work that corpses can do. In that place, corpses order and invoke sacred space. They create an emotional response from visitors. They tell a story. They create metonymous relationships between present and past actors. They participate in the discourse of post-Tridentine Catholic piety. They vindicate a beloved father. To do all these things, however, they had to first have the power to do so; that is, they had to be perceived as innately powerful agents. Their work is on the side of culture, not nature. On the other hand, even on this relatively intimate scale, the Altemps dead clearly inhabited, and in a sense acted within, the particular strictures of early modern Rome. They are not unique to that environment; the Baroque churches of Rome are literally packed full of catacomb bones, relics that order space and time, direct human behavior, and remind us of morality and mortality, reinforcing the boundaries of culture. In the first two chapters, I examined some ways in which Christians of Rome thought about and constructed sacred space and its uneasy relationship with human bodies. In this chapter, I’m most interested in the visibility and “work” of human remains themselves. What sort of cultural work did bodies and bones do in late antiquity? Was this different from in Roman antiquity? Different, again, from the sixteenth, seventeenth, or nineteenth century? Did late antique relics do the same work as the catacomb relics of the Altemps chapel? Such a comparative examination is merited, in my opinion, because Thomas Laqueur’s masterful study takes what he calls “the long view” of history, which implies that attitudes toward the corpse are universal, that the dead make civilization always, everywhere in the West. He writes as a modernist; I write as a historian of the ancient world. And here, we disagree: I see the work of the dead in antiquity as different from the work of the dead in modernity. I begin with the issue of visible remains – “remains to be seen” – and the work that they did, culturally, in early modern Rome. *** How did the Altemps bones – most, though not all of which derive from the catacombs outside the city walls – come to reside in a seventeenthcentury palazzo by Piazza Navona? In the seventeenth century, catacomb plunder began in earnest, tinged with anti-Protestant fervor

133

134

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

and the belief that the bones of early Christians gave tangible proof for Catholics’ indisputable faith and moral rectitude. In 1672, a new office, the Custode delle reliquie e dei cimiteri was established. It was the special task of the Custode to manage the corposantari, men in the Church’s employ whose job it was to plunder catacomb graves.15 But others – even private citizens – could apply for permits to gather holy bones. This was how, undoubtedly, the bones of hundreds of “martyrs” ended up in their compartments at the front of the Altemps chapel, resting on top of the yellow sarcophagus of a great catacomb prize – the body of a secondcentury pope. Rome became in the early modern period not just a city of bones, visible and powerful, but a city of martyr bones. Their power was connected to their conspicuous visibility. Jeweled reliquaries were, by and large, a medieval phenomenon, but now, their numbers swelled, along with their size and ostentatiousness. At the front of the Altemps chapel, a massive reliquary cabinet at the main altar compartmentalizes its scores of relics into neat glass-fronted rectangles, an unsettling juxtaposition of yellowed bone fragments, faux marble, and gilded symmetry. Bones, however, were about to break free from their golden restraints behind altarpieces and become the most potent visual vernacular of the age. While catacomb bones required appropriate reliquaries, even the bones of ordinary citizens could make useful object lessons in the fragility of life and the enduring qualities of spirit. Thus, in the seventeenth century began the practice of artful charnel house display.16 In 1626, less than a quarter century after the completion of the Altemps In 1678 came the establishment of the Conservatore dei sacri cimiteri di Roma by Clement X, first outlined in the 1672 brief, Diversae Ordinationes circa extractionem Reliquiarum ex Coemeteriis Urbis, et Locorum circumvicinorum, illarumque custodiam, et distributionem (Bullarium Romanum, Roma: H. Mainardi, 1733). Reprinted as Magnum bullarium romanum. Bullarum privilegiorum ac diplomatum romanorum pontificum amplissima collectio (Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1965), 7.161–2. 16 The movement was certainly not limited to Rome. For beautiful pictures of ossuaries and charnel houses in Europe, see Paul Koudounaris, The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2011). The sole example remaining from Rome is the Capuchin crypt, although there were once a few more, including the confraternity of the Sacco Rosso on Tiber Island. On the phenomenon, see Christine Quigley, Skulls and Skeletons: Human Bone Collections and Accumulations (Jefferson, NC: McFarlane, 2001).



15

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

chapel, the Capuchin order of Franciscans began the construction in Rome of a church, Santa Maria della Concezione, with funds by the Barberini pope Urban VIII. It was to have its own crypt preserving the bodies of the monks in quasi-public display. In 1631, as the monks left their monastery in the country and moved into the city, they brought with them in a nocturnal, torchlit procession no fewer than 300 horse carts of bone. The charnel remains of over 3,700 humble brethren were not simply deposited, but sorted and arranged into a set of grisly displays that still draw visitors today.17 Soil imported from the Holy Land broke down the corpses of newly dead friars, whose bones were then progressively added to the walls, ceilings, even light fixtures. The pope’s brother, Cardinal Antonio Barberini, was himself a Capuchin, a family connection that ensured the prestigious connection between this Capuchin chapel and one of the leading families in Rome. This connection ensured that any dead Barberini children, their tiny skeletons defleshed, would find a final resting place on conspicuous display. A small Barberini princess appears on the ceiling tondo of the last, climactic chapel of the crypt as a diminutive but terrifying Death, holding a scythe made of human fibulae and metatarsals in one hand and weighing scales in the other. The monks frequented the space for nighttime prayers and reflection, and by 1727, Mass was celebrated beneath her bones twice daily. The Capuchin chapel marked, then, a significant moment when the world of monks collided viscerally with the world of elite men, women, and children; here, there could be no difference between rich and poor, powerful and humble, male and female. Death was the great leveler; as a sign now proclaims in five languages, What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be … hodie mihi, cras tibi. Hodie mihi, cras tibi. The words speak not just to death as a social leveler, but to death’s intrusion into the visual spectacle of life, not merely pushed to its fringes. Early modern Romans made the confrontation with Death personal. The Altemps chapel’s framing of death is one place to begin to look for shifts in the way that the dead worked as culture-makers. Death, in this particular place, is not redemptive – it is retributive. Unlike twentieth- or twenty-first-century memorial sites where the bare factness of death is muted or absent, at Altemps death remains eternally present,

Frommer’s 2008 Guide to Rome calls it “one of the most horrifying images in all of Christendom.” Interestingly, women were not allowed to view the crypts from 1851 to 1852.

17

135

136

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

terrifying, and repellent. This is death during the Roman CounterReformation: ubiquitous, useful, unstinting, unsentimental. The corpse is an instrument for human passions, from the impulse toward spiritual introspection to the desire to educate or to control others. What the corpse did not do then – which it does now in our own deathaversive culture – is provoke shock or disgust. Death is not abstract, as it is in, for example, Maya Lin’s moving Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., where the dead are recalled through their names on glossy gray walls, arranged to evoke the sense of a “wound that is closed and healing.”18 Death is, in Italian early modernity as in the Middle Ages, anthropoid and menacing, inescapable. Even minute bone fragment relics are personified: they are precisely identified even if the part of the body from which they derived is no longer discernable; they are attached to names, even if those names are merely fanciful. The Altemps chapel’s fragmentary bone relics were, for the most part, dredged from the charnels of the catacombs, but it was crucial that they not remain anonymous. Naming the bones gave them identities, significance, stories, and a place within liturgical time. In this way, the relics brought with them enduring, eternal identities, and bilocative ones too: they were here on earth, but simultaneously in heaven. At Altemps, however, the broader framing of death was never forgotten or repressed. The work of the dead in early modern Rome was, first and foremost, to remind you of death. The Altemps chapel was not isolated in its approach to death. Santa Maria della Concezione was but a different route to the same set of conclusions: as David Sedaris wryly notes, the human skeleton has a “limited vocabulary, and says only one thing: ‘You are going to die.’”19 The skeleton became, in this era, a devotional aid. Preachers proffered skulls to help their congregations confront their own mortality: Every human dwelling should be considered nothing but a tomb filled with dead bodies. Certainly, every church in Rome in fact became a tomb filled with dead bodies, as Baroque sensibilities not only highlighted holy bones but featured marble and gilded statues of the parish’s esteemed benefactors as decaying corpses or else, posed menacing winged, scythed skeletons draping themselves around elaborate tombs. Some of the finest examples in a city with literally hundreds of similar images include, in

“The Healing Wall,” pdf available on www.VietnamWall.org. David Sedaris, “Memento Mori,” The New Yorker. www.newyorker.com/magazine/ 2006/05/08/memento-mori-3.

18

19

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

San Pietro in Vincoli, a memorial to Cardinal Cinzio Aldobrandini, featuring a winged, shrouded Death holding hourglass and scythe by Carlo Bizzaccheri, who died in 1610; at Sant’Agostino, a winged, crowned deathhead memorial to Cardinal Giuseppe Ranato Imperiali, by Paolo Posi and Pietro Bracci, 1741; in Gesù e Maria, a memorial to Camillo del Corno featuring a shrouded Death with hourglass riding on a phantom horse by Domenico Guidi, 1682; at Santa Maria del Popolo, a self-portrait tomb of the sculptor Giovanni Battista Gisleni featuring his image as a penitent, partly fleshed skeleton, 1672; in San Francesco a Ripa, a memorial to Maria Camilla and Giovanni Battista Rospigliosi with a gilded skeleton holding their tondi, by Michele Garofolino, 1713.20 This fascination with the corpse and corporeal decay was not just manifested in decorative choices on the built environment of churches; it could be portable and personal. Tiny, graphic carvings of worm-riddled skeletons nestled in miniature coffins or diminutive skulls of ivory or bone might be personal objects to warn against the danger of vanitas. Working macabre decorative arts out of bone or ivory was good, but by the seventeenth century, artists across Europe discovered the unique malleable properties of colored wax, which proved to be a handy and realistic medium for rendering human flesh. Italian artists produced small framed three-dimensional scenes of souls trapped in hell – ghastly dioramas. In one such object on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, crafted between 1670–1700, a man’s soul screams in eternal torment: eyeballs bulging, purple veins straining to break through the flesh on his neck and forehead, the viewer is spared no detail of the soul’s capacity for suffering (Figure 8). The artistry of the piece – with its realistic colors, deep dimensionality, and frame composed of tiny flames of slivered mica – is as striking as the image is appalling. This style and medium was the brainchild of the Syracusan artist Gaetano Giulio Zumbo, who worked with anatomists in Rome, Naples, and Bologna. Commissioned by Grand Duke Cosimo III, Zumbo specialized in creating teatrini, little theaters, that played out elaborate death tableaux with wax and paint. All of them were of a kind: memento mori pieces, unstinting in their gruesomeness. Zumbo initiated a much-imitated style. Also in the Victoria and Albert Museum is an ambitious teatrino of 1727, 83 × 108 × 20 cm, attributed to a



For images, see Elizabeth Harper. www.slate.com/blogs/atlas_obscura/2014/08/06/ the_sculptural_skeletons_of_rome.html.

20

137

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

Source: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

138

Figure 8.  Gaetano Giulio Zumbo, A Damned Soul, 1700.

female wax artisan, a Neapolitan nun by the name of Caterina de Julianis (Figure 9). The scene is set in a cemetery. Two allegorical figures frame two human figures. At the left sits a winged Father Time pointing to a large clock face; at the right is a skeletal and crowned Death wielding a spear. In the center of the frame, a haggard beggar reaches out his hand, his face twisted into a vacant-eyed smile; at his feet lies the fresh corpse of a young man. The youth’s lithe body is dead but far from repulsive; his body is draped and coyly, erotically exposed. But any viewer’s inappropriate thoughts would have been brought to a halt upon closer examination: the youth lies upon a stack of moldering corpses. Their flesh is green, black, repellent. Rats and snakes feed upon the flesh; skulls pile up beneath the clock. The background of the scene slopes forward, as if to pour its filth out upon the lap of the viewer. These wax teatrini showcase the extraordinary level of detail early modern artists could have in working in a new, enduring, yet flexible medium. The similarity of tinted wax to dead human flesh made it an ideal “stand-in” for actual corpses, allowing for all the details of corporeal decay to remain visually fixed in time. Wax figures continued to arouse the curiosity of the public into the twentieth century. Shortly before it closed permanently in 2016, Brooklyn’s Morbid Anatomy Museum restaged a nineteenth-century

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

Source: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

139

Figure 9.  Caterina de Julianis, Time and Death, ca. 1727.

panopticum first displayed in Berlin. The panopticum, like others of its genre, originally displayed a thrilling array of taxidermied animals and live performers including sideshow oddities; but what drew the crowds was its incredibly lifelike waxworks, including anatomical Venuses; women with their bellies open, caught in the throes of an eternal Caesarian section; death masks of famous murderers; disembodied faces disfigured by syphilis; leprous limbs; a bisected head of a toddler felled by diphtheria, and a wax model of a human digestive tract.21 While this show drew crowds in Berlin, far from Rome, the human desire for the ordinarily unspoken or unseen to be revealed was, and remains, a facet of modernity. The success of the plasticinated corpses on display in the Body Worlds exhibition lies in their gruesome realness: they are not models, but were once living, breathing people just like us. Furthermore, the posing of these plasticinated corpses, ruddy and skinless, in mundane positions – riding a bicycle, playing cards, playing a saxophone – at once makes the strange familiar and the familiar, strange. ***

21

Mark B. Sandberg, Living Pictures, Missing Persons: Mannequins, Museums, and Modernity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003) gives similar examples of the panopticum phenomenon.

140

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

Is the corpse a curiosity object? There can be little doubt that in early modern Rome, it was. And yet, the corpse as curiosity object is not a fully modern phenomenon. The corpse, nowadays, is considered so obscene, somehow, as to be forced into invisibility; the “skeleton in the closet” standing in for one’s deepest secret shame, replacing the early modern “remains to be seen.” Remains are not to be seen. Many North Americans have never actually seen a dead body. We are discouraged from even looking at the dead, let alone evincing a healthy curiosity about them. In our current culture, the corpse is visually hedged in; in the media, the faces or even bodies of corpses are usually pixilated or blurred, as if the act of looking with curiosity at a human body is aberrant. The risk of censure is even stronger if the body is that of a child, or a beautiful woman, or someone disfigured by death – whether through their deaths, or through the process of decomposition after death. And yet as we have seen, in the early modern world, the corpse provided not simply a memento mori, but even entertainment. Such abiding interest in staring at corpses was not confined to early modern Rome. In Paris, as late as the end of the nineteenth century, morgues lined up corpses pulled from the Seine in front of picture windows along the street; people filed by to “identify” the bodies, but mostly just for curiosity’s sake. Wax death masks of the corpses became sought-after souvenirs. Particularly beautiful corpses even developed their own following; one, a young woman whose wistful half-smile earned her the nickname “the Mona Lisa of Paris,” became oddly immortalized; the death mask of her face was used on a newly created line of CPR dummies in France, known as “Resusci Anne.”22 It is a perverse feature of death fetishism that the corpse as a curiosity object can somehow tilt into an erotic object. This, too, is a feature of early modernity. The Roman archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani recounts in his Pagan and Christian Rome the discovery on April 16, 1485, of an ancient Roman tomb off the Via Appia near the Casale Rotondo. Some monks at the monastery of Santa Maria Nova had come upon a heavy sarcophagus, still sealed. Inside was nestled a woman’s body in a remarkable state of preservation. Lanciani quotes a contemporary account from the 1480s memoires of Antonio di Vaseli:



22

www.lemonde.fr/passeurdesciences/article/2012/11/04/la-femme-la-plusembrassee-du-monde_5986290_5470970.html

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse) The body seems to be covered with a glutinous substance, a mixture of myrrh and other precious ointments, which attract swarms of bees. The said body is intact. The hair is long and thick; the eyelashes, eyes, nose, and ears are spotless, as well as the nails. It appears to be the body of a woman, of good size; and her head is covered with a light cap of woven gold thread, very beautiful. The teeth are white and perfect; the flesh and the tongue retain their natural color; but if the glutinous substance is washed off, the flesh blackens in less than an hour.23

It is perhaps typical of the age that this corpse was immediately placed on public display at the Palazzo dei Conservatori. According to one contemporary source, “the whole of Rome, men and women, to the number of twenty thousand, visited the marvel of Santa Maria Nova that day.”24 Another letter, dated to 1485, speaks similarly of the corpse’s attraction: Words cannot describe the number and the excitement of the multitudes who rushed to admire this marvel. … One would think there is some great indulgence and remission of sins to be gained by climbing that hill, so great is the crowd, especially of women, attracted by the sight.25

The situation – an ancient, perhaps late antique corpse, dredged up from its eternal repose and put on display, provides us with an object-lesson in early modern Rome’s relationship with its own past. “Just as the dead body has always been disenchanted,” writes Thomas Laqueur, “it has also always been enchanted: powerful, dangerous, preserved, revered, feared, an object of ritual, a thing to be reckoned with.”26 As Patrick Geary notes, the dead human body teeters on a knife’s edge between being a thing and a person.27 It is the very ambivalence of the corpse that makes us uncomfortable. In the West, it is perhaps fair to

Rodolfo Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1892), 297. 24 Ibid. 25 Ibid., 298. 26 Laqueur, Work of the Dead, 4. 27 Patrick Geary, “Sacred Commodities: The Circulation of Medieval Relics,” in A. Appadurai, ed., The Social Life of Things (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 169. Geary reminds us of the enduring power of relics in the Middle Ages but emphasizes that the practice of circulating relics began in Rome only in the ninth century, not in late antiquity. 23

141

142

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

say that we have never, as a culture, successfully dissociated the corpseas-thing from the corpse-as-person. Other cultures have been more sanguine. During the course of Tibetan sky burials, ritual experts joke and laugh as they deflesh corpses, toss the chunks to waiting vultures, then pound the bones and brain with a mallet, mix it with meal, and feed it to the crows. The identity of the person, here, has become radically unmoored from the fleshly vessel; the body itself is impermanent, at the end, merely food for clumsy carrion. It is the stuff of nature, not culture. But Westerners have rarely, if ever, been able to cut the Gordian knot between person and thing. We are caught, as Malinowski observed, between the love of the dead and loathing of the corpse.28 But perhaps the dead accomplish still more important work than just generating human ambivalence. The anthropologist Pascal Boyer went as far as to argue that corpses generate religion itself.29 Human corpses trigger “rich but contradictory inferences in several mental systems.” Such cognitive dissonance, notes Risto Uro, explains “why human corpses are objects of great elaboration and fascination in the world’s cultures.”30 *** Did human corpses “make religion” in late antiquity, as Pascal Boyer suggests? Perhaps. But perhaps less so than the concept (or, really, concepts, since there was more than one) of the human soul. Bipartite (i.e., body and soul) and tripartite (i.e., body, soul, and spirit) conceptions of the body in antiquity had long had the net effect of degrading the inherent value of the physical body. Bereft of soul or animating spirit, the body as corpse was, to many, nothing more than ordure. What was valued in a body is its animation. Entrenched early Christian ideas deriving from Greek thought concerning the superior value of the soul – the ethereal body – is one more reason that the Cult of the Saints and particularly the cult of relics strikes us as so bizarre. How, in so many centuries of cultural formation of ideas of soul and spirit as superior to flesh, did the flesh come to more or less suddenly become sacred in late antiquity?

Bronislaw Malinowski, Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays (New York: Doubleday, 1954), 47–48. 29 Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (New York: Basic Books, 2001). 30 Risto Uro, Review of William McCorkle, “Ritualizing the Disposal of the Deceased: From Corpse to Concept,” JCSR 2/1 (2014): 65.



28

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

My answer, at least for late antique Rome, is that it didn’t. Epitaphs from the catacombs allow us into the intimate grief of ordinary Christians even in the fifth century, and what they tell us about death, corpses, and sacrality is both moving and oddly pragmatic. “Such is life!” concludes one; another, “No one is immortal.”31 In scores of inscriptions, the corpse is a thing of the earth, but still, the emphasis is on the eternity and purity of the soul, now released from its fleshly bondage.32 Even saintly Romans distinguished their earthly shell from their ethereal souls. Consider, for instance, the epitaph of Pope Celestine I (432 CE): Praesul apostolicae sedis venerabilis omni quam rexit populo, decimum dum conderet annum, Caelestinus agens vitam migravit in illam debita quae sanctis aeternos redid honoris. Corporis hic tumulus: requiescunt ossa cinisque nec perit: hinc aliquid domino caro cuncta resurgit. Terrenum nunc terra tegig, mens nescia mortis vivit et aspectu fruitur bene conscia Christi. Venerable bishop of the apostolic seat who governed all the people for ten years [of his episcopacy], Celestine, having lived well, left this life to pay eternal honors to the saints. His body is in this tomb; here rest his bones and ashes, but nothing perishes: of this man here, all his flesh will resurrect in the Lord. The earth now covers all that is of the earth, but the soul knows nothing of death, living and coming into a full knowledge of Christ.33

The first-person epitaph of a Roman presbyter by the name of Tigrinus expresses a similar emphasis on the eternity of the soul. I, Tigrinus presbyter, completed with my death [the time] allotted by nature. Here I place my bones. My pure soul and limbs rest in their places: these [bones] lie in the grave, while my soul rejoices See C. Carletti, Epigrafia dei cristiani in Occidente dal III al VII secolo: ideologia e prassi (Bari: Edipuglia, 2008), #37 (“such is life!); cf. #33, #34, #35. 32 “Aur(elius) Theofilus ci|vis carrhenus, vir [p]urae mentis et in[n]ocentiae singula[ris], XXIII anno deo [anim]am reddidit, [terra]e corpus ((crux graeca))”: ICUR 6 16997, from the Catacombs of Peter and Marcellinus, fifth century; Similar is ICUR 6 15868: “I resti di Basso sono sotto terra, ma l’anima, levatasi in volo nell’aria, raggiunse il cielo di Cristo.” For other pagan inscriptions that contrast body here and soul there, see Richmond Lattimore, Themes in Greek and Roman Epitaphs (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1942), 31–39. 33 Carletti, Epigrafia, #101 = ICUR 9 24833, 432 CE.



31

143

144

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse) in the sky. Of my final fate I have no fear, only hope of salvation for me through Christ, under whose rule death itself dies. And behold, won by the sweetness of the heavenly kingdom, I have ordered the building of new sacred edifices in different places and in this place, the renovation of the roof and (replaced) the entire building’s falling beams. I am pleased to reach the heavenly mansions.34

Apart from a thin veneer of Christian language, the division here of soul and body into different realms has a long, rich history in funerary language. *** In a brilliant article titled “Visceral Seeing: The Holy Body in Late Antiquity,” Patricia Cox Miller explores elements of what she calls the “material turn in late ancient Christianity.”35 “By ‘material turn’,” she explains, “I mean a shift in the late ancient religious sensibility regarding the signifying potential of the material world, a shift that reconfigured the relation between materiality and meaning in a positive direction.”36 Cox Miller draws on Jean-Pierre Vernant’s Fragments for a History of the Human Body, itself deeply influenced by Foucault, as well as the work of Judith Butler.37 “What about the materiality of the body?” Cox Miller asks. The question is Butler’s, but Cox Miller repeats it throughout “Visceral Seeing.” Yet the question, like its subject, is similarly slippery – Cox Miller can’t quite get a grip on materiality and drifts again and again into a discussion of the ethereal, the spiritual. Even her treatment of the most material aspect of late antique embodied spirituality – the corpse or bone as “holy” – veers into a discussion of its transcendence. She borrows the thought-provoking term “ambiguous corporeality” from Daniel Tiffany’s Toy Medium: Materialism and Modern Lyric.38 The body is indeed only ambiguously corporeal in late antique texts. And

Carletti, Epigrafia, #104, Via Latina, from a sylloge, 440–61 (age of Leo the Great). Miller, “Visceral Seeing.” 36 Ibid., 392. 37 Jean-Pierre Vernant, “Dim Body, Dazzling Body,” in Michel Feher, ed., Fragments for a History of the Human Body, Part One (Zone 3) (New York: Urzone, 1989), 20; Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993). 38 Daniel Tiffany, Toy Medium: Materialism and Modern Lyric (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 8.



34

35

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

yet, surely the living body is different from the corpse. Cox Miller places them, curiously, in the same category; at least, she never distinguishes between the two. In effect, there are many types of late antique bodies that she does consider: the bodies of living saints; the bodies of those represented on frescoes or paintings that become the subjects for the sort of elaborate ekphrastic exercises with which Cox Miller begins her essay; the bodies of those producing the ekphrasis, and finally, the bodies of those participating in Cox Miller’s “visceral seeing,” who read or listen to ekphrasis and are moved by it to tears or other physiological responses. None of these, however, is framed within a conscious reflection on the materiality of human dead bodies, only the body’s capacity for transcendence. Cox Miller follows the lead of the critical theorists of the corporeal turn: they are interested in the body, but really, the living body, not the corpse. Yet perhaps it is the paradox of the dead that Hertz had first pointed out – that the dead are dual, at once transient biological matter and eternal and ethereal culture-makers – that makes Cox Miller’s slippage between living bodies and dead ones understandable. She perceives little difference between relics and the holy bodies of the living, at least in the minds of late antique individuals. This is because we can indeed find examples of late antique thinkers speaking of a relic as if it were possessed of full, human, living, identity. The locus classicus is Victricius of Rouen (ca. 330–407 CE), who delivered an ecstatic sermon, De Laude Sanctorum, on the arrival of relics in his city around 396 CE.39 Addressing the martyrs directly (“you who always occupy your sacred relics”), Victricius is one for whom, as Peter Brown elegantly puts it, every fragment of saintly bone was “linked by a bond to the whole stretch of eternity.”40 Cox Miller is right that Victricius had “surely flirted with erasing the difference between the spiritual and the material.”41 Paulinus of Nola draws on a similar ambiguity when he calls relics “living dust.”42

Victricius of Rouen, “In Praise of the Saints,” trans. Philippe Buc in Thomas Head, ed., Medieval Hagiography: An Anthology (New York: Routledge, 2001), 31–52. On Victricius’ attitude toward relic translation, see Gillian Clark, “Translating Relics: Victricius of Rouen and the fourth-century Debate,” Early Medieval Europe 10 (2001): 161–76. 40 Brown, Cult of the Saints, 78. 41 Miller, “Visceral Seeing,” 405. 42 Paulinus of Nola, in Dennis E. Trout, Paulinus of Nola: Life, Letters, and Poems (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999). 39

145

146

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

Even Jerome more fully highlights the cognitive dissonance within the category “living dead” when he remonstrates the presbyter Vigilantius for his scorn over relic veneration, “a bit of powder wrapped up in a costly cloth in a tiny vessel.” “Is not God the God of the living,” Jerome asks, paraphrasing Matthew 22: 32, “not the God of the Dead?”43 The truth of the Scriptures, for Jerome, is self-evident – and since martyrs’ bones are worthy of veneration, then they must indeed be living; otherwise, were they truly dead, Christians would be guilty of the highest sacrilege: misperceiving God as God of the Corpse. What, then, we begin to find as the cult of relics picked up speed across the late antique landscape is the rise of ambiguous corporeality applied, arguably for the first time, to the corpse. The corpse is ambiguous in the sense that it somehow continues to share in the bipartite or tripartite corporate identities of the living body even when disengaged from the soul. With this, the corpse slips from the realm of nature into the realm of culture, to draw on Hertz’s useful typology. Cox Miller’s reflections on the late antique (living) body allows us entry into the paradox of the late antique (dead) body: rather than situating human remains within the frame of death, as early modern Romans were wont to do, late antique people placed relics within the frame of the living. “In a relic,” writes Peter Brown, “the chilling anonymity of human remains could be thought to be still heavy with the fullness of a beloved person.”44 It is this shift in a new way of valuating human corpses that many, following Brown’s landmark work, believe characterizes late antiquity. Indeed, in fundamental ways, some hold that this new cult of the corpse “made” late antique Christianity itself. Oxford historian Mark Edwards, for example, sees late antique Christian popular devotion as all about the cult of relics. He sees the genesis for this shift as early as 177 CE, when corpses of martyrs at Lyons were dumped in the river so as to prevent them from being gathered and venerated by Christians.45 Those looking for the genesis of the cult of relics can find even earlier attestation in the martyrdom narrative of the early second-century bishop Polycarp. Those who ordered the death of the elderly bishop took particular care to cremate his corpse so as to prevent the theft of his “holy flesh”

Jerome, C.Vig. 5, trans. Fremantle, Lewis, and Martley, NPNF 6. Brown, Cult of the Saints, 11. 45 Martyrs of Lyons and Vienne, 62. Mark Edwards, “The Beginnings of Christianization,” in N. Lenski, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Constantine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 144. 43

44

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

(Martyrdom of Polycarp 17). Nevertheless, a centurion takes Polycarp’s body, gathers the bones “more valuable than precious stones,” and buries them at a place that would become the martyr’s shrine (Martyrdom of Polycarp 18; Ecclesiastical History 15.41–43). Both examples appear to be clear evidence for the new Christian valuation of the corpse. But are these examples of Polycarp and the martyrs of Lyons truly the beginnings of a new corporeally-oriented religion emerging in the Mediterranean basin? I think the answer to my question is “no.” In the cases of both the martyrs of Lyons and of Polycarp, Christians could hardly be faulted for desiring to gather the bodies of their beloved family members or leaders in order to present them with a respectable burial. These were the bodies of people known to them and beloved to them – and the desire to have those bodies, to bury them, is hardly revolutionary. It is one of our most human impulses. Besides the scriptural precedent of Joseph of Arimathea providing for Jesus’ burial – surely texts with which Christians of the second century were familiar – to perform some sort of even perfunctory act of covering a corpse with earth in the Roman Empire was simply basic decency. The Roman jurist Ulpian called burial a negotium humanitatis (Digest 11.7.14.7).46 It could also be dangerous not to: Pliny the Younger recounts a ghost story where the ghost is finally placated when his body is discovered and properly buried (Ep. 7.27). The danger of leaving a corpse unburied resonates through centuries of Greek and Roman literature, from the death of Elpenor in the Odyssey to Virgil’s account of the sad death of Aeneas’ helmsman Palinurus (Aen. 5.857–8), or from Patrocles’ request to bury Achilles’ corpse in the Iliad (23.72) discussed a millennium later by Tertullian in his treatise De anima (56), although (notably) Tertullian disagreed with the general concept in favor of his view that the corpse itself was unimportant; what really mattered was the immortality of the soul in heaven. I suggest we are seeing, in these accounts of the martyrs at Lyons and Polycarp, an instance of Christians doing something rather natural: gathering the bodies of those whom they valued to give them a decent burial. This is rather different than fetishizing relics, which, notably, the accounts do not precisely say that Christians did.

According to Roman law, this could be as minimal as a handful of earth (Cicero, Leg. 2.22.57), but few would settle with such a minimal requirement. See Eric Varner, “Punishment after Death: Mutilation of Images and Corpse Abuse in Ancient Rome,” Mortality 6/1 (2001): 59–60.

46

147

148

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

But there is another reason that we might hesitate to ascribe the beginning of the cult of relics to the second century; we might be suspicious of how much of the story is accurate reporting of a martyrdom that happened long ago, and how much is Eusebius of Caesarea’s much later elaboration. Eusebius expresses views of the body – living and dead – that represent the fourth century more naturally than the second. Although Eusebius did not actively promote the cult of relics, he did promote the martyrs, revealing a characteristic peculiar preoccupation with the bloody details of corporeal suffering. All fingers point to Eusebius as being at least responsible for the impression that Roman Christians were obsessed with relics of the saints. His account of Polycarp’s body is not the only time he emphasizes cadaverous sanctity. Here he records the words of Denis, bishop of Alexandria, on Christian attitudes toward corpses, in this case, the bodies of those struck down by a plague: The bodies of the saints they would take up in their open hands to their bosom, closing their eyes and shutting their mouths, carrying them on their shoulders and laying them out; they would cling to them, embrace them, bathe and adorn them with their burial clothes. (Ecclesiastical History, 7.22.7–8, trans. K. Lake, LCL)

Here, though, the point was not so much to emphasize the inherent sanctity of the bones of the saints, but to contrast Christian praxis with non-Christian. He continues, But the conduct of the heathen was the exact opposite. Even those who were in the first stages of the disease they thrust away, and fled from their dearest. They would even cast them in the roads half-dead, and treat the unburied corpses as vile refuse. (7.22.8–10, trans. K. Lake, LCL)

This is clear polemic, though, the point being that Christians are more compassionate than pagans, more human, as it were. In Hertzian terms, to certain Christians, corpses were associated with culture, with human memory and identity, whereas to non-Christians, corpses were associated with nature. This is not description, but an ascription of value to the side of culture, the very meaning of “civilization” or “civilized” behavior.

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

It is true, however, that attitudes toward the corpse among Roman writers could indeed be grim. In his second-century tractate against Christians, Celsus asks, “what sort of human soul is it that has any use for the rotted corpse of the human body? … Corpses should be disposed of like shit, for they are shit.”47 Two centuries later, Julian the Apostate expressed his contempt for Christians, whom he called the nekroi – those who hung around the graves of the dead.48 Most offensive to the emperor was the Christian funeral, which scandalously mixed the pollution of death into the world of the living: The carrying of the corpses of the dead through a great assembly of people, in the midst of dense crowds, staining the eyesight of all with ill-omened sights of the dead. What day so touched with death could be lucky? How, after being present at such ceremonies, could anyone approach the gods and their temples?49

As Brown observes, we find a similar attitude from the writings of Eunapius of Sardis.50 Both Eunapius and Julian wrote from their perspective as elite Neoplatonists, whose horror of the corpse is well attested. And although these passages of Eunapius and Julian can be taken as evidence for full-on Christian death fetishism, they are not that. Neither Julian nor Eunapius spoke of the cult of relics; Julian condemns Christian funerals, or more precisely, the movement of a corpse through a crowd during the day (in Roman custom, funerals were ordinarily conducted at night) on the way to burial. Eunapius’ account is more interesting, because he is speaking here about cephalomancy – the practice of using skulls as oracles – something attested in both non-Christian and Christian practice. Still, an ancient horror of the corpse clearly seeps through these accounts. Some Christians shared with traditional Romans the feeling that the corpse was horrifying at worst, indecent at best. In a poignant account from the pen of Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory writes of the dread that enveloped him when he went to place the body of his beloved sister, Macrina, Celsus quotes Heraclitus here. Celsus, On the True Doctrine, trans. Hoffman, 86. Julian, Letter 22. See, on Julian and the martyrs, Pierre de Labriole, La réaction païenne: etude sur la polemique antichrétienne du IIIe au VIIe siècles (Paris, 1900). Julian using nekroi: Misopogon 33.361v; Contra Galileos 335b. 49 Julian, Letter 22, trans. W. C. Wright, LCL 157 (1923). 50 Brown, Cult of the Saints, 7, citing Eunapius, Lives of the Sophists, lines 472ff. The quotation in English can be found in Eunapius, Lives of the Sophists, trans. W. C. Wright (LCL), 475.

47

48

149

150

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

in the family crypt.51 To lay her inside required covering the moldering bodies of their parents with a new shroud, the old ones having rotten away to uncover the “common shame to which all human beings come.”52 Far from Cappadocia, on the other side of the continent but at roughly the same time, the dread that the corpse provoked could be felt as surely as it had shaken Gregory. Gregory of Tours recounts the story of a priest locked in a grave with a fetid corpse, the stench of which was so bad that he half-jokes that he could smell it not just with his nose but even with his ears.53 In late antiquity, then, the corpse was no curiosity object. If anything, as Gregory of Nyssa’s powerful experience of fear and disgust indicates, one’s gaze was to be averted from a body; it was indecent, a primal nakedness which carried no redemption, only a reminder of our own mortality. At the same time, the rending of the martyr body from the category of the ordinary dead depended upon the conceptual transformation of the martyr body into “living dust” rather than moldering corpse. There was a clear hierarchy of body, with the martyr body not only something which could be seen, but touched and adored. *** Certain Christian sources – although notably, none from Rome itself – indicate a new attitude toward the corpse in the first centuries of late antiquity. The Didascalia Apostolorum, probably dating to the third century and originally composed in Greek, notes that with Christ’s death and resurrection, corpse pollution had been abrogated: Do not load yourselves again with that our Lord and Savior has lifted from you. And do not observe these things, nor think them uncleanness … for in the Second Legislation, if one touch a dead man or a tomb, he is baptized [=needs purification]; but do you not, according to the Gospel and according to the power of the Holy Spirit, come together even in the cemeteries, and read the holy Scriptures, and without demure perform your ministry and your supplication to God; and offer an acceptable Eucharist, the likeliness of the royal body of Christ, both in your congregations and in your cemeteries Gregory of Nyssa, Vita Macrinae, PG 46 996A, translation in Brown, Cult of the Saints, 70. 52 Brown, Cult of the Saints, 70. 53 Gregory of Tours, A History of the Franks 4.12.

51

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse) and on the departures of them that sleep? (Did. Ap. 26.vi. II, trans. R. Hugh Connolly, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929)

Legal rulings on bodies and relics in late antiquity also indicate that cultural change was slow in coming, but coming nonetheless. A law of 381 CE reiterated the ancient prohibition against bodies being interred inside the city, but Gisella Cantino Wataghin notes that it was the only such law in late antiquity; comparing it with the sheer number of proscriptions against, for instance, sacrifice, she supposes that by the fourth century no one really cared that much where a corpse should be buried.54 On the other hand, death pollution was still a powerful concept; ecclesiastical texts, Cantino Wataghin notes, “repeatedly stress that a church is not allowed to be consecrated if there are burials inside.”55 As for the cemeteries, the removing of quantities of bones from their burial places in suburban burial sites was prohibited in a law issued by the Emperors Theodosius, Gratian, and Valentinian: “No person shall transfer a buried body to another place. No person shall sell the relics of a martyr; no person shall traffic in them” (Theodosian Code IX, 17, 7). The law was issued in Constantinople on February 26, 386 CE; apparently, relics had begun to enter the marketplace as valuable commodities. Some fifty years later, another law of 435–437 CE, On the Violation of Tombs (De Sepulchris Violatis), seemed not merely to counter grave robbers, but the removal of relics for trade – a law restated in a novella of Valentinian III in 447 CE.56 The urge to traffic in newly powerful, “living” human bone must have been formidable. Many, apparently, did not resist the temptation. Still, despite their new commodification, I think it is a mistake to fall into the trap of seeing relics within the frame of charnel piety akin to something we more properly find in the early modern period. Even Peter Brown succumbs to this way of thinking:

G. Cantino Wataghin, “The Ideology of Urban Burials,” in G. P. Brogiolo and B. Ward-Perkins, eds., The Idea and Ideal of the Town between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 147–80, 157. 55 Wataghin, “Ideology,” 157; see C. Violante, “Le strutture organizzative delle cura d’anime nelle campagna dell’Italia settentrionale (sec. V–X),” XXVIII Settimana del Centro Italiano di Studio sull’Alto Medioevo (Spoleto, 1982), 963–1155. By contrast, the Second Council of Nicaea (787) decrees that no church can be dedicated without relics being established there. 56 Jill Harries, “Death and the Dead in the Late Roman West,” in Steven Bassett, ed., Death in Towns: Urban Responses to the Dying and the Dead, 100–1600 (Leicester and New York: Leicester University Press, 1992), 68. 54

151

152

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse) As for the handling of dead bodies, the Christian cult of saints rapidly came to involve the digging up, the moving, the dismemberment – quite apart from much avid touching and kissing – of the bones of the dead, and frequently, the placing of these in areas from which the dead had once been excluded.57

The multisensory, kinetic, and theatrical cult of relics, Brown asserts, was late antique Christianity. Lucilla’s ardent kissing of her bone (Optatus of Milevis, Against the Donatists 1.16); the eyebrow-raising autobiographical accounts of Gregory of Tours dragging his heavily swollen tongue along the draperies around St. Martin’s tomb in an attempt to heal himself (Four Books of the Life of St. Martin, 4.2) Victricius’ exhilarated account of the wild shouts and dances of the crowds thronging to the adventus procession of relics through the streets of Rouen (De Laude Sanctorum 5); the highly theatrical shrieks and shouts that attended the healing miracles at the shrine of Saint Felix at Nola (Paulinus of Nola, Carmen 14.25–33; Carmen 19.164–282); Jerome’s friend Paula’s experience at a saint’s shrine in Palestine, with men “howling like wolves, baying like dogs, roaring like lions, hissing like serpents and bellowing like bulls” (Jerome, Ep. 108.13, trans. P. Schaff, NPNF, 2nd series, vol. 6, 201) – all these examples of obsessive and over-exertive piety that Brown calls “the full charnel horror of the rise of Christianity”58 stand as case studies in the new irrational necrophiliac turn within late antique Christianity. It was a strange but perhaps understandable jump from conceptualizing the corpse as living, to it having agency, particularly agency to produce dramatic spectacles of healing. Augustine, Ambrose, Paulinus of Nola, and others in the late fourth century knew of this; in later centuries, these performative acts grew more spectacular and impressive still. Much has been written about these spectacles, and my aim here is not to rehearse these stories already often told in an established body of literature, but to turn away from them, if only to underscore my central argument: these elaborately exuberant acts of martyrial drama did not take place in late antique or medieval Rome itself.

Brown, Cult of the Saints, 4. Brown, Cult of the Saints, 7. See Dennis Trout, “Town, Countryside and Christianization at Paulinus’ Nola,” in R. Mathisen and H. Sivan, eds., Shifting Frontiers in Late Antiquity (Aldershot: Variorum, 1996); D. Trout, “Christianizing the Nolan Countryside: Animal Sacrifice at the Tomb of St. Felix,” JECS 3 (1995): 281–98.

57 58

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

In general, we have probably overvalued the way in which Christians developed a new, positive (or even, obsessive) attitude toward the corpse. There were plenty of learned Christian men across the late empire who spoke out against the new fascination with relics, including Optatus of Milevis, Vigilantius, Athanasius, and even the redoubtable Augustine, who condemned the false relic trade in his work De Opere Monachorum. Optatus of Milevis, writing on the Donatist schism, scorned his compatriot Lucilla’s perverse habit of relic veneration: It was said that she kissed a bone of some martyr or other – if he really was a martyr – before she received the spiritual Food and Drink. Having then been corrected for thus touching – before she touched the Sacred Chalice – the bone of a dead man (if he was a martyr, at least he had not yet been acknowledged as such), she went away in confusion, full of wrath. (Optatus of Milevis, Against the Donatists 1.16, trans. O. R. Vassall-Phillips, St. Optatus, 31)

Optatus’ words indicate that corpse pollution was still strong enough to bring censure against any Christian touching a human bone before receiving the Eucharist, although Lucilla apparently believed otherwise. Meanwhile, the presbyter Vigilantius, writing from southern Gaul, also ridiculed the practice of relic veneration, to which Jerome was pressed to give a full-throated response.59 But as Brown so beautifully lays out for his readers, the case of Lucilla and her bone illustrated the “f licker of concern that played around the tombs of the martyrs.”60 The role of relics in the building, maintaining, and challenging of episcopal authority in late antiquity from Gaul to Syria and North Africa to Milan lies at the heart of Brown’s The Cult of the Saints; no one articulated this more keenly than he has done. How the co-opting of powerful relics “worked” for Rome’s ecclesiastical or political hierarchy specifically is more challenging to tease out. The relative lack of success of bishops as impresarios of saints in Rome had, on the one hand, to do with the limited power of the Roman church. As Jacob Latham has commented, “While a recognized touchstone of orthodoxy throughout the Mediterranean, the church

Jerome, Contra Vigilantium, PL 8 23:339; also translated by W. H. Fremantle, G. Lewis, and W. G. Martley, NPNF 6. 60 Brown, Cult of the Saints, 34.

59

153

154

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

at Rome was not even master of its own city.”61 I have already considered Damasus’ role as promoter of the martyrs in the last chapter; it was unimpressive, on the whole, and did appear to include any sort of clear performance at the tombs of the martyrs he promoted. I doubt he had the power or the support to draw in the crowds to bear witness to any supernatural acts. A brief story concerning Saint Pancras in the Liber Pontificalis and the saint’s fifth-century passiones suggests that some held that the saint had the power to expose liars at his tomb on the Via Aurelia, but by which prodigious act we are left ignorant, since the point of the story was to highlight the integrity of its hero, Pope Pelagius I (556–61). According to the LP, Pelagius came under wide suspicion of being complicit, or worse, in the death of his predecessor, Vigilius (537–555), after aligning himself with Justinian (LP 62.1, trans. Davis, Book of Pontiffs). To exonerate himself, Pelagius and Narses, Justinian’s formidable general, visited Pancras’ tomb for the liturgy, after which they processed down the Janiculum’s steep slope to St. Peter’s, Pelagius carrying the gospels and a cross above his head. When he was safely received at St. Peter’s, it was clear that he was guilty of no crime. The year was 556 CE.62 Thus Pelagius escaped his trial-by-relic, and the oracular Pancras remained silent in his grave. But this story of a powerfully living set of bones cannot date before the sixth century, and although Gregory of Tours knew of Pancras’ reputation as an exposer of lies (Glory of the Martyrs, 38), the story never received much play in Roman sources. It appears to be the case, then, that Roman martyrs acquired fame for their powers only extraterritorially, they themselves manifesting only through the gossipy, credulous literature of those outside the city. Gregory the Great was famous for wishing to put an end to such stories, inasmuch as they brought demands from outsiders to remove and repatriate the city’s holy bones.63 When the empress Constantina dared ask for some holy corporeal relics, Gregory repulsed her in no uncertain terms. Recently, he reported, someone had dropped dead unexpectedly

Jacob Latham, “From Literal to Spiritual Soldiers of Christ: Disputed Episcopal Elections and the Advent of Christian Processions in Late Antique Rome,” Church History 81/2 (2012): 301. 62 See the summary in Latham, “From Literal to Spiritual,” 322. 63 Conrad Leyser, “The Temptations of Cult: Roman Martyr Piety in the Age of Gregory the Great,” Early Medieval Europe 9 (2000): 290. Robert Markus, Gregory the Great and His World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). 61

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

just after he had moved some bones around the tomb of the apostle Paul. And even more shockingly, within ten days of their excavating and merely gazing at the burned (semiustum) bones of Saint Lawrence, those workmen and monks involved had also met their deaths under mysterious circumstances.64 It was clear that no bone of any saint would be the direct and visible object of veneration under Gregory’s watch, and those who died in Rome, stayed in Rome. *** I am not arguing that Christians never developed a cult of relics that reevaluated the corpse or the skeleton as powerful and pure. There is no question that this happened in late antiquity. But I do argue that it did not happen – ever – in late antique Rome itself. In this city, the corpse never transcended the torpid world of decay and dissolution. The prevailing scholarly assumption that it did has led us to gloss over important evidence to the contrary, to read our own interpretations and assumptions into our extant sources, whether textual, material, or archaeological. Many would agree that the cult of relics in Rome was absent from the fourth to the sixth century, but what about the seventh century and beyond? Here, in these centuries phasing from late antiquity to the early Middle Ages, we find what seems to be irrefutable evidence for a clear Roman preoccupation with relics. Yet there were vast differences, conceptually, between early medieval relic “veneration” in Rome and the sort of veneration of human remains that characterized Roman Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation. First, the relics initially acquired by the city’s churches were rarely bone or human remains, but objects connected with biblical history.65 Second, the rash of “translations” from Gregory the Great, Ep. 4.30. The death of the workers took place under Gregory’s predecessor, Pelagius II. 65 See especially J. McCulloh, “The Cult of Relics in the Letters and Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great. A Lexicographical Study,” Traditio 36 (1975): 145–84 and idem, “From Antiquity to the Middle Ages: Continuity and Change in Papal Relic Policy From the 6th to the 8th Century,” in E. Dassmann and K. Suso Frank, eds., Pietas: Festschrift für Bernhard Kötting (Münster: Aschendorff, 1980), 312–24; Robin Jensen, “Saints’ Relics and the Consecration of Church Buildings in Rome,” Studia Patristica 71 (2014): 153–70; Julia M. H. Smith, “Relics: An Evolving Tradition in Latin Christianity,” in Cynthia Hahn and Holger A. Klein, eds., Saints and Sacred Matter: The Cult of Relics in Byzantium and Beyond (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2015), 41–60; H. Leclercq, “Reliques et Reliquaires,” in DACL 14, cols. 2294–2439.



64

155

156

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

the catacombs to churches within the walls may or may not have been human bones. Even if they were, these were papal translations not necessarily designed to build on a cult of relics; they were connected with sustaining a Roman Christian identity separate from the Lombards and, if anything, for the self-aggrandizement of the city’s bishops. Both the textual and the archaeological sources remain generally circumspect on Roman relics arriving in local churches. Third, there is only minimal evidence that these relics were on display in the churches in which they were placed, and no accounts of exuberant displays or miracles tombside. We might consider the wealth of biblical objects that gradually were brought into the city, connecting its history with the Holy Land. Beginning with the arrival of fragments of the True Cross at the Sessorian Palace at Rome in the Constantinian period, over the next millennium the city filled with biblical wonders: one of the boards from Jesus’ manger along with his cradle at S. Maria Maggiore; his swaddling cloths at San Paolo fuori le mura; Jesus’ footprint when he met Peter in a vision in the basilica of San Sebastiano; his sandals at the Lateran’s Sancta Sanctorum; a marble wellhead where Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the Lateran; the table from the Last Supper, also at the Lateran in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, along with the stone on which the soldiers cast dice for Jesus’ robe. There are many more such relics in the city.66 I suspect that to native Romans, these non-corporeal relics were less eyebrow-raising than bits of corpse. Then there were corporeal relics, the popularity of which outside the city could not have been unknown in a place as cosmopolitan as Rome. Romans held fast to tradition; late antique Romans, at least up to the pontificate of Paschal I (817–824 CE) and arguably even then, did not value human remains any differently than their Roman forebears. They did not honor and adore dead bones, although they held the memory of the martyrs in high regard just as they honored their own familial dead. Saints were certainly known as early as fourth- and fifth-century Rome, but they were gradually made and recognized and, what’s more, never connected to their own corporeal or visceral identity. The first significant local saints – Agnes and Lawrence – to appear in city’s earliest martyrological list, the Depositio Martyrum from the Calendar of 354, were honored at cult sites that did not contain their physical remains.

Robin Jensen, “Saints’ Relics and the Consecration of Church Buildings in Rome.”

66

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

We cannot date Agnes’ body at her site on the Via Nomentana – already a center of significant ecclesiastical activity by the second half of the fourth century – before it is mentioned as being there under the pontificate of Leo III (795–816 CE);67 Lawrence had a number of sites where he was honored, but the relic associated with him was a portion of the grill upon which he had been roasted to death, not his bone and ash. Things may have changed in Rome by the late seventh century; at least, this is the point at which we read about corporeal relics for the first time: the city’s popes gathered vast quantities of bones from the catacombs and moved them into the city’s churches.68 The Liber Pontificalis states that John III (561–574 CE) loved the tombs of the martyrs so much that he chose to live in them (in reality, it was more likely on top of them, in a martyrial complex) but since the early modern period, interpreters have remarked that he seems to have had a prurient interest in relics. The relic trade picked up in Rome thanks to John IV (640–642 CE), an outsider to the city and its ways who brought the relics of various saints from Salona on the Dalmatian coast to the Lateran baptistery. His successor, Theodore (642–649 CE), worked more intimate networks, bringing from Via Nomentana the relics of Primus and Felicianus to the church of San Stefano Rotondo on the Caelian Hill – possibly the first instance of the translation of holy bones from Rome’s catacombs

Liber Pontificalis 63.1. See the collection of essays on the cult of Agnes in a special edition of MEFRA, esp. Alan Thacker, “The Origin and Early Development of Rome’s Intramural Sites: A Context for the Cult of Sant’Agnese in Agone,” MEFRA 126/1 (2014), https://mefrm.revues.org/1858. 68 The systematic study of relics in Rome has not so far been done, says Caroline Goodson, but closest is F. Grossi Gondi, Principi e problemi di critica agiografica: Atti e spoglie dei martiri (Rome, 1919). N. Herrmann-Mascard, Les reliques des saintes: formation coutumière d’un droit (Paris: Klincksieck, 1975). G. Mackie, Early Christian Chapels in the West: Decoration, Function, and Patronage (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), 195–230; J. Crook, The Architectural Setting of the Cult of Saints in the Early Christian West c.300–1200 (Oxford: Clarendon, 2000). Goodson works on predominantly ninth-century relic cults: see C. Goodson, “The Relic Translations of Paschal I: Transforming City and Cult,” in A. Hopkins and M. Wyke, eds., Roman Bodies: Antiquity to the Eighteenth Century (London: The British School at Rome, 2005) 123–41; idem, “Building for Bodies: The Architecture of Saint Veneration in early Medieval Rome,” in Éamonn Ó. Carragáin and Carol Neuman de Vegvar, eds., Felix Roma: The Production, Experience and Reflection of Medieval Rome (Farnham: Ashgate, 2008), 51–80.



67

157

158

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

to inside the city walls. This was closely followed by Leo III, who in 682 CE brought the remains of Beatrix and Faustina from the catacombs known as ad sextum Philippi and laid them in a chapel dedicated to the apostle Paul, which he had built adjoining the church of Santa Bibiana on the Esquiline.69 But we are hardly in an avid period of bone gathering, even in the seventh century. As John Osborne observes, neither of these early translations were from the cemeteries closest to the city; these remained undisturbed for another 100 years.70 The eighth and ninth centuries brought a wave of catacomb translations, attested both in the Liber Pontificalis and archaeologically. Paschal I moved many bones, culminating perhaps in the Great Translation of 2,300 bodies to the church of Santa Prassede by the Colosseum on July 20, 817.71 According to Caroline Goodson, these relics were accessible to pilgrims through annular crypts holding confessiones and fenestellae at both Santa Prassede and Santa Cecilia.72 But 2,300 bodies is a great deal of bodies, even reduced to heaps of bones. Where were all these placed? Certainly they could not have fit in the small confessiones. Were they visible and accessible? If they had been, certainly these churches would have been transformed into substantial charnel houses, just as the arrival of 3,700 skeletons to the Capuchin crypt in 1631 transformed it forever. Yet they do not appear to have been on conspicuous display. Without this element of display, it’s difficult to argue that the attitude toward human remains in the eighth century was just like the attitude toward human remains in the seventeenth – there is a vast conceptual gulf between them. Rather, the early medieval model of church, chapel, or complex built on top of a cemetery – with some access to that cemetery – merely replicated within the walls a pattern of building that had long been established outside the walls. The dead were now, once again, nearby; they might be honored or visited, as they always had in Rome, far before Christianity had taken hold. The difference was only that the old laws that kept them outside the periphery had long since come to make sense in a city where the walls themselves had long since failed to define “inside” and “outside.”

O. Marucchi, A Manual of Christian Archaeology (Patterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1935), 86. 70 J. Osborne, “Death and Burial in Sixth-Century Rome,” Classical Views 28 (1984): 286–7. 71 Well detailed in C. Goodson, “The Relic Translations of Paschal I.” 72 Goodson, “Building for Bodies,” 51.

69

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

It is also the case that what was translated at this point may not even have been human remains, but rather contact relics – more in keeping with late antique Roman revulsion toward the corpse and legal prohibitions against moving it. The translation of relics to the Pantheon under Boniface IV in 609 CE – if indeed it happened at all and was not an early modern Catholic fantasy – appeared to have been not bones but sacred mementoes: “memoriae, patrocinia sanctorum, pignora, sanctuaria.”73 The vagueness with which such terms were employed in late antiquity is significant, because we tend to understand all these words, “memoriae, patrocinia sanctorum,” and so on, as corporeal relics rather than bits of cloth or other material items associated with a saint. This was probably not the case; in a significant article from 1976, John McCulloh carefully analyzed the different words used in late antique documents often carelessly translated with the word “relic,” noting that more often than not, something else was meant other than human remains. McCulloh’s insights put our understanding of the “cult of relics” in Rome onto a higher, more sophisticated register.74 When aiming for precision in terms of something as fundamental as human attitudes toward the dead, the Roman substitution of a secondary relic such as a contact relic for a primary (bone) relic seems to me significant. Julia M. H. Smith considers the post-Tridentine division of relics into different categories such as “normative” and “curatorial” as not at all reflective of a medieval sensibility, which was more emotional than orderly.75 In fact, the corporeal turn in Rome that began to see human bone as sacred is entirely a consequence of early modern sensibilities and the tendency after the sixteenth century to fill churches with visible and visitable bones. Put differently, because we are accustomed to see bone relics in churches, we assume that the earliest relics moved from the catacombs were likewise, bones, and likewise, visible and visitable. Smith observes a similar phenomenon for the presumed corporeal turn around medieval relics: Marucchi, Manual of Christian Archaeology, 86. The much-cited account of the Pantheon’s “reconsecration” in 608/609 CE into the church of Santa Maria dei Martiri with the arrival of cartloads of relics appears not to have been a historical event, but a fiction concocted by Cesare Baronio. Nevertheless, the event is cited again and again in modern scholarship on the power of relics in Christianizing Rome. 74 J. McCulloh, “The Cult of Relics in the Letters and Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great. A Lexicographical Study,” Traditio 36 (1975): 145–84. 75 Smith, “Relics: An Evolving Tradition,” 42.

73

159

160

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse) The assumptions that frame the place of “relics” in much late twentieth- and twenty-first-century scholarship on medieval Christianity derive from [the nineteenth century] and bear little, if any, relationship to how relics were regarded during the Middle Ages themselves.76

She draws attention to “the ways in which these objects [viz. relics] have been conceived, reconceived, and misconceived in the course of an evolving tradition.”77 Similarly, what looks to be a corporeal turn in late antique Rome – the new veneration of the bodily relic as locus of the holy – is largely a result of a broad category of “holy thing” that we corporealize, understanding it as “holy bone.” This is easy enough to do because the sleight of hand happens most publicly in Counter-Reformation Rome, when the real corporealization of the relic locates a particular, and perhaps even peculiar, sense of the holy within bits of human corpse. In a fascinating article, Conrad Leyser raises another point to consider: the seventh century is seen as a watershed in martyr piety, he argues, not because it was, necessarily, but at least in part because of early modern scholars who perceived the age of Gregory the Great as the beginning of a well-formed Catholic ecclesiology that looked, once and for all, like modern Catholic piety.78 The early modern Roman Church gave rise to particular myths of origin, so much so that Leyser sees an organized and fervent Roman martyr cult of the seventh century as largely the construction of none other than Giovanni Battista de Rossi.79 Leyser supports his provocative argument by turning back to the late antique sources themselves, particularly Gregory the Great. When asked to produce a list of the martyr shrines in the city, Gregory claims that he does not know of such.80 Above all, Gregory advocated a particular restraint when it came to martyr cult; celebrating the Christian faith at the sites of martyr shrines was acceptable, but the movement and adoration of relics was unseemly at best. It was not the Roman way. ***



78 79 80 76 77

Ibid., 42. Smith, “Relics: An Evolving Tradition,” 42. Leyser, “Temptations of Cult,” 289–303. Ibid., 296–98. Ibid., 294.

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

The reframing of the early consecration of churches by placing human remains within them can be seen nicely in one particular church in Rome, San Silvestro in Capite. The church sits today with quiet dignity at one corner of an urban piazza in downtown Rome, quietly ignored by passing Romans escaping the bustle of the Via del Corso. Its simple travertine and orange-painted Baroque front, designed in 1703 by Domenico de’ Rossi, opens into an exceedingly pleasant courtyard, paved with architectural spolia from the Middle Ages and late antiquity. Since 1890, the church has been the headquarters of the National Church of Rome, a church-away-from-home for English speaking Catholics. Its cardinal is Irish, and the church also serves a large community from the Philippines. San Silvestro is a typical Roman architectural palimpsest. Most of what is visible today is from either the renovations of 1681 or the extensive building campaigns of 1591–1601 under the direction of Carlo Maderno and Francesco Capriani (“da Volterra”). At the culmination of that building, the gilding and frescoing and stuccoing that cover every inch of the interior, the bones of three early popes – Sylvester, Stephen, and Dionysius – were carefully exhumed from the catacombs and placed under the main altar, where they remain to this day. But these popes are not the true remains to be seen in this church; the real draw is a head purported to be that of John the Baptist, which sits in an elaborate gilded reliquary in a side chapel that opens directly onto a side street. While in the main church the priest often serves Mass to only one, two, or three faithful parishioners, the side chapel attracts a steady stream of visitors who come to kneel and offer their prayers before the head. It’s a bit of a mystery how this head of John the Baptist – one of four known in Europe – came to reside in Rome. Some say that Greek monks brought it from the east in the Middle Ages; what is known for certain is that records from 1140 show it was there and venerated at a small church in the vicinity that was eventually subsumed or destroyed in the thirteenth century when most of the immediate area was ceded to the Poor Clares; the nuns took the head and included it in a small oratory. The head, it should be said, is not a skull but an actual mummified head, the blackened skin stretched taut over its unseeing eyes. At some point, presumably in the high Middle Ages, someone thought to craft a golden jawbone for it to replace the one that was missing. And then the whole head, with its gold chinstrap, was mounted in its glorious, golden, gothic reliquary.

161

162

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

Yet John the Baptist’s mummified head is not, was not, the only significant relic in San Silvestro in Capite. The church’s name reveals a bit of a play on words, in that “capite” comes from the Latin caput, “head,” and a chief relic there remains the skull of Pope Sylvester, the bishop of Rome during the key era of Constantine’s reign. The head is no longer on display but sits perhaps disconsolately in an elaborate reliquary cupboard in the church’s sacristy, almost forgotten. In fact, a tour of the sacristy – closed to the public – provides a concise experiential lesson into the Catholic Church’s changing responses to human remains. Over the centuries when it was on display – almost certainly in the sixteenth century rather than in antiquity – Sylvester’s small skull had its cranial vault nearly entirely chipped away by relic seekers. What remains is encased behind a small oval pane of glass set into an ornate silver reliquary. On its front, alongside wreath garlands surmounted by a winged putto, is the inscription “CAPUT SANTI SILVESTRI PAPA MDCCC.” The particular enshrinement and display of Sylvester’s head, then, is an early modern intervention, no earlier than 1800. Sylvester is alone in his reliquary, but across the room are other gilt reliquaries shaped like life-size busts that contain only miniscule particles of bone. These are visible, too, in tiny glass windows holding almost microscopic labels that fall in a curlicue around the relics themselves. These are the relics of Stephen, Dionysius, and St. Tarcisius – the last one not a pope, but an early martyr. These are “late” reliquaries, from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, and are matched with a beautifully painted, very large wooden reliquary wardrobe, also from the same era. Once proudly displayed in the church, the more recent reticence toward viewing human relics means that these remains are no longer to be seen, but to be closeted behind wooden doors and heavy curtains in a room no one but the priest enters. I write about the rise and decline of visibility of these relics to make a point about Roman late antiquity. At San Silvestro, we find visible relics, or better – we can track the visibility of relics across the centuries here; they were displayed, most ostentatiously, in the eighteenth century. Before then, the church had relics, but these were kept in enclosed spaces, particularly when the church was part of a convent or, earlier, a Benedictine monastery. And yet, San Silvestro is recognized as one of a relatively small number of early medieval “relic” churches in Rome. It owes its foundation to Pope Stephen III (720–772 CE), who in the eighth century moved a substantial number of bones from the catacombs to this

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

site. There is no indication, however, that these bones were on display, nor openly venerated. They were placed beneath the church, where they remain invisible and inaccessible to the public today. The sole indication that they were there (perhaps even in the early Middle Ages – it’s difficult to say) were three large plaques listing the names of the saints who were translated – two for male saints, the other for a female. The plaques are now affixed to the outer walls of the church, under its covered vestibule. We might stop to consider how these plaques are different from the ones at the Altemps chapel with which I began this chapter. First, there is no detailing of body parts of each martyr; only their names are present. It’s difficult to liken this list of names to a list of body parts; these are saints (people) who are present, not sacred objects (things). Second – and this point brings us back to a point I made earlier in this book – the saints are listed by their date of commemoration; in other words, these martyr lists did not function to broadcast the new sanctity of San Silvestro in Capite by their very presence – they did not sanctify space. They sanctified time, by making more concrete, more physical, the connection between body and the liturgical calendar. This is, I think, a very similar move to the one we find in the Depositio Martyrum of the Calendar of 354; in that document, as I have pointed out, the topographical location of the martyrs is very much secondary to the manner in which their death dates organized time liturgically. It is only later, with our own predilection for thinking topographically and spatially rather than chronographically, that we read such liturgical lists as the consecration of space rather than of time. *** I began this chapter in early modern Rome because it is there, and no earlier, that I first find the “cult of relics” in full flower. It is there, I believe, because of the confluence of two powerful forces: the first, the rise of the Counter-Reformation and its insistence that in its battle against Protestant heretics, the Catholic Church had always been as it was in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. This insistence colored the way that Catholic historians viewed late antiquity, the residual assumptions of which still cloud our perceptions today. The second force was the rise of a new way of foregrounding death, as a powerful reminder of human fragility and impermanence. From the sixteenth century, Rome was not only full of visible “holy bones,” it was full

163

164

Remains to Be Seen (or, On the Holy Corpse)

of memento mori sculptures, paintings, and small keepsakes that kept an awareness of death near. In this era, death became spectacle in a way that never occurred in late antiquity; what, in the fourth century, had been essentially private and to be avoided (and here, I mean specifically the viscerality of death: the corpse, the skeleton, even the funeral and those who dealt with the dead) suddenly launched into public view. Part of the difficulty in seeing this non-corporeal, non-spectacular genesis of the Cult of the Saints in late antique Rome has been the tremendous legacy of the Counter-Reformation in the Renaissance and Early Modern period. Rome today is still a city full of holy bones, most of which were drawn from the city’s catacombs in a systematic pillaging that continued in spasms from the early seventh century to the eighteenth century. Those that were left in situ became, in the nineteenth century, the occasion for “holy tourism” that continues still today, with the estimated 500,000 visitors a year who come to trod the major catacombs’ well-worn circuits. So much a part of Rome are its holy bones, in fact, that we easily imagine that the city, and the catacombs, were always this way – always at once macabre and sacred, always drawing the pious and the curious, always drawing us in to look for that supernatural glow that relics, since the inception of the Cult of the Saints in the fourth century, might give off to those who look for it. One final curious thing: so deeply have we learned to connect bones with sanctity that we see them, argue for them, even when it turns out that they were never there. In the next chapter, we will consider the curious case of St. Peter’s, which, unlike other prominent Catholic shrines, had no remains to be seen.

4. Peter’s Bones

O

n November 24, 2013, the Associated Press broke a news item from the Vatican. For the first time ever, Pope Francis had carried in his hands, and presented at Mass, the bones of St. Peter. The bones – mere ­fragments, really – were “nestled like rings in a jewel box,” tucked within a bronze display casket.1 Their public debut marked the end of a yearlong celebration of Catholic faith, a moment of revitalization but also introspection, as the Vatican turned its gaze to its apostolic origins. Were these really the long-venerated bones of the foremost of the apostles, the Rock upon which Jesus had established his Church, the humble fisherman from Galilee who received from his Lord the power to “bind and loose”? There was more mystery surrounding the question than one would think. Although it has been taken for granted that the showpiece of the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica, had been built upon the tomb of St. Peter for nearly 2,000 years, the Vatican had reason to become cagey over whether the bones were authentic. Nowhere in the scriptures did it say that Peter met his death in Rome; it was a matter of faith. Scientific testing of the bones had been resisted until the middle of the twentieth century, when in the wake of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI declared in a radio interview June 26, 1968, that the bones were ­“ identified in a way we can find convincing.”2 The massive basilica of St. Peter’s holds the bodies of perhaps 100 popes – bishops of Rome – on the main floor of the basilica and in the

Published in various news outlets; here, in The Guardian: www.theguardian.com/ world/2013/nov/24/vatican-st-peters-bones-display-pope-francis. 2 J. M. C. Toynbee, “The Shrine of St. Peter and Its Setting,” JRS 43 (1953): 3.

1

165

166

Peter’s Bones

Vatican grottoes flanking the high altar where deep beneath, Peter’s bones were thought to lie, next to the ultimate source of sacred authority. By walking down a short flight of steps from the main part of the basilica, anyone might look at the papal tombs. But to get close to the precise site where Peter’s bones lay, a special tour is necessary. The Vatican necropolis can be visited only by prior arrangement. Visitors book online and pay in advance, then enter by a special gate. Swiss guards check passports and search backpacks then allow you to enter the precincts of Vatican City, where you enter the basilica from a modest side entrance and are greeted by an archaeologist guide. My guide this visit is Valentina, a beautiful sylphlike woman in her forties with her brown hair scraped into a high, severe ponytail; she is quick and expressive, a blur of silver jewelry and diaphanous fabric when she walks and talks. She has about her the professional, no-nonsense air of a scholar, and seems out of place in this place of black-clad priests, nuns in starched habits, and hushed voices. Valentina gives a little introductory speech (“Peter was executed …  maybe right behind this excavation office”) then leads her tour down into the imperial-era necropolis that extends directly under the basilica. It had been discovered fortuitously in the 1940s, when Pius XII ordered excavations under St. Peter’s to prepare his own tomb, which he had wished to be as close as possible to the apostle’s. The necropolis – once open-air, before being backfilled by the Emperor Constantine – was arranged along a narrow road running south into the city, thick with tombs from the first to the fourth century. Its preserved portion now lies behind a thick, sliding plexiglass door designed to carefully control the site’s humidity. The place is breathtaking, an archaeological jewel box; the richly painted tombs of the necropolis have been expertly restored, preserving their vivid colors. The tour itself is a sort of triumphal march into the rise of Petrine Christianity, as we follow the near-hidden signs of Christian identity tucked into the corners of this pagan cemetery, such as a chi rho on an inscription, a “secret sign” of Christians before the Peace of the Church. One of the tour’s highlights is the diminutive Mausoleum M, which had been discovered already in the sixteenth century when the present-day basilica was being constructed. Bernini, spying its glittering gold mosaic ceiling vault, had thought perhaps that this was Peter’s tomb, carefully shifting over the supporting wall for his massive baldacchino that crowned the basilica’s main altar so as not

Peter’s Bones

167

to disturb the grave. He was wrong, of course. An inscription, now lost, recorded that the tomb was made for a child, Julius Tarpeianus, who died at the tender age of one year, nine months, and twenty-seven days. Julius was not a Christian, nor were the parents who buried him – although Valentina suggests that perhaps, perhaps, they had all perished as Christian martyrs during the time of persecutions. In the third century, at any rate, Christians had come to take over the space, redecorating the vault and adding wall mosaics featuring Jonah and the Good Shepherd. The ceiling remains as lovely now as in Bernini’s day; it features Helios or Apollo – although most Christians, including Valentina, say Christ-Helios or Christ-Apollo – driving a glittering chariot, with rays of the sun shining from his head. The tour winds its way closer to the site of Peter’s tomb, a confusing mass of basilica substructures: walls, stones, and rubble that Valentina patiently unpacks for the tourists, helping the pious to bend and peer into the dark recesses many meters below the main altar. When we get as close as possible to Peter’s grave, she pauses as camera flashes go off and people fervently cross themselves. Are Peter’s bones in that very casket, over there? No, she shrugs. That one’s empty. “To be honest,” she adds, “we don’t really know what’s in the altar box, but we have to preserve it because it’s under the high altar.” “But don’t worry!” she quickly adds, reassuringly. “Because we have the bones of Peter!” She tells the tour about the discovery of the bones in the 1950s, the scientific analysis in 1968, the Pope’s declaration. Afterwards, I ask her about it. Was this really the site of Peter’s burial? “There must have been something real, here.” Valentina emphasizes the word “real.” “Otherwise, why would pilgrims have come?” *** The Catholic Church’s insistence on the physical presence of Peter and in particular, the authenticity of its relics, originated not – as many think – among early Christians who began even in the first century, so it is believed, to collect and honor the bones of their fellow Christian martyrs, nor even in late antiquity, as the Cult of the Saints gained momentum across what was left of the Empire. Only in the early modern period was the corpse or bone believed to be necessary for a “real” manifestation of sacred power. In the first five centuries of Christianity’s development – particularly in the city of Rome – it would

168

Peter’s Bones

have been counterintuitive to link human remains with divine presence. Nowhere, in our extant literary, visual, epigraphic, or archaeological evidence from St. Peter’s for the first 1,000 years, are Peter’s bones connected to his power or authority in that place. If we find that strange, it is because we are thinking like modern people, fixated on a particular understanding that “something real,” that is, material, is necessary to render profane territory sacred. By the early modern period, an abstract and ethereal concept of sacred body became unthinkable, as notions of sacrality came to be, perversely, immured in the corpse. St. Peter’s status as a holy place, now, is dependent not only upon the authenticity of, but the very factness of, the apostle’s physical body under its main altar. This limiting has its own ideological function, in that it precludes the possibility of full instantiations of the apostle elsewhere. In late antiquity, however, things were different. To think that a body is necessary in order to conjure a sacred link between heaven and earth is to considerably underestimate the divine, ethereal praesentia of a saint or divine being in the minds of late antique Romans. It is also fundamentally to misunderstand premodern conceptions of the body, which, unlike our own, were not unifocal and singular, but expansive and multiple. This chapter, then, considers the problem of Peter’s body, perceived nowadays as the single, focal, issuing point of the Basilica of St. Peter’s sanctity, a nodal point that still attracts pilgrims and, for at least 1,500 years, exerted such a forceful pull that there might be no greater Christian blessing than to be buried ad sanctos, close to it. By contrast, I argue that a late antique conception of the expansive, multifocally instantiated body connected Peter to the city of Rome in multiple manifestations, none of them particularly associated with his physical remains, but all of which can be mapped according to particular strategies of social and political power. Some of this mapping happened at the level of civic topography, as Peter became inseparable from Christian Rome, present within the landscape – at his shrine, at his basilica, at the city gate bearing his name. Peter was also fully present in and through moveable objects traded through Rome – brandea, chains, keys. The least significant of these multiple instantiations, at least in the minds of late antique visitors to Rome, was his corporeal body, which received barely any attention within a culture that had not yet come to overvalue the flesh and to reduce divine presence to corpse and bone. Peter’s body was, then, what historian Mike Chin calls an “extrabodily body,” in that

Peter’s Bones

“its ontological status is not founded in its apparent physical definition but in its expansion beyond those limits.”3 In a brilliant article on the bishop Ambrose and bodily conceptions, Chin writes, doubt about the boundaries of human embodiment is a useful lens through which to reconsider some very traditional questions in the history of Christianity, and that we may begin to think of bodies in Christian premodernity in terms of what we might call their prehumanity, that is, as fundamentally open to extension, transfor­ mation, and multiple instantiation.4

Drawing on both Foucault and Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies (1957), Chin considers the invisible “body politic” connected to the “natural body” of the king, who exists in multiple instantiations. It is helpful, I think, to consider Peter’s body in Rome as also existing in multiple instantiations, in that he was thought to be physically present in the city in what Chin calls a “traditional body,” but, more importantly, in an expansive or metonymic body: as simultaneously, the Church of Rome, the Emperor, the Bishop, and finally, Rome’s ianitor or tutelary deity. All these instantiations simultaneously extend the boundaries of the fleshly body and also transcend them; different constituencies, furthermore, drew on one or more of these instantiations to support their own claims to authority, from Constantine to Honorius in late antiquity and, indeed, through the Renaissance popes to, finally, Francis standing at the high altar of St. Peter’s with the apostle’s bones revealed in all their mix of humility and ineffable power. Chin sees Ambrose, the redoubtable bishop of Milan, as a man who understood bodies to be “visible, interpretable signs of an invisible reality, a reality that can also become visible in other physical signs outside the specific body that is being read.”5 For him, as for others



Catherine M. Chin, “The Bishop’s Two Bodies: Ambrose and the Basilicas of Milan,” Church History 79/3 (2010): 539. They are speaking here of the body of the newly baptized Christian, “instantiated in a body against nature, one whose boundaries are invisible and expansive.” Chin was influence by, as I am as well, Derek Krueger, “The Unbounded Body in the Age of Liturgical Reproduction,” JECS 17/2 (2009): 267–79. 4 Chin, “Bishop’s Two Bodies,” 531–32. 5 Ibid., 533. 3

169

170

Peter’s Bones

in late antiquity, the traditional body “only sometimes coincides with the location of the person.”6 It is a shame that no such single source in late antiquity used Peter’s body to think with as Chin shows Ambrose “thinking with” bodies of martyrs and the newly baptized; indeed, one of the remarkable elements of St. Peter’s is that for a site that has been used since the sixteenth century to showcase episcopal power, thoughtful late antique bishops like Ambrose operated entirely outside its orbit. I will turn, then, not to the literary discourse of a single author but to a variety of sources, all of which exhibit a variety of engagements with Peter’s body, if never Peter’s flesh. *** First, let me begin with the simplest, most straightforward iteration of Peter’s body: his physical presence as bones, which are believed to lie beneath the high altar of the basilica bearing his name. The central tenet of the power of corporeal relics drove Vatican excavations, which happened not for the purpose of scientific inquiry, but as pious archaeology designed to bolster Catholic faith and identity. It was not until the 1940s when the Vatican showed interest in properly excavating the grounds beneath St. Peter’s.7 The excavators worked only a small area, directly beneath the high altar, coined Campo P. It was a smallish area used in antiquity for burials. Oddly, excavators found that no mausoleum had ever been constructed here, in cemeterial lands that



Ibid., 545. For earlier analyses, see, for example, Hans Lietzmann, Petrus und Paulus in Rom. Liturgische und archaeologische Studien (Bonn: Marcus und Weber, 1915), much appreciated for being a Protestant’s affirmation of the authenticity of Peter’s tomb, and George La Piana, “The Tombs of Peter and Paul ad Catacumbas,” HTR 14/1 (1921): 53–94. See also the survey of evidence in Roger T. O’Callaghan, “Vatican Excavations and the Tomb of Peter,” The Biblical Archaeologist 16/4 (1953): 69–87. Official publications for the excavations are Bruno Maria Appollonj Ghetti et al., Esplorazioni sotto la Confessione di San Pietro in Vaticano: esuguite negli anni 1940–1949, 2 vols. (Vatican City: Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1951), and A. Ferrua, E. Josi, and E. Kirschbaum, Esplorazioni sotto la Confessione di San Pietro in Vaticano I Testo; II. Tavole; with C. Serafini, ed., Appendice numismatica (Vatican City, 1951). The publications from the 1950s and 1960s are voluminous; a helpful guide is Angelus DeMarco, The Tomb of Saint Peter: A Representative and Annotated Bibliography of the Excavations (Leiden: Brill, 1964). On the area in general, Ferdinando Castagnoli, Il Vaticano nell’antichità classica (Vatican City: Biblioteca apostolica vaticana, 1992).

6 7

Peter’s Bones

were crowded and in high demand. A jumble of bones, lying on bare soil intermixed with coins and earth, were uncovered. They were no longer part of a skeleton, but, curiously, had been casually reburied. There was no sign of a skull, just an assortment of femurs and other smaller bones. The coins mixed in with the bones were useful for dating, but hopes that they might date the skeleton to the first century were dashed: the majority (forty) dated between 285 and 325 CE; an additional six were from 168 to 185 CE. The oldest was from the reign of Antoninus Pius (138–161 CE). It was both odd and not odd that what were thought to be Peter’s bones had lain on bare soil. On the one hand, it seemed curious that Constantine or later figures had not carefully gathered the bones into a reliquary of some kind, as was common in later practice. On the other hand, if the area under the altar had been preserved untouched, then Peter’s body, if it were his, may well have had a very simple burial. In the first century, these Vatican lands were part of an ager publicus, widely used for inhumations. There were also gardens and circuses nearby, but the vast majority of people made it up here to the northwest of the city to lay to rest the remains of their family members. If the scattered bones were indeed Peter’s, it made sense to Christian excavators that they were given only a very perfunctory and simple burial in a shallow trench grave. Besides, there were other similar graves. Huddled against a wall in a loose semicircle were three such burials, one (probably that of a woman) covered with a roof tile dated to 69–70 CE. Another, the deepest and most carefully built, held a terracotta-gabled sarcophagus with a long feeding tube inserted and protected by a small brick chimney.8 The bones were those of a boy. Later, other bodies were gradually added to the area, as the ground level rose. One assumption was that these were ad sanctos burials crowded close to Peter’s remains, but in truth they lay no more thickly there than elsewhere. What the area excavated directly beneath the high altar revealed was, unfortunately, completely indeterminate. On the one hand, it did not contain a proper tomb as excavators expected. On the other hand, there were burials there, including a male skeleton. On the one hand, a poor burial suits the historical context for a first-century male immigrant to Rome, executed as a criminal. On the other hand, to find bones in a



8

Apollonj Ghetti, Esplorazioni, 1:110–13.

171

172

Peter’s Bones

necropolis was perfectly expectable, and there was no proof whatsoever that those bones ever belonged to Peter. The pathetic fragments that remained of the sole adult male skeleton were handed to Pius XII’s personal physician, Dr. Galeazzo Lizzi, who declared them to have come from a single male individual, a man of strong physique and advanced age. In a radio address of December 23, 1950, Pius XII offered only that these bones could not, with any absolute certainty, be identified as Peter’s – but most likely they were.9 No evidence remains for how Campo P was regarded in late anti­ quity. The presence of coins, from the second to the fourteenth centuries, seems to suggest that people tossed money into what was an open area. While it is possible that such coin-tossing was done with a spirit of due reverence for Peter’s bones, it seems more likely that it was done as an offering, or perhaps just for luck.10 In short, this area was a place where the ritual action of dropping or throwing coins happened – and what’s more, it happened for twelve centuries.11 Even more interesting was the presence of multiple bones of chicken and pig on the ground.12 Not only did people throw coins down into the shrine, they also put the remains of their feasts down there as well. Vatican archaeologists, troubled by the lack of secure evidence for Peter’s remains beneath the high altar, turned their attentions to a short wall, constructed around 160 CE, known as the Red Wall. The Red Wall does not mark off Campo P; in fact, rather problematically, it actually transects the place where Peter’s grave was supposed to have been. Obviously, whoever had built it in the second century was not concerned to preserve inviolate the tomb of the apostle. On the wall, however, excavators discovered numerous etched bits of graffiti, all of them Christian



O’Callaghan, “Vatican Excavations,” 71; Edgar R. Smothers, “The Bones of St. Peter,” JTS 27/1 (1966): 85. 10 Toynbee, “Shrine of St. Peter,” 19, points out that the majority of the coins date from after 300, thus “it would appear that the custom of making these offerings did not develop fully until then.” 11 Toynbee, “Shrine of St. Peter,” 19. 12 Animal bones were mixed in with all the bones thought to be Peter’s. The most plausible explanation is that they were the remains of funeral feasts, but earlier interpreters surmised that they had come from a very early phase in the cemetery’s development, when livestock still grazed there. See Smothers, “Bones of St. Peter’s,” 86. 9

Peter’s Bones

in nature. Most of the inscriptions were simple Christian affirmations, like “Simplicius, live in Christ,” or “Victor and Gaudentia, may you live in Christ.”13 Some were simple wishes: “Nicasius, may you have a long life with Leonzia!”14 The Red Wall was an exciting and even reassuring find, because it appeared to support the claim that this was a holy site, the place where for 2,000 years, Christians had come to address their simple prayers to the apostle. But there were two glaring problems with these inscriptions. First, not a single one was in Greek, the language of the city’s first three or so centuries of Christians; in other words, although the wall was pre-Constantinian, the graffiti on the wall were not. By the time pious Christians came to inscribe their prayers, their language – like that of the late antique Roman church – was Latin. Second, not a single one mentions Peter by name, here so close to his grave. It was common for pilgrims to address prayers to a saint by name, so it is puzzling indeed that here, at this place of Peter’s burial, no one called upon his help. So troubling was the absence of graffiti mentioning Peter at the site of his grave that some found it a relief when in 1958, an Italian professor of classical epigraphy, Margherita Guarducci, published a crudely scratched inscription that Antonio Ferrua had found in Campo P. On a small (3.2 × 5.8 cm) piece of intonaco, one could just make out, in Greek: Πετρ[…]|ἐν ι[…]. Guarducci restored it as “Peter is [the one who is] in here.”15 Certain people were convinced, including, recently, the Vatican epigrapher Carlo Carletti, who thought it “probably” refers to Peter, considering the proximity of the Campo.16 But there are other possible interpretations of the letters; the graffiti could equally be reconstructed

Esplorazioni, vol. 2, tav. LVIIa. From Carlo Carletti, Epigrafia del Christiani in Occidente dal III al VII secolo: Ideologia e prassi (Bari: Edipuglia, 2008), 270, with line drawings. These are all from Wall g; note that there is nothing commemorating Peter. See also Danilo Mazzoleni, “Pietro e Paolo nell’epigrafia Cristiana,” in Angela Donati, ed., Pietro e Paolo: la storia, il culto, la memoria nei primi secoli (Milan: Electa, 2000), 67; all the Red Wall inscriptions are published in ICUR 5 12907–13096. 15 Carletti, Epigrafia, 270. Published originally by Margherita Guarducci, I graffiti sotto la confessione di San Pietro in Vaticano, 2 vols. (Vatican City, 1958), 385–411; see also Engelbert Kirschbaum, “Zu den Problemen des Petrusgrabes,” JAC 1 (1958): 79ff. 16 Carletti, Epigrafia, 266.



13

14

173

174

Peter’s Bones

as saying that Peter is “in the tomb,” or simply “Peter, in peace,” or even “Peter is not here,” supporting those who believed that the apostle’s body lay elsewhere.17 Guarducci’s discovery allowed Catholic archaeologists to save face, as it were. Some were still embarrassed by one of her earlier claims. In November of 1952, the l’Osservatore Romano announced that an image had been found of Peter, roughly traced in minium (red lead) and charcoal. The sketch depicted a bearded, bald old man with deep-set eyes and furrowed brow, and bore a lengthy inscription, also traced in ­minium and charcoal. It was reconstructed as: Petrus roga C[hristu]s H[esu]s pro sanc[ti]s hom[ini]bus chrestianis ad co[r]pus tuum sep[ultis].18 The inscription was partly covered by a retaining wall from the Constantinian church, which seems to suggest that it dated to earlier than the wall, but Guarducci admitted the inscription could be as late as the early fourth century; it was, perhaps, the result of Constantine’s builders, leaving a pious inscription as they worked on the basilica foundations. But the location caused a particular sensation; it is in a niche of the northern wall of Tomb H, the sumptuous tomb of the Valerii, close to the right leg of an image of Apollo. The name Christ also appears, as XS-HS, Christus Hiesus, marked with an ankh. “In this same mausoleum,” notes Roger O’Callaghan, “a certain Valerius Vasatulus was buried in a sarcophagus bearing a clearly Christian inscription, which can be dated safely dated between 270 and 290 AD.”19 While this is true, it is also the case that the sarcophagus was originally pagan, until someone reused it for Vasatulus, hastily adding the “clearly Christian” inscription. What seemed to be a slam dunk case for Peter’s presence at the Vatican hill in the first century seemed to be, at best, simply more evidence for what was undisputable: that after the third century, there



The inscription was first noted by A. Ferrua, “La storia del sepolcro di San Pietro,” Civiltà cattolica 103 (1952): 25–26; for “Peter is in here,” see Guarducci, I  graffiti, 385; for “Peter, in peace,” see M. Carcopino, Études d’histoire chrétienne: Le christianisme secret du carré magique [et] les fouilles de Saint-Pierre et la tradition (Paris: A. Michel, 1963), 281, noting the evident space between the ­letters nu and iota. For “Peter is not here,” see G. Pugliese Carratelli (1970, 348–51). Ferrua concludes that it is an invocation with the name of Peter (1969, 135), which with Carletti, Epigrafia, 266, concurs. 18 Toynbee, “Shrine of St. Peter,” 5. 19 O’Callaghan, “Vatican Excavations,” 83. 17

Peter’s Bones

were many Christians burying their dead in an area which they associated with Peter. But was the scrawled inscription earlier? As Antonio Ferrua, the esteemed Christian archaeologist, noted, “chi ha practica di acclamazioni e graffiti paleocristiani, al sentir tale cose sorride e passa ad altro”: “whoever knows anything about paleochristian acclamations and graffiti, upon hearing such things, smiles and moves on.”20 In its attempts to draw upon scientific excavations and analysis to support its claims that St. Peter’s was founded upon the bones of the apostle Peter, the Vatican was left with, arguably, less than it started with. Archaeological reports provided scant evidence that Peter’s bones had rested there. Images and inscriptions were ambiguous or worse. It caused a tremendous furor when, then, in 1953, three years after the completion of the excavations, Margherita Guarducci produced a box full of human bones. These, she said, were the authentic relics of Peter.21 The excavators had overlooked them, set as they were into a niche near the Red Wall. According to Guarducci, a monsignor by the name of Ludwig Kaas, the official guardian of the fabbrica of St. Peter’s, had worked with the foreman excavation, Giovanni Segoni, to transfer the bones from Wall g to a wooden casket, but then the box had sat, ­forgotten, in the semicircular confessio of the crypt behind the Niche of the Pallia at the Vatican.22 These bones, unlike the others, had skull f­ragments included; they also bore traces of fine textiles, including ­purple wool interwoven with golden threads, and vegetable fibers wrapped in the finest gold-plated copper.23 The theory was that the textile fragments indicated that the bones had been removed from a grave and specially honored with a “regal” reburial fitting for the apostle; in truth, they may simply have been the remains of a wealthy individual who was buried in his finery in one of the luxury mausolea immediately adjacent to Campo P. At any rate, the bones were in 1956 subjected to some sort of scientific testing under the guidance of Venerando Correnti, chair of anthropology at the University of Palermo, and declared to be plausibly those of Peter, belonging to a tall, heavyset man



Ferrua 1969, 137 [ref. in Carletti]. For the story, see Margherita Guarducci, Le reliquie di Pietro (Vatican City: Libreria editrice vaticana, 1965). 22 Smothers, “Bones of St. Peter,” 85. 23 Ibid., 86. 20 21

175

176

Peter’s Bones

who had died between the ages of 60 or 70.24 These were the bones that Pope Francis, so many years later, would present at his public Mass. So what, in the end, did the Vatican excavations reveal? A 1953 article by the great maven of Roman funerary archaeology, Jocelyn Toynbee, remarks on the official report: Nothing labeled, no funerary inscription, no Apostolic sarcophagus, no bones that are certainly St. Peter’s, no sealed tomb which could be “mathematically” demonstrated to be his grave … In fact (and this must be clearly emphasized), no actual tomb, in the ­structural sense of the term, was found; but a small, free, empty space in a cemetery.25

Toynbee’s measured skepticism – she did, in the end, find it plausible that Peter had been buried at the Vatican – was shared by many Catholics. Antonio Ferrua, a Jesuit priest, was just as skeptical of the idea that Peter’s bones had been found as he was of Guarducci’s earlier claims; others, too, found it far-fetched. Still, just because the bones in a box produced (infuriatingly?) by a layperson and, of all things, a woman, were to many people not authentically Peter’s bones, it does not mean that Peter was not there, at the Vatican, somewhere. He was just not confined to a box. Somewhere, under the dark earth and vast weight of gold and marble, he must indeed be there. The site needed “something real,” as Valentina had said – Peter’s actual body – to be a real place of holiness. *** If St. Peter’s Basilica is the Mother Church of Catholic worship, its ground zero is Peter’s grave. Whence came the idea that the apostle Peter died in Rome, so far from his birthplace? No New Testament author had heard of any association between Peter and Rome. There is nothing about this in the Book of Acts, which ends with a long account of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome; Peter was, by that time, long absent from the narrative, which last left him in Antioch and Jerusalem. If anything, the New Testament writings were clear that Peter’s mission was to the Jews of the Levant. By the late second century, however,



24

Guarducci, Reliquie, 20–21. Toynbee, “Shrine of St. Peter,” 1.

25

Peter’s Bones

literary traditions had emerged that placed Peter in the city.26 There is a vast difference, of course, between literary tradition and historical reality. For some, there was no convincing basis for placing Peter in Rome whatsoever.27 In 2009 and 2013, the German scholar Otto Zwierlein published painstakingly detailed philological analyses of all the second-century attestations for Peter’s presence in Rome, concluding that they had no historical basis in truth.28 He noted that the sources all date from the middle of the second century or later. In other words, literary traditions met in the combined legend of Peter’s later life in Rome, around a century after the events these traditions claim as authentic. Zwierlein observes, too, that early Christian writers actually based in Rome – Justin Martyr is the most obvious example – apparently knew nothing about a tradition of Peter in the city. Zwierlein’s books ignited a firestorm of controversy, with two separate congresses ­convened in Freiburg and Rome to refute his work, but clearly the issue was one of Catholic apologetics combatting a differently ­a nalytical approach. In truth, the sources fail us; they do not tell us what we most want to know. If there was no positive evidence for Peter in Rome earlier than the late second century, neither was there positive evidence for him having been buried elsewhere.29 Jocelyn Toynbee set aside her general skepticism to



Richard Bauckham, “The Martyrdom of Peter in Early Christian Literature,” ANRW 2/26/1 (1992), 554–58, dates many of these sources and reads those fourteen pre-200 sources with positivist lenses I cannot share. Sharing Bauckham’s general view is Markus Bockmuehl, “Peter’s Death in Rome? Back to Front and Upside Down,” Scottish Journal of Theology 60/1 (2007): 1–23. 27 Thus Michael D. Goulder, “Did Peter Ever Go to Rome?” Scottish Journal of Theology 57 (2004): 377–96. 28 Otto Zwierlein, Petrus in Rom. Die literarischen Zeugnisse. Mit einer kritischen Edition der Martyren des Petrus und Paulus auf neuer handschriftlicher Grundlage (Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2009), and Otto Zwierlein, Petrus und Paulus in Jerusalem und Rom. Vom Neuen Testament zu den apokryphen Apostelakten (Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2013). Zwierlein was not the first to attempt this task; he was perhaps only the most philological. F. C. Baur made the same claim in the nineteenth century, in “Die Christuspartei in der korinthischen Gemeinde, der Gegensatz des petrinischen und paulinischen Christentums in der alten Kirche, der Apostel Paulus in Rom,” Tübinger Zeitschrift für Theologie 4 (1831): 61–206. 29 This is a major argument of Markus Bockmuehl, “Peter’s Death in Rome?” 22. 26

177

178

Peter’s Bones

point out that no other city of the Empire competed for the site of Peter’s grave, which she believed lent credence to Rome’s claim.30 Given that early tradition places Peter in Jerusalem, it is not unimaginable that he spent much of his life and died in the Levant, with a tomb – like that of so many in the Jesus movement – that has been lost.31 Much of the tradition surrounding Peter in Rome, then, has to be taken on faith: that Peter founded the church at Rome, died there under Nero during the emperor’s cruel persecution of Jews and Christians around the year 64; that his body had been successfully reclaimed from the city’s crucifixion grounds by unknown and unsung Christians; that his bones had been buried in a pauper’s grave near the site of Nero’s circus. Toynbee assumes, incorrectly, that “the Christians of this very early period were sufficiently interested in relics to lodge a special request with the Roman authorities for the body of Peter, a peregrinus and common felon in the eyes of the law.” Otherwise, she notes, Peter’s body, “as that of a criminal, might well have been hurled into the Tiber.”32 Indeed, he might have been, if we are inclined to believe that the fisherman from Galilee had traveled to Rome without any record of this appearing for a century. All that we know for certain, however, is that by the late second century, the tradition that Peter had met his death in Rome was everywhere, and a cult center of some kind grew up there, at the Vatican, in memory of him. *** The earnest search for Peter’s bones revealed something – something that, to the ardent faithful, might at least satisfy the need for tangible, physical proof for the apostle’s narrative: that he had traveled to Rome, suffered, been crucified, and buried there on the Vatican hill. But excavators also found something far more sure than anonymous bones: a small columned construction called an aedicula, erected

Toynbee, “Shrine of St. Peter,” 13. Bockmuehl, “Peter’s Death in Rome?” does point to a flurry of articles in the 1950s in response to the Vatican revelations, asserting that, by contrast, Peter had met his death in Jerusalem. See Carl Erbes, “Petrus nicht in Rom, sondern in Jerusalem gestorben,” ZKG 22 (1901): 1–47, 161–231; Donald F. Robinson, “Where and When Did Peter Die?” JBL 64 (1945): 255–67; W. M. Smaltz, “Did Peter Die in Jerusalem?” JBL 71 (1952): 211–16; Bellarmino Bagatti, “Scoperta di un cimitero giudeo-cristiano al ‘Dominus Flevit,’” LASBF 3 (1953): 149–84. 32 Toynbee, “Shrine of St. Peter,” 13. 30 31

Peter’s Bones

not later than 170 CE. It was surely venerated in antiquity as Peter’s “shrine.” Vatican excavators interpreted it as marking the place where the apostle’s remains were laid to rest. Prior to the excavations, the evidence for Peter had been purely literary: a small notice in Eusebius of Caesarea’s fourth-century Ecclesiastical History. In Book 2, Eusebius reproduces a letter from a Roman named Gaius, a minor ecclesiastical official writing around the year 200 CE: “I can show you the trophies of the apostles,” wrote Gaius to a foreigner boasting of his town’s apostolic heritage. “For whether you go to the Vatican, or along the Ostian way, you will find the trophies of those who founded the church of Rome” (HE 2.25.7).33 The word Gaius uses here for “trophy,” the Greek tropaion, was not ordinarily used in the second century for a tomb.34 A tropaion was a sort of war memorial, or occasionally, a memorial in commemoration of a hero; a better (although controversial) translation might be “cenotaph.” A cenotaph – ordinarily a monument or war memorial – is by definition an empty tomb, from the Greek kenos, “empty,” and “taphos,” tomb. A different word sometimes used to translate what Gaius reports is “shrine,” which again, is quite different from a tomb, and was the word that Roman archaeologists like Toynbee, notably, favored.35 That a shrine or cenotaph dedicated to the memory of Peter was, in the second century, built into an area associated with Nero’s circus – site of the persecution of Christians – is not surprising. It remains an open question, however, whether or not whoever built it believed that it marked Peter’s grave. In the end, Gaius provided what Henry Chadwick characterized, wryly, as “first-class testimony to Roman tradition,

Ἐγὼ δὲ τὰ τρὀπαια τῶν Ἀποστόλων ’ ἒχω δεῖξαι. Ἐὰν γὰρ θελήσης ἀπελθεῖν ἐπὶ τὸν Βατικανὸν ἣ ἐπὶ τὴν ὁδὸν τὴν ὠστἰαν, εὐρήσεις τὰ τρόπαια τῶν ταύτην ἱδρυσαμένων τὴν ἐκκλησίαν. (HE 2.25.7) 34 See the helpful discussion in Henry Chadwick, “St. Peter and St. Paul in Rome: The Problem of the Memoria Apostolorum ad Catacumbas,” JTS 8 (1957): 44: “… it remains true that tropaion is not a natural word to describe a martyr’s tomb. It is, however, used in Christian language with a primary reference to the Cross of Christ … It would surely be a very easy transition to use the same word of the triumphal memorial to the leader of the apostles on the very mount of his crucifixion.” 35 According to the early medieval Liber Pontificalis, Pope Anacletus (LP, 5.1) built such a shrine, but there is nothing to support such an early dating.



33

179

180

Peter’s Bones

but not to the whereabouts of tombs and bodies.”36 Still, it was exciting that Vatican archaeologists, thwarted by Peter’s missing body, had indeed uncovered the tropaion. It proved that Eusebius and Gaius delivered historically reliable information. If they were right, then surely Peter was indeed buried there somewhere. But why was the earliest archaeological evidence for Peter in Rome a second-century “trophy” and not a first-century tomb? The word “trophy” was surely deliberate, and, to me, points to the fact that Christians of the late second century did not consider it a tomb at all, and possibly not even the place where Peter’s physical remains lay. Rather, I suspect that the tropaion marked this site as a place associated with the  memory of Peter rather than with Peter’s physical remains. Put differently, the tropaion reified Christian memory, inserting Peter’s “body” into Rome’s landscape for the first time. Gaius, after all, points out the tropaion not to emphasize Peter’s physicality or even the sacrality of the place, but to emphasize the apostolic foundations of the ekklesia of Rome – no less valid than Christian assemblies elsewhere, he argues, and perhaps more so in that it has apostolic foundations. The presence of the tropaion said, at once, “Peter was here in Rome” and “The Church, from its foundation, is here in Rome.” For Gaius, Peter was in some sense present at the tropaion, but there is no indication that he thought that Peter’s bones were either physically there or necessary for the point he was making. Indeed, there is no evidence that Christians considered bodily relics to be sacred before the early Middle Ages, and few literary sources from late antiquity spoke of Peter’s body or “dust” at the Vatican; those few that do I will have the opportunity to address presently. Still, the tropaion is significant. It was the first place where Peter “appears” in Rome, worked into the landscape. He did so incorporeally but in a manner that was incontrovertibly real. Why the aedicula was located in a burial field is an unanswerable question, but whoever set it up there had, presumably, a good reason not to position it directly over a tomb or a body. Perhaps someone had seen Peter there in a vision; a church council of 401 CE at Carthage prohibited altars from being established in sites where people had had visions, thus it appears to have been a practice to commemorate incorporeal experiences of the saints in the



Chadwick, “St. Peter and St. Paul in Rome,” 44.

36

Peter’s Bones

landscape.37 An aedicula, in form, was akin to a shrine to a deity, a place for venerating the incorporeal but very real presence of a god. Perhaps by the late second century, Peter had already become what Stanley Stowers calls a “non-obvious being”; an extrabodily body marked there, in that place on the Vatican ager, the birthplace of Roman Petrine Christianity. There are other ways to account for why Roman Christians erected an aedicula at the Vatican ager. Perhaps some lost tradition held that Peter had done something significant on that spot. The much later Acts of Peter also seeded Peter into Rome’s urban fabric: from the forum where Peter and Simon Magus had battled one another in an epic magical flying contest to the parish church of Domine Quo Vadis where, as he was fleeing from certain death, Peter encountered Jesus in a vision. These were places one could visit and, although we would classify them as marking only legendary events, early medieval pilgrims would not. In the case of Domine Quo Vadis, the pious could even behold a remarkable relic attesting to the realness of Jesus’ body: his footprints impressed on cold marble.38 That neither Jesus nor Peter was still physically present at the site mattered not a bit to those who crowded into the church and preserved it in their memory; they participated in what Chin might call “an economy that is both bodily and extrabodily,” one in which “the boundaries of what is conventionally understood as a human body are not strictly observed, nor are they considered definitional.”39 This same bodily and extrabodily economy of late antique belief meant that Christians of the third century who visited the tropaion may have believed that Peter was buried beneath it, but that is quite different from Peter actually having been buried there. In other words, the absence of bones or reliquary under the aedicula ought not to negate the site as an authentic place where Christians celebrated Peter’s bodily presence. Instead, Peter’s extrabodily or even transbodily presence

Canon 83, Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Africanae (ed. Bruns), 176. “… et omnino nulla memoria martyrum probabiliter acceptetur nisi ubi corpus aut aliquae religuiae sunt aut origo alicuius habitationis vel possessionis vel passionis fidel­ issima. Nam quae per somnia et per inanes quasi revelationes quorumlibet hominum ubique constituuntur altaria omnimodo improhibentur.” 38 The relic – likely a Roman ex voto from the shrine of Deus Rediculus (visited to ensure a safe return home) that stood immediately behind the present location of the church on the Via Appia – is now at the basilica of San Sebastiano nearby. 39 Chin, “Bishop’s Two Bodies,” 534.

37

181

182

Peter’s Bones

at the tropaion became the site of a complex dynamic between civic patronage, authority, and imperial interests. This interplay becomes abundantly clear as the first Christian emperor, Constantine, marked his own transbodily presence on Peter’s territory. *** In the 330s, the Emperor Constantine had long espoused the Christian religion and was nearing the end of his thirty-year rule. Promoting both Christians and Christian sites, he ordered a massive basilica to be built on the ager Vaticanus, the land whose name is taken from the cow pastures that they must, at one time, have been. By the 330s, the land had been used for burials for hundreds of years. Constantine himself was far from Rome, and we don’t know what possessed him to order his builders to construct on the ager a massive basilica. Oriented to the West, this may have been the largest and most ambitious of the Constantinian structures in Rome, accommodating as many as 4,000 people.40 Constantine’s ambitious plan for the new basilica necessitated cutting back the steep Vatican escarpment and burying under rubble and fill the elegant tombs that lay along the escarpment’s crest. Much of the work facing Constantine’s builders could have been avoided if only Constantine had chosen the flatter ground slightly further south rather than digging into the escarpment. His choice of location, therefore, many argue could only have been based on the existent tropaion and his belief that the aedicula was a worthy centerpiece for his new basilica.41 But what interest did Constantine have in Peter? According to legend, it was to this basilica that Constantine came a week after his baptism, removing his crown, prostrating himself above Peter’s tomb, and soaking his precious

Ramsay MacMullen, The Second Church: Popular Christianity A.D. 200–400 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature; Boston and Leiden: Brill, 2009). Although this appears to be an impressive number, MacMullen notes that it constituted only a very small percentage of Rome’s Christian population, providing what Richard Krautheimer had called “an astonishingly limited provision” (R. MacMullen, “Christian Ancestor Worship in Rome,” JBL 129/3 [2010]: 599). MacMullen notes, as well, that St. Peter’s was not the largest circus-shaped basilica; it was the same size as San Lorenzo and Sant’Agnese (“Christian Ancestor Worship,” 601). For schematics, see A. Arbeiter, Alt St. Peter in Geschichte und Wissenschaft. Abfolge der Bauten. Rekonstruktion, Architekturprogramm (Berlin: Mann, 1988). 41 Toynbee, “Shrine of St. Peter,” 7.



40

Peter’s Bones

purple robes with his tears. In reality, however, we have no record of Constantine ever visiting this place.42 The importance of St. Peter’s as the mother church of Roman Catholicism has masked something curious about Constantine’s basilica. As in other fourth-century basilicas outside Rome, it was not a church, nor purpose-built as such.43 Historian Ramsay MacMullen observes, “There was no built provision in [the Constantinian basilicas] for religious services, no baptistery, sacristy, chancel, ambo, altar, nothing.”44 This very recent observation throws into question something that had been taken for granted for centuries: that Constantine built Old St. Peter’s as a martyrium, the first building in Rome to place at its center an altar, with its nave and transept arms meeting directly over the tropaion. But critical excavations revealed something entirely unexpected: there was no altar at old St. Peter’s, and the area over the grave of the apostle was not marked in any special way.45 John Ward-Perkins, the British archaeologist who devoted years of study to the question, commented, We are all familiar with the process whereby the hypothesis of yesterday becomes by constant repetition the accepted fact of tomorrow. The intimate relationship between altar and martyrgrave, so far from being an observed fact at this early date, is in reality one that still awaits demonstration.46









Actus Silvestri (5th–6th century); see also the contemporaneous Acta of SS. John and Paul (AA. SS. 26 Iun. VII, 140). Paolo Liverani, “Victors and Pilgrims in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages,” Fragmenta. Journal of the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome 1 (2007): 90, suggests that Constantine might have visited in 336, on the occasion of the vicennalia, but the basilica was not quite complete by that date. 43 For painstaking scholarship on the Constantinian basilicas, see Richard Krautheimer et al., CBCR, vol. 1 and idem, Three Christian Capitals: Topography and Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983). 44 MacMullen, Second Church, 84. 45 For the lack of relationship between altar and martyr’s grave, see Friedrich Wilhelm Deichmann, “Märtyrerbasilika, Martyrion und Altargrab,” MDAI 77 (1970): 144–45. Hugo Brandenburg, “Die Architektur der Basilika San Paolo fuori le mura,” MDAI 112 (2005–2006): 244, 264, distinguishes between a church altar at St. Peter’s and a martyr-cult altar, although MacMullen, “Christian Ancestor Worship,” 613, n. 45, calls the evidence “not clear.” 46 J. B. Ward-Perkins, “Memoria, Martyr’s Tomb and Martyr’s Church,” JTS 17/1 (1966): 23. 42

183

184

Peter’s Bones

If Constantine’s basilica at old St. Peter’s was neither a martyrium nor a church where liturgy and formal Masses were performed, what then was it for? What Constantine in fact built at the Vatican was a giant covered cemetery for Christian burial, in an area of the city long since given over to burials.47 The basilica was also used for refrigeria, funerary meals in commemoration of the dead, thus constituting what Ramsay McMullen termed a “giant dining room.”48As such, old St. Peter’s was a public monument providing a public service: protected space for Christian burial and commemoration of the Christian dead. This itself was not precisely new; other catacombs appear to have had imperial foundations, and Constantine was also responsible for the similar cemeterial complex to the southeast of the city off Via Labicana, where he erected a mausoleum for his mother.49 In fact, had Constantine seen Peter’s tropaion as particularly significant, he might have arranged for imperial burials there rather than off Via Labicana. He did not. But it’s worth asking why Constantine’s primary intervention in the Roman landscape consisted not of building churches, but of, in a sense, sponsoring burials. St. Peter’s was not a “one-off,” either; there were five other similar covered cemetery basilicas built in Rome during Constantine’s reign.50 This building was undertaken prior to, and separate from, a developed Cult of the Saints, and Peter and his bones do not seem to have drawn Constantine back to the city, nor to have

Krautheimer, CBCR, 5.141, in reference to San Lorenzo. MacMullen, Second Church, 83. 49 On cemeteries with imperial foundations, see Barbara Borg, Crisis and Ambition: Tombs and Burial Customs in Third-Century CE Rome (London: Oxford University Press, 2012). MacMullen, “Christian Ancestor Worship,” 600, n. 9, notes that according to the Liber Pontificalis 21, the bishop Fabian (236–250 CE) “directed many buildings ( fabbricae) to be put up” in the cemeteries. On the Constantinian cemetery on Via Labicana, see Jean Guyon, Le cimetière aux deux lauriers: recherches sur les catacombs romaines (Rome: École Française de Rome, 1987). 50 Besides St. Peter’s, the other circus-shaped basilicas are at Sant’Agnese, San Lorenzo, SS. Pietro e Marcellino, San Sebastiano, Via Ardeatina, and Via Praenestina. Whether or not Constantine ordered the building of all six remains disputed. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that they were not predominantly martyria, since at least three (and perhaps more) were never associated with a martyr’s grave. See Chapter 6, pp. 315–19.



47

48

Peter’s Bones

transformed the area into a cult site entirely dedicated to venerating the apostle. Christians “came for the cup,” as one contemporary graffito from the Catacombs of Priscilla famously announces, sometimes scratching their names and the names of their dearly departed down on the lower walls of the basilica – even on the Red Wall by the tropaion, but they never once mention Peter.51 Besides burial, there was one other significant activity at old St. Peter’s: almsgiving and the sponsoring of funerary feasts in service to the city’s poor. A public feast offered a spectacular opportunity for the city’s elite to showcase their considerable resources. At the close of the fourth century, the powerful senator Pammachius held a feast for the poor at the porticoes of the basilica on the anniversary of his wife Paulina’s death. The amount of money Pammachius spent on this one feast alone absolutely dwarfed the available capital of Rome’s bishops, who also strove to sponsor acts of civic patronage.52 There was a canny practicality to such grandiose spending. As Peter Brown observes, “Lavish building, splendid ceremonial, and even feasting at such a shrine washed clean the hard facts of accumulated wealth and patronage, as they were now practiced in real life, even by bishops, a short distance away within the walls of the city of the living.”53 Old St. Peter’s, then, was far from a church of somber liturgy and hushed reverence for Peter’s relics. In the fourth and fifth centuries, it was bustling with activity, including burials, visitors, and commemorative feasts, some of which were occasions for “unregulated sociability.”54 Instead of sacraments, the capacious hall of St. Peter’s was used for numerous funerary dinners, complete with noisy children, flirting teenagers, and tipsy aunts. By the late fourth century, Peter’s dies natalis was also celebrated at the basilica – an increasingly civic festival, where one could purchase candies in the shape of doves.

ICUR 9 24867, 374 CE: “in pace […] I idus febr. | cons. Gratiani iii et equiti | florentinus fortunatus et | (fel)ix ad calice benimus.” 52 Pammachius’ feast, in Paulinus, Ep. 13.11–15. On the comparative resources, see Marianne Sághy, “Scinditur in partes populus: Pope Damasus and the Martyrs of Rome,” Early Medieval Europe 9/3 (2000): 279. 53 Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 41. 54 Brown, Cult of the Saints, 43.



51

185

186

Peter’s Bones

Jerome’s friend Eustochium bought him some, which elicited a typically dour response: Wherefore we must be careful to celebrate our holy day not so much with abundance of food as with exultation of spirit. For it is altogether unreasonable to wish to honor a martyr by excess who himself, as you know, pleased God by fasting.” (Jerome, Ep. 31, trans. Fremantle NPNF 6, p. 45)

The gatherings on these feast days degenerated into excessive display. Augustine himself complained about those who held banquets at St. Peter’s and got blind drunk every day: “First you persecuted the martyrs with stones and other instruments of torture and death; and now you persecute their memory with your intoxicating cups.”55 As Brown notes, “the effect of Augustine’s rhetoric has been to drain away from our image of such feasts the heavy charge of sacrality that lay at their center.”56 Activities around Peter’s shrine sharpened the growing sense of an extended, increasingly otherworldly Christian “family,” including the crucial oversight of the paterfamilias. The rites in the building enclosing Peter’s tropaion evoked the dead in their capacity as beloved ancestors still in some sense raucously present among the living. There, in the place of double instantiation – the beloved simultaneously in the ground and in the celestial heights – Peter, too, eventually came to be seen as bilocative, present in that place in some sense, but also translated to heaven. One aspect of this bilocativity – Peter as celestial patron – would soon be useful to Constantine and a host of emperors to follow. *** In The King’s Two Bodies, Ernst Kantorowicz articulated the synecdochic relationship between king and the “body politic” of kingdom. Although the king’s natural body, as mortal, is subject to death and decay, the king’s other, spiritual body is transcendent and enduring, a symbol of the regency as a political office. In a similar way, I suggest, See also Augustine, Epistle to Aurelius, bishop of Thagaste: “et quoniam de basilica beati apostoli Petri, quotidianus vinolentiae proferebantur exempla, dixi primo audisse nos saepe esse prohibitum, sed quod remotus sit locus ab episcopi conversatione …” Note the lack of episcopal “oversight” here. 56 Peter Brown, “Enjoying the Saints in Late Antiquity,” Early Medieval Europe 9/1 (2000): 6.

55

Peter’s Bones

Peter in the fourth century had two bodies – a natural one, frankly of little interest to late antique citizens, and a spiritual one that came to stand for Christendom. Although the emperors were rarely seen in Rome after Constantinople’s founding in 330, the city continued to draw them, particularly at key junctures where they came to make visible their connections to Peter.57 “The renewed interest in Rome at the end of the fourth century,” notes Alan Thacker, “was accompanied by a recasting of imperial ideology in relation to the apostolic cult.”58 This imperial and elite interest in Peter as the chief spiritual overseer of Rome had begun with Constantine. His basilica was not just an opportunity to showcase imperial largesse in the form of sponsored public burial but, it seems, imperial military triumph as well. Paolo Liverani and Alan Thacker both bring to our attention two inscriptions on the building’s arches, one which commemorated Constantine’s victories over the Sarmatians (322–323 CE), the other, over his rival Licinius at Chrysopolis (September 28, 324 CE).59 It is this second inscription, marking the basilica as a votive offering, that interests me: Quod duce te mundus surrexit in astra triumphans hanc Constantinus victor tibi condidit aulam. Since under your guidance the world rose triumphant to the stars The victorious Constantine built this hall for you.60



Mark Humphries, “From Emperor to Pope? Ceremonial, Space, and Authority at Rome from Constantine to Gregory the Great,” in Kate Cooper and Conrad Leyser, eds., Religion, Dynasty and Patronage in Early Christian Rome 300–900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 21–58. 58 A. Thacker, “Patrons of Rome: The Cult of Sts Peter and Paul at Court and in the City in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries,” Early Modern Europe 20/4 (2012): 392. See also Meagan McEvoy, “Rome and the Transformation of the Imperial Office, Late Fourth to Mid-Fifth Century,” PBSR 78 (2012): 151–92. 59 Alan Thacker, “Popes, Emperors and Clergy at Old St. Peter’s from the Fourth to the Eighth Century,” in Rosamond McKitterick et al., eds., Old Saint Peter’s, Rome. British School at Rome Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 137–56; Liverani, “Victors and Pilgrims,” 90. For the inscriptions, see also Richard Krautheimer, “A Note on the Inscription in the Apse of Old St. Peter’s,” DOP 41 (1987): 317–20 and Richard Krautheimer, “The Building Inscriptions and the Dates of Construction of Old St. Peter’s: A Reconsideration,” Römisches Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte 25 (1989): 1–23. 60 ICUR 2 4092. 57

187

188

Peter’s Bones

This distich became famous in the fourth and fifth centuries, as Paolo Liverani notes, echoed in other papal and episcopal dedicatory inscriptions.61 The “you” here, of course, is Peter, in the role of dux or imperator. His body here is an imperial body, one that directs and guides the mundus to its eschatological perfection. This inscription took the form of a mosaic in large golden letters, arranged upon the basilica’s ­triumphal arch. It makes no reference to Peter’s natural body; indeed, it is hard to imagine that Constantine believed that the apostle’s moldering bones had anything to do with the empire’s transcendence. Paolo Liverani’s attention to the space of old St. Peter’s as a monument to imperial triumph helps us to reinvisage the basilica as, metonymously, Peter’s triumphant body.62 On the building’s triumphal arch was a massive frontal image of Constantine and Peter, with the votive inscription by it.63 In the mosaic, Constantine was likely holding a miniature image of the basilica, offering it to his celestial patron. Liverani reveals that there was also a second, highly significant mosaic in St. Peter’s apse: a traditio legis scene, where Christ gives the new laws to Peter. The scene has no scriptural basis, but drew from imperial iconography, where the emperor distributed largesse or aid to his subject.64 Peter, then, appeared to the basilica’s visitors at least twice, both times visually and on a monumental scale. These images, too, constituted “bodies” of Peter – colossal,

Liverani, “Saint Peter’s, Leo the Great and the Leprosy of Constantine,” PBSR 76 (2008): 156. 62 Liverani, “Saint Peter’s,” 155–72. The piece refutes the conclusions of G. B. Bowersock, “Peter and Constantine,” in J.-M. Carrié and R. Lizzi Testa, eds., “Humana Sapit.” Études d’antiquité tardive offertes à Lellia Cracco Ruggini. Bibliothèque de l’antiquité tardive 3 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2002), 209–17, also reprinted in W. Tronzo, ed., St. Peter’s in the Vatican (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 5–15. 63 A. L. Frothingham, “Une mosaïque constantinienne inconnue à Saint-Pierre de Rome,” Revue Archéologique 3/1 (1883): 68–72. 64 Liverani, “Saint Peter’s,” 158; the mosaic, he notes, is generally dated to Constantius II (337–61 CE) but Liverani makes a persuasive case for redating to the Constantinian period; for our purposes, of course, it makes little difference. Mikael Bøgh Rasmussen, “Traditio Legis – Bedeutung und Kontext,” in Jens Fleischer and John Lund, eds., Late Antique Art in Context (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2001), 21–52.



61

Peter’s Bones

glittering, transcendent, and immovable, these bodies concatenated space, emperor, mundus, conquest, celestial and transbodily presence, power, and timelessness. With all these possibilities for broadcasting spectacular power, authority, and triumph, it is hardly surprising that imperial interest in St. Peter only increased over time. Valentinian III (419–455 CE) bestowed great gifts on St. Peter’s, adorning its confessio with silver and providing an impressive image of Jesus and the apostles, gilded and jeweled.65 Honorius constructed a family mausoleum there; Galla Placidia, in 450 CE, had her long-dead infant son reburied at St. Peter’s with a great and somber ceremony. As Thacker notes, his burial made it clear that the imperial family had adopted the basilica as a dynastic mausoleum.66 A sermon, attributed to Leo the Great but perhaps actually by Hilarius (461–468 CE), delivered before the emperor Anthemius (467–472 CE) probably at the Vatican, mixed images of splendor and triumph with Petrine humility: The emperor (princeps) arrayed in the sparkling diadem and fortified with an innumerable army seeks to arm himself with the prayers of the fisherman and begs to be adorned with his merits rather than with encircling (circumfluentibus) gems.67

We find no discourse of the body here – at least, not the fleshly body. In its place stands a denial of materiality: prayers rather than weapons adorn the princeps, merits rather than gems. Performative moments of imperial, papal, and ceremonial power such as this one nicely illustrate what Markus Bockmuehl terms an “increasingly totalizing Roman Christian discourse that successfully colonized the [Petrine] tradition’s lacunae for its own ends.”68



Mark Humphries, “The City of Rome and Valentinian III (424–55): Patronage, Politics, and Power,” in Lucy Grig and Gavin Kelly, eds., Two Romes: Rome and Constantinople in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 167, 70. 66 Thacker, “Patrons of Rome,” 396. 67 Text in D. Germain Morin, “Notes d’ancienne literature ecclésiastique,” Revue Bénédictine 13 (1896), 343–46. “Ecce in universo orbe urbs prima vel maxima pauperculo homini a Christo specialiter regenda committitur. Ligno crucis regalia sceptra subduntur, et imperiales purpurae Christi et sanctorum martyrum sanguini subiugantur. Fulgenti conspicuus diademate, et innumerabili vallatus exercitu princeps piscatoris muniri se precibus postulat, eiusdem meritis magis quam circumfluentibus gemmis se potius ornari deposcit.” 68 Bockmuehl, “Peter’s Death in Rome?” 6. 65

189

190

Peter’s Bones

Peter incurred imperial interests not because of the physical remains of his body at the Vatican, but because the episode of the traditio legis – figured so prominently on the front of the Constantinian basilica – was the most powerful moment in the biblical history of Christ conferring earthly power and authority on a human figure. Present in multiple bodies at the Vatican, the most powerful instantiation of Peter from the perspective of Constantine and his successors was this one: the imperial body with supreme control over legislative and political functions. What happened at St. Peter’s was no simple veneration of Peter’s bones, but instead, a far more complex dynamic between civic patronage, authority, and imperial interests. *** If Peter had an imperial body in late antiquity, he also came to have a papal body. Held by Catholics worldwide as the first bishop of Rome, Peter’s papal body was only late in developing. St. Peter’s has, of course, long been connected to the papacy, but in truth, that connection happened only very late, disconnected from any direct apostolic succession. As Alan Thacker notes, “in the fourth and early fifth century the pope had only a secondary role at St. Peter’s.”69 The level of this disconnect – and the lack of cohesion to the doctrine of papal succession – is immediately evident from the fact that papal burials, before the fifth century, could be found all over the catacombs ringing Rome. Leo the Great (440–461 CE) was the first to be buried at the Vatican, and his grave was tucked away in the secretarium, a small crypt in the far southeastern corner of the basilica, about as far away from the Petrine memoria as it could be.70 The significance of Rome’s episcopal see was far from a forgone conclusion for most late antique Roman citizens, who continued to find old sources of secular power – the great power brokers who were the city’s old elite families – the most reliable and natural sources of authority.71 It was their bodies that lined the flanks of the basilica, their sumptuous sarcophagi silent but eloquent testimony to their social power and ambition.



Thacker, “St. Peter’s,” 382. Thacker, “Patrons of Rome,” 383. 71 Julia Hillner, “Families, Patronage, and the Titular Churches of Rome,” in Kate Cooper and Conrad Leyser, eds., Religion, Dynasty and Patronage in Early Christian Rome, 300–900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 225–61.

69 70

Peter’s Bones

In the fifth century, with its precipitous decline in population, the senate and prefect of Rome stepped in to administer the city; the imperial seat had shifted farther East. The emperors left in charge of old St. Peter’s a series of custodes, wardens, answerable to them but quite separate from Rome’s bishops.72 Outside the city, powerful bishops such as Ambrose and Paulinus might offer their support for St. Peter’s imperial imprimatur; Ambrose emphasized that Rome was the caput gentium, the city of Peter and Paul and thus, the capital of all peoples.73 Paulinus of Nola, in a sermon preached at Nola in 397 CE, named Peter and Paul as preeminent among the celestial nobility (caelestes proceres) whose sacra monumenta made Rome powerful. But these bishops simply supported imperial ideological concerns and claims to rule without noticeably inculcating themselves. It was different for the bishops of Rome, forced to perilously position themselves somewhere in the matrix of emperor, senatorial elite, and the increasing ecclesiastical power center that was St. Peter’s. This power center broadcast imperial Christianity, not papal Christianity – a situation that could not stand if the local bishops were to gain a seat at the table in increasingly global ecclesiastical politics. The pope under Constantine’s reign, Sylvester (314–335 CE), was famously absent from contemporary narratives about Constantine and Rome and, in fact, had to be conjured in later centuries retroactively as a figure of any importance, curing Constantine of leprosy and winning, in reward, the primacy of the Roman see. The first pope to make any significant inroads in strengthening a relationship with Peter was Damasus (366–384 CE), well known for his interventions in Rome. Damasus, famously, actively promoted the Cult of the Saints to support his own episcopal ambitions.74 It was probably just before the time of his deeply contested episcopate that the so-called “Liberian Catalogue” came together, which for the first time put into writing a list of Rome’s bishops, beginning with Peter. The degree to which this represented a contested view in the fourth century is revealed in Irenaeus of Lyons’ assertion that Peter and Paul had jointly founded the Church of Rome and Eusebius’ account in which the first bishop of Rome was not Peter



Thacker, “Patrons of Rome,” 382. Ibid., 392. 74 On Damasus, see Chapter 2.

72 73

191

192

Peter’s Bones

but Linus.75 There were compelling ecclesiological reasons for Damasus, following the catalogue, to emphasize the monoepiscopacy with Peter at its head, not the least because it asserted Rome’s importance in the emergently Christian empire. Although it served Damasus to promote Peter alone, he preferred, instead, the joint cult of Peter and Paul, which he nurtured through a concerted “media campaign” that involved distributing inscriptions dedicated to the saints throughout Rome’s extramural landscape as well as placing their images on small luxury goods: pieces of finely wrought gold glass that were most likely given away as gifts.76 Still, these episcopal entrées into the world of Petrine Christianity – by Damasus’ time thoroughly connected with imperial and elite i­deologies – were only very modest. His attempts to promote the a­ postle at his main cult site on the Vatican were more modest still. Damasus was indeed responsible for constructing St. Peter’s first baptistery, but it was perhaps only a relatively minimal and peripheral contribution to the basilica’s architecture. His other additions included a large ­fountain, the cantharus, in the basilica’s atrium, along with one of his famous inscriptions dedicated to Peter that stood by the baptistery. On the inscription, Damasus praises Peter as “the doorkeeper of Heaven” (ianua caeli), highlighting, as the emperors, not Peter’s bones but the apostle’s unbound, celestial, eschatological body. Still, his relative ­disaffection from St. Peter’s becomes clear when Damasus was not buried there, but far away off the Via Appia – whether by design or because he could not gain the access to Peter that he might have wished for his own burial, we do not know. A successful linking of the apostle to the papacy did not come until the fifth century. Leo the Great (400–461 CE) was the first of Rome’s



Marianne Sághy, “Martyr-Bishops and the Bishop’s Martyrs in Fourth-Century Rome,” in John S. Ott and Trpimir Vedriš, eds., Saintly Bishops and Bishops’ Saints (Zagreb: Hagiotheca Humaniora, 2012), 16. 76 See Lucy Grig, “Portraits, Pontiffs, and the Christianisation of Fourth-Century Rome,” PBSR 72 (2004): 203–30. Against Charles Pietri, who developed the thesis that fourth-century ecclesiastical politics was dominated by the concept of concordia apostolorum – a concordia actively promoted in the latter half of the fourth century by a Church eager to assert its apostolic roots, Grig (p. 218) – rightly, I think – downplays the significance of Peter and Paul on Damasus’ gold glass, seeing them as perhaps private gifts rather than grand propaganda statements of the concordia apostolorum. 75

Peter’s Bones

193

native bishops to gain any traction in the imperially centered rhetoric around St. Peter’s: Rome was, he asserted, the head of the whole world, through the presence of Peter’s sacred See.77 Leo delivered his most famous speech in 441 CE on the occasion of the joint feasts of Peter and Paul, where Rome was sanctified by a corporeal act – the martyrdoms of those who made of Rome a priestly and royal city.78 *** Let’s talk about another Petrine body, or perhaps multiple instantiations: Peter’s moveable relics. At Rome, these were of different sorts – none of them corporeal. For others in different parts of the empire, the cult of relics exercised a strong visceral piety; it was, for them, impossible that Peter’s memoria might not also contain his flesh. Roman Christians appear to have actively resisted new pressure in trading the corporeal relics of the apostles. “There is very little secure evidence of papal relic distribution before the later fifth century,” observes Alan Thacker.79 Thacker mentions the first instance of secondary apostolic relics from Rome on record as a gift to Flavius Rufinus, a magister officiorum under Theodosius I, and the guardian of the boy-emperor Arcadius probably in 389 CE, during a state visit to Rome. It is unclear what type of relics these were, although perhaps only strips of cloth called brandea; the record does not specify. Leo the Great was also said to have distributed pieces of cloth – these ones termed palliolae rather than brandea, in that they had been in contact not with Peter’s bones, but with the Eucharist served upon the high altar.80 Later, Gregory the Great famously turned down the empress Constantina’s request for Paul’s skull, offering instead a piece of cloth, a brandea, that had come in contact with the tomb and thus was charged with the apostle’s presence. He hastened to assure Constantina – against the charges of certain more corporeally minded Christians to the East – that the brandea had the full power of the saint’s natural body: if you cut it, it would bleed. Gregory emphasized that it was not the Roman custom – the consuetudo romana – to touch the bodies of the saints themselves when giving relics. Indeed, the enterprise



Thacker, “Patrons of Rome,” 395. Leo I, Sermo 82 (I, p. 517,) trans. Bronwen Neil, Leo the Great (London: Routledge, 2009), 115–18; Thacker, “Patrons of Rome,” 395. 79 Thacker, “Patrons of Rome,” 398; Thacker, “Rome of the Martyrs,” 43–45. 80 MGH SS VI, 308, Sigiberti Chronica, a. 441. 77

78

Peter’s Bones

Source: Alinari/ArtResource.

194

Figure 10.  Pola Casket, ca. 400 CE.

was an extremely dangerous one; one ought not even to look upon the bones of the martyrs.81 Contact relics, then, were the order of the day in late antique Rome, and they had their own formidable power, part of which was “bodily,” in the sense that these objects could experience the same qualities as a natural or physical body. The extrabodily sanctity of Peter was instantiated into a material body and made present within it, thus making his sanctity moveable and, for lack of a better word, contagious. Brandea and other contact relics sowed Peter’s extrabodily body – not his physical body – across the empire, contained in ivory or silver reliquaries that clothed the relic like skin. One such reliquary, the fifth-century Pola casket, is particularly interesting to consider for the manner in which it instantiated Peter’s body, binding his unbounded body in a box of ivory bearing his image (Figure 10). Concealed under the altar of the church of St. Hermagoras in the village of Samagher near Pola in Istria until it was disinterred in 1906, this small (19 × 20 × 16 cm) wood, silver, and ivory box was likely produced

Gregory the Great, MGH Ep. 1, 264–65, Indictio XII, Ep. IV, 30: “quia Romanis consuetudo non est, quando sanctorum reliquias dant, ut quicquam tangere ­praesumant de corpore. Sed tantummodo in buxide brandeum mittitur atque ad sacratissima corpora sanctorum ponitur.”

81

Peter’s Bones

195

around 400 CE in Rome, ostensibly to carry relics back from the city.82 What sort of relics these were, we do not know, but almost certainly they were not corporeal. The only saints figured on it are Peter and Paul, shown flanking Christ in a traditio legis scene on the casket’s lid. But the central image on its long frontal side features a scene from Old St. Peter’s. Four adults – two men on one side and two women on the other – stand in a position of prayer on either side of a shrine. Its ­baldachin is surmounted by a heavy lamp; six single helix columns ­support the canopy, making its identification as St. Peter’s quite secure: the ­columns, imported from Greece, still remain there today. Beneath the baldachin, two worshippers, male and female, bend over an aedicula. Its doors are closed. The box stands in mimetic relationship to St. Peter’s; when one looks at it, one participates in the experience of v­ isiting Peter’s tropaion; like the basilica, the casket also physically holds Peter’s body. As Jas´ Elsner discusses in his recent study of the Pola casket, the reliquary also mimes Peter’s body in that it, too, was concealed, invisible, under the altar at Samagher’s church where it acted, unseen, to sanctify the space.83 Reliquaries such as the Pola casket were not merely receptacles for the sacred. The artisans who designed and created them, by their choice of iconography, developed visual strategies that effectively redefined the sanctity of the dead. They were “mimetic, metonymic, and synecdochic” replacements for the experience of being at the tomb. By figuring Peter’s tropaion, the casket was not merely offering a description of the shrine, it was shaping the experience of the pilgrims to St. Peter’s by establishing both what they might expect to see and also how they might behave in the presence of the memoria itself. It also, in an important sense, obviated the necessity of going to Rome to see Peter, in that it brought, bodily, the apostle outside the city to a new place where he was fully present and doubly, even triply, embodied: once in the brandeum that could, like the body, shed blood; once in the casket itself that served as a skin for the brandeum and thus, as a containing body; once more in the placement of the casket within the body of the church. *** T. Buddensieg, “Le coffret en ivoire de Pola, Saint-Pierre et le Latran,” Cahiers Archéologiques 10 (1959): 157–200. 83 Jas´ Elsner, “Closure and Penetration: Reflections on the Pola Casket,” Acta ad archeologium et artiam historiam pertinentia 26 (2013): 187.

82

196

Peter’s Bones

Peter’s most famous relics, strikingly, are neither corporeal nor contact relics, but his chains and key. There was a rousing trade in late antiquity and the Middle Ages in iron filings from both. Unlike a luxury item like the Pola casket, the filings and little golden keys could be had cheap. They could be easily transported, or worn in amulets around the neck. Though unimpressive on the face of it, Gregory of Tours reported that when blessed, these humble relics were capable of performing great wonders (Gloria martyrum 27). Peter’s famous chains were not from his imprisonment in Rome, but had been brought to Rome around the year 439 CE from Jerusalem, perhaps by the empress Eudocia, wife of Theodosius II.84 These chains connect the physical reality of hard iron to the Book of Acts, where an angel delivers Peter from Herod’s prison, the chains that bind him falling from his wrists (Acts 12:7). They are not mentioned in late antique sources until the middle decades of the fifth century, but that hardly mattered; the chains were widely believed to be authentic and even if they did not come from, or prove, Peter’s captivity in Rome, there was no need to do so. By 500 CE, Sixtus III had consecrated the church that held them, San Pietro in Vincoli, and henceforth the church was a powerful testimony to Peter’s “presence” in the city. The “iron more precious than gold” drew pilgrims as steadfastly as any corporeal relic.85 Peter’s chains made him so bodily present in the city that the apostle became the city’s protector, as inscriptions in San Pietro in Vincoli attested. “Secure in their binding embrace,” runs the inscription, “Rome’s safety has been made perpetual; she will remain forever free and her unconquered walls inviolate under the protection of the heavenly gatekeeper.”86 By the fifth century, then, Peter had become multiply instantiated in various locations and in various media in Rome, and his instantiation into moveable, material objects sowed his authority beyond the city. None of these instantiations, however, involved his physical body.



For a contrary view, see H. Grisar, “Archeologia. Della catena romana di San Pietro,” La Civiltà Cattolica, ser. XVII, vol. 3 (1898), 205–21. A sermon from Paul the Deacon notes that the chains had come from Eudoxia, the mother-in-law of Eudocia. See Thacker, “Patrons of Rome,” 401. 85 On “iron more precious than gold,” from an inscription preserved in an eighthcentury sylloge. See ICUR 2 110 (#64). 86 Thacker, “Patrons of Rome,” 403. 84

Peter’s Bones

Peter’s body, his spiritual body, was expansive and unbounded, despite this instantiation into material. We are given a striking instance of this process in a small parish church far from Rome. Just outside the Umbrian town of Spoleto, an early inscription (now lost) from the church of San Pietro records something interesting. The church had, at some point in late antiquity or the early Middle Ages, become the recipient of iron filings from Peter’s chains. These tiny bits of metal wielded formidable power, transforming the parish church into a mini-Rome. An inscription addresses itself to travelers along the Via Flaminia: Qui Romam romaque venis hunc aspice montem eque Petri sede posce viator opem quae meritis sanctaque fide ni distat ab illa [nam] crux hic regnant hic quoque vincla Petri Omnia magnanimus pastor construxit Achillis sollicitas populi huc adhibete preces You who come to and from Rome look on this mount. O traveler invoke its power equal to the See of Peter, Which [power] in merits and in holy faith stands nothing distant from that [see]. For here the cross [reigns], here also the chains of Peter reign. The great-souled pastor Achilles built all things. Bring hither the anxious prayers of the people.87

Two things are striking, here. First, the power of the Spoleto church derives from its relics of Peter’s chains, which are powerful enough to make the church equal to “the See of Peter.” Second, the inscription makes it quite clear that the power of St. Peter’s derives not from Peter’s bones at the Vatican, but rather from its “cross.” As Thacker notes, the cross is undoubtedly an allusion to Peter’s crucifixion in the city; it was not, however, Peter’s corporeal presence that sanctified the See, but the power of the crucifixion, “assimilated to that of Christ himself,” in the great gold cross that was inscribed with the names of Constantine and Helena and placed in St. Peter’s nave.88 Another inscription in the



87

ICUR 2 1, 80 (#11), 114 (#81). Thacker, “Patrons of Rome,” 400.

88

197

198

Peter’s Bones

Spoleto church notes that although the building (aula) was not the home of Peter’s bones, the stones that enclosed his body [in Rome] did not enclose his soul. The significant point was that the Petrine body was quite separate from his moldering grave, and that it was no less present at Spoleto than at Rome.89 *** I have by now, I hope, articulated my chief argument: the multiplicity and multiformity of Peter’s body was not a new and vexing problem in Roman late antiquity – it was part of conventional envisioning and discoursing on the nature of divine power. Even as Peter’s body multiplied across Italy and eventually beyond the Mediterranean basin, Peter had long existed in multiple iterations at Rome itself. One further site bears consideration in this chapter. The Vatican was not the only suburban Roman location in late antiquity to claim to hold Peter’s body. South of the city, at the intersection of the Via Ardeatina and the Via Appia and attached to the present-day Catacombs of San Sebastiano lies an area known in Christian antiquity simply as “ad catacumbas,” roughly translated, “at the hollows,” an area of disused quarries. Peter, along with Paul, was celebrated in antiquity at a massive cult center here, the Memoria Apostolorum.90 Archaeological reconstructions have revealed a long and complex history of Christian activity at the site. A paved court dates from the second half of the third century, with a throne-shaped dining table or mensa for offerings to the dead. Here, too, was a triclia for Christian funerary meals

For the inscription, see ICUR 2 79–80. See also C. Carletti, “Magna-RomaMagnus-Petrus: l’inno a Roma di Achilleo, vescovo di Spoleto,” in Umbria Cristiana: dalla diffusione del culto al culto dei santi (Spoleto: Centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo, 2001), 141–56. 90 Paolo Styger, “Scavi a S. Sebastiano. Scoperta di una memoria degli Apostoli Pietro e Paolo e del corpo di S. Fabiano Martire,” Römische Quartalschrift (1915): 73–110; O. Marucchi, “La Memoria Apostolorum,” Bulletino di Archeologia Cristiana (1917): 51–53; Francesco Tolotti, Memorie degli apostoli in Catacumbas: rilievo critico della Memoria e della Basilica Apostolorum al III miglio della Via Appia. Collezione “Amici delle catacombe,” 19 (Vatican City: Società “Amici delle catacombe,” 1953); Hans Georg Thümmel, Die Memorien für Petrus und Paulus in Rom: Die archäologischen Denkmähler und die literarischen Tradition. Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte 76 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1999).

89

Peter’s Bones

called refrigeria, with bench, fountains, and wall paintings.91 By the 340s, a new circus-shaped basilica had been constructed at the memoria, rivaling St. Peter’s in size but mirroring it in shape and function. The triclia was partially covered over and enclosed in a circus-shaped basilica very close in form to the Constantinian St. Peter’s. Like Old St. Peter’s, it served primarily for burying and commemorating the dead. It is not clear who was responsible for its construction, but the Liber Pontificalis does not list it as one of Constantine’s great building projects in Rome, so it was not an imperial undertaking. Whoever paid for its construction probably anticipated someday occupying a large tomb attached to the middle of the basilica’s southern f lank.92 Perhaps it was even already there by the time construction started at St. Peter’s around 330. Like St. Peter’s, the basilica floor was laid thick with burials several layers deep. It, too, lacked either a central martyrium or altar.93 When the site was first explored in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it was assumed that the center of the basilica marked sacred space. In 1521, Leo X offered an indulgence to anyone who visited the basilica, believing that in the nave there had been an altar, where on one side lay the Sepulchrum S. Pietri and on the other, the Sepulchrum S. Pauli. Indeed, the site was reconstructed in the sixteenth century under the orders of Cardinal Scipione Borghese following that assumption. Believing that a small area outside the walls of the basilica had been the place where Peter and Paul had been buried, Borghese had a new staircase built to lead directly to it, and there was much attention given to thirteen arcosolia surrounding a double sarcophagus which, it was said, once contained the tombs of the early popes.94



Toynbee, “Shrine of St. Peter’s,” 14; F. Grossi-Gondi, “Il Refrigerium celebrato in onore dei SS. Apostoli Pietro e Paolo nel sec. IV ad Catacumbas,” Römische Quartalschrift (1915): 221–49. Thacker, “Rome of the Martyrs,” 22. 92 Thacker, citing Mario Torelli, “Le basiliche circiformi di Roma: iconografia, funzione, simbolo,” in G. Senna Chiesa and E. A. Arslan, eds., Felix Temporis Reparatio. Atti del convegno archeologico internazionale ‘Milano capitale dell’impero romano’ (Milan: Edizione ET, 1992), 205. 93 There was, however, a group of centrally placed sarcophagi in the nave, which some connected to the cult of the martyr Fabian, venerated on this spot in the Middle Ages; see Nieddu, Basilica Apostolorum, 122–23. 94 La Piana, “Tombs of Peter and Paul,” 71. 91

199

200

Peter’s Bones

It was not until the nineteenth century when it was discovered that the basilica (called, since the Carolingian period, the Basilica Apostolorum) had no apse, no altar, nor any place where the bodies of Peter and Paul may have once lain. The thirteen arcosolia were jammed with burials from the fifth century, and all that could be proven was that in late antiquity, many thousands of people came to be buried in the complex, according to a logic that remained unclear. They were not, however, ad sanctos burials next to the bodies of Peter and Paul. Still, the Memoria Apostolorum is thick with inscriptions, prayers, and entreaties left by pious visitors. About 600 remain. George La Piana enumerates 191 scrawled onto the walls of the triclia, 33 of which are in Greek. Remarkably, a large proportion of these invoke Peter and Paul. Of these, the most famous is the scrawled “PAULE ED PETRE PETITE PRO VICTORE,” deeply scratched into the stucco of the wall.95 Numerous others, more modest still, line the walls: “Peter and Paul, Tomius Caelius made a refrigerium here,”96 “Peter and Paul, keep in mind Albinus in the refrigerium”; “Peter and Paul come aid this great sinner”; “Peter and Paul, protect the servants of God, holy souls, and protect us in order that for many years …” There are hundreds of such inscriptions; virtually all of them consistently invoke Peter and Paul as a pair. No Peter without Paul. That Peter, in his pairing with Paul, was associated somehow with the Memoria Apostolorum is beyond question, since he is attested not just in hundreds of pilgrims’ graffiti, but in epigraphic and textual sources as well, as we shall see. But this Petrine body, so far from the tropaion north of the city, posed a vexing problem to modern interpreters: what was the precise relationship between the memoria and the tropaion? More to the point, how could Peter’s body have been in two places at once? Many reasoned that it could not have. Medieval itineraries describe the area ad catacumbas as the place where the bodies of the apostles once lay temporarily, although they disagree on how many years the bodies were there, varying from 40 to 252 years.97 Various theories account for

ICUR 5 12989. Carletti, Epigrafia, 266–67, dates it to the late third, beginning of the fourth century. 96 ICUR 5 12981. 97 La Piana, “Tombs of Peter and Paul,” 58.



95

Peter’s Bones

why Peter’s bones might have been moved from one site to the other.98 Perhaps, some hold, Peter and Paul were buried temporarily at the memoria until after Nero’s death in 68 CE.99 The Liber Pontificalis asserts that Peter’s body lay originally ad catacumbas until Pope Cornelius (251–253 CE) moved it to the Vatican iuxta locum quo crucifixus est, during the time of the Decian persecutions.100 Another theory is based on the Calendar of 354, which notes that as of 258 CE a new saint’s festival in Rome, the Natale Petri ex cathedra, was celebrated at the Vatican on February 22 – although on another date, June 29, the feast of Peter was celebrated ad catacumbas. Supposing that Peter’s bones had to be present for a new festival to be celebrated at the Vatican, this translation of relics would have to have happened around 258 CE.101 But what would prompt Christians to move Peter’s bones? Imperial persecution seemed to be the obvious answer: Christians perhaps moved the bodies for safety during the Decian (251–253 CE) or Valerianic persecution (259 CE). Still, this theory had obvious problems. Dates and rationales didn’t quite line up properly; the Liber Pontificalis’ dates were not the same as the Calendar of 354’s, and if the Calendar was correct in its 258 CE date, the Decian persecutions had ceased by then. Both sources could not be right. If, too, Peter had been moved from his original burial spot at the tropaion to temporary residence at the memoria, Christians chose a bad spot. Jocelyn Toynbee remarks, it would seem senseless to have moved the bodies for secrecy and safety to a spot which was adjacent to the busiest highway leading out of it and only a few hundred meters away from an imperial police-post, the statio frumentariorum near the tomb of Cecilia Metella. Furthermore, the Roman law directed against



For a summary, see John C. O’Neill, “Who Buried Peter and Paul?” in J. Zangenberg and M. Labahn, eds., Christians as a Religious Minority in a Multicultural City: Modes of Interaction and Identity Formation in Early Imperial Rome. Studies on the Basis of a Seminar at the Second Conference of the European Association for Biblical Studies (EABS) from July 8–12, 2001, in Rome. JSNT Sup 243 (London and New York: T. & T. Clark, 2004), 103–7. 99 Toynbee, “Shrine of St. Peter’s,” 11. 100 Liber Pontificalis 22.4. 101 Hans Lietzmann, “The Tomb of the Apostles ad Catacumbas,” HTR 16/2 (1923): 147–62. 98

201

202

Peter’s Bones violatio sepulcri would have protected the sacred remains, wherever they were, from harm, besides making their removal illegal. Even a felon’s permanent grave would have been safeguarded as a locus pro religioso, if not as pleno iure religiosus.102

Since the violation of a tomb was a capital crime, it is unimaginable that Christians would have done anything to draw further opprobrium to themselves or that they had to fear Romans plundering Christian tombs. Another theory: perhaps Christians had divided Peter’s body to sanctify two separate holy sites where he was commemorated. Since Peter’s bones at the Vatican lacked a skull, perhaps the skull and other bones ended up being translated to the area ad catacumbas. But as even the great Bollandist Hippolyte Delehaye recognized long ago, there was absolutely no custom of translating relics that early.103 Another theory – even less plausible than the others – emerges from a martyr text of the fifth century. The Passio Sanctorum Apostolorum Petri et Pauli of Pseudo-Marcellus tells that shortly after Peter and Paul were put to death, some “Greek Christians” came to steal their bodies. But earthquakes and other fearsome portents prevented them from getting any farther from the city than the Via Ardeatina, where Romans stopped the corpse robbers. There the bones rested for a year and seven months, where a special place was built for them ad catacumbas before they were permanently moved to the Vatican and the Via Ostiensis, respectively.104 The story of Greek Christian tomb robbers played well

Toynbee, “Shrine of St. Peter,” 13. She footnotes V. Capocci, “Notae: gli scavi del Vaticano all ricerca del sepulcro di S. Pietro e alcune note di diritto funerario romano,” Studia et Documenta Historiae et Iuris 18 (1952): 204. 103 H. Delehaye, “Le sanctuaire des Apôtres sur la Voie Appienne,” Analecta Bollandiana 45 (1927): 297–310; H. Delehaye, Les origines du cultes des martyrs (Brussels: Société des bollandistes, 1933), 263–69; J. M. C. Toynbee and WardPerkins, The Shrine of St. Peter and the Vatican Excavations (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1965), 167–82; Chadwick, “St Peter and St. Paul in Rome,” 31–52; Charles Pietri, Roma Christiana: recherches sur l’Eglise de Rome, son organization, sa politique, son idéologie de Miltiade à Sixte III (311–440) (Rome: École Française de Rome, 1976), 1:40–46, 366–80. See also V. Saxer, “Il culto degli apostoli Pietro e Paolo dalle origini all’epoca carolingia,” in A. Donati, ed., Pietro e Paolo. La storia, il culto, la memoria nei primi secoli (Rome, 2000), 73–84, at 76–77. 104 Martyrium Petri et Pauli, 66, ed. Lipsius-Bonnet, Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha 1 (1891), 174–75: “et ibi custodita sunt corpora anno uno et mensibus septem, quousque fabricarentur loca in quibus fuerunt posita corpora eorum.” Recounted in La Piana, “Tombs of Peter and Paul,” 57. 102

Peter’s Bones

to Roman Latin Christian sentiments; Gregory the Great even told the same story in a letter to the empress Constantina penned in June 494 CE, giving it a somewhat factual aura (Ep. 4.30). A final theory for the double instantiation of Peter’s body was raised in 1921 by George La Piana. He noted an ancient tradition wherein Peter, after his move to Rome to missionize, resided in that part of Rome by the Via Ardeatina and Via Appia, a tradition that explained both the association of the Memoria Apostolorum with the apostle as well as another persistent local legend: that Peter had, in a vision, encountered Jesus on the Via Appia, the place now marked by the small parish church of Domine, Quo Vadis.105 La Piana speculated that this older tradition of Peter’s residence in this neighborhood was replaced in late antiquity by various stories concerning the translation of Peter’s body to the Vatican.106 All these theories are built around the assumption that Peter’s body seeded a sacred site – first at the Vatican, and then at the memoria, or else, the other way around. Pilgrims followed the bones, thus when Peter’s body was removed from the memoria, the Vatican became the dominant location of the Petrine cult. If this were the case, however, one might expect that evidence for pilgrimage drops off after Peter’s body was removed from the Memoria Apostolorum sometime in the third century. Such, however, is not the case. A late inscription, reconstructed quite heavily by Carlo Carletti, proves that no body was needed to invoke a saint at a particular place.107 All these theories also underscore the key problem for many Catholic believers: there is far more evidence for Peter’s presence at the Memoria Apostolorum than at the Vatican, the mother Church traditionally founded by Peter – overwhelmingly more. While the Vatican has the tropaion and some late antique literary attestations for Peter’s presence there, the Memoria Apostolorum boasts inscriptions, hundreds of pilgrims’ graffiti honoring Peter, and the weight of the Liber Pontificalis’ and Calendar of 354’s testimony.



Strenuously refuted by Lietzmann, “Tomb of the Apostles,” 150. La Piana, “Tombs of Peter and Paul,” 65. 107 [….] deposita X + + […[ d(omino n(ostro) Fl. Ardio Aug(usto) IIII cons(ulibus) m[atri…] Eros et Leo et Setema locu [emerunt ad limina Petri et] Pauli sub episcopate Si[ricii a presbb(iteris) Urso] et Proclino.” No ICUR number. Carletti, Epigrafia, #177, p. 278. 105

106

203

204

Peter’s Bones

One more significant piece of information concerning Peter’s body at the memoria remains to be discussed. We can at this point return to Damasus, promoter of the saints, who worked assiduously to promote a new Roman sacred topography, marked by the martyria of g­ enerally hitherto unknown saints that nevertheless received the papal imprimatur. Damasus’ elogium to Peter and Paul at the memoria apostorolum offers a fascinating piece to the puzzle of apostolic bodies in Rome.108 Preserved only in medieval syllogae, the inscription reads, Hic habitasse prius sanctos cognoscere debes nomina quisque Petri pariter Paulique requiris. Discipulos Oriens misit, quod sponte fatemur; sanguinis ob meritum Christumque per astra secuti aetherios petiere sinus regnaque piorum: Roma suos potius meruit defendere cives. Haec Damasus vestras referat nova sidera laudes. You should know that holy men once dwelt here, Whoever you are who seek at the same time the names of Peter and Paul. The East sent its apostles, a fact we freely acknowledge. By virtue of their martyrdom – having followed Christ through the stars They reached the heavenly asylum and the realms of the righteous – Rome has earned the right to claim them as her own citizens. These things Damasus wishes to relate in your praise, O new stars.109

Interpreters have focused on Damasus’ use of “hic habitasse” here.110 Did he mean, literally, Peter and Paul dwelled here, as in the city of Rome? Marcel Carcopino insisted that by “nomine,” the names of the saints, Damasus really meant “reliquiae.”111 Or did he mean it in a more immediate, yet figurative sense – that the bodies of Peter and Paul “dwelled” According to the LP, Damasus dedicates an area of the catacombs, the Platonia, where the bodies of Peter and Paul were thrown, and adorns it with verse. 109 Latin from Ferrua, Epigrammata Damasiana (Vatican City: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana), 20. English translation from D. Trout, Damasus of Rome: The Epigraphic Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 121. 110 La Piana, “Tombs of Peter and Paul,” 62; Lietzmann, “Tomb of the Apostles,” 149. 111 M. Carcopino, Études d’histoire chrétienne, 261, citing evidence from North Africa.



108

Peter’s Bones

ad catacumbas?112 Henry Chadwick nicely places the elogium within the context of ecclesiastical debates of the third quarter of the fourth century, particularly on which church, Antioch or Rome, possessed the proper cathedra apostolorum. According to the inscription, Rome triumphed, not because it possessed Peter’s body, but because of the double whammy of Peter’s founding the Roman church and also being the site where the apostles had been martyred. By his death, Peter had purchased Roman citizenship with blood; he belonged, therefore, to the city of Rome. Although many still interpret Damasus’ lines quite literally – that the bodies of Peter and Paul had once been buried at the Memoria Apostolorum but by Damasus’ time had been moved to the Vatican – they are also notable for what Damasus does not choose to emphasize: the corporeal instantiation of the apostles and the sacredness of their ­relics. In terms of the supposed “corporeal turn” of the cult of relics, of which Damasus is often credited with being the strongest proponent, we might note that the inscription mentions neither body nor bone, relic, or remnant. Although it states that Peter and Paul had been there ­previously, this does not appear to mean that their physical remains had been there but then ­transferred elsewhere. Damasus’ point is not that Rome “owns” the bodies of the apostles, but that Peter and Paul lived and died at Rome, becoming through their martyrdom Roman “citizens.” Despite his reputation as one obsessed with saintly corpses, Damasus’ focus is nowhere on relics, but on the celestial translation of the apostles: they reached “heavenly refuge” and “the realms of the saints,” to become “new stars.”113 Damasus’ gaze, like the gaze of the emperors he admired, was resolutely heavenward. Most remarkable, I think, is the fact that neither place actually seems to have possessed Peter’s body, nor any reliquary or ossuary that may once have held it. Such is the ideological power of the unassailable connection between the corpse and the sacred place over modern logic. Seen from another angle, however, neither St. Peter’s nor the Memoria Apostolorum based their claims for Peter’s body on the possession of his Delehaye thought Damasus should have chosen “corpora quisque Petri pariter Paulique requiris,” if he had meant to talk about actual bodies; Delehaye, Origines, 308. 113 La Piana, “Tombs of Peter and Paul,” 65 is probably right to see in nova sidera an allusion to Horace’s description of the Dioscuri as lucida sidera. The association of, or more properly, replacement of Castor and Pollux as twin protector saints with Peter and Paul can be found in Trout, “Damasus and the Invention of Rome.” See also Rudolf Brändle, “Petrus und Paulus als nova sidera,” Theologische Zeitschift 48 (1992): 207–17.



112

205

206

Peter’s Bones

physical body and yet – yet – both places drew pilgrims for hundreds, even thousands, of years. *** Many Catholics have often felt a great resistance to imagining Christian devotion without sacred objects. Yet this is a religion that developed for four centuries within cities, within households, meeting and drawing in the faithful without benefit of material sacrality. I argue strenuously in this book that in Rome, late antique Christians had no native tradition of bones being particularly holy; they believed, rather, in saintly presence, and that prayers to the saints would be answered. One can securely trace the outlines of Roman Christian conviction that Peter was there among them, not in a physical body but in a spiritual one. Once we stop trying to explain the lack of bones at either the tropaion or the memoria as a simple oversight of modern excavators; once we stop seeing Peter’s bilocality at two separate cult sites simultaneously as something that can be rationally explained only by imagining someone moving Peter’s physical body back and forth between them, might we begin to understand late antique theories of unbounded embodiment. In a sense, the late antique conviction in the unbounded body was a natural continuation of a way of conceptualizing divinity that had ancient roots. Divinity – that is, divine power as well as the divine body – was non-corporeal in the Roman world. Gods and beings saturated the landscape with their power; these same gods, invisible and incorporeal but nevertheless present, listened to prayers, showed themselves in visions, healed the sick, and protected their cities. Christianity did not at a stroke come to instantiate divine power into corporeal flesh and bone, and perhaps especially not at Rome. Native Romans adapted to a growing trend as they could. It is instructive that when Gregory the Great constructed a new presbytery at Old St. Peter’s, the annular crypt of which allowed visitors to descend in order to glimpse what was beneath the high altar, it was not to see Peter’s body, or his bones, but only the tropaion itself.114 Gregory of Tours was surprised to hear that, at the basilica, the saint’s body was completely inaccessible.115 Tucked into and under the altar, Toynbee and Ward-Perkins, Shrine of St. Peter; K. Kirschbaum, The Tombs of Saint Peter and Saint Paul Excavations, trans. J. Murray (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1959), 63–81; 110–14; 121–43. 115 Gregory of Tours, Liber in Gloria martyrum, MGH SSRM, I, pt. 2, ch. 27, 503–4.



114

Peter’s Bones

a pilgrim had to get down on her hands and knees and stick her head through the small fenestella in order to have Peter hear her petitions. Gregory, whose graphic acts of devotion included dragging his swollen tongue along the curtains of Martin of Tours’ tomb, must have been sorely disappointed with such typically Roman restraint, but a vulgar display of relics was not Rome’s style. Thacker observes, It is then scarcely surprising that posthumous tomb miracles of the kind associated in Gaul with Martin of Tours and the like were not a dominating feature of Roman martyr cults. […] Papal attitudes are particularly apparent in Gregory the Great’s Dialogues, full as they are of stories of holy men, of visions, and of the unquiet dead, but containing scarcely a tomb miracle worth the name.116

My aim here is not to dismiss the argument that Peter was ever in Rome; rather, it is to point out that the very question is a modern one, reflecting a modern way of thinking that connects material remains – a bone, a corpse – to sacrality or notions of sacrality. It is an attitude summed up trenchantly by Henry Chadwick in his article on Peter and Paul in Rome: “no body, no cult.”117 I mean to complicate and disrupt the conviction that what makes St. Peter’s holy is its foundation upon Peter’s bones. This is not because it wasn’t, but (rather differently) because no one in antiquity, honestly, bothered with such an assumption. Peter’s presence in Rome was, to the late antique mind, absolutely real, palpable, and powerful even without his body, which in any case was beside the point. My suspicion is that different Christians would have venerated Peter and Paul at different sites outside the city. By “different,” I mean in the broadest possible sense, from Christians with diverse doctrinal affiliations and practices to those with widely disparate access to resources. St. Peter’s lay on imperial lands, a public site, whereas the Memoria Apostolorum appears to have been a private enterprise. Christians might have gone to one or the other, or indeed, there is no reason why they



Alan Thacker, “In Search of Saints: The English Church and the Cult of Roman Apostles and Martyrs in the Seventh and Eighth Centuries,” in Julia M. H. Smith, ed., Early Medieval Rome and the Christian West: Essays in Honour of Donald A. Bullough (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 255. 117 Chadwick, “St. Peter and St. Paul in Rome,” 44. 116

207

208

Peter’s Bones

might not simply have visited both, particularly when Peter came to be celebrated in these two places on entirely different days. There is no indication that they preferred one over the other because one held Peter’s “real” body. Pilgrimage is generally promiscuous and generous. It was also far from organic but was carefully orchestrated by others, from those who planned the triumphant adventus of the Emperor, to Rome’s bishops, no doubt anxious to redirect pilgrim traffic and profits away from Jerusalem and back toward the city. Possessing – or being thought to possess – an apostle’s relics, or to be the site associated with Peter had a distinct caché, but was not the final argument in who possessed spiritual power in the city. In the end, it benefitted all Romans to nourish strong bonds of patronage with the apostle, and that could only be accomplished through the most generous interpretation of his extrabodily body. Certain Roman sources emphasized that power of the incorporeal. In the fifth- or sixth-century Actus beati Silvestri, Constantine sees Peter and Paul in a dream but mistakenly thinks they are gods until Sylvester shows him an imago of them.118 The story serves papal interests, placing episcopal discernment over imperial discernment, but it is also interesting that Constantine encounters Peter in a dream; he does not come upon his bones and simply misinterprets them. Constantine’s was not the only significant vision of Peter’s extrabodily body. In 452 CE, Paul the Deacon tells that Pope Leo was dispatched from Rome to talk down Attila, who was devastating northern Italy. Appearing beside Leo was an apparition of “a venerable standing figure in priestly habits with his hands at his sides, of a very aristocratic appearance, who held a sword drawn from its sheath, threatening him with death if he did not accomplish everything that Leo demanded.”119 As Claire Sotinel points out, the apparition had legs, appearing in various later works of art including, most famously, a painting by Raphael in the Vatican stanze. More significantly, however, is Peter’s role as civic defender, standing in for traditional gods who



See G. Fowden, “The Last Days of Constantine: Oppositional Versions and Their Influence,” JRS 84 (1994): 146–70. 119 Paul the Deacon, Hist. Rom., 15; Peter, alone, becomes Peter and Paul in the AA. SS, Aprilis II, 18–19. 118

Peter’s Bones

209

once protected the city.120 The legend beautifully presents Peter as a civic defender. Paolo Liverani reconstructs, in late antiquity, the imperial adventus through the city, which by that time had an inverted quality, as the emperors entered the city from the north, made their way through the Porta Sancti Petri, and on to the basilica to pay homage at Peter’s shrine. It is surely significant, however, that the gate bearing Peter’s name had above it an image of the saint, and the inscription considers Peter a doorkeeper (ianitor) to the city.121 In late antique Rome, Peter’s body was pressed into servicing a variety of ideological purposes, not necessarily conflicting, but rather working symphonically in different registers. The pilgrims who came to the Memoria Apostolorum likely did not have the same Peter in mind as the emperors, or even as those who stood surveying his monumental image on the front of Old St. Peter’s. Damasus’ “new star” was not the same Peter upon whose shrine visitors tossed coins or leftover chicken bones.122 *** In a real sense, the massive basilica of St. Peter’s, the largest church in all of Christendom, is a reliquary on an unprecedented scale. It is easy to imagine that it has always been the centerpiece of Rome – or, at least, that the bones of St. Peter long drew pilgrims to the city, to this place. Yet when Martin V (1417–1431) entered the city in 1420 after the “Babylonian Captivity” in Avignon, he found the site derelict. Martin began some repairs – drawing on the inspiration of the imagined Jerusalem Temple – but the project languished until taken up again in 1506 by Julius II (1503–1513). His predecessor, Pius III (1503), was the



Claire Sotinel, “From Belenus to Peter and Paul. Christianity and the Protection of the City in Late Antiquity,” in Ted Kaizer, Anna Leone, Edmund Thomas, and Robert Witcher, eds., Cities and Gods: Religious Space in Transition (Leuven: Peeters, 2013), 143. For a study of Christian saints as civic protectors in the Middle Ages, see Alba Maria Orselli, L’immaginario religioso della città medievale (Ravenna: Lapucci, 1985). 121 Liverani, “Victors and Pilgrims,” 93. He notes as well (p. 94, n. 78) that Paul was also ianitor, guarding the Ostiensis entry for ship and land traffic from the south. This may be part of the significance of the memoria site, guarding the city on the most prominent southernmost route into the city. 122 Christian Grappe, Images de Pierre aux deux premiers siècles (Paris: Presses Universitaires, 1995). 120

210

Peter’s Bones

last pope to be buried in Old St. Peter’s. While the new St. Peter’s was under construction, papal bones were translated to other churches in the city, but when the building was complete, the popes clamored to be close to Peter. From the end of the sixteenth century, St. Peter’s became a palace of bones and marble. The finest artists of the era – Antonio Canova, Carlo Fontana, Alessandro Algardi, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini – crafted gorgeously ostentatious tombs of those popes from the greatest Renaissance families – Gregory XIII (1572–1585), Leo XI (1605), Urban VIII (1623–1644), Alexander VII (1655–1667), Innocent XI (1676–1689), Alexander VIII (1689–1691), Innocent XII (1691–1700), Clement XIII (1758–1769), and Pius VII (1800–1823). Although only perhaps sixty percent of all the popes who lived and reigned from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century were buried at St. Peter’s, it still held its place as the definitive papal burial ground, as popes claimed the right to their glorious tropeia ad corpus, next to the humble tropaion of a fisherman from Galilee. How significant it was – theologically and psychologically – for early modern popes to have a papal burial ground to display in material and concrete terms their line of succession back to Peter himself will become evident once again in the next chapter.

5. Dethe Rossi’s Deception: Crafting Crypt of the Popes

T 

he year 1849 found the young Giovanni Battista de Rossi walking the vineyards off the Via Appia, doing what he loved most: exploring Rome’s suburbs, wondering what new ancient catacomb he might discover beneath the verdant fields.1 In a pile of rubble, his eyes caught sight of a broken marble inscription, the finely carved letters of which read … ELIVS MARTYR. Excited, de Rossi believed he had found a relic of great historical import: the funerary slab that once covered the body of Pope Cornelius, a third-century bishop who had met his death d ­ uring the fractious time of the Decian persecutions. It was the first physical evidence that could corroborate what a key early medieval source, the Liber Pontificalis, had long ago claimed: that the martyred Cornelius was buried off the Via Appia, in burial lands owned by the matron Lucina (LP 1.22.4). De Rossi’s real challenge lay in convincing the pope, Pius IX, that his catacomb projects were a worthy investment for a Church that had financial interests elsewhere.2 The Catacombs off the Via Appia were his pet project. Before de Rossi was a catacomb spelunker, he was a Vatican



Biographical studies of de Rossi include Paul Marie Baumgarten, published on de Rossi’s seventieth birthday (P. M. Baumgarten, G. B. De Rossi, fondatore della scienza di archaeologia sacra [Rome, 1892]), and on the centenary of de Rossi’s death, Antonio Baruffa, Giovanni Battista De Rossi. L’archeologo esploratore delle catacombe (Vatican City: Libreria editrice vaticana, 1994); the official Vatican publication is Giovanni Battista De Rossi e le catacomb romane (1994). 2 For a full study of Pius IX and his support for catacomb archaeology, see Jamie Beth Erenstoft, Controlling the Sacred Past: Rome, Pius IX, and Christian Archaeology. PhD dissertation, University of Buffalo, 2008. See also J. B. Bury, History of the Papacy in the 19th Century (London: MacMillan and Co., 1930); O. Chadwick, A History of the Popes 1830–1914 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998). 1

211

212

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

scriptor, poring over medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. Hours of painstaking scholarship working with a newly discovered source attributed to the third-century Roman bishop Hippolytus, the Refutatio omnium haeresium, had provided him with a tantalizing detail concerning the administration of the early Church.3 According to the Refutatio, the Pope Zephyrinus had appointed a deacon, Callixtus, eis ton koimeterion, that is, to administrate the first Christian cemetery (Ref. 9.7.14). De Rossi became increasingly convinced that the large complex off the Via Appia, which he himself had discovered, was that very cemetery that Hippolytus had mentioned. If that were so, one might expect to find buried within it those martyrs and bishops who had led the Church in its triumphant march through the turbulent third century. The discovery of Cornelius’ epitaph was the first hint that he was on the right track. Beyond Hippolytus’ Refutatio, de Rossi had a few other texts leading his trowel: the Liber Pontificalis and the Calendar of 354, which gives two lists of names of the Church’s first bishops.4 The earliest of these lists, the Depositio Episcoporum, probably dates to the middle of the fourth century and relates where each of the listed popes (arranged by when they were commemorated in the calendar, not when they held the episcopacy) were interred. The texts did not precisely agree on dates and figures, but there was enough overlap to ignite de Rossi’s excitement: the Depositio reported a series of popes buried in the Catacombs of Callixtus off the Via Appia.5 Hippolytus’ Whether or not Hippolytus of Rome penned the Refutatio remains disputed; see the discussion in É. Rebillard, The Care of the Dead in Late Antiquity, trans. Elizabeth Trapnell Rawlings and Jeanine Routier-Pucci (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009), 2, n. 3 and 7, n. 26. See, too, Allen Brent, Hippolytus and the Roman Church in the Third Century (Leiden: Brill, 1995); E. Rebillard, “L’Eglise de Rome et le dévéloppement des catacombes,” MEFRA 109/2 (1997): 741–63, esp. 743–45. 4 For the LP in context, see Herman Geertman, More veterum: il Liber Pontificalis e gli edifice ecclesiastici di Roma nella tarda antichità e nell’alto medioevo (Gröningen: H. D. Tjeenk Willink, 1975). For the text of the Calendar, see Mommsen, The Chronography of 354 AD. MGH Chronica Minora I (1892). On the Calendar of 354 itself, see the excellent study by Michele Salzman, On Roman Time: The Codex-Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Late Antiquity (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990). 5 Calendar of 354, pt. 11 (V f. 46) rearranged chronologically: Lucius (d. 255), Stephanos (d. 255), Dionysius (d. 269), Felix (d. 274), Eutychian (d. 283), Gaius (d. 296), Eusebius (d. 310), Miltiades (d. 314), and possibly Julius (d. 352), although he also is recorded in this list as being buried by the third milestone of Via Aurelia.



3

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

text, on the other hand, provided the information that Callixtus had been appointed the archdeacon “over the koimeterion.” It figured, in de Rossi’s mind, that the earliest and biggest Catacomb of Rome had to be at once that which Hippolytus had mentioned as “the cemetery” of Callixtus and also the site identified as the “Catacombs of Callixtus” where the Depositio reported that the bodies of so many popes reposed in eternal refreshment.6 In reality, there was nothing concrete to identify the catacomb site that de Rossi was currently excavating with either text; the particular integrative practice of reading Catholic historiography such that it was thought to uncover a cohesive past began, ever subtly, to conjure into being a potent testimony to thirdcentury Roman Christianity. The new catacomb de Rossi was excavating became known as the Catacombs of Callixtus – the name that the site retains even today. The land under which de Rossi conducted his explorations, the Vigna Molinari, was private property in the nineteenth century. The fragmentary epitaph of Cornelius convinced de Rossi that further excavations of the catacomb might well yield significant finds that would reveal the primacy of the Catholic Church in Rome. He immediately requested an audience with Pius, begging him to purchase the vineyard and to grant him the funds necessary to find out where the inscription had originally been laid. After listening quietly to the young archaeologist, the Pope waved him off with a patronizing guffaw: “Sogni di un archeologo!” – the futile dreams of an archaeologist. But something about de Rossi’s earnestness must have captivated Pius, because the Vigna Molinari shortly thereafter became papal property, and a designated “exploration fund” allowed de Rossi the freedom to conduct his explorations without further financial concern.7 It took almost four years before – in March, 1852 – de Rossi and his team discovered a crypt on the subterranean fringes of the Appian Way. In the crypt lay a tomb,



Curiously, perhaps, Callixtus himself was not buried in the catacombs that bear his name, but according to the LP, at the Catacombs of Calepodius off the Via Aurelia. 7 According to Robert Culhane, the pope responded to a monsignor friend of de Rossi’s right after his audience, “I have sent de Rossi away like a whipped cat, but I’ll buy the vineyard all the same.” Culhane, “The Centenary of the Roman Catacombs,” The Furrow 2, n. 12 (December 1951), 707. 6

213

214

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

and within the tomb, the missing fragments of the epitaph of Cornelius saw the light of day for the first time in almost precisely 1,500 years. De Rossi lost no time in arranging a little field trip for his papal sponsor. Pointing to the epitaph, his cry triumphantly echoed Pius’ own words: “Sogni di un archeologo!”8 De Rossi was not done showing Pius IX all that he had discovered. On May 11, 1854, de Rossi arranged another subterranean visit, this time leading the pontiff and his retinue into a different portion of the catacomb, pointing out as they descended into the gloom a few inscriptions of men he believed had been martyred in the early service to the Church. And then he led him into the jewel in the catacomb’s crown: a small rectangular burial chamber lined with loculi graves on two sides and, at the front, an oversized a mensa grave; this was, he reported, the long-lost Crypt of the Popes, featuring “the glorious tombs of the most illustrious of all the Christian necropolises.” They were the first in perhaps 1,000 years to stand here in wonder.9 It was here, de Rossi averred, that the pope’s ancient apostolic predecessors had found their final home. For the occasion, de Rossi had roughly assembled the fragments of a Damasan inscription in the chamber and gathered some other epigraphic fragments. He records the moment in his memoirs: Pius IX turned to me and said: “So these, then, really are the tombstones of the first successors of Peter, the tombs of my predecessors who now repose here?” I answered: “Holiness, here are written the names of the martyr popes whom Damasus, who was indefatigably devoted to the martyrs, mentions in the poem I told you about.”10

If, de Rossi urged, the pope were to put the pieces of marble together, he could read the names of his third-century predecessors. The young archaeologist got precisely the response for which he had hoped:

Rodolfo Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1896), 215–16. The story was also published in the 1854 edition of Giornale di Roma. 9 The quotation is from Stefania Falasca, “The Humble Splendor of the First Witnesses: The Catacombs of Saint Callixtus in Rome,” in the Catholic pamphlet, “30 Days in the Church and the World” (November 4, 1996), 58. 10 From de Rossi’s memoirs, according to Falasca, “Humble Splendor,” 57.

8

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

Source: Heidelberg University Library.

215

Figure 11.  Giovanni Battista De Rossi, Roma Sotterranea Cristiana, Book I, Tav. II, III, 1893.

At that point, Pius IX drew nearer, visibly moved. He took the marble slabs in his hands and read the names. At the sight of those names he reddened with emotion and his eyes filled with tears. Then he knelt on the ground and remained absorbed in prayer.

At the age of thirty-two, Giovanni Battista de Rossi had accomplished something that his hero Antonio Bosio had never managed in his lifetime: he was able to connect through visceral flesh and bone a living successor of Peter to his ancient ecclesiastical heritage. There can be no question that the event was the crowning achievement of his long career; the first few pages of de Rossi’s massive Roma Sotterranea Cristiana (1864–7) – so named in honor of Bosio’s 1632 compendium, Roma Sotterranea – give an account of the Crypt of the Popes’ “discovery,” and the folio volume’s very first two full-sized plates record the chamber upon its discovery and as it was reconstructed (Figure 11).11 The story of Pius IX’s visit to the newly discovered Crypt of the Popes does indeed make wonderful reading. But is it true? More precisely, did de Rossi one lucky day in his subterranean travels come across the pristine,

G.-B. de Rossi, Roma sotterranea cristiana (Rome, 1864–67), vol. II (1867), Tav. I, II.

11

216

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

neglected remains of an ancient papal burial chamber? I argue that the so-called Crypt of the Popes is in reality an artful act of dissembling, deliberately constructed nearly 1,600 years after its supposed construction. It was a particular sensation because it married two phenomena absolutely central to the Post-Reformation Church’s sense of itself: the primacy and endurance of the papacy, on the one hand, and the centrality of martyrdom, on the other. Both issues directly addressed Catholicism’s Protestant critics and reflected a fierce sense of persecution. Giovanni Battista de Rossi had his own particular reasons for promoting the Catacombs of Callixtus and the Crypt of the Popes. The story I have just recounted is, indeed, reason enough for de Rossi to have constructed an elaborate “stage set” for playing to papal sympathies and pocketbook. But deeper, perhaps purer, concerns and convictions motivated him just as surely; he crafted, with the Crypt of the Popes, a mnemotopia, a place where memory was actively manipulated and guided to serve the aims of the Catholic Church. *** The mnemotopia is a theater of memory, created as a locus for a directed spiritual experience.12 The site must be immersive, allowing for, as Judith Wolin puts it, the “re-visitation of ‘remembered’ events.”13 “Remembered” remains in quotation marks because the memory itself is carefully constructed and re-presented to viewers who have a stake in the remembered event, but who were not primary participants in it. This social or collective memory, as sociologist Paul Connerton’s work shows, functions to culturally unify a society or culture by seeding powerful “memories” that the community shares as a foundational event.14

The literature on memory theaters is extensive; see, most significantly, the foundational work of Frances Yates for the Renaissance, The Art of Memory (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966). 13 Judith Wolin, “Mnemotopias: Revisiting Renaissance Sacri Monti,” Modulus 18 (1987): 47–48; see also my introduction, pp. 3–5. 14 Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); see also the significant books of Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, trans. L. Coser (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); idem, La topographie légendaire des Évangiles en Terre Sainte. Étude de mémoire collective (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1941); B. Dignas and R. R. R. Smith, eds., Historical and Religious Memory in the Ancient World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); Pierre Nora, ed., Les lieux de mémoire (Paris: Gallimard, 1984–92). More specific to Roman sites and monuments, see S. Diefenbach, Römische Erinnerungsräume. Heiligenmemoria und kollektive Identitäten im Rom des 3. bis 5. Jahrhunderts n. Chr. (Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2007). 12

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

The popes buried in the Crypt of the Popes are not just any early bishops of Rome – they are those who directed the Church throughout the tumult of imperial persecution, and whose blood was shed in service to the growth of the Church. The visitor’s gaze is directed to the focal point in the crypt – the large tomb of the martyred Sixtus II (257–258 CE) – whose story is told and retold to an audience aware of their place as the “survivors” of the Age of Persecution. The Crypt of the Popes thus plays, in a continual loop, a powerful narrative of suffering and triumph that transforms a burial chamber into a shrine. In the construction of social and collective memory, the shrine of the martyr-pope Sixtus and his fellow leaders of the Catholic community replaces that which the site most likely was originally: a family cubiculum, with the head of the family’s grave occupying the central place at the front of the room.15 The mnemotopia obliterates individual, familial memoriae (and diminishes exponentially the role of those who come to mourn their familial dead buried within) in favor of a new, if fictive, sacred history. Sacred history was, in Giovanni Battista de Rossi’s day, a valued category, forming the foundation for the new field of “sacred archaeology.”16 De Rossi and Pius IX steered this new ship, with the pope founding the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology in 1851 and the Pio Cristiano Museum at the Vatican in 1854, the same year



My argument is based on observation: Roman family hypogea for centuries remain static in architectural form: the central grave of the paterfamilias stands at the back of the chamber while other members of the extended family surround it on either wall. There are no surviving examples of a crypt solely for members of the Christian clergy, although this one is frequently cited as “proof” that such a thing existed – a category with only a single example. On Roman family graves, see J. Toynbee, Death and Burial in the Roman World (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1971); on third-century graves, see Barbara Borg, Crisis and Ambition: Tombs and Burial Customs in Third Century CE Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). 16 On sacred history, see Pontien Polman, L’Element historique dans la controverse religieuse du XVIe siècle (Gembloux: J. Duculot, 1932), with important new insights by Irena Backus, Historical Method and Confessional Identity in the Era of the Reformation, 1378–1615 (Leiden: Brill, 2003). The starting point for my investigation is in response to the very useful essay of Simon Ditchfield, “What Was Sacred History?: (Mostly Roman) Catholic Uses of the Christian Past after Trent,” in Katherine van Liere, Simon Ditchfield, and Howard Louthan, eds., Sacred History: Uses of the Christian Past in the Renaissance World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 72–97. 15

217

218

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

as the “discovery” of the Crypt of the Popes.17 Although de Rossi had received a Jesuit education at Rome’s Collegio Romano, he never took holy orders. But he attended Mass every day, and each night, gathered members of his household together to say the Rosary. For him, there could be no archaeology of import outside the world of the Church; since his eleventh birthday, when his father purchased Bosio’s Roma Sotterranea to feed his son’s avid interest in the catacombs, de Rossi had been entirely consumed by his life’s work: to illuminate the world of formative Christianity through a compendium of inscriptions and archaeological reports, lessening the distance between ancient Christians and the early modern Church.18 In an article on the importance of “sacred history” in early modern Rome, historian Simon Ditchfield playfully invokes the oft-repeated warning of Edmund Burke (1729–1797) that “those who do not know history are destined to repeat it.” Ditchfield notes that this saying would have made little sense in early modern Rome: “… these writers sought to learn about and present Christian history in order to repeat it.”19 In the nineteenth century – as in the sixteenth-century world of catacomb exploration and exploitation – there was little interest in objective history, history “for its own sake,” but in what historiography might offer in the movement toward a dogmatic, apologetic goal.20

O. Marucchi, Giovanni Battista De Rossi, Cenni Biografici (Rome: Pustet, 1903). De Rossi’s scholarly output was enormous. His major accomplishments were the initiation of the collection of Christian funerary inscriptions known as the Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae septimo saeculo antiquiores (ICUR) (vol. I, Rome, 1861; part 1 of vol. 2, Rome, 1888) comprising 1126 inscriptions from the years 71 589 CE – a series which continues today – and the monthly Bulletino di Archeologia Cristiana. Between 1863 and 1869, the first series of the Bulletino comprised 126 monographs; the second series (1870–1875) appeared quarterly, with an additional 53 papers. His Roma Sotterranea Cristiana was published in three volumes, with a fourth volume underway at the time of his death in 1894 (Vol. I with an atlas of 40 plates, Rome, 1864; Vol. II with an atlas of 62 plates, Rome, 1867; Vol. III with an atlas of 52 plates, Rome, 1877). De Rossi also published, with Louis Duchesne, an authoritative edition of the Martyrologium Hieronymianum (Brussels, 1894), and the Codicum latinorum bibliothecae Vaticanae, vol. X, Pt. I, Nos. 7245–8066, Pt. II, Nos. 8067–8471; vol. XI, Nos. 8472–9019; vol. XII, Nos. 9020–9445; vol. XIII, Nos. 9446–9849, based on his early work indexing the manuscripts in the Vatican library. 19 Ditchfield, “What Was Sacred History?” 85. 20 Ibid., 72.



17

18

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

With the “rediscovery” of the catacombs, Catholic historiography acquired a particular flavor: it was now able to be in dialogue with place rather than text. “Sacred history” and “sacred archaeology” shared common presuppositions and goals. The key texts that constructed and promoted the notion of a unified Church with a seamless history – Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, as well as the theological histories of Theodoret, Sozomen, Socrates “Scholasticus,” Evagrius “Scholasticus,” and Sulpicius Severus – could be consulted in concert with early medieval sources such as the Liber Pontificalis and then much later Renaissance works: Bartolomeo Sacchi’s Lives of the Popes (1485) and Onofrio Panvinio’s epitome of it (1557), Pomponius Leto’s Romanae historiae compendium (1499), plus abundant martyrologies and hagiographies, the popularity and number of which increased exponentially in early modern Rome, some of it through de Rossi’s own efforts. De Rossi and his fellow Catholics stood to gain considerable social capital by creating a collective, commemorative ritual that developed and perpetuated a new, Christian social memory. This ritual translated the principles of “sacred history” into the frame of the performative and experiential; not only could one read (or listen to) a historiographical or martyrological text, one could be led down into the catacombs to experience that text in the presence of the martyr herself, or in the presence of that place where the original action had taken place. Once in the presence of ancient subterranean burials, the catalytic use of inscriptions placed on or in front of supposed martyrs’ graves had been pioneered by the controversial pope Damasus (366–384 CE), in his organized program of papal propaganda that was the focus of my second chapter. De Rossi, like Damasus, was a great impresario of the catacombs, someone who had olfactus quidam, a “nose” for inductive archaeology, as one of his contemporaries put it.21 This use of the martyr shrine as a mnemotopic site was further intensified by de Rossi, who drew together fragments of inscriptions from throughout the Catacombs of Callixtus, gathered them in the Crypt of the Popes, and transformed the chamber into a lens to bring into focus a new brand of learned Catholic devotionalism that emphasized a collective past. ***

21

Culhane, “Centenary,” 709.

219

220

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

Today, the Crypt of the Popes or “the little Vatican,” as tour guides call it, forms a regular part of the general tour of the Catacombs of Callixtus.22 Six days a week throughout the year, a bevy of multilingual guides lead groups of up to thirty on a half-hour circuit of the catacomb. The crypt is the first major stop on the circuit, and forms a convenient and relatively large area for educating the public about the Church’s first leaders. As a space, it is unadorned and almost brutalist in its design. Two light shafts or lucenaria allow some natural light to filter down from the surface high above. Symmetrical and simple, two columns with Corinthian capitals that once supported a marble architrave stand on either side of the room. Of the sixteen popes said to be buried at Callixtus, at least six of them rest in this crypt.23 Guides point out their names, in Greek, incised simply on the loculus closures that line the walls to the left and right of the entrance: Pontian (230–235 CE), Antherus (236 CE), Fabian (236–250 CE), Lucius (253–254 CE), and Eutychian (257–283 CE). At the front of the chamber, affixed to the large a mensa grave, stands one of Damasus’ famous elogia, an elaborate hexameter inscription dedicated to the tomb’s ostensible occupant, Sixtus II, and his companions.24



The most recent archeological guides, primarily for tourists and pilgrims, are Antonio Baruffa, The Catacombs of Callixtus: History, Archaeology, Faith (Vatican City: L.E.V., 1992), and S. Carletti, La Catacomba di San Callisto (Vatican City: Pontifical Commissione di Archeologia Sacra, 1981). The first significant publication: G. Wilpert, La cripta dei papi e la cappella di Santa Cecilia nel cimitero di Callisto (Rome, 1910). On Callixtus generally around the time of its nineteenth-­century excavation, see the guide by de Rossi’s student, O. Marucchi, Guida del cimitero di Callisto (Paris: Desclée, Lefebvre and Co., 1902). On the subdial cemetery, see U. Fasola, “Indagini nel sopraterra della Catacomba di San Callisto,” RAC 56 (1980): 221–78. On more recent work, see A. Ferrua, “Lavori a San Callisto,” RAC 51 (1975): 213–40, and A. Ferrua, “Cimitero di San Callisto,” RAC 57 (1981): 7–24. 23 Sixtus III (c. 440) erected in one of the chambers – possibly this one – an inscription that lists Sixtus II, Dionysius, Cornelius, Felix, Pontian, Fabian, Gaius, Eusebius, Melchiades, Stephen, Urban I, Lucius, and Antherus as buried in Callixtus. The list contains no second-century bishops. 24 ICUR 4 9513. The Latin here is from J. Guyon, Damase et les Martyrs Romains (Vatican City: Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, 1986). 22

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes Hic congesta iacet quaeris si turba piorum corpora sanctorum retinent veneranda sepulcra sublimes animas rapuit sibi regia caeli. Hic comites Xysti portant qui ex hoste tropaea; Hic numerus procerum servat qui altaria Christi. Hic positus longa vixit qui in pace sacerdos, Hic confessores sancti quos Graecia misit. Hic iuvenes puerique senes castique nepotes quis mage virgineum placuit retinere pudorem. Hic fateor Damasus volui mea condere membra sed cineres timui sanctos vexare piorum. Here collected lies, if you ask, a throng of the pious. Revered tombs hold the bodies of saints; The palace of heaven has taken up their lofty spirits for itself. Here the comrades of Xystus who carry trophies from the enemy; Here a company of nobles who guard the altars of Christ. Here is buried a bishop who lived in long peace; Here the holy confessors whom Greece sent; Here young men and boys, old men and chaste grandsons, For whom it was more pleasing to keep virginal modesty. Here, I confess, I Damasus wished to set my limbs But I feared to disturb the holy ashes of the pious.25

Few tourists today can read the measured script of Damasus’ scribe Furius Dionysus Philocalus, despite a hand that is at once clear and elegant. But the guide makes the point that it commemorates a painful and significant event: here, in this very spot, Sixtus and his companions Stephen, Januarius, Magnus, and Vincentius celebrated a subterranean Mass during the violent 258 CE anti-Christian pogrom of the

Translation is Dennis Trout’s, Damasus of Rome, 113–14. A reproduction of this inscription currently rests on the lower front panel of the cubiculum’s main a mensa grave; in de Rossi’s reconstruction of the site, however (see Figure 11, right side), this panel rested at the top of the grave, and was paired with elogium #17, restoring it to what he believed had been its original position before the reconstruction of Sixtus III. Trout (113–17) titles it “Elogium of the Saints,” versus #17, “Elogium of Pope Sixtus II.” On the reconstruction of the site, see also Ursula Reutter, Damasus, Bischof von Rome (366–384): Leben und Werk (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 94–95, 111–13.

25

221

222

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

Emperor Valerian (253–259 CE).26 And here, in this very spot, they say, Sixtus and his companions were slaughtered even as they celebrated the Church’s most holy sacrament. It is a compelling story, increasing the sense of wonder and reverence for Catholic tourists still today. This sort of storytelling tourism in the catacombs was the brainchild of de Rossi himself, who would lead “adult education” visits to Callixtus in the mid-nineteenth century. On the day that commemorated the martyrdom of Sixtus and his companions, August 6, de Rossi would assemble small groups on the grounds above the catacombs and intone: On this very place … where we are standing, on 6 August 258 Pope Sixtus II was presiding with this deacons over a meeting of Christians … then the police arrived. The old pastor refused to flee. They seized him and took him away. A few paces from where we stand they beheaded him, his deacons with him. That same evening, he was buried in a crypt beneath your feet.27

The transformation of the catacombs into worthy sites of “teachable moments” such as this was a product of nineteenth-century Catholicism, but more specifically, of de Rossi’s recognition that sacred archaeology most effectively functioned as spiritual edification for the Catholic faithful. Whereas in the sixteenth century the catacombs were useful – whether as the free and virtually limitless source of holy relics or, conversely, as a site for vigil and introspection – organized catacomb tourism for the curious began with Giovanni Battista de Rossi. Today Rome’s major catacomb sites always include in their tours a fairly robust mini-lecture on the catacombs, their nature and origins, the early Christian community, the use of Christian symbols, and the significance of the martyrs in shaping Catholic history. In other words, Callixtus functions still today as a potent mnemotopia, following the principles that de Rossi had established over a century ago. Callixtus The evidence derives from Cyprian, Ep. 80 = CSEL 3/2, p. 840: “My dear brothers … the Emperor Valerianus has sent his order to the Senate that bishops, priests and deacons be immediately executed. Sixtus, our good and peaceable father, endured martyrdom together with four deacons on August 6 while in the area of the cemetery.” 27 The story is recounted in W. H. C. Frend, The Archaeology of Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 80. De Rossi identifies the execution spot not in the Crypt of the Popes, but in a small sub divo basilica above ground nearby known as the “eastern trichora” from the shape of its triconch martyrial shrine.

26

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

now has on its grounds a bright aboveground chapel filled with pews and easels bearing posterboards set up in front of the altar. Visitors sit and listen to these illustrated lectures, glancing up at fragments of ancient inscriptions and sarcophagi embedded into the wall. At the back of the chapel, a flat modern tomb slab, simply adorned, is marked off with low chains. There, the body of Giovanni Battista de Rossi remains forever close to his beloved catacombs, listening in on every tour.28 *** The catacomb complex of Callixtus comprises just over ninety acres, with a network of subterranean galleries nearly twelve miles long. Its five levels sink more than twenty meters deep into the city’s volcanic tuff.29 Although it is now one of Rome’s largest catacombs, it had much humbler origins. Louis Reekmans, in his authoritative survey of the site published in 1964, argues that it grew up as two independent burial nuclei, α and β, between the end of the second and the first half of the third century.30 This combined area, termed Area I, originated as an aboveground plot of 250 × 100 feet, filled with sub divo graves arranged haphazardly,



According to his tombstone, de Rossi’s body was “translated,” fittingly, from the Campo Verano cemetery on November 12, 1994, by the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology. The occasion was the one-hundredth anniversary of his death. Although the tomb is simple, there is also an elaborate bust of de Rossi on the chapel wall and a Latin inscription in the classical style commemorating his life and work. 29 For overviews, see Baruffa, The Catacombs of St. Callixtus; O. Marucchi, Le catacombe Romane. Opera Postuma (Rome: La libreria dello Stato, 1932), 189–250; J. Ripostelli and O. Marucchi, Via Appia: à l’epoque Romaine et de nos jours. Histoire et description (Rome, 1908; reprint 1967), 296–337; James Stevenson, The Catacombs: Rediscovered Monuments of Ancient Christianity (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978), 26–27; J. P. Kirsch, The Catacombs of Rome (Rome: Società amici delle catacombe, 1933), 135–52. Much more up to date is the excellent work of Lucrezia Spera, “The Christianization of Space along the Via Appia: Changing Landscapes in the Suburbs of Rome,” AJA 107 (2003): 24–25. 30 L. Reekmans, La tombe du pape Corneille et sa région cémétériale (Vatican City, 1964). See also Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai and Jean Guyon, “Relire Styger: Les origins de l’area I du cimetière de Calliste et la crypte des papes,” Origine delle catacombe Romane. Atti della giornata tematica dei Seminari di Archeologia Cristiana (Roma 21 marzo 2005). Sussidi allo Studio delle antichità cristiane XVIII (Vatican City: Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology, 2006), 121–61. Note that this modern scholarship corrects many of the misperceptions of the nineteenth century. 28

223

224

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

perhaps set apart by a fence.31 Whether or not it was Christian at the time remains an unanswerable question. In the fourth century, wealthy families – by now, assuredly Christian – built their mausolea here.32 Beneath the ground, a system of galleries was set out along two parallel main passageways, running back and forth in a grid pattern. It was planned in such a way as to allow for expansion, which began in the third century and continued for nearly two centuries. Around 235 CE, five separate cubicula were constructed along one of the main subterranean passageways, the first “privileged” burial spaces.33 Four are single cubicula, with three main burial areas against each of its walls; the Crypt of the Popes alone is double, with two connected chambers and extra burial spaces.34 At some point later – although not much later – alongside Area I was dug another area of graves, reportedly containing the remains of three more Roman bishops: Gaius (283–296 CE), Eusebius (309–310 CE), and Miltiades (311–314 CE).35 This “Region of Miltiades” also comprises elaborate cubicula from a later period, as wealthier Romans came to join the religion, or as the shift occurred from private hypogea to catacombs in the late fourth century.36 It is far from clear that the original burial sites of Area I were exclusively Christian, although generations of Vatican scholars insisted that they were.37 Roman Christians of the high Empire likely did not have







For a diagram of Area I, see L. Spera, “Christianization of Space,” 25, fig. 1; L. Spera, “Cal(l)isti coemeterium (Via Appia),” LTUR Sub 2 (2004), figs. 43–7 and text from 37–8 and 41–2. For the excavations of the ground-level cemetery, see de Rossi, Roma Sotterranea Cristiana, 3.498–9; U. M. Fasola, “Scoperta di nuovi dati monumentali per lo studio dell’area prima callistiana,” RAC 59 (1983): 257–73; Lucrezia Spera, Il paesaggio suburbano di Roma dall’antichità al medioevo: Il comprensorio tra le vie Latino e Ardeatino dalle Mura Aureliane al III miglio (Rome: L’ERMA di Bretschneider, 1999), 111–13, 173. 32 Spera, Il paesaggio suburbano, 109–11, 115. 33 Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai, “The Origin and Development of the Roman Catacombs,” in Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai, Fabrizio Bisconti, and Danilo Mazzoleni, The Christian Catacombs of Rome, 17. 34 L. Spera, “Les tombes des papes,” in Rome: de Constantine à Charlemagne, Les Dossiers d’archéologie 255 (Dijon: Editions Faton, 2000), 47–61. 35 Fiocchi Nicolai, “The Origin and Development of the Roman Catacombs,” 30. 36 Spera, “The Christianization of Space,” 28–30. 37 On the likelihood of Christian catacombs not being exclusively Christian, see now the important revisionist work of John Bodel, “From Columbaria to Catacombs: Communities of the Dead in Pagan and Christian Rome,” in Laurie Brink and 31

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

separate burial grounds; it was not the custom in Rome to reserve exclusive burial plots for those of the same religion, and there was nothing in Christian texts to suggest that it was inappropriate to bury the dead with people of other religious faiths or inclinations.38 Rather, burial by family group remained the norm throughout the Empire into late antiquity. If a family included both Christian and non-Christian members, this seems to have mattered little.39 Since burial remained largely a family affair until the late fourth century, there was little reason for Christians to insist upon a collective burial ground restricted to members of their own religion.40 The idea that initially drove de Rossi to identify this catacomb as that of Callixtus – that, in the third century, the bishop of Rome Zephyrinus (198–217 CE) appointed the deacon Callixtus as head of the Christian Deborah Greene, eds., Roman Burial and Commemorative Practices in Earliest Christianity (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008), 177–242; Kim Bowes, “Early Christian Archaeology: A State of the Field,” Religion Compass 2/4 (2008): 585. 38 Rebillard, Care of the Dead, x: “…burial and commemoration of the dead were left by the bishops out of their sphere of control and to the care of the family.” See also J. Harries, “Death and the Dead in the Late Roman West,” in S Bassett, ed., Death in Towns: Urban Responses to the Dying and the Dead, 100–1600 (Leicester: University of Leicester Press, 1992), 56–65. Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai leads the charge of those who strenuously disagree, claiming that from the close of the second century, Christians felt the need to create exclusive burial grounds, partly because of the exponential growth of the community, for which he cites Hippolytus, Ref., IX.12.23–4 and Tertullian, Apol. 37.4, partly because of the need to preserve a united religious community (Aristides, Apol. 15.5–7; Tertullian, Apol. 39.1–2); the desire to retain space for specific burial rites (Martyrdom of Polycarp 18–28; Tertullian, De Anima 51), and finally, the need to give everyone a Christian burial (Aristides, Apol. 15.6; Tertullian, Apol. 39, 5–6; Hippolytus, Trad. Ap. 40.1–2, trans. Alistair Stewart-Sykes, On the Apostolic Tradition [Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001]), 163. See Nicolai et al., Christian Catacombs of Rome, 15. Rebillard, Care of the Dead, x, charges that these primary sources upon which the Pontifical archaeologists rely are “not in fact supporting their interpretation of material remains.” I will add that apart from Hippolytus, these primary sources are not discussing the situation in Rome, which presented a specialized case. 39 Mark Johnson, “Pagan-Christian Burial Practices of the Fourth Century: Shared Tombs?” JECS 5/1 (1997): 37–59. 40 On burial as a “family affair” even into the Christian period, see Richard P. Saller and Brent D. Shaw, “Tombstones and Roman Family Relations in the Principate: Civilians, Soldiers and Slaves,” JRS 74 (1984): 124–56; Valerie Hope, “A Roof Over the Dead: Communal Tombs and Family Structure,” in R. Laurence and A. Wallace-Hadrill, eds., Domestic Space in the Roman World: Pompeii and Beyond. JRA Supplementary Series 22 (1997): 69–88; Rebillard, Care of the Dead, 13–36.

225

226

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

cemeteries of Rome – derives, as we have seen, from a loosely historiographical (or, more properly, heresiological) text that was newly available in early modern Rome. Éric Rebillard has argued forcefully and persuasively that the word “cemeteries” in the text was de Rossi’s own “cooked” version of the word τὸ κοιμητήριον that appears in the Vatican manuscript of the Refutatio in the singular. In other words, there was, according to Hippolytus, a single Christian cemetery in the third century over which Callixtus was deemed responsible. De Rossi’s switch to the plural – motivated, perhaps, from his own experience of multiple Christian burial sites ringing the city, all of which he adamantly believed had archaic nuclei – became entrenched in Catholic catacomb scholarship, resulting in the oft-made claim that from the third century, the Catholic Church controlled all the Christian catacombs that ringed the city. Éric Rebillard argues that the term koimeterion in early Christian literature and epigraphy refers consistently to a single tomb rather than a common burial ground.41 More specifically, the koimeterion came to refer to a martyr’s tomb and the place where it was located.42 In fourth-­century Antioch, for example, Christians did not understand koimeterion as “cemetery” but as the martyrium of Daphne.43 If this were the case for Rome as well, then the bishop Zephyrinus may have given the deacon Callixtus control over a martyrial shrine of some kind, but this is far from saying that the catacombs fell under the administration of the Church – or even that just the Catacombs of Callixtus, in particular, fell under the administration of the Church. This modern demotion of Callixtus is more in keeping with the modest size and scope of the Roman church in the third century, which was not yet large enough (and centralized enough) to have taken on such a task as administrating the many Christian burials

Rebillard, Care of the Dead, 1–12. This is, as Rebillard points out, the first Christian attestation in Greek for the word to be used euphemistically to refer to death. Rebillard makes the same argument in his earlier article, “KOIMHTHRION et COEMETERIUM: tombe, tombe sainte, nécropole,” MEFRA, Antiquité 105/2 (1993): 975–1001. 42 See Antonio Ferrua, Note al Thesaurus linguae latinae: addenda et corrigenda (Bari: Edipuglia, 1986), 121. 43 Rebillard, Care of the Dead, 7. His hypothesis makes sense of the Liber Pontificalis’ odd claim that mentions that some popes lived “in the cemeteries” (LP I, 161, 207, 227, 305–6).



41

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

and burial sites around the city.44 Beyond the questionable case of the gravediggers or fossores – who may or may not have constituted a “minor class of clergy” – there is no indication of a professionalization of funerary specialists within the nascent Church, nor is there the sense that Christian ecclesiastics actively collaborated with the professional corps already well established in the city.45 In short, the evidence for a Christian catacomb overseen by a single deacon – let alone all Christian catacombs in the city – appears to be more a fantasy of nineteenth-century scholarship, which manipulated historiographical tradition such that it retrojected an



On the centralized organization of the Roman church (or the lack of it) see Brent, Hippolytus and the Roman Church in the Third Century. Hippolytus is also the source for the claim that there were in the early third century collective subsidies that defrayed the cost of burial for those in the community who were lacking in financial resources (Hippolytus, Trad. Ap. 40). While this may have been so within local churches, there were no mechanisms for such a practice within the Church as a whole. It is possible that Christian communities helped out with the burial of their poorer members; of Roman burial societies, there is a voluminous bibliography, beginning with Theodor Mommsen, De collegiis et sodaliciis Romanorum (Kiel: Libraria Schwersiana, 1843) and Jean-Pierre Waltzing, Étude historique sur les corporations professionnelles chez les Romains depuis les origins jusqu’à la chute de L’Empire d’Occident, 4 vols. (Louvain: Peeters, 1895– 1900); for the historiography, see Jonathan S. Perry, The Roman Collegia: The Modern Evolution of an Ancient Concept, Mnemosyne Supplements 277 (Leiden: Brill, 2006). Rebillard rightly points out that the very category of collegia funeraticia was an invention of Theodor Mommsen (Care of the Dead, 38), thus rejecting the notion that Christianity was, in any way, a burial society. 45 That fossores constituted a class of clergy: Henri Leclercq, “Fossoyeurs,” DACL 5:2 (1923), col. 2065–92, convincingly debunked by Charles Pietri, Roma Christiana, 659–67, and Rebillard, The Care of the Dead, 1–12 and idem, “Les formes del’assistance funéraire dans l’empire romain et leur evolution dans l’antiquité tardive,” Antiquité tardive 7 (1999): 269–82. Sarah Bond, “Mortuary Workers, the Church, and the Funeral Trade in Late Antiquity,” Journal of Late Antiquity 6.1 (Spring 2013): 135–51, makes an excellent case for fossores as clergy although on this point alone I remain unconvinced. On the fossores, generally, see Elena Conde Guerri, Los “fossores” de Roma paleocristiana: studio iconográfico, epigráfico y social (Vatican City: Pontifical Institute of Christian Archeology, 1979); on the business of fossores, see as well as Bond, Jean Guyon, “La vente des tombes,” 574–76. On Roman funerary specialists, see John Bodel, “Dealing with the Dead: Undertakers, Executioners and Potter’s Fields,” in Valerie Hope and Eireann Marshall, eds., Ancient Rome, in Death and Disease in the Ancient City (London: Routledge, 2000), 128–51; idem, “Graveyards and Groves. A Study of the Lex Lucerina,” AJAH 11 (1994): 1–33. 44

227

228

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

idealized model of centralized administration onto a period when such a thing would scarcely have been possible.46 In the third century, then, the Catacombs of Callixtus were likely a great deal smaller, and comprised a number of privately commissioned galleries and cubicula that were gradually extended according to need so as to join up underground in a process that took a century or more.47 Although it is unlikely that such a large complex (and one that grew more or less organically, with cut-to-order tombs) was exclusively Christian, it certainly held Christian tombs from the third century onward. But this is not to say that the Crypt of the Popes had its origins this early; it would not yet have been established during Callixtus’ own pontificate (217–22 CE), at any rate. Even if it did come into being in the late third century following Valerian’s persecutions, it likely looked rather different. It was not de Rossi’s Crypt of the Popes, carefully pieced together with the zeal of a nineteenth-century impresario of the saints. That crypt – the one we still see – is a fanciful deception, a conceit. For it to be genuine, so many things would have had to have been different. *** Catholic guides to the Catacombs of Callixtus present the Crypt of the Popes as part of the site’s authentic, early core, remaining the focal point of Christian devotion well into late antiquity. In reality, a careful reading of his own notes as well as those of his protégés such as Orazio Marucchi reveal that de Rossi found the site entirely destroyed, clogged with backfill from other nearby galleries and cubicula.48 For whatever reason, past the time of Sixtus III in the 440s, this site was hardly known and hardly visited, quickly falling into utter ruin.49 The degree of this ruination is clear from Damasus’ elogium to the companions of Sixtus, which de Rossi recovered in no fewer than 126 separate fragments.50 It was never carried off, nor carefully preserved.



Kate Blair-Dixon, “Memory and Authority in Sixth-century Rome: the Liber Pontificalis and the Collectio Avellana,” in Kate Cooper and Julia Hillner, eds., Religion, Dynasty and Patronage in Early Christian Rome, 300–900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 59–76. 47 Borg, Crisis and Ambition, 76. 48 De Rossi, Roma Sotterranea Cristiana, 254. 49 Marucchi, Catacombe Romane, “…era talmente rovinata che fu necessario sostenerla con muri” (191). 50 Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome, 219. 46

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

Indeed, the very idea that there was once in Callixtus a “Crypt of the Popes” seems to be an early modern invention. Neither the Calendar of 354 nor the Liber Pontificalis suggest that all, or even many, of the popes buried in Callixtus were buried together in the same chamber. Damasus’ elogium suggests that the companions of Sixtus were buried in the same place, not even Sixtus himself, and certainly not a succession of popes.51 In all, the Crypt of the Popes presents a space that made sense only within the mentality of de Rossi’s time. In the nineteenth century, a Catholic renewal movement actively worked to recover the sacred past once again, and in particular, in projects that facilitated experiential, educational immersion into the glory of Rome’s martyr-soaked past. A Catholic magazine records that one fine spring day in 1870, Mariano Armellini and Orazio Marucchi, young students of de Rossi, were walking along the Via Nomentana, notebooks in hand. They happened upon Pius IX and his entourage, who stopped the students to inquire where they had been. The young men admitted that they had just come from the Catacombs of Sant’Agnese, on the instructions of their teacher. Blessing them, the pope said, “Dear children, go and pray to the holy martyrs in the catacombs, like the ancient Christians used to do so that we may be the stock of their precious blood. Study them, then, with love under the guidance of their good teacher.”52 Eight years later, Armellini and Marucchi joined together with two other students of de Rossi’s, Adolfo Hytreck and Enrico Stevenson, and devised the idea of forming an association to foster devotion to the martyrs of the catacombs. Almost precisely a year after Pius’ death, the Collegium Cultorum Martyrum was born on February 2, 1879. It operated in conjunction with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The explicit aim of the collegium – which still operates – remains as it was in the nineteenth century: to promote the catacombs and their martyrs, organizing religious services on the feast days of the saints.53

De Rossi apparently used medieval itineraries to determine that where one pope is, so are the others. The Einsiedeln itinerary states that where Sixtus lies, there lies also Antherus, Fabian, and Miltiades; according to the Malmsbury itinerary, there were Pontian, Stephanos, Eutychian, and Lucius buried with Sixtus. 52 Falasca, “Humble Splendor.” 53 In essence, the Collegium Cultorum Martyrum holds the line, so to speak, on maintaining the catacombs as primarily liturgical and devotional sites against the more archaeological thrust of de Rossi and the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology (PCAS) along with its instructional academy, the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology (PIAC). 51

229

230

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

The Catacombs of Callixtus became the unofficial headquarters for the Collegium Cultorum Martyrum. During this time, any newly discovered catacombs not already robbed out by the Church’s corposantari in the seventeenth century were emptied of large quantities of bone, swept out, and newly furnished with altars and other instruments to facilitate not just crowds of pilgrims, but of the pious wishing to celebrate Mass deep within them. It was in that environment of renewal and reconceptualization of ancient burial chambers as subterranean chapels to the holy martyrs that the Crypt of the Popes, as we find it now, was born. *** Let us consider the crypt as a space. As it exists today, it is a remarkably visually harmonious and relatively capacious room, quite different from the other large cubicula in the catacomb. This mark of difference – along with the sense of general familiarity – might tip us off that the chamber is predominantly an early modern reconstruction rather than ancient, from the rough opus sectile floor to the barrel-vaulted masonry ceiling. In fact, the masonry is a clear giveaway, since virtually all of the brickwork in the catacombs dates from early modern restorations.54 The masonry construction marks out not just the dimensions and high ceiling, but the regularity and large size of the room’s loculus graves. De Rossi’s chromolithograph in his Roma Sotterranea Cristiana (Figure 11) purports to show what the unrestored crypt looked like.55 The loculi are all entirely open and devoid of bones, looking rather like rows of industrial ovens. Columns lie broken in pieces; Damasus’ inscription is missing save for the bottom right corner. A small sarcophagus lies open on the floor on the right side, and architectural rubble fills the bottom loculus. The picture probably presents a romantic vision of the Crypt of the Popes, not an accurate snapshot of the chamber as it was discovered in the nineteenth century. De Rossi’s own account of the crypt’s origins can be read in his Roma Sotterranea Cristiana: once he had removed the backfill that clogged the space, what remained was a disused room with broken columns and bits of marble friezes. Both lateral walls contained loculi graves, but these were all open and lacked any

Although this is not explicitly stated in most catacomb scholarship, many of the masonry walls bear small Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology (PCAS) plaques, occasionally with dates, signifying that they are modern. 55 Pasquale Testini, Le catacombe e gli antichi cimiteri Cristiani, fig. 24 (interleaved between pages 160 and 161). 54

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

inscriptions.56 On the floor in front of the a mensa grave, a large rectangular marble base with four holes must have once, in de Rossi’s thinking, held an altar. A stuccoed, painted wall still visible in one corner revealed that the crypt had been painted before it was refaced with marble slabs. Above the door of the crypt, de Rossi observed traces of a monumental inscription, which contained the names not of those buried in one single cubiculum, but in “tutta la cripta.”57 It was the presence of this inscription and the refacing of the room with marble slabs that convinced de Rossi that he had found a papal crypt. In her extensive study of tomb types in the catacombs, the Italian archaeologist Donatella Nuzzo points out that it is difficult to reconstruct the number and nature of the original graves in the cubiculum (called, in her book, by its technical name, Cubiculum Aa), given the restorations from de Rossi’s era. At that point, she confirms, the side walls and loculi that we see now were more or less completely reconstructed.58 She notes that the central a mensa grave at the front remains less altered. Interestingly, Nuzzo argues throughout her work that an a mensa grave – in other words, a tomb with a long flat top like a table or, more to the point, an altar – was merely a particular tomb type that people might select for themselves or others, and was not specifically connected to Christian liturgical use or martyr veneration. Put differently, the tomb type came well before its later (perhaps much later) use as an altar.59 We cannot use it, therefore, to identify the grave of a martyr, or to assume that a cubiculum was designed for liturgical use or even more spontaneous acts of Christian veneration of a saint or martyr. The a mensa grave

De Rossi, Roma Sotterranea Cristiana, 256: “le due pareti laterali erano occupate da loculi sepolcrali, tutti aperti e privi delle loro iscrizioni.” 57 De Rossi, Roma Sotterranea Cristiana, 256. 58 D. Nuzzo, Tipologia sepolcrale delle catacombe romane: i cimiteri ipogei delle vie Ostiense, Ardeatina e Appia (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2000), 93: “ridisegnando nelle murature moderne sei tombe a loculo per parete, disposte in pile verticali da tre loculi ciascuna, e in basso quattro nicchie per sarcofagi.” 59 Here, Nuzzo argues against Vatican archaeologist Paul Styger, “L’origine del cimitero di S. Callisto sull’Appia,” Rendiconti della Pontificia Accademia Romana di Archeologia 4 (1925–1926): 91–153, who claimed that the tomb had once been a humble loculus but was later transformed into an a mensa tomb as it came to be venerated. Nuzzo counters that it makes more sense that it was originally an a mensa, given its singular placement low against the short wall; loculi are higher and rarely found alone.

56

231

232

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

in Cubiculum Aa, viewed with a clinical archaeological eye, is merely the most important grave in a tomb chamber that probably originally contained other less impressive graves – a fairly standard layout for the burial of families, where the grave of the paterfamilias, primary couple, or occasionally, materfamilias stands at the front of the chamber surrounded on three sides by the graves of other family members. At some point, Nuzzo guesses, the a mensa tomb was renovated, fitted out with a marble slab facing, which covered its original painted decoration. In the final phase, the tomb was again altered, with its front resurfaced in tufa and brick so that a marble inscription could be affixed. Nuzzo does not venture to give the dates of the original grave or its first renovation, although she does note that the inscriptional material was erected around the time of Damasus (366–384 CE). An a mensa grave type is frequently presented in Catholic catacomb literature as a grave particularly constructed for veneration and commemoration, since the mensa appears like a primitive altar that covers the body. But here, although Sixtus’ grave is the only a mensa type in this particular room, there are many others in different cubicula nearby. In other words, Sixtus’ grave was not an unusual one within that older area of the Catacombs of Callixtus; it would not have stood out as the most significant grave to be visited. It was one of a series of similar tombs, and, at the time of its construction and until later interventions, must have looked no more impressive than others of the same type. In her typology of tombs, Nuzzo identifies Sixtus’ grave of the “Ma1” type; others of this type are at Cubiculum Ao (the important and theoretically early “Cubiculum of the Sacraments” – where the tomb has not been altered and is much less grand), Cubiculum Ap, and Cubiculum Ar, both nearby. Essentially, she demonstrates that a mensa tombs were a common type within the catacombs that peaks around the years 230–245 CE, diminishes by 253–275 CE, and disappears altogether by 300–350 CE.60 By focusing solely on tomb type and moving systematically through cubiculum after cubiculum in the catacombs without drawing in, say, inferences and identifications based on links with primary sources, Nuzzo’s work effectively dispenses with the nineteenth-century arguments for the Crypt of the Popes’ early significance. By noting that



Nuzzo, Tipologia sepolcrale, 89.

60

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

Sixtus’ grave was not, architecturally, anomalous from ordinary privileged types used conventionally within family tomb chambers – and the chamber therefore not purpose-built as an early Christian chapel – much of the evidence for the crypt’s importance in antiquity is lost. The best she can adduce is that Damasus, at some point in the second half of the fourth century, “dressed up” the central grave in the chamber with marble and a large inscription dedicated to Sixtus and his companions. It does not mean, certainly, that the tomb was originally Sixtus’, nor that it had been venerated before Damasus’ (or a later pope’s) intervention. And by the time de Rossi found Damasus’ inscription, it was far from being in situ; he found it at the bottom of a pit some distance away on the surface. De Rossi carefully gathered the fragments and had the inscription installed where it stands today, before the main tomb.61 Had Christians before Damasus’ time reused a family crypt as a papal burial chamber? If so, this was not how Damasus understood it. For him, as he added a broad staircase, light wells, and marble facing, it was now a shrine to only one of his episcopal predecessors, Sixtus II. *** If the architecture of the Crypt of the Popes suggests that this was not an ancient burial crypt of the early leaders of the Church at Rome, we might turn to other types of evidence. The inscriptions bearing the names of the third-century popes placed there within the loculus closures serve as important evidence. At least, one would think so. Upon close examination, it becomes clear that the inscriptions on their broken slabs have been carefully set into the early modern masonry loculi. There is no evidence that they were originally in this chamber at all. The original archaeological evidence is revealing; at its discovery in 1909, the Pontian epitaph (ICUR 4 10670) was in pieces, found at the bottom of a well in the crypt of Cecilia, “in mezzo a frammenti diversi gettati lì alla rinfusa nell’epoca dell’abbandono delle catacombe,” (“in the midst of assorted fragments thrown there as refuse in the era of abandonment of the catacombs”), according to de Rossi’s student Marucchi.62 The Antherus inscription (ICUR 4 10558), now affixed on the left wall of the crypt,

Fabrizio Mancinelli, Guide to the Catacombs of Rome (Florence: Scala, 1981), 22. O. Marucchi, “Ossservazioni sull’iscrizione del papa Ponziano recentemente scoperta e su quelle degli altri papi del III secolo,” Nuovo Bulletino di archeologia cristiana (1909): 35–50, and “L’inscrizione di un papa del III secolo, scoperta recentemente nelle catacomb romane,” in Scuola Cattolica (Monza, 1910), 14.

61

62

233

234

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

was imported from another part of the catacomb in three chunks.63 Of the others in the crypt, there is no word as to where they were found originally. De Rossi says, Fra mille e mille rottami d’ogni maniera e di centinaia d’iscrizioni diverse son giunto a riconoscere e scegliere quelli di quattro epitaffi di romani pontefici del secolo III, e ricompostili v’ho letto i nomi di Anterote, di Fabiano, di Lucio, e di Eutichiano. Ecco i disegni accurati di queste elette reliquie più dell’oro e di qualsivoglia gemma preziose.64

In short, de Rossi had at his disposal “ten thousand fragments” of inscriptions collected from the general vicinity, from which he selected those matching the names of four third-century bishops. He goes on to reveal that Damasus’ elogium to Sixtus and his companions was also entirely missing from the chamber when he excavated it; the pilgrims’ graffiti, he claims, was enough for him to be absolutely sure that the crypt held Sixtus II’s body. But otherwise, the room contained “non un briciolo d’ iscrizione”: not a fragment of inscription.65 Since de Rossi himself admitted that the inscriptions were found scattered over a wide area, there is little ancient evidence that they all originally derived from the same cubiculum. In fact, we can reconstruct the circumstances and the order in which they likely occurred: first, de Rossi – ever the scholar – read the Liber Pontificalis and the Calendar of 354, with their accounts and list(s) of the third-century bishops of Rome. This gave him the textual evidence that he needed as he went about his excavations: that a series of bishops with single names had been put to death and buried at Callixtus. He assumed from his reading of Hippolytus, too, that he was excavating the heart of Callixtus, and also assumed (based on later practice) that these popes had been buried together. When he found a chamber with an a mensa grave at the

For comments and a reproduction, see Carletti, #19 (p. 147). De Rossi, Roma Sotterranea Cristiana, 255: “Among ten thousand fragments of every sort and hundreds of different inscriptions I came to recognize and choose those four epitaphs of the Roman pontiffs of the third century, and, reassembling them, I have read the names of Antherus, Fabian, Lucian, and Eutychian. Here are the accurate drawings of these relics, more precious than gold or any sort of precious gem.” 65 De Rossi, Roma Sotterranea Cristiana, 255. 63

64

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

front and pilgrims’ graffiti covering the entrance hall, he imagined that this must have been the site where these third-century popes had been interred. He then went searching for inscriptions in the general area that matched the names in the ancient sources, and “repatriated” them to the crypt. Let’s turn to those inscriptions now. Were they, as de Rossi and all others from the Pontifical Commission have insisted until today, really the epitaphs of these Roman bishops? Unfortunately, there is no way to date epigraphy except on paleographic grounds, which in itself is “extremely ephemeral and inconsistent,” admits Danilo Mazzoleni, one of the reigning epigraphic experts at the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology.66 To be completely secure in dating an inscription, one needs consular dating, or sometimes a coin pressed into mortar – what archaeologists term “impressed age.”67 As it happens, the thirdcentury dates ascribed to the inscriptions in the Crypt of the Popes are relative, not absolute; they are based upon the names in the inscription matching the dates for those popes established in the Liber Pontificalis and Calendar of 354. Text, here, clearly drives the trowel. This is why, without benefit of secure contextual dating, Vatican epigrapher Carlo Carletti dates the stone of Antherus (ICUR 4 10558) to 236 CE.68 A remarkable feature of the papal epitaphs is that they all share a very similar style, both in their form and in their script. This, to many interpreters, suggests that there was a deliberate attempt to create visual uniformity. Many of these figures met their deaths over a fifty-year span, if tradition is correct: Pontian is the earliest, dying in exile in Sardinia (235 CE), followed by Antherus (236 CE), Fabian in 250 CE, Lucius in 254 CE, and Eutychian in 283 CE. Yet their epitaphs match remarkably well. It is not inconceivable that the same carver or workshop executed the inscriptions over the span of fifty years. But such continuity is

Fiocchi Nicolai et al., Christian Catacombs of Rome, 153. For the problem with “impressed age” in dating material from the Catacomb of Callixtus, see L. V. Rutgers, Klaas van der Borg, and Arie F. M. deJong, “Radiocarbon Dates from the Catacombs of St. Callixtus in Rome,” Radiocarbon 47/3 (2005): 395–400. 68 Carlo Carletti, Epigrafia dei cristiani in Occidente dal III al VII secolo: ideologia e prassi (Bari: Edipuglia, 2008), 147. The stone is in three pieces, apparently carved by a single hand, in a style that matches that of the others, particularly Fabian and Pontian.



66

67

235

236

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

manifestly unlikely, particularly during an era of persecution and chaos. It is far more likely that different carvers were involved – even in the creation of a single inscription – and that these were created within the same general time period, following a convention or fashion of the era for single low-status graves – most likely those of slaves, whose owners would have had the resources to have their gravestones incised. Were they free poor, most likely no one would have had the money to pay for their formal commemoration, let alone their burial. If we can’t date them, one might argue that the epitaphs all resemble one another; they appear to go together as a set. Their simplicity – a single name only, framed with the occasional leaf ornament, and the short form “EPI” for episcopos, underscores not only the impression that they belong together as a set, but also that they mirror the nature of the third-century church: these were humble graves for humble men, men who (like their modern counterparts) were celibate and thus buried without the customary reference to family members that one finds on a large proportion of funerary epitaphs. But if one were to argue that the papal inscriptions differed from other contemporary ones because they belonged to significant members of the community and thus were specially carved with a unique script, it is not difficult to find examples of non-papal inscriptions from the catacombs that share a similar style. In his recent study of Christian epigraphy, Carlo Carletti includes four epitaphs for non-elites (probably slaves) that are similarly brief and which date from the same time period.69 There are notable differences between these and the papal inscriptions, however. They are painted rather than incised. Two, both from the Catacombs of Priscilla to the north of the city, contain the adjuration “pax”: ICUR 9 25046: “Caelestina, pax!” and ICUR 8 23243, “pax te cum Filumena.” These are Latin rather than Greek, and have rather different letter forms from the papal inscriptions; the latter employ a lunate epsilon, whereas the others of the same era have rectilinear epsilons. The alphas of the papal inscriptions have a double-foot flourish on the top, whereas the other contemporary comparanda have a single foot. Three other comparanda to the papal epitaphs in Carletti’s collection of early Christian epigraphy prove more interesting.70 These, too, come from Callixtus, in the region of Cornelius, thus physically close to the

Carletti, 148–52. Ibid.

69 70

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

Crypt of the Popes; all three are in Greek and commemorate Christians simply; one bears only the name Antiochus cut with a clear, even hand (ICUR 4 9480). ICUR 4 9484 features a single name, Hesperos, in Greek, with the exact same hand as the papal inscriptions, plus an anchor and leaf decoration.71 Similar, though a slightly different hand, is the epitaph of Pomponius (ICUR 8 21553), also in Greek, and also just a name.72 It seems to me, then, that anyone who might argue that the papal inscriptions of the crypt form a unique and self-delimiting set on the basis of their laconic style would be simply ignorant of similar examples from the same catacombs. An inscription with a single name also does not suggest papal celibacy in the third century; it signifies a lowstatus grave of indeterminate date. Finally, it is hardly surprising that de Rossi found examples of epitaphs bearing single names that matched those of third-century bishops, given the number of inscriptions available to him, the relative commonality of their names, and the sheer number of inscriptions bearing only a single, incised name in Greek. There is a possibility – albeit remote – that Pope Damasus may have had a hand in setting up this crypt as a memnotopic space. His attempts to promote the Cult of the Saints, and to increase the power of Rome’s episcopal See, have been well documented. Certainly, Vatican archaeologists saw Damasus’ hand in the renovation of the crypt. I am sure that Damasus did believe this room to be Sixtus’ burial chamber. But I also believe that Sixtus and his unnamed companions were the only ones he thought were buried there. He makes no reference to the burial of other bishops in that space, and no other late antique document refers either to a Crypt of the Popes or to Damasus having constructed one. It is difficult to imagine that Damasus – ever the promoter of Rome’s episcopal primacy – would have passed up the opportunity to broadcast the glorious display of papal succession and forbearance that would, at that time, have been in place for nearly a century. But this, he does not do. So we are left with a mystery: were those inscriptions that de Rossi collected originally in that chamber? How do we know? (Figure 12). Closely scrutinized, the inscriptions reveal unsettling details. The Fabian inscription (ICUR 4 10694), for example, was found broken vinto four pieces of terracotta. Its letters are unevenly spaced. The letters

Carletti, #25, pp. 150–51. From the “area di s. Cornelio” at Callixtus (on inscriptions in this area, see also Carletti 1988, p. 126 and table on p. 119). 72 Carletti, #27, pp. 152–53. 71

237

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

Line drawings by Nicola Denzey Lewis, 2019.

238

Figure 12.  Papal inscriptions, 2019.

Φ Α Β Ι Α are tightly packed and deeply incised, with ornamental flourishes. There is an unsteadiness to these letters that quickly disappears as the name continues. The following letters, N O C, are more even in form and less crudely cut. They are also more generously spaced. Two things stand out in particular: the scribe’s guideline is clearly visible above the O, C, and E (of “episkopos”) but not above the first five letters, which clearly extend, almost messily, above the top guideline. Why would a stonecutter begin his letters without a guideline, and halfway through, add one? And why would a stonecutter, working from left to right, knowing how much space he had extending to the right to complete a single name without crowding, tightly pack the first five letters of the deceased’s name and then gradually increase the distance between letters for the last two letters of the name? The only solution I can deduce is that perhaps the fragments do not actually belong to the same inscription, but if not, the crack lines line up perfectly. At any rate, it is clear that the inscriptions, featuring a single name plus the additions “EPI” and “MTR,” were carved by three different carvers. Two separate carvers worked on the name, switching hands halfway through. It seems very likely that at least the last part of the inscription – the siglum

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

for “Martyr” – was carved very late, since it is in Latin rather than Greek and resembles early medieval script.73 Pontian’s inscription (Figure 12) (ICUR 4 10670), ΠΟΝΤΙΑΝΟΣΕΠΙ, is in six fragments, one of which has no letters on it.74 Four of these fragments bear the name itself, with the EΠI running directly into the name (it is separated in the Fabian inscription with a small ornamental mark). There are no scribal guidelines and the carving is deep and relatively uneven, with letter sizes varying and the entire inscription running very slightly toward the top right. The letter forms and spacings are consistent throughout, pointing to the same carver for all of it, including the “EΠI” at the end of the word. Curiously, though, the matching fragment that continues the inscription with the letter sigma has a rougher surface than the others, as if it were a different type of stone; probably this is an issue of differential wear, as if the stone were exposed to the elements rather than protected. Stranger, however, is that the fragment continues filling in the EΠI, with a half-cut lunate sigma and faint traces of a kappa. The word “episkopos” thus trails off oddly, as if not finished, even though there was abundant room on the stone. After a few centimeters, the word “martyr” is carved as a sigla, in a different hand from whoever wrote the first part of the epitaph, and in Latin rather than Greek. Eutychian’s epitaph (ICUR 4 10616) was found in ten pieces. It shares the same style as the others, with only the first three letters of “episkopos” extant. Lucius’ epitaph (Figure 12) (ICUR 4 10645), in two pieces, also seems oddly crowded in its letter forms, as if the carver were trying to squeeze the name in on the extant fragment; there is no indication that the word “episkopos” followed the name. Since de Rossi admits that he found the epitaphs in various places, we might consider that they were never originally in the Crypt of the Popes. The Liber Pontificalis notes only that these men were buried in Marucchi, Catacombe Romane, 193, confirms the different hand, but does not account for it. The language of the sigla is Latin, unlike the Greek of the main script of the inscription. This presents a similar puzzle to de Rossi’s “CORNELIVS MARTYR” epitaph, which is preserved in Latin rather than Greek, although Greek was the language of Roman Christians until the late fourth century. De Rossi (?) explains that since Cornelius was of the ancient Roman Cornelii family, the epitaph would have honored him in classical Latin as befitting his class. But Cornelius’ stone is far, in style, from a classical Latin epitaph for a member of the elite. 74 Marucchi, “Osservazioni,” 35–50. Marucchi, “L’iscrizione,” 14.

73

239

240

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

the Catacombs of Callixtus, not that they were buried in a single place. In fact, the remains of other episcopal graves lie elsewhere in the complex. Most cynically of all, one might be tempted to suggest that given the presence of other Greek funerary inscriptions featuring a sole name such as Caelestina and Hesperos, someone in the nineteenth century exulted in finding single-named epitaphs of deceased Christians that happened to match the names of popes mentioned in the Liber Pontificalis – not hard to imagine, considering the number of available inscriptions (de Rossi admits to sifting through thousands of fragments to find the papal ones) and the commonness of the names.75 These were relatively humble epitaphs of low-status Christians, whose families did not have the resources for more elaborate tombs. This would account, too, for the relatively eclectic assortment of third-century popes we find represented; free-floating epitaphs were matched to names from historiographical sources and then intentionally re-placed together, in a group that was not likely to be comprehensive, but which reflected various exigencies of time, style, commonality or popularity of names, and so on. In any case, all fingers point to de Rossi as the one who crafted the Crypt of the Popes as a showcase designed to impress his papal benefactor and to produce a worthy locus of devotion to the martyrs for the new energetic attentions of the Collegium Cultorum Martyrum. Re-collecting fragments like precious relics from all over his site, he reunited them and cemented them in to the loculus “closures” of his reconstructed masonry walls, where they remain today. Since de Rossi explicitly stated that the graves in the crypt were empty, the inscriptions actually mark cenotaphs – empty graves without papal relics. De Rossi seems unconcerned that the Crypt of the Popes contains no bodies of popes; for him, as he stated, the inscriptions themselves were more precious than jewels.76 But were these authentic inscriptions? I am left troubled, I admit, by the different hands evident on the carvings; they appear to stymy reason, unless existing inscriptions were later altered to make their names match those from the ancient sources. Certainly, it makes sense to me that the martyr sigla were added later – very much later. This raises the

De Rossi, Roma Sotterranea, 254. Revaluing of inscriptions as relics: see Ann Marie Yasin, “Displaying the Sacred Past: Ancient Christian Inscriptions in Early Modern Rome,” International Journal of the Classical Tradition 7/1 (2000): 39–57.

75 76

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

possibility that the papal inscriptions were forged – a scandalous idea, to be sure, but not unprecedented, even among ancient Christian inscriptions. The Oxford Handbook of Roman Epigraphy contains a long and informative chapter on the many forgeries and faked Christian funerary inscriptions that first emerged in the early modern period. The intention of the forgers was neither to deceive nor to profit, but (in the minds of the forgers) to “restore” inscriptions to their former splendor.77 One famous and prodigious epigraphic forger, Pirro Ligorio (1512–83) worked to “give the dead their souls back” (“restituire l’anima agli estinti”) by filling in lacunae to create, according to Silvio Orlandi, “fake but (at least in part) plausible epigraphic texts … and he presented them alongside authentic texts to corroborate various arguments.”78 Ligorio worked in the sixteenth century, but scholar Maria Caldelli names at least one eighteenth-century trafficker in forged epitaphs based at the Roman monastery of San Paolo fuori le Mura – a Benedictine friar named Pier Luigi Galletti.79 Rome remained the center of production for faked inscriptions into the nineteenth century, which brings us into the orbit of Giovanni Battista de Rossi and his learned circle of Catholic sacred archaeologists, all eager to “restore” late antique Christianity to highlight its age of ecclesiastical martyrdoms. Indeed, it is perhaps only coincidence that the young de Rossi lived, for a time, at the monastery of San Paolo fuori le Mura, which still held a considerable collection of early Christian inscriptions – most real, a few not. If someone had added a few letters to an inscription indicating that that person was a “martyr” or a “bishop,” surely this was merely helping to celebrate the truth that spoke to them through their faith: these were the long-lost epitaphs of Rome’s third-century martyr-popes, and de Rossi was the one, after these long years, to finally bring them home. *** If the architecture and inscriptional evidence for the Crypt of the Popes is less than convincing proof for its authenticity, there is still another set of evidence to discuss. If, as I have argued here, the Crypt of the

Silvio Orlandi, “Forgeries Transmitted in Manuscripts or in Printed Works,” in C. Bruun and J. Edmondson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Roman Epigraphy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 44. 78 Orlandi, “Forgeries,” 45. 79 Maria Letizia Caldelli, “Forgeries Carved in Stone,” in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Epigraphy, 53. 77

241

242

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

Popes were entirely de Rossi’s invention, we would not expect to find traces of ancient veneration of the site. However, the chamber’s vestibule and both sides of the entrance door are marked with devotional graffiti from late antiquity.80 This graffiti prompted de Rossi to take special note of the chamber, ultimately determining from them that he had really located the burial place of the third-century bishops. But, as in the case of the ancient graffiti from the shrine of St. Peter at the Vatican that is abundant but which never mentions the apostle, there is a distinct problem with this set of scrawled prayers and acclamations. Although the PIAC’s top epigrapher, Carlo Carletti, claims that from the time of Damasus, this area of the catacomb was the site of frequent pilgrimage, the graffiti he cites to prove this are virtually never addressed to the popes as intercessors.81 The sole exception is Sixtus, who is invoked directly in at least six separate graffiti – not on the entrance to the Crypt of the Popes, but on the walls of a nearby gallery – usually in the form of a simple invocation (SANCTE SVSTE; SVSTE SANCTE) but occasionally, somewhat more detailed, such as “O Saint Sixtus, remember Aurelius Repentinus in your prayers” ([sa]nte Suste in mentem abeas in horationes Aureliu Repentino).82 Most, however, address their prayers to others. Some direct themselves to the “holy spirits” of the place: “O Saintly Souls, remember Marcianus, Severus and all our brothers,” or “p[etite spirit]a sancta ut Verecundus com suis bene naviget.”83 Another famous one likens the crypt to Jerusalem: IERVSALEM CIVITAS ET ORNAMENTVM MARTYRVM D(omini).84 One directs itself not to any popes, but to the martyr Balbina, whose basilica and catacombs lie







Marucchi, Catacombe Romane, 187, with a reproduction of one of the graffiti walls on 189, fig. 54, and a transcription on 190. 81 Carletti, 148, citing ICUR 4 9524, 9522 and Carletti #174a, b, c. Graffito in the hallways by the entrance doors is the sole exception: “en theo meta panton pontiane zeses.” 82 Aurelius Repentinus = ICUR 4 9521. In Marucchi’s reproduction, I see six graffiti dedicated to Sixtus: “SANCTE XVCte,” “SANCte Suste in menTE ABEAS IN ORATIONE,” “SANTE SVSTE IN MENTE HABEAS IN HORATIONES AVRELIV REPENTINV,” “SANCTE SVSTE,” “SANCTE XYSTE in meNTE HABEAS IN HOrationes,” and “SVSTE SANcte VT AELIBERA.” 83 Even Carletti acknowledges that these are just as likely to be the general dead being petitioned as any saints. The wish for a safe voyage is a typical petition to the gods and, later, to one’s departed ancestors. 84 O. Marucchi, A Manual of Christian Archaeology (Patterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1935), 210.

80

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

on the same expanse of land as Callixtus, albeit farther from Via Appia: “d(omi)na Balbina pete pro Marcianum alumnum.” Another, very simple, says only “Cara mater.” The graffiti, then, bear testimony to the recognition of powers in this subterranean place – powers that are called souls, and that have the ability to intercede for the living. I count fewer than fifty on one wall, written over the span of 100 years.85 A conservative reading of the corpus of graffiti from the doors of the papal crypt reveals that pilgrims – or, perhaps, sometimes, just the cur­ious – came down to this place not as the Crypt of Popes, but as a subterranean place with spiritual potency, full of the spirits of the departed who might literally “keep them in mind.” They may have done so here, at precisely this place, not because of the popes but because it was one of the key entrance points to the catacombs, being connected to the surface by a broad stairway of the fourth century.86 They may have gone this far but no farther. Leonard Rutgers’ carbon dating analysis of a deeper region of the Catacombs of Callixtus – the so-called “Liberian region” – indicates that this part of the subterranean complex fell out of use by 377 CE, that is, during Damasus’ pontificate. Since subterranean topography was ever-changing due to the digging of new tunnels and the collapsing and backfilling of others, it is entirely possible that Damasus made the Crypt of the Popes and its adjacent rooms more accessible, but pilgrims coming to honor the multitude of martyrs buried in the catacombs as a whole (or even their family members) would have been able to penetrate only as far as this, leaving their scratched prayers for those whom they believed might hear, pope or not, martyr or not. To be fair, a good proportion of the graffiti associate Sixtus II with the place, but then, this area of Via Appia and Via Ardeatina was Sixtus’ world. Aboveground was a small chapel dedicated jointly to Sixtus II and Cecilia. Excavated in 1909, the chapel was surrounded by formae burials sunk directly into the ground. At some point in the early twentieth century, various sculptural and inscriptional fragments from the aboveground oratory were gathered and brought below ground.87

Carletti, 275, dates the graffiti between the middle of the fourth to the middle of the fifth century. 86 The stairway is attributed to Damasus, who notes that he built a new staircase in his elogium to Cornelius (#19 in Ferrua, Epigrammata). 87 “L’oratio di S. Sisto è ora restaurato e vi sono raccolte molte sculture ed escrizioni appartenenti al cimitero esterno. Nelle parete sinistra sono collocate alcune iscrizioni consolari del VI, V, and VI secolo; la più antica è del 362.” Marucchi, Catacombe Romane, 186, with picture on 186, fig. 51, of aboveground oratory. 85

243

244

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

De Rossi’s disciple Orazio Marucchi thinks that the oratory was for celebrating funerary feasts – it was destroyed in the Diocletianic period then rebuilt subsequently as a church of Sixtus and Cecilia, where it appears in the medieval Itineraria. Marucchi insisted that in his own day, one could see Zephyrinus’ tomb in the aboveground oratory, and in the seventh century it came to be venerated along with the tomb of Tarsicius. Damasus also established another elogium in this location. Evidently, Damasus particularly supported Sixtus’ cult, thus adding to the likelihood that what we call the Crypt of the Popes was a family hypogeum that had been re-visioned by Damasus and his successors as another subterranean site associated with Sixtus II and his companions. Over the centuries that followed, pilgrims may have descended to the chamber and left behind their pious graffiti – to Sixtus, to other saints and martyrs, and to their lost family members. The other third-century popes, by contrast, languished in obscurity for another 1,300 years. *** De Rossi’s claim to the Crypt of the Popes’ authenticity rests with a specific claim about the antiquity of Catholic tradition and papal succession. The Catacombs of Callixtus were not only the oldest Christian catacombs; they were also the most significant of Rome’s catacombs to fall under the centralized control of the Church in the third century. It made sense to de Rossi and his students, therefore, that a papal crypt would naturally have been located there. But would there have been, already in the third century, a designated burial place for the popes of Rome? If so, it is unclear from both the archaeological and textual evidence. The Depositio Martyrum of the Calendar of 354 lists only Fabian, Sixtus, and Pontian as buried in Callixtus but seems not to refer to any specifically papal burial crypt; the only other pope on this particular list is Callixtus, whom the list places on Via Aurelia. The same source’s Depositio Episcoporum lists Dionysius, Felix, Miltiades, Lucius, Gaius, Stephanos, Eusebius, Eutychian, and Julius at Callixtus but again, no specific location of these together is mentioned. These lists, moreover, are arranged by feast day rather than following topography. Later topographic sources such as the pilgrims’ itineraries of Einsiedeln (late eighth century) and the twelfth-century Mirabilia Urbis Romae are much later sources and speak to an imagined topography of

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

saints that is far from historical. In a useful article, Dale Kinney highlights the work of Nine Miedema in reclassifying the Mirabilia from a guidebook to part of the rhetorical genre of descriptio urbis, “where the reality of the city is embellished, coated or obscured by verbal formulas.”88 Although the itineraries indicate where martyrs (including martyr popes) were revered in Rome’s periphery, in no case do they mention a Crypt of the Popes at Callixtus, suggesting what the archaeological evidence already makes clear: any use of the site in antiquity as a martyrial shrine or as testimony to the potency of apostolic succession and papal suffering had clearly come to an end before the early Middle Ages. Still, it is significant, perhaps, that the most ardent work in the modern period on Roman topography all took place by de Rossi’s contemporaries: C. L. Urlichs’ Codex Urbis Romae Topographicus (1871); H. Jordan’s two-volume Topographie der Stadt Rom im Alterthum (1871); and Theodor Mommsen’s Chronica Minora 1 in the ninth volume of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica (1892). This widespread interest in Roman topography spoke to the concerns of nineteenth-century clerics, inducing them not just to add detail and depth to their reconstructions of the city, but also to connect the classical and early Christian past to their present.89 The medieval itineraries employed by the nineteenth-century Catholic archaeologists do furnish us with the names of martyrs and bishops buried at Callixtus, although they are “free-floating,” as it were, within specific catacomb sites. The popes at Callixtus not in the Crypt of the Popes include Anicetus (155–166 CE), the first of the popes

Dale Kinney, “Fact and Fiction in the Mirabilia Urbis Romae,” in Éamonn Ó. Carrágain and Carol Neuman de Vegvar, eds., Roma Felix: Formation and Reflections of Medieval Rome, 238. 89 Certainly, this concern underscored the palpable tension between the Classicist Mommsen and de Rossi, despite their professional cooperation. Mommsen charges de Rossi and the Christian archaeologists with shaping the past “to suit their own interests.” See J. S. Perry, “In Honorem Theodori Mommseni: G. B. De Rossi and the Collegia Funeraticia,” in C. F. Fonrad, ed., Augusto Augurio. Rerum humanarum et divinarum commentationes in honorem Jerzy Linderski (Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 2004), 112; S. Rebenich, “Giovanni Battista de Rossi und Theodor Mommsen,” in Lebendige Antike. Rezeptionen der Antike in Politik, Kunst, und Wissenschaft der Neuzeit. Kolloquium für Wolfgange Schiering (Mannheim: Palatium-Verlag im J. und J. Verlag, 1995), 173–86.

88

245

246

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

said to be buried in Callixtus and “translated” to the Altemps chapel at Palazzo Altemps in the early modern period, and Zephyrinus (199–217 CE), the bishop who appointed Callixtus as deacon of the cemetery, although there is no trace of his grave.90 Other popes associated with Callixtus from textual tradition but missing from the Crypt of the Popes are Soter (166–175 CE), whose death, like that of Anicetus, came before the initiation of even the earliest stages of the catacombs’ construction; Caius (283–296 CE) for whom we may have an epitaph from a different region of Callixtus; and finally Eusebius (309 CE) and Miltiades (311–314 CE). The epitaphs of these last two also appear to be extant, but they are longer and more detailed than the laconic inscriptions of earlier bishops. So why aren’t these other popes buried at the Crypt of the Popes? Catacomb guides today note that the Crypt filled quickly, forcing later popes to seek interment elsewhere. This “explains” why later popes were buried in other locations, even beyond the Catacombs of Callixtus. The Catacombs of Priscilla boast the remains of numerous popes, including Sylvester (314–335 CE), the bishop of Rome under Constantine. A funerary basilica dedicated to Sylvester still remains at the site. Callixtus (217–222 CE) and Julius I (337– 352 CE) are buried at Calepodius; Anastasius I (399–401 CE) and Innocent I (401–417 CE) – father and son – at Ponziano; and Boniface I (418–422 CE) at the Catacombs of Felicitas. We can conclude from this that the idea of a single “ecclesiastical burial ground” for early (and late antique) Christians is a fiction. Indeed – the reality of different bishops interred in different burial grounds in different quarters of the suburbs reinforces an emergent picture of Christianity in Rome as fissiparous, with sharp dividing lines set between warring episcopal factions. One final element of the argument that the Catacomb of Callixtus was a specially designated ecclesiastical burial ground worthy of consideration is a long inscription by the deacon Severus, discovered by de Rossi.91 Severus is buried with his family in a double cubiculum with an arcosolium and a lucinarium. The inscription looks forward to the resurrection of Severus’ young daughter Severa, and apparently refers to the authorization of Pope (“papa”) Marcellinus (296–304 CE) to build that grave. Marucchi, Catacombe Romane, 185: “S. Zefirino fu il primo papa sepulto in questo cimitero, ma di lui non si è ritrovata alcuna memoria.” 91 Discussed, with a photograph, transcription, and translation, by Carletti, Epigrafia, 157–58.

90

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

The elaborate inscription (ICUR 4, 10183), which Danilo Mazzoleni dates to 304 CE, is incised rather awkwardly on a chancel screen:92 This double room with arcosolium and light-well by the order of papa Marcellinus, this deacon Severus made as a quiet, peaceful home for himself and his family. By the order of his Father in God, or Pope Marcellinus where for a time he keeps his body in sweet sleep for his Maker and Judge. Severa, sweet child to her parents and servants gave up her life, a virgin, on the 8th of the Kalends of February. [Severa], whom the Lord caused to be born with wonderful wisdom and ability; incarnated into the flesh; that her body is buried here in peace and silence until it rises again through Him. He who took her soul, purified through the Holy Spirit, will keep her pure and inviolable whom the Lord shall restore again in spiritual glory. Who lived to the age of 9 years, 11 months, and some 15 days. Thus passes the ages.93

Danilo Mazzoleni, “Inscriptions in Roman Catacombs,” in Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai, Fabrizio Bisconti, and Danilo Mazzoleni, The Christian Catacombs of Rome, 166. The question remains what the chancel screen – usually a feature of church architecture and martyria, not generally of ordinary tombs – was doing in the space. The inscription is dated to the time of Marcellinus (296–304 CE), but this is early for chancel screens. It is clear from the way that the inscription works around the perforations in the marble that it was inscribed after the construction of the screen. For chancel screens in early Christian architecture, see Joan R. Branham, “Sacred Space under Erasure in Ancient Synagogues and Early Churches,” The Art Bulletin 74/3 (1992): 375–94. 93 ICUR 4 10584: 92



cubiculum duplex cum arcisoliis et luminare iussu p(a)p(ae) sui Marcellini diaconus iste Severus fecit mansionem in pace quietam sibi suisque memor, quo membra dulcia somno per longum tempus factori et iudici servet. Severa dulcis parentibus et famulisque reddidit VIII febrarias virgo kalendas, quam dom(inu)s nasci mira sapientia et arte iusserat in carnem, quod corpus pace quietum

247

248

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

Here, Severus notes that he had asked Marcellinus for permission to bury his daughter at these catacombs, presumably because they were reserved for members of the clergy.94 Yet there could just as plausibly have been other reasons for Severus asking for his superior’s permission. Given that Marcellinus is said to have been buried at the Catacombs of Priscilla off the Via Salaria far to the north, it seems curious that he had anything to do with burial at Callixtus. Perhaps Severus’ community, led by Marcellinus, tended to bury their dead at Priscilla, but Severus (for whatever reason) preferred Callixtus, thus requesting permission from his superior. Perhaps the tomb that Severus ordered required the destruction or displacement of an earlier tomb – technically illegal in Roman law, but a frequent occurrence – and Severus wished to note that the bishop had ordered the new tomb’s construction. In short, that Callixtus was a papal cemetery that required special dispensation for others to be buried within can hardly be sustained without further information, and without considering the number of laypeople interred there. The Severus inscription itself also warrants a new and objective examination; there is much about it that is strange, from the issue of Marcellinus’ order, the curious and unprecedented use of the term “papa,” and the very odd reuse of a transenna for the inscription. Finally, the length of the inscription and its ornate paleographic style stands in stark contrast with the simplicity of the papal epitaphs, although scarcely two decades divided them. Although I believe that it is authentic, it may be an example of a much-later inscription (say, early medieval) engraved upon a late antique transenna. It remains, to me at least, a compellingly mysterious object, not “proof” that part of Callixtus was reserved for clerical burials. *** If the landscape of early Christian Rome was fissiparous and fraught with inter-episcopal disputes and wranglings, there is no sense of this from Catholic historiography produced from the early modern period on. In its place, Catholic historiographers forged a dramatic and



hic est sepultum, donec resurgat ab ipso, quique animam rapuit spiritu sancto suo castam pudicam et inviolabile semper, quamque iterum dom(inu)s spiritali gloria reddet. quae vixit annos VIIII et XI mense XV quoque dies, sic est translata desaeclo.

Fiocchi Nicolai, “The Origin and Development of Roman Catacombs,” 27.

94

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

triumphant tale featuring a singular course of successive and visionary leaders. For young de Rossi, there were great stakes involved in claiming that the sprawling and haphazard pile of bones and stone fragments he found at Via Appia were in truth a unified burial complex for the early Church. The contours of that cemetery, emerging bit by bit beneath his trowel, reflected perfectly the narrative of triumphant Catholic growth evident in the Church’s own historiography, from the earliest sources in Hippolytus and the Liber Pontificalis through the early modern reconstructions of Aringhi and Baronio. The dominant strand of this historiographical tradition was the strong connective tissue forged between the emotive power of martyrdom, on the one hand, and the ideology of apostolic succession, on the other. The Crypt of the Popes is a fanciful deception, a conceit. As an archaeological fiction, it dissembles, misleading the modern viewer. So successful is its emulation of a fictive past that it has been translated into the category of the factual. Reconstructions of early Roman Christianity are built upon its scaffolding of a singular episcopacy that held fast to its sense of self through imperial persecutions. But for the Crypt of the Popes to be genuine, so many things would have had to have been different. The crypt presupposes a unified Christian community in the third century that chose a central cemetery and buried the majority of the Christian dead in that cemetery, an idea now fallen by the wayside. It presupposes that there was a single, recognized bishop of Rome – a pope, although most scholars now agree that this term was generally meaningless before the end of the fourth century. It presupposes that that pope was part of a select group that was cognizant of apostolic continuities, and which kept itself separate from other sorts of Christian social groupings. It presupposes that popes were celibate, and that they were buried together rather than with their wives or other family members, as was still the custom among Christians in late antique Rome. It presupposes that Roman bishops were equal to the martyrs in terms of their status as saints to be venerated. It presupposes that both popes and martyrs were visited in the Cult of the Saints, although the names of those supposedly buried there appear nowhere in the gesta martyrum. Only Sixtus, whose ostensible grave visually anchors the physical space, had a distinct following, at least on the basis of graffiti inscribed on the gallery walls surrounding the crypt. But can de Rossi be faulted for creating this commemorative space? Set in the context of the political upheaval of Ottocento Rome, the issue

249

250

De Rossi’s Deception: Crafting the Crypt of the Popes

of martyrdom must have weighed heavily on the minds of those at the Vatican. The bloody end of the Napoleonic occupation of Rome had left its scars on the city; even beyond the bloodshed and political turmoil, the French had removed cartloads of precious Roman artifacts from their sponsored excavations, not all of which had been returned to Rome as they should have. The birth of Christian archaeology in this period was a new way for the Vatican to reclaim its own past and authority. And the two events I highlighted here – de Rossi’s discovery of Cornelius’ epitaph in 1849 and Armellini and Marucchi’s walk along Via Nomentana that precipitated the formation of the Collegium Cultorum Martyrum in 1870 – coincided with seismic shifts in Rome’s fortunes. The year 1849 saw the spirited but ultimately unsuccessful resistance of the Garabaldini and nascent Italian Republic against Napoleonic forces, resulting in the temporary exile of Pius IX and later, his imprisonment in the Vatican; on September 20, 1870, Rome fell to the forces of King Victor Emmanuel II as the final, culminating act of the Risorgimento, heralding the unification of Italy and its birth as a modern political state, the dissolution of the Papal states, and ending Pius IX’s temporal power.95 As he put forth his dogma of papal infallibility that formed perhaps the most controversial feature of the First Vatican Council, the issue of papal succession became a crucial pedigree for Pius to hold fast to his waning authority within the Catholic Church. One might say, then, cynically, that if the Crypt of the Popes did not already exist in the middle of the nineteenth century, it most surely needed to be invented.



H. Pers, “Political and Social Conditions in Rome during the Reign of Pius IX,” in Roma dei fotografi al tempo di Pio IX 1846–1878: Fotografie da collezioni danesi e romane (Rome: Palazzo Braschi, 1977); David Kertzer, The Pope Who Would Be King: The Exile of Pius IX and the Emergence of Modern Europe (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018); Ciarán O’Carroll, “Pius IX: Pastor and Prince,” in James Corkery and Thomas Worcester, eds., The Papacy since 1500: From Italian Prince to Universal Pastor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 125–42.

95

6. Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones I 

n 1604, the vineyards and farm pastures beyond the Tiber and one of the city’s western gates, the Porta Portuensis, quickly gave way to a low escarpment, the steep southern slope of the Janiculum Hill. The escarpment’s friable cliffs had been, like most of the areas surrounding Rome, given over in antiquity to burials. The area bore the name “Colle Rosato,” the “rosy hill,” perhaps because of the soil’s reddish hue, some said, but perhaps because long ago, the roses festooning the graves of the dead colored the hill, particularly around ancient Rome’s Rosalia festival in May. Antonio Bosio, the so-called Columbus of the Catacombs, had heard rumors that there were, nestled into natural and hewn caves in the side of the slope, ancient catacombs that could still be accessed.1 He and a friend explored the site but were left sorely disappointed.2 Two hours of exploring yielded only a pile of shattered clay lamps and a few broken epitaphs. The catacombs themselves were shabby and uninteresting. Because he found “no sign of Christianity” in this catacomb but a few painted menorot and a broken inscription with the word “SYNOGOG …” still visible on it, Bosio concluded that the catacombs were Jewish – the first Jewish catacombs, in fact, to have been discovered in the city. Then, after



I am indebted in this chapter to Jessica Dello Russo’s exhaustive archival work and her online publications through the International Catacomb Society, including, most saliently, “The Monteverde Jewish Catacombs on the via Portuense,” Roma Subterranea Judaica 4 (2010): 1–37. 2 Antonio Bosio’s own description of his visit can be found in the first edition of his Roma Sotterranea: Opera Postuma (Rome, 1632), 143. 1

251

252

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

removing some unnamed items of casual interest and leaving some caustic anti-Semitic graffiti, Bosio and his pal left.3 At that moment, in 1604, the myth of the “Jewish catacomb” was born. The “Jewish catacomb,” I argue here, is an invented entity that persists in scholarly literature and popular understanding until this day, but which is rarely subjected to critical analysis. My argument is controversial, but I maintain that the adjective “Jewish,” when applied to certain Catacombs of Rome, is as misleading as the adjective “Christian” when applied to a similar set of Roman catacombs.4 Furthermore, it is misleading for a series of interconnected reasons, all having to do with how we see and determine religious identity in the Roman Empire and what investments we, as modern scholars, have in doing so. Above all, Rome’s Jewish catacombs – particularly those of Monteverde and Vigna Randanini, which will be the focus of this chapter – are sites, like the Christian catacombs of the city, wholly reconstructed in the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, “tidied up” and purged of any possible religious ambiguities.5 Thus “tidied up,” they also become a site for the projection of a set of assumptions concerning late ancient Judaism, Judaism as a whole, and the way in which Jews of late antique Rome conducted themselves. Uncovering the real story of the Jewish catacombs requires a brutal stripping away of centuries of acquired detritus: assumptions and biases, attitudes reflected starkly in Bosio’s anti-Semitic graffiti, but also in the naïve assurances that these sites do indeed reveal late ancient Judaism. Only this sort of deconstructive,



According to his account and a facsimile he provides, Bosio removed an oval lamp with three openings for wicks, with a large menorah on the upper face. Bosio, Roma Sotterranea, 143. 4 On the recent deconstruction of the “Christian catacomb,” see John Bodel, “From Columbaria to Catacomb: Communities of the Dead in Pagan and Christian Rome,” in L. Brink and D. Greene, eds., Roman Burial and Commemorative Practices in Earliest Christianity (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008), 177–242, and E. Rebillard, The Care of the Dead in Late Antiquity, trans. Elizabeth Trapnell Rawlings and Jeanine Routier-Pucci (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009). 5 “Tidied up” is the apt phrase employed by Tessa Rajak about the Vigna Randanini catacomb and the impossibility of using its inscriptions to do a social history of Rome’s Jewish population. See Tessa Rajak, “Inscription and Context: Reading the Jewish Catacombs of Rome,” in T. Rajak, ed., The Jewish Dialogue with Greece and Rome: Studies in Cultural and Social Interaction (Brill: Leiden, 2000), 434. 3

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

self-analytic work will allow us to properly reevaluate these sites and their material remains. As in the case of the Christian catacombs, only when we interrogate how we know what we know can we begin to arrive at a more accurate understanding of these sites in late antiquity. *** Although Bosio’s exploration of the Monteverde catacombs in 1602 was the first time a Jewish catacomb had been discovered, by 1928, six or seven others had come to light in the city: a fairly substantial one under Vigna Randanini in 1859 near the Catacombs of San Sebastiano; a small one nearby under Vigna Cimarra in 1866; another small hypogeum off Via Appia Pignatelli in the lands between Randanini and the Christian Catacombs of Praetextatus; a Jewish hypogeum on Via Labicana; and two burial complexes (originally counted as one) under the gardens of Mussolini’s estate to the northwest of Rome, the Villa Torlonia.6 An accurate count is difficult, however, since the sites were not properly recorded or excavated, and most have since disappeared. Let us begin with the obvious question we should ask ourselves: how do we know that these catacombs were Jewish? Antonio Bosio already made the first, negative argument: he found at Monteverde “no evidence of Christianity.”7 At this point, a series of questions ought to come to mind, along with attendant objections. One might suggest, for instance, that Bosio in his casual and brief exploration did not perhaps penetrate far enough into the catacombs to discover overt signs of Christianity; these were unexcavated passages, after all, not a series of easily navigable tunnels already cleared out where every grave was accessible. One might note that most catacombs in fact lack material that indicate religious identity; only a very small proportion of ostensibly Christian burials have Christian symbols on them, and there is good reason to date most of those fairly late. What if the Monteverde graves were predominantly

For early excavation reports of Villa Torlonia, see Umberto Fasola, “Le due catacomb ebraiche di Villa Torlonia,” RAC (1976): 7–62; and more recently, the many publications of Leonard Rutgers of the University of Utrecht. Because of severe issues of accessibility, I have not included an extensive discussion of Villa Torlonia’s catacombs in this chapter. 7 Bosio, Roma Sotterranea, 142: “Dal non ritrovarsi dunque in questo Cimiterio segno alcuno di Christianità.” The passage is quoted in full (and in English translation) by H. Leon, “The Jewish Catacombs and Inscriptions of Rome: An Account of their Discovery and Subsequent History,” HUCA 5 (1928): 300. 6

253

254

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

earlier than these, or else, not fully explored? One might ask what sort of evidence would have provided Bosio with a slam-dunk case that could render the entire complex a Jewish one. And how much evidence? A single painting of a menorah out of dozens of graves? A menorah and a partial inscription? Ten pieces of evidence? A majority of physical remnants? And finally, one might wonder about what assumptions drove Bosio when he found rough burials with some broken lamps bearing menorot and a fragment with the word “synagogue” partially preserved. In 1555, the Jews of Rome were confined to the ghetto, where they remained imprisoned in Bosio’s day. These Jews had the “privilege” of burying their dead separately from Christians, in a large cemetery very close, in fact, to the Monteverde catacombs, in a patch of land in front of the ancient Porta Portuensis.8 To state matters baldly, the only social model for Jews in Rome that Bosio knew was one of isolation; it would not have occurred to him that in antiquity, Jews may not have likewise had burial spaces that were entirely isolated from non-Jews. The discovery of one or two pieces of what appeared to him to have come from Jewish tombs equaled the discovery of an entire Jewish complex – one that he never fully explored nor ever mapped. The seventeenth-century identification of these sites as “Jewish” depended not just on their apparent lack of Christian graves but also on an important positive criterion: the presence of Jewish iconography, that is, usually a depiction or depictions of a menorah or menorot on some part of a single tomb, whether painted or scratched on the wall next to the grave, incised on an epitaph or sarcophagus, or on part of the material culture associated with the site, such as a terracotta lamp. These were certainly present at Monteverde, and there is little doubt in my mind that this catacomb contained Jewish burials. There was also the issue of the broken inscription bearing, it seemed, the word “synagogue” on it. Taken together, these two elements definitely “proved”

8

E. Josi, “Ritrovamento del piú antico cimitero degli ebrei sulla via Portuense,” Rivista storico-critica delle scienze religiose 1 (1905): 128–29. Under order of Urban VIII in 1625, Jews were no longer permitted to erect tombstones in this cemetery, and earlier ones were removed. According to a statute of 1363, Jews were not allowed to bury their dead in any place other than their Campo Giudaico. In March 2017, 38 skeletons dating between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries were uncovered at Via delle Mura Portuense from this cemetery and widely reported in Italian media. See www.ilmessaggero.it/roma/cronaca/trastevere_necropoli_ebrei-2332354.html.

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

the Jewishness of the entire complex. It should be emphasized, however, that in all other ways, catacombs identified as “Jewish” were in form and style identical to those identified as “Christian.” But there were other assumptions – perhaps we should call them prejudices – that could govern the decision to identify a site as thoroughly Jewish. At Monteverde, the shabbiness of the complex correlated in Bosio’s mind with the poverty of the Jews of his day segregated in the ghetto, a people he terms “bassa e meccanica.”9 At that site, too, the practice of closing loculus “slot” graves with masonry was at that time elsewhere unattested, and hence hypothesized to be a Jewish practice.10 And at the Vigna Randanini site – which I will discuss in depth presently – much emphasis is still placed upon the “Jewishness” of a burial type called kokhim, narrow burial slots dug perpendicular to the wall such that a body was inserted feet first rather than lengthwise. The kokhim identify a catacomb as Jewish because, in theory, they emulate rock-cut Jewish burials in the Levant. However, it should be noted that the majority of burial slots at both Randanini and Monteverde were horizontal loculi slots inserted into the wall, and that the so-called kokhim type appears as well in the major Christian complexes, where they are termed “a forno” or “oven” tombs.11 Additionally, there are no kokhim graves at either Monteverde or Villa Torlonia.12 While the discovery of new Christian catacombs in the sixteenth and again in the nineteenth century seized the city with “febrile excitement,” for the most part, excavations of these Jewish sites foundered due to a lack of interest and funds.13 Today, only the Villa Torlonia and Vigna Randanini sites remain; the others have been abandoned and lost.

Bosio, Roma Sotterranea, 143. The idea originates with Bosio, Roma Sotterranea, 142 but percolates through the historiography; see, for example, N. Müller, Die jüdische Katakombe am Monteverde zu Rom (Leipzig: Fock, 1912), 28; Leon, “Jewish Catacombs,” 300; J. Toynbee, Death and Burial in the Roman World (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971), 237. Refuting the idea: Leonard Rutgers, “Archaeological Evidence for the Interaction of Jews and Non-Jews in Late Antiquity,” AJA 96 (1992): 111. 11 Donatella Nuzzo, Tipologia sepolcrale delle catacombe romane: I cimiteri ipogei delle Vie Ostiense, Ardeatina e Appia (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2000). 12 See Rutgers, “Interaction,” 111, who points out the error in C. Vismara, “Ancora sugli Ebrei di Roma,” Archeologica Classica 38–40 (1986–1988): 156–57. 13 On the “positively febrile excitement” of catacomb finds, see chapter two, “Rewiring the Sacred Circuit (Roma Sancta Renovata),” p. 52.



9

10

255

256

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

Of the remaining two, access is carefully controlled. The Vigna Randanini catacomb can be visited, although it requires a certain degree of luck, insider connections, and persistent effort. The Villa Torlonia catacombs are the subject of ongoing archaeological work, and thus rarely accessible except to excavators, although the idea is that it will be made open to the public in the foreseeable future. While the Catacombs of Vigna Randanini are under private land, the Villa Torlonia catacombs lie under a public park. Both, at any rate, are no longer administered by the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology (PCAS), which surrendered responsibility for the Jewish catacombs in 1986.14 *** When Catholic archaeologists started searching for the catacombs in the sixteenth century and again in the nineteenth century, they were aided in their quest by late ancient Christian sources, from papal lists of martyr and papal burials to pilgrimage handbooks such as the early medieval Mirabilia Urbis Romae. By contrast, only one medieval Jewish source provided a comparandum, the Itinerarium penned by a Spanish rabbi, Benjamin of Tudela. The Itinerarium, much like Christian pilgrimage handbooks, linked rabbinical tradition to Rome’s physical remains. Benjamin noted that there was on one bank of the Tiber a cave containing “the graves of the Ten Martyrs.”15 Most catacomb scholars assume that he was speaking of the Monteverde catacombs, although it should be said that burials dotted the entire length of the crest of the Monteverde hill. Nevertheless, the tendency of catacomb scholars to put “text before trowel” to help locate and identify a particular catacomb had long been central to their methods. Even without Benjamin of Tudela’s Itinerarium, it was hardly surprising that the first Jewish catacomb was identified in the Trastevere region, given Philo’s notice that a community of Jews arrived in Trastevere in the first century BCE in the wake of Pompey’s triumph (Philo, Embassy to Gaius, 23). As late as the early modern period, there were still Jewish burial areas by the Porta Portuensis, and remains of a medieval synagogue can still be seen today on the Vicolo dell’Atleta between the Tiber

U. M. Fasola, “Consegna della catacomb ebraica di vigna Randanini alla Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma,” Osservatore Romano (June 13, 1986). 15 The World of Benjamin of Tudela, a Medieval Mediterranean Travelogue, trans. S. Benjamin (Madison, WI: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995). 14

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

and the modern Viale di Trastevere. This measurable Jewish presence from ancient, medieval, and early modern sources accounts for the widespread assumption that various synagogues mentioned on late antique inscriptions from Rome must have been in Trastevere, and that ancient Jews must have maintained their own burial spaces nearby. In reality, there is no solid reason to support this. Ancient Jewish burials have been discovered not only at Monteverde in the west of the city; the Torlonia complex lies to the northeast, and Vigna Randanini, due south. If one includes evidence for Jewish graves from Via Labicana, Via Cimarra, and Via Latina, then it seems that either the Jews of ancient Rome were simply not segregated in one area, or – equally possible – that one’s place of burial in late antiquity had no natural correlation with one’s place of residence. Textual evidence for Jewish life in imperial Rome also does not place Jews exclusively in Trastevere; according to Juvenal (Satire 3.12–15), for instance, there were Jewish citizens living outside Porta Capena, at the Via Appia. All our sources concur that Trastevere was not the ancient neighborhood of Jews exclusively; it supported a robust population of diverse ethnic groups. In fact, Leonard Rutgers’ recent osteological study of disease and mortality analyzing the remains within 5,164 graves from the Catacombs of Villa Torlonia and the Christian “Liberian region” of the Catacombs of Callixtus indicates that the two sites produced virtually identical patterns of mortality and disease. “Thus when it came to the physiology of life and death,” writes Rutgers, “Jews, pagans, and Christians confronted the same sort of realities in ancient and late ancient Rome. The reason they did so is simple: instead of living wholly separated lives, they intermingled all the time.” He ­concludes, “when seen from a purely demographic perspective, the integration of the Jews of ancient Rome into contemporary society appears to have been nothing short of utter and complete.”16 Would an ethnic group – or a religious group, if one prefers to consider ancient Judaism as such – fully integrated into the urban fabric of Rome, select for themselves exclusive burial sites? We should not be so quick as to assume yes, particularly on the basis of extant scholarly assumptions

L. V. Rutgers, “Catacombs and Health in Christian Rome,” in Christian Laes, Katariina Mustakallio, and Ville Vuolanto, eds., Children and Family in Late Antiquity: Life, Death and Interaction (Leuven: Peeters, 2015), 44. See, too, L. V. Rutgers, “Reflections on the Demography of the Jewish Community in Ancient Rome,” in M. Ghirlardi and C. Goddard, eds., Les cités de L’Italie tardo-antique (IV–VI siècles) (Rome: École française de Rome, 2006), 345–58.

16

257

258

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

about “Jewish catacombs.” These sites, as we shall see, are deeply problematic, exposing early modern and modern biases concerning the nature of Jews, Judaism, and what it meant to be Jewish in ancient Rome. *** In 1904 – exactly three centuries after Bosio had first penetrated the Monteverde burial complex – a new catacomb was discovered during routine quarrying on Via di Monteverde at the top of the Janiculum escarpment.17 It had been used in different periods, apparently and, more controversially, by ancient Romans with varied burial customs. The most common grave type was a loculus or “slot” grave inserted into the walls and covered with masonry, most of which had been long ago robbed out. There were the remains of twenty terracotta sarcophagi and chunks of decorated marble, but (unusually) some bodies had been lined up on the floor and covered with tiles in improvised formae burials; in one room, they had been placed like this in layers reaching to the ceiling.18 A few burials appear to have been in clay amphorae. None of this, however, was particularly unusual, and pointed to a common burial site for people of only very modest means. One hundred and fifty-one inscriptions, some reused, were removed from the site (I will return to these later), along with a large quantity of terracotta lamps. On these lamps were horses, palms, and floral scenes. Several had christograms, the “emblem” of the Christian empire. One bore an image of Venus.19 Several others featured menorot. As for further evidence of religious diversity at the site, a child’s tomb bore a menorah; the adult tombs that surrounded it, however, were Christian.20 Remarkably, catacomb archaeologists soon discovered from matching their excavations with the sketches left by Bosio that this was the The excavation reports were published by Müller, jüdische Katakombe, but see also R. Kanzler, “Scoperta di una nuova regione del cimitero giudaico della Via Portuense,” Nuovo Bulletino di Archeologia Cristiana 21 (1915): 152–57. 18 Müller, jüdische Katakombe, 239. Other such styles of burials have since been discovered in Roman catacombs, including an early mass grave at Peter and Marcellinus, and third-century mass burial rooms at the Catacombs of Thecla. 19 Müller, jüdische Katakombe, 248–49. 20 See the archival reports in Dello Russo, “Monteverde Jewish Catacombs,” 27, n. 143: “Negli strati inferiori invece i cunicoli scavati in terreno piú consistenti pare siano serviti per cadaveri di bambini israeliti, perché sulla fonte di un loculo é dipinto il candelabro dei sette bracci. Finalmente in varie direzioni vari ordini di loculi hanno servito evidentemente ai cristiani.”



17

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

very same “Jewish” catacomb that Bosio had catalogued in 1604, just accessed through a different entrance.21 It was no longer so definitively Jewish, but it was Jewish enough that the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology was unable – or perhaps unwilling – to exert much power over the need for continuing excavations.22 Facing increasing pressure from the Pellegrini-Quarantotti family who owned the land to allow their revenue streams from quarrying to continue, the site was hastily excavated from November 1904 to January 1905, then again in the spring and fall of 1906. Funding was scarce and delayed further excavations until 1909, which continued only for a matter of weeks before being abandoned altogether. The site was then completely destroyed in a landslide on October 14, 1928. Whatever could be recovered from the site was recovered in that window between 1903 and 1928, with the inscriptions moved to the Lateran in 1907 and 1914 and, as was the practice, duly sorted and parsed out by type and symbol, destroying any hope we might have of putting the finds back into their original archaeological context. Jewish material was sent to one collection, Christian to another, and what was deemed neither, to yet another.23



A photograph of the same gallery illustrated in a chromolithograph in Bosio’s Roma Sotteranea – featuring an arcosolium grave with a painted menorah – is published in Müller, jüdische Katakombe, tav. XI. 22 The excavations were underwritten by the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaft des Judentums, based in Berlin. Unusually, the twentieth-century excavations were funded by foreign sources and led by a German archaeologist, Nikolaus Müller, who had earned the respect of Italian scholars. He died in 1912, before work on the site had been completed. 23 See Dello Russo, “Over the next half-century, a triumvirate comprised of the Cardinal Vicar, Palace Sacristan, and Custodian of the Relics handled all extractions from the catacombs. Those with an explicit Jewish identity (very few in number) they kept on private display.” This long-established practice supported the formation of constructed spaces such as the (now closed) “Jewish Room” at the old Lateran Museum, where all Jewish material culture was disaggregated and isolated from non-Jewish material culture and gathered together, producing the impression of a substantial but isolated, single, Jewish community in Rome; see Giorgio Schneider Graziosi, “La nuova sala Giudaica nel Museo Cristiano Lateranense,” Nuovo Bulletino di Archeologia Cristiana 21 (1915): 13–56. An interesting modernday equivalent is the Jewish Museum of Rome, which displays casts of ancient inscriptions on two walls. There is very little information provided as to the inscriptions’ provenience; more jarringly, some of the casts have exact duplicates posted in different places on the same wall, leaving the impression to the casual viewer that there were more inscriptions than there might have been. 21

259

260

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

If the Jewish Catacombs of Monteverde remain enigmatic and ultimately only ambiguously Jewish, the Jewish Catacombs of the Vigna Randanini present us with a different case: a catacomb still extant and visible, and actively promoted as an authentically Jewish catacomb site. As we shall see, however, the Randanini catacombs are deliberately crafted space, designed as a sort of “Jewish showcase” for modern visitors, a counter-example to some of the city’s grandest Christian catacombs across the Via Appia. Let us consider them next. *** The Jewish Catacombs of Vigna Randanini, first officially discovered on May 1, 1859, are tiny in comparison with the San Sebastiano catacombs that lie directly across the Via Appia.24 They are accessed these days from the Via Appia Pignatelli, which meets the Via Appia at a dangerous and unattractive intersection about a mile from the city’s walls. The modern entrance to the catacomb is underwhelming compared to the grandeur of the San Sebastiano complex nearby, with its basilica, ticket hall, gift shop, bus parking lot, and cappuccino bar. A small sign announcing the “Catacombs of the Hebrews” is found, oddly, above the door visible only from inside the complex. Otherwise, nothing unusual marks the site beyond its heavy, rusted metal gate. Once inside, the entrance door is flanked by a larger vestibule with modern walls that mimic the style of ancient catacombs, only with loculi and arcosolia of brick rather than tuff. The Catacombs of Vigna Randanini give what appears, at first, to be a more authentic experience of antiquity to the modern visitor. There are no electric lights so visitors must bring their own flashlights and headlamps; Alberto, the elderly guide, provides large handheld propane lamps. The tour winds through a long F-shaped series of galleries arrayed on two levels, past loculi and cubiculum burials. One or two of the first cubicula contain whitewashed walls and simple red paintings of menorot against a white ground; later, the galleries widen to include, low down on either side, a distinctive type of burial in which the dead were



24

The underground space covers about 18,000 square meters. The catacombs were certainly known prior to 1859. By that year, they had also been extensively plundered. See Jessica Dello Russo, “The Discovery and Exploration of the Jewish Catacomb of the Vigna Randanini in Rome: Records, Research, and Excavations through 1895,” Roma Subterranea Judaica 5 (2011): 1–24.

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

inserted into a low wall slot, feetfirst and perpendicular to the wall, the so-called kokhim burials.25 The social status of those buried at Randanini seems generally modest – not poor enough to have been consigned to a mass grave, but usually not wealthy enough for a costly burial. Alberto reported to me a high proportion of women and children’s burials, something borne out by the percentage of child-sized loculi and numerous inscriptions commemorating a nepos, a fairly unusual Latin word referring to a grandchild, nephew, or male descendent. Of the 18,000 square meters that the catacomb once covered, some 700 m or so comprise the tour. Alberto shuffles along, pointing his light at this or that. He’s tired, and as sole custodian, he has done this tour countless times. His voice rasps in the darkness, urging us along. The highlight of the tour, perhaps, is a double chamber or cubiculum at the far end of the complex, close to where the Via Appia runs, thirty meters above our heads. A separate stairway leads up, in fact, to the ancient road, although it is no longer used. The cubiculum is fully ­plastered and frescoed, beautifully adorned with winged genii; both ceiling tondi display a large, prominent winged Victory; in one, the Victory crowns a nude male athlete who holds a branch pointed downwards with his right hand while he covers his genitals with a branch in his left. The tondo in the second, inner chamber features an image of Fortuna, holding a cornucopia brimming with fruit. The tondi are surrounded by scrolling vines, birds, and fountains in bright colors against a white ground. The overt pagan imagery in the cubiculum has vexed interpreters for the last century and a half. Some have suggested that this area of the catacombs was originally separate, then was later subsumed by the Jewish burial galleries and reused for burials.26 Others have suggested that

Rutgers argues against the kokhim burials as purely a Jewish form, noting that they were not found at Monteverde, nor at Villa Torlonia, but are widespread through the entire eastern Mediterranean, such that they cannot be called exclusively Jewish. Rutgers, “Interactions,” 111. 26 See the discussion in Ross Kraemer, “Jewish Tuna and Christian Fish: Identifying Religious Affiliation in Epigraphic Sources,” HTR 84 (1991): 154: “how one interprets [the cubiculum at Randanini] depends on one’s a priori assumptions about what Jews did and did not do; yet once the rooms are identified as Jewish, our evidence for the behavior of Jews may be significantly revised.”



25

261

262

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

perhaps the owner of the pagan cubiculum was a convert. It could also be the case, of course, that nobody in Roman late antiquity really cared all that much about maintaining the religious boundaries of iconography. Would Roman Jews of the fourth century truly have been scandalized by a co-religionist who wanted a winged Nike on his tomb?27 Alberto seems disinterested by the question of whether Jews or pagans were buried in the chamber. A custodian of the site since the 1940s and a third-generation fossor, he has heard all the arguments. All that is left is his care for the site, which fewer and fewer people come to see. *** In the nineteenth century, the Randanini catacombs were quite the tourist attraction, particularly to English travelers. How this came about is interesting in and of itself. Beginning in 1859, the Randanini family had unsuccessfully wrangled with the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology (CDAS) for permission to excavate the catacomb, or better still: to sell the land completely to the Papal Court. Pius IX, after all, had paid a tidy sum for the adjacent lands where the Catacombs of San Sebastiano were, only a very short walk from the vineyard. The Randanini family’s plans, however, were thwarted by the unstated mandate of the CDAS to devote their funds and energies purely to the Christian catacombs of the city. Unable to verify clear “signs of Christianity” in the Randanini catacombs, Giovanni Battista de Rossi declared that the catacomb was “entirely Jewish.” As such, the CDAS had little interest and investment in the site. Although de Rossi maintained an interest in – and indeed published material from – the site along with his colleagues, the site was never properly excavated nor surveyed. The CDAS’ abandonment of Vigna Randanini left it vulnerable to a host of interested and disinterested parties, each with different commitments, religious or otherwise. It also suffered, in the words of Jessica Dello Russo, “unregulated exploitation and spoliation.”28 Virtually all the graves were opened at one time or another (and likely prior to 1859), with bones left in the open graves for the curious to admire.



On the problem of iconic representation in Jewish art, see J. Gutmann, “The ‘Second Commandment’ and the Image in Judaism,” HUCA 32 (1961): 161–74; idem, No Graven Images: Studies in Art and the Hebrew Bible (New York: Ktav, 1971). 28 Dello Russo, “Vigna Randanini,” 2. 27

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

At some point in the nineteenth century, bones were tidily arranged on the walls of the galleries, increasing the attractiveness of the site to curious tourists. One English visitor remarked on the difference between these bones here – merely the remains of long-dead people – and those sacred relics of Christian martyrs at the Christian catacombs so close by: “There is a cold and cheerless look about the place very different from that of any neighboring Christian catacomb so full of the warmth of faith and hope.”29 Visitors now will find the site nearly completely devoid of bones; they have been moved away from curious eyes and bonecollecting strangers. The gloomy catacombs, swept clean of bone, have little to draw the eye. Thus at some point – it is not clear when, since proper records were never kept – various Jewish inscriptions were set up periodically on the walls, gleaming in the damp cool air as light from flashlights and lamps dance over them. These inscriptions, usually cut into reused marble slabs in unsteady Greek letters, were not found where they are now erected; they were intentionally placed there – usually away from a grave in a catacomb gallery or hallway – so as to provide opportunities for catacomb guides to stop and read them aloud to visitors. Alberto tells me that he and his fellow fossores found the inscriptions tossed to the floor, and that they tried to replace them where they made sense: an inscription for a child was newly set up to cover or stand next to a diminutive grave slot.30 All the inscriptions in Vigna Randanini are fairly unproblematically Jewish; there are menorot on some of the inscriptions, as well as other symbols, including hard-to-decipher images such as a small rectangle that is read, perhaps too optimistically, as a Torah scroll and another



The Catholic World 28/165 (1879): 342. Leon, “Jewish Catacombs,” 310, reports that “all of the inscribed stones have been inserted in the walls of the catacomb, but with no apparent attempt to place them near the spot where they were found. Portions of the same inscription are sometimes divided between widely separated parts of the catacomb.” Some of the inscriptions that were in the catacomb when Marucchi published his Guida in 1884 are now to be found elsewhere. Four are in the Museo delle Terme; remarkably, Leon found the missing half of one stone at Columbia University; the other half is still in the catacomb (“Jewish Catacombs,” 311). Another portion showed up in the Vigna Angelucci at Velletri, since the Angelucci family once owned Vigna Randanini. “Of the published inscriptions from this catacomb,” writes Leon, “I was unable to locate 32, but I copied 19 which have not yet been published” (“Jewish Catacombs,” 311).

29

30

263

264

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

roundish object, as an etrog. The names on some of the inscriptions are biblical – names like Judah and Miriam – and many mention synagogues or what appear to be synagogue officeholders: archons, scribes. I argue in this book that the Christian catacombs as they stand today are largely reconstructed spaces in which can be located only an imaginary ancient Christianity; the Vigna Randanini catacomb is equally a fanciful space of imaginary ancient Judaism. Only the painted menorot on its cubicula walls offer “proof” that Jews were ever buried within. Purged of all its artifacts and original inscriptions, there is simply no way to tell that the site was ever occupied exclusively by Jews.31 The Jewish inscriptions – all placed there from papal collections, and not collected off the floor as Alberto reports – were imports, a series of cold stone documents that mislead and misdirect our attention. Visitors assume they were always there, that they all came from there. We do not know for sure that they did; the truth is always more complicated than constructed artifice. The tradition that Vigna Randanini is Jewish – from a series of nineteenth-century testimonials – might have bolstered any lack of confidence we might have judging from what remains in the site today. De Rossi himself argued strenuously in a number of publications that the site was Jewish, as did others at the Papal Court. De Rossi’s claim that nothing Christian could be found on the site was perhaps unsurprising, given how deeply plundered the graves were already by 1859. But there were others more critical. Raffaele Garrucci, a Jesuit scholar and professional rival of de Rossi, noted in 1862 that a Jewish sarcophagus found on site was surrounded by bits of Christian and pagan sculpture, thus determining that the site was “not well-defined as Christian or Jewish.”32 Indeed, the stakes were high for claiming the site’s Jewishness. If they were Christian, the PCAS would have sole access; any outside excavation of the site would be illegal, and Count Randanini himself might be subject to severe fines. If the catacombs were not, however, the Papal Court cared little what happened to it; the “profane” graves of pagans littered the area around Via Appia, so pagan hypogea were neither new

Tessa Rajak laments that we will probably not be able to date inscriptions taken from Randanini because of the “several bouts of ‘tidying up’” that apparently took place there (“Inscriptions and Context,” 434). 32 R. Garrucci, Cimitero degli antichi ebrei scoperto recentemente in Vigna Randanini (Rome, 1862), 16. 31

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

nor interesting. When, however, the wealthy Jewish banker to the pope, Baron James de Rothschild, offered to end Count Randanini’s financial woes once and for all with the princely sum of 60,000 scudi to buy the site, persistent rumors that the site was not, in fact, truly Jewish apparently led the Baron to reconsider.33 It is little wonder, then, that Count Randanini, panicked and bruised after Rothschild backed away from his deal, began a brutal “fire sale” of antiquities on his land. If the Catacombs of Vigna Randanini are poor and barren now, they evidently were not in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. With monumental tombs, cubicula with fine mosaic and paintings, and elaborate sarcophagi, this site was far from the rustic Monteverde catacombs.34 Inscriptions from Vigna Randanini gradually appeared in private collections in Bergamo, Velletri, Rome, England, and the United States.35 The English explorer Augustus Hare noted that as early as 1861, the Randanini family charged a fee for entering the catacombs, and had set up a small collection of pagan and Jewish artifacts in the vestibule.36 The catacomb became, in fact, the first commercial venture along the Via Appia, carefully tidied up and then transformed into a “cabinet of curiosities” for anyone willing to pay the price. The “Jewishness” of the site, perhaps ironically, was both its selling point, so to speak, but also the key to its preservation. Beyond the Christian catacombs and this sole “Jewish” site, all the other pagan hypogea and columbaria that once filled these lands were summarily filled in, never to be seen again. *** I have argued in this book that the “invention” of the Roman catacombs in the early modern period is reinforced, continually, by a host of disinformation, half-truths, wishful thinking, and naiveté, what I call facetiously “lies that catacomb guides tell.” Better still, perhaps – or at least one less damning of catacomb guides, is “lies that catacombs [themselves] now tell.” In the particular case of the Jewish catacombs, a certain stratum of oversimplified narrative undergirds and reinforces See E. H. Hudson, A History of the Jews in Rome, BC 160–AD 604, 2nd ed. (London, 1884), 365–67; Dello Russo, “Vigna Randanini,” 19, n. 98. 34 Dello Russo, “Vigna Randanini,” 6. 35 Ibid., 20, n. 101. 36 Ibid., 21, n. 109.



33

265

266

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

these fictions: that ancient Jews formed and maintained a distinct and separate society within Rome, that they did so to the same degree and within the same parameters, and that they thus appeared identical to either modern or early modern Jewish communities. A deeper look, however, reveals these fictions, their nudging into shape a series of projections about the nature of Jews and Judaism at Rome. The real story is more complicated. Rome’s Jewish catacombs have long been constructed upon dangerous assumptions that reveal deep-seated ideas about Judaism. The chief assumption is that Judaism was, more or less self-consciously, a pariah religion, a separate culture that closely policed the boundaries of its own community.37 This idea – more assumption than fact – has colored even otherwise excellent scholarship on Rome’s Jewish citizens, beginning with Arnaldo Momigliano’s 1962 review article on Harry Leon’s The Jews of Ancient Rome.38 Momigliano was perhaps influenced by Max Weber’s assessment of ancient Judaism. Weber writes, The problem of ancient Jewry … can best be understood in comparison with the problem of the Indian caste order. Sociologically speaking the Jews were a pariah people [ein Pariavolk], which means, as we know from India, that they were a guest people who were ritually separated, formally or de facto, from their surroundings.39



Momigliano himself wrote on Judaism as a pariah religion: Arnaldo Momigliano, “A Note on Max Weber’s Definition of Judaism as a Pariah-Religion,” History and Theory 19/3 (1980): 313–18. For more, see Hannah Arendt, The Jew as Pariah, ed. Ron Feldman (New York: Grove Press, 1978), and, rather differently, David Nirenberg, “The Birth of the Pariah: Jews, Christian Dualism, and Social Science,” Social Research 70/1 (2003): 201–36. 38 A. Momigliano, Review of Harry Leon, The Jews of Ancient Rome, Gnomon 34 (1962): 179–80; see too, H. Solin, “Juden und Syrer im westlichen Teil der römischen Welt. Ein ethnisch-demographische Studie mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der sprachlichen Zustände,” ANRW II.29.2 (1983): 587–780. On Jews and other foreign groups as isolated in particular, see George La Piana, “Foreign Groups in Rome during the First Centuries of the Empire,” HTR 20 (1927): 205, 211. For an active rebuttal, see Leonard V. Rutgers, “Archaeological Evidence,” 101–18, esp. 116, where Rutgers notes that Trastevere was “Rome’s most cosmopolitan district.” 39 Max Weber, Ancient Judaism, trans. and ed. Hans Gerth and Don Martindale (Glencoe: Free Press, 1952), 3. 37

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

The term “guest people,” Gastvolk, while never explicitly applied to the Jews of ancient Rome in modern historiography, nevertheless undergirds the assumption that Jews never really assimilated in the city, despite having been settled there for hundreds of years. The reality, however, is this: Jews are virtually impossible to see as a separate community from any literary, legal, archaeological, and material evidence in imperial Rome. This suggests that, rather than constituting a distinct “Other,” Jews were fully integrated into the fabric of Roman civic life. Nevertheless, scholars persist in confusing evidence for Jews in Rome (which certainly exists) with evidence for a Jewish community in Rome. The Jewish catacombs have consistently been interpreted as proof that such a community existed. To note only two examples, Éric Rebillard, in his learned study of late antique Christian burial practices, notes: “… at Rome, toward the end of the second century when these catacombs began to be used, Jews preferred to be buried together” (italics mine), despite admitting the lack of any Jewish legal ruling mandating separate burial for Jews, nor any epigraphic evidence for either enforced or voluntary segregation;40 Rebillard draws his assumption solely from the supposed existence of Jewish catacombs, which he takes as a self-evident category. In his popular book on the Roman catacombs, even Leonard Rutgers (who elsewhere argues differently) perpetuates this assumption insisting, twice, that Jews were always buried solely with other Jews, and that no Christians or any others were ever buried in Jewish catacombs.41 Interestingly, different societal pressures drove the sixteenth-century insistence that Jews buried their own in isolation from the nineteenthcentury insistence. The sixteenth-century argument is the far more insidious of the two. An examination of early catacomb scholarship reveals the blood-curdling anti-Semitism of these catacomb explorers,



Rebillard, Care of the Dead, 24. Leonard Rutgers, Subterranean Rome: In Search of the Roots of Christianity in the Catacombs of the Eternal City (Leuven: Peeters, 2001), 149–50, 153 (“The Jewish Catacombs of Rome were designed specifically as cemeteries in which Jews – and Jews only – were laid to rest”). Subterranean Rome bears clear signs of the author’s ceding to particular Catholic fictions, since Rutgers elsewhere has been perhaps the most vocal proponent of the argument that Roman Jews were fully assimilated. See particularly Rutgers, “Interactions” as well as Rutgers, “Catacombs and Health.”

40 41

267

268

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

keen to keep Christian sites pure of any Jewish contamination. In her detailed study of the Monteverde catacombs, Dello Russo’s footnotes brim over with notices of those “scholars” who pillaged Jewish cemeteries. Dello Russo writes, for example: “Inspired by a brief passage of Martial, which he believed referred to a Jew, Bosio also fast-forwards over centuries to liken Martial’s image of a peddler to that of the Jewish merchants of his own time, voices raised in lament, testament, in Bosio’s terms, to their own ‘miseria e dannazione.’”42 It was Bosio, too, who left (along with his friends) this epigraph crudely marked out in soot next to the image of a menorah at the Monteverde catacombs: Quid candelabrum prodest sine lumine Christi? Perpetuis tenebris turba proteruaiaces. What does it profit, a menorah without the light of Christ? An errant throng, cast out into perpetual darkness.

Bosio’s Roma Sotterranea, with its account of his explorations of Monteverde, was not published until 1632, after his death. When it did appear, it bore marks of the heavy redacting hand of the Oratorian Giovanni Severano, who left out several key passages in which Bosio described further evidence for Roman Jews, this time removed from the context of a Jewish burial ground.43 For example, Bosio had noted the presence of two Jewish funerary inscriptions (JIWE 2 543 and 549) embedded into the floor of two Trastevere churches, San Salvatore in Curte and Santa Cecilia, along with other Christian tomb coverings.44 From where could these have come? In the seventeenth century, the anti-Semitism of the Catholic Church continued unabated, making its mark on subsequent editions of Roma Sotterranea. In 1651 the book was published in a Latin translation, Roma Subterranea Novissima. A product of another Oratorian, Paolo Aringhi, it omitted Bosio’s biographical account of discovering



Dello Russo, “Monteverde,” 24. G. B. de Rossi, Roma Sotteranea Cristiana 1 (Rome, 1864), 41, notes that Severano had cut “entire pages” from Bosio’s compilation, particularly information on the catacomb “degli ebrei.” 44 See the manuscript evidence recorded by Dello Russo, “Monteverde Jewish Catacombs,” 17, n. 27. Bosio, Roma Sotterranea 1.22, believed that San Salvatore in Curte was once the original synagogue of the Roman Jews. 42

43

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

the Monteverde catacombs altogether. In its place, Aringhi included extensive anti-Semitic passages drawn from patristic literature, emphasizing the miserable fate that Jews had brought upon themselves. This sort of perspective was continued in other prominent Roman Catholic publications, including Marco Antonio Boldetti’s Osservazioni sopra i cimiterj de’ santi martiri (1720), which insists, again, that Jewish bodies never “profaned” Christian burial sites: “si esclude qualunque dubbio, che potesse mai mascere, che nostri cimiteri possono essere stati profanati in alcun tempo co’cadaveri d’Ebbrei.”45 The engine behind this particular burst of ugly anti-Semitism was the relic trade. In the seventeenth century, it engaged a furious business, and the relative accessibility of catacomb sites posed a problem for the Church, which attempted to control the flow of “legitimate” relics against the unscrupulous dealings of private relic brokers. Papal officials were well aware of the many opportunities for fraud, which only made the Church more vulnerable to ridicule from Protestants. An apostolic decree of 1668 under Clement IX established a “Custodian of the Sacred Cemeteries and Relics.” Papal edicts sealed off catacomb entrances, seeking to staunch the “sacrilegious” passing off of the bones of “un ladro, un’ assassino, e forse d’un Ebreo.”46 The grouping of Jews with thieves and assassins underscores not only their despised status in papal Rome, but also the pressing need, apparently, to insist that Jews had never been buried in Christian catacombs. The isolation of Jews from Christians in burial sites was, then, not due to any Jewish preference to maintain separate burial grounds, but from the categorical claims of the Counter-Reformation Roman Catholic Church that co-burial would have been both monstrous and contaminating, and therefore, could never have happened. This was, really, no surprise from a city that had turned against its ancient Jewish population. In 1553 copies Boldetti, Osservazioni sopra i cimiterj de’santi martiri ed antichi cristiani di Roma (Rome, 1720), Bk. 2, 33. See also 473–74: “quanto poi ai nomi ebraici non se n’é mai trovato alcuno a mio tempo nei cimiteri e ne pure se ne trovó mai dagli autori della Roma Sotteranea, anzi, ne’meno da altri, che hanno scritto degli antichi monumenti de’ Cristiani, se ne riporta pur uno trovato nelle nostre catacombe. Dal che resta apertamente convinto chiunque pretendesse, che i Cimiteri Cristiani siano stati profanati con Corpi de’Giudei.” 46 Dello Russo, “Monteverde Jewish Catacombs,” 4; M. Ghilardi, “‘Del cimiterio degli antichi hebrei’: La catacomba ebraica di Monteverde nel IV centenario della scoperta,” Studi Romani 51/1–2 (2003): 27–29, n. 57.

45

269

270

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

of the Talmud were burned publicly on city streets; Pope Paul IV’s establishment of the ghetto two years later on the city side of the Tiber separated the Jewish population forcibly from its neighbors. By 1577 Jews of the ghetto were forced to endure obligatory sermons and the strenuous attempts to convert them, which could, at its most egregious, involve the kidnapping and forcible baptism of children – a practice that continued into the nineteenth century, as historian David Kertzer has so powerfully shown.47 Thus persisted, throughout the Renaissance and the early modern scholarship, a desire to “ghettoize” the catacomb evidence of Jewish and Christian co-burial. The expurgation of Jews from Christian “sacred sites” of burial – the celebrated home of the Church’s first native martyrs, was only the last and most pernicious in a vicious history of Jew-hating. *** One of the things that has interested me most in my research on the Jewish catacombs has been why their very existence has never been interrogated or treated with suspicion. Indeed – the opposite has been true; the Jewish catacombs are celebrated as authentic testimony to the existence of a Jewish community in Rome, surviving, perhaps, against all odds. Providentially, an answer appeared in my newsfeed this morning. I am writing this on October 16, which is, as it happens, the anniversary of the rounding up of over 1,000 Roman Jews in 1943 and their deportation to Auschwitz. To commemorate this day, the Museo Nazionale di Roma’s Cripta Balbi released photographs of two terracotta lamps bearing menorot from their collection and this moving statement: On 16 October 1943, the “Black Saturday” of the ghetto in Rome, more than 1000 Roman Jews were rounded up and then deported to the concentration camp at Auschwitz in Polish territory. Only 16 of them will return from Poland. To remember this day together, we share the photos of two oil lamps (end of 4th cen. CE to beginning of 5th cen. CE) with the representation of the menorah, the seven-branched lampstand, an ancient symbol of the Jewish religion, which are stored in our museum. These are two small objects from everyday life, but they remind us of the ancient presence, since the 2nd cen. BCE., of the Jewish community in the city of Rome.

David Kertzer, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (New York: Vintage, 1998).

47

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

Let me be clear: it is crucial to our humanity that we remember Nazi atrocities. It is equally important that we know more about Christian anti-Semitism’s contribution to marking out Jewish community as wholly separate from Christian community, particularly in the early centuries of the Common Era. One of the conceptual steps in the Museo Mazionale’s statement – that the presence of lamps with menorot on them (originally from Monteverde) indicate a single “Jewish community” in the city of Rome – is also worthy of some reflection. Rutgers, in fact, makes an identical move when he carbondates the five oil lamps with menorot on them out of hundreds of others with diverse symbols on them from the Monteverde catacombs: “With regard to the Jewish catacombs of Rome, our results are significant … almost half a millennium after Jews had first arrived in Trastevere, and despite the fact that the Christianization of the Roman Empire was well underway, a vibrant Jewish community still continued to dwell and bury its dead there.”48 How do we move from single, isolated material culture (here, a lamp), to extrapolate a “community”? It is not the lamp itself that is significant, of course – it is the menorah on the lamp. In the world of modern semiotics, the symbol itself does not mark simply Jewish affiliation or association, but participation in Jewish community life. And why is this so? *** Since Roman Jewish material culture as a whole is arguably difficult to distinguish from non-Jewish Roman material culture, the key in modern scholarship to reconstructing Jewish community identity in Rome hinges, frequently, on iconography: specifically, the image of the menorah, an undisputed “sign” of Jewishness, both ethnically and religiously. It was the menorah over a grave at Monteverde that spurred Bosio to identify the site as Jewish; at Vigna Randanini, one of the first painted cubicula in the complex bears a large menorah over the central grave. The principle here, as I have noted, is that where there was one Jew, there was an entire community. But is this analytically sound? I am not arguing here that the menorah is not, and was not, a Jewish symbol. Of course it was. But was it only that, in Rome? And what indication is there that it signified the presence of a Jewish community, rather



Rutgers, “Radiocarbon,” 1217.

48

271

272

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

than merely Jewish individuals? Or how do we know that only Jews were using it? As with any symbol, the range of semantic possibilities is broad and necessarily opaque. Within scholarship on Jews in ancient Rome, however, it is consistently and naively assumed that the menorah functioned as a sort of label, a marker of Jewish identity. Even when Jewish scholars entered the discussion, the result has not been to interrogate the contextualized use of the menorah in catacomb art. Rather, scholars from Harry Leon to Rachel Hachlili retroject a normative view of modern Judaism back into antiquity.49 By this token, a menorah always identifies an object or a space as Jewish – its primary feature was as an identity marker. It is therefore unthinkable that a menorah might have been used by a late antique Christian – either for a different reason than simple labeling (for example, used as a sort of amulet against evil spirits); or because that Christian (or pagan) choosing a menorah image selfidentified as Jewish Christian; or, even, because he or she simply liked menorot, or even for other random, mundane reasons (“I went to buy a lamp for the tomb but the workshop just had these left”). In a recent study of late antique church and synagogue architecture, art historian Joan Branham has highlighted the use of common Jewish symbols and images of the Jerusalem Temple in a late sixth-century Church of the Theotokos chapel at Mt. Nebo in Jordan.50 In these cases, the church context makes it abundantly clear that some late ancient Christians were drawing upon a Jewish visual vocabulary but interpreting its symbols as appropriate for the mosaic decoration of their churches. In this particular church in Jordan, Branham notes, representations of sacrificial space from the Jerusalem Temple are juxtaposed with actual sacrificial space in the area around the Christian altar.51 This tells us, if

Rachel Hachlili, The Menorah, the Ancient Seven-armed Candelabrum: Origin, Form, and Significance (Leiden: Brill, 2001); see also Stephen Fine, Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman World: Toward a New Jewish Archaeology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Lee I. Levine, “The History and Significance of the Menorah in Antiquity,” in L. I. Levine and Z. Weiss, eds., From Dura to Sepphoris: Studies in Jewish Art and Society in Late Antiquity, JRA Supplement 40 (2000), 131–53. 50 Joan Branham, “Mapping Sacrifice on Bodies and Spaces in Late-Antique Judaism and Early Christianity,” in Bonna Wescoat and Robert G. Ousterhout, eds., Architecture of the Sacred: Space, Ritual, and Experience from Classical Greece to Byzantium (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 201–30. 51 Branham, “Mapping Sacrifice,” 202.



49

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

nothing else, that the presence of a Jewish symbol simply cannot, on its own, mark Jewish identity, nor be interpreted as merely a sort of label. Another, less sophisticated Christian usage of a menorah is found on two Christian sarcophagi decorated with menorot from an early Christian necropolis near Thessalonica. One also bears the inscription “Lord, be with us,” which is otherwise unattested in Jewish inscriptions but ­common in Christian ones.52 Catholic catacomb archaeologists took pains, as it happens, to explain the presence of menorot where they should not have been: in catacombs long identified as “purely” Christian sites. There were at least two options. The first was to cut off or segregate an entire section of a known Christian catacomb into a separate “Jewish” section. Thus a lamp with a menorah on it found in the Catacombs of San Sebastiano in the 1920s resulted in some reassessing that particular area as Jewish.53 A different tactic was the classic interpretatio christiana: Giovanni Severano, the editor of the final edition of Roma Sotterranea completed after Bosio’s death, notes that menorah symbols were also found in the Christian catacombs, although in the Christian context he believed the menorah signified the “light of faith in Christ” in which Christians all participate, not the symbol of the “miserable Jews.”54 This is ideologically loaded early modern Christian propaganda quite different than Branham’s sophisticated argument for the use of Jewish iconography in a Christian context. While the Jordanian church’s mosaic constitutes a form of visual exegesis on the role of sacrifice and the sanctity of the Temple, the menorot on catacomb ­i nscriptions or grave paintings are missing significant contextualization; it is



Kraemer, “Jewish Tuna,” 151. Dello Russo, “Monteverde Jewish Catacombs,” 18, n. 31; Lucrezia Spera, Il paesaggio suburbano di Roma dall’antichità al Medioevo: il comprensorio tra le vie Latina e Ardeatina dale Mura Aureliane al III miglio (Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider, 1999), 377. 54 “L’istesso candelabro di sette Lucerne usato … nel cimitero degli Hebrei si vede ancora ne’ cimiteri nostri ed e’ rappresentato nella sopradetta tavola cimiteriale. Il che non debbe apportar maraviglia ne scrupolo in modo che a noi cristiani che siano stati fatti degni di participare di Christo il lume della fede, si conviene appropriatamente la figura di detto candelabro, non piu’ all’ miseri Hebrei.” For an attempt to interpret the menorah (always called, in this context, a “candelabrum”) as a Christian symbol, see M. Simon, “Le chandelier à sept branches, symbole chrétien?” Revue Archéologique 32 (1948): 971–80. 52

53

273

274

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

impossible to say that Christians now understood them to be simply fancy candelabras conveying the “light of Christ,” as Severano and his colleagues argued. Remarkably, Jewish scholars could engage similar tactics. In 1881, a finely crafted piece of gold glass was found at the Christian Catacombs of SS. Pietro and Marcellino on the Via Labicana.55 It shows a menorah with lighted candles before what looks like a Torah ark, or perhaps more, a tomb or a shrine, doors slightly pushed in, flanked by freestanding columns. Around it are a number of vases, and two other ­similar shrines. A frame of palm fronds surrounds the images, and around it runs an inscription in Greek: “House of Peace. Accept a blessing … with all yours.”56 In a wonderfully outspoken and perceptive article on the biases that have shaped Christian and Jewish archaeology, Jas´ Elsner discusses this gold glass at some length, terming its iconography “controversial.”57 In truth, it is not the piece’s iconography that is controversial, so much as the fact that it derived from a major, undisputedly Christian catacomb – something that both Christian and Jewish scholars attempt to explain away. Elsner continues, In a classic and giveaway piece of special pleading, [Rachel] Hachlili adds to this information that it “may have come from the Jewish Catacomb of the Via Lubicana (sic) nearby.” Of course it is by no means impossible that a Jewish piece might have found its way into a Christian site, but the point is that this kind of assertion makes huge, unargued (and in my view unwarranted) definitional assumptions in using the terms “Jewish” and “Christian.”58

Rachel Hachlili employs a third tactic, then: assuming that there must have been some terrible mistake in provenancing Jewish items found in Christian contexts; Jewish items must have come from somewhere

Now in the Vatican collections. E. R. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the GrecoRoman Period, vol. 3 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1953), #978. See also A. St. Clair, “God’s House of Peace in Paradise: The Feast of Tabernacles on a Jewish Glass,” Journal of Jewish Art 11 (1985): 6–15; Jas´ Elsner, “Archaeologies and Agendas: Reflections on Late Ancient Jewish Art and Early Christian Art,” Journal of Roman Studies 93 (2003), fig. 1. 56 JIWE 2 588. 57 Elsner, “Archaeologies and Agendas,” 116–17. 58 Ibid., 117.



55

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

Jewish nearby. The same logic governed, I suspect, Harry Leon’s assumption that all the unprovenanced Jewish inscriptions in the Papal collections derived from the Monteverde catacombs, even though this could not logically have been the case. In every instance where we find Jewish materials in non-Jewish contexts, scholars have resisted any interpretation that suggests Jewish cultural assimilation in order to force a reconstructed social isolationism. Some way – indeed, whatever way – a line of division had to be drawn between Jewish community and Christian community in late antique Rome. The manner in which scholars still separate Jews and Christians in late antique Rome despite other interpretive possibilities can yield quite remarkable and transparent efforts of the imagination. In a recent article on Jews in late antique Rome and Ostia, for example, archaeologist Olof Brandt discusses graffiti from a fourth-century CE cryptoporticus wall in the Horti Sallustiani. A chi rho is scrawled next to an equally rudimentary menorah. Brandt insists that the two symbols were contemporaneous, and thus, in dialogue with one another. Whoever scribbled the graffiti, he argues, used the signs as “identity markers … just like the fans of modern soccer teams.”59 He continues, Who began this? Was it a Christian who began scribbling his ­religious symbol, followed by a Jew who wanted to state that his religion was better? Or was it the other way round? Here we see how the religious symbols and identity markers are used to divide, like a weapon in a fight. … [W]e can see how Jews and Christians lived and perhaps worked side by side, perhaps hating each other but f­ eeling about their identity in similar ways.60

This is not archaeology but dangerous speculation. What on earth would lead an archaeologist to imaginatively reconstruct this scene such that an anonymous ancient Jew wanted “to state that his religion was better?” How, possibly, would two symbols side-by-side function as “weapons,” and why does Brandt imagine that Jews and Christians may have hated one another? The problem with seeing the menorah as an identity marker, then, is that it becomes the focus of modern

Olof Brandt, “Jews and Christians in Late Antique Rome and Ostia,” Opuscula Romana 29 (2004): 23. 60 Brandt, “Jews and Christians,” 23.



59

275

276

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

projections concerning the emotions behind what I would call fictive claims to identity. Brandt unconsciously resists one clear possibility: that Jews and Christians shared public space together, by imagining that even if they shared space, it must have been marked by a Jewish sense of superiority, on the one hand, and a spirit of competition and outright hatred. Thus the myth of Jewish isolationism and “otherness” is perpetuated, even in the face of evidence for shared public life. *** But perhaps I have jumped the gun, here, in claiming that far from seeing late antique Jews as a distinct and separate community in the city of Rome, the material evidence (and indeed the scientific evidence) points to a high degree of integration. Let us stay for now with the example I  have drawn from modern scholarship in which the menorah is not simply a marker of Jewish identity, but of Jewish collective identity: the one symbol that had in and of itself the power to render entire areas of a catacomb as Jewish simply by the sheer power of its existence. We might return to the issue of Jewish gold glass, such as the famous piece discovered in 1881, about which I have already written in this chapter. Jas´ Elsner has already noted, with characteristic wisdom and dry humor, that a gold glass bearing Jewish iconography found in the environs of a Christian catacomb posed tremendous interpretive challenges for both Christian and Jewish scholars. Was it actually from a nearby Jewish catacomb but had come to the Catacombs of Peter and Marcellinus (an undisputedly Christian site) only accidentally, as Hachlili suggests? What Elsner apparently did not know is that there are absolutely no indications that any of our extant “Jewish” gold glass – about a dozen pieces exist from Rome out of a general collection of over 500 – derived from Jewish catacombs.61 We know the origins of only a few. The first,

Eight pieces of Jewish gold glass bearing inscriptions are included in JIWE 2: #588 –#595. For bibliography, see Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the GrecoRoman Period, vol. 2, 110–19; D. Barag, “A Jewish Gold-Glass Medallion from Rome,” Israel Exploration Journal 20 (1970): 99–103; Irmgard Schüler, “A Note on Jewish Gold Glasses,” Journal of Glass Studies 9 (1966): 48–61. Schüler argues that gold glass perhaps originated within Jewish communities in the Diaspora; she uses a German Jewish study from 1930 to support her claim that “Jewish graves were generally set apart from those of the main population” (52) and that Jewish images “show the yearning of the Jews for the days of the Messiah, when every one of the faithful will participate in the felicities of a future life” (56–57).

61

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

Source: Vatican Museums.

277

Figure 13.  Gold glass featuring Jewish motifs, ca. 400 CE.

we have already encountered: the elaborate 1881 piece from Peter and Marcellinus. Another piece now in the Vatican collection was recovered from the (Christian) Catacomb of San Ermete.62 The third piece with a known provenance was found in 1892 in a Roman hypogeum on the Monte Parioli.63 Divided into two registers, it depicts an open Torah shrine with six scrolls, guarded by lions on the top register; on the lower register, there are two menorot with various Jewish ritual objects between them (Figure 13). An inscription, in Greek, runs inside the rim, squished between the images: “Anastasi, pie-, zeses!” or “Anastasia, drink, so that you may live!” It could be mentioned that the inscription poses some problems for the interpretation of the piece as uncomplicatedly Jewish, since Anastasia (“Resurrected”) is a Christian name, and also because its adjuration to drink up in a robust toast to the dead is not conventionally associated with late antique Jewish practice but instead was quite common among traditional Romans and Christians. The cup for which this gold glass formed the base thus attests not to Jewish community, but to a female individual with a Christian name and Jewish symbols on her cup, whose family commemorated her with a traditional, non-Jewish rite for the dead that Christians also came to practice. It was deposited, finally, in this family’s hypogeum, which was likewise neither Jewish nor Christian. Vopel, Römische Quartalschrift für christliche Altertumskunde und für Kirschengeschichte 8 (1894): 142. The piece is now lost. 63 JIWE 2 589.

62

278

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

Besides the vexing cases of these two elaborate pieces of Jewish gold glass, most gold glass bearing menorot derive not from Jewish catacombs, but are completely unprovenanced. Culled from the catacombs since the late sixteenth century and prized by private collectors as pretty and valuable curiosity objects, many of these made their way early into Vatican collections. The first collection of gold glass was published in 1716, well before the discovery of either Monteverde or Randanini. By that time, the Jewish pieces in these collections had already become detached from their provenance. The Cardinal Vicar, Gasparo di Carpegna (1625–1714), had in his possession gold glass with Jewish symbols that he had collected from some catacomb; another was on display at the Vallicelliana library.64 Another piece, in the FrühchristlichByzantinischer Sammlung Berlin since 1912, has a Torah ark and menorah with the inscription “SALBO • DOMINO VITALE CVM CONIVGE • ET FILIO S • IPSORV • FELIX • BENERIVS,” “Felix Venerius to his master Vitalis: may he be in good health, with his wife and their children.”65 Unfortunately, despite guesses to the contrary, the inscription tells us nothing about late antique Judaism. As for gold glass discovered in the later periods of catacomb exploration at Monteverde, remarkably, Nikolaus Müller’s records of gold glass from the site note no Jewish images among those excavated there.66 See F. Buonarroti, Osservazioni sopra alcuni frammenti di vasi antichi di vetro ornate di figure trovati ne’ cimiteri di Roma (Florence, 1716); the more recent collection is C. R. Morey, The Gold-Glass Collection of the Vatican Library (Rome, 1959), #114–16, 346, 426, 433, 458. See CIJ 1.516/JIWE 2 590 for Cardinal de Carpegna’s piece, later moved to the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana. The piece at the Vallicelliana was later moved to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Another piece, now JIWE 2 593, came from the private collection of Conti Matarozzi at Urbania. See Moshe Schwabe and Adolf Reifenberg, “Ein jüdisches Goldglas mit Sepulcralinschrift,” RAC 12 (1935): 319–29, on two additional Jewish gold glass pieces, one with shalom following a Greek inscription, and a second bearing the mark of its maker, Laurentius. 65 JIWE 2 593; Frey, CIJ 552, discussed by Leon, Jews of Ancient Rome, 238; Schüler, 55. Schüler sees this glass as evidence for a Jewish slave owner and a Jewish glassmaker, “as it is likely that a Jew would have been more familiar than a Gentile with the motifs depicted.” 66 Müller, jüdische Katakombe, 59–60, for the three badly damaged fragments of gold glass, none of which has Jewish imagery; O. Marucchi, Di un nuovo cimitero giudaico scoperto sulla via Labicana (Rome, 1887), 27–28. That no gold glass with Jewish imagery comes from Jewish catacombs is a point made by Lucy Grig, “Portraits, Pontiffs, and the Christianization of Fourth-Century Rome,” PBSR 72 (2004): 228.

64

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

There is also no record of Jewish gold glass ever found or securely traced back to Vigna Randanini.67 Of the thirteen extant pieces of gold glass with Jewish symbols, five include the injunction “pie- zeses” (“drink, that you may live!”) and two recall the deceased as “anima dulcis,” a “sweet soul” – both phrases we find on Christian and pagan gold glass, indicating that there was little conceptual difference in the general function of these gold glasses in commemorating the dead in a manner common to all religious traditions in late antique Rome. Bluntly stated, then, the phenomenon of Jewish gold glass, if anything, undercuts any evidence for both “Jewish catacombs” and a self-isolating “Jewish community.” If gold glass does not provide evidence for Jewish community, we might return to terracotta lamps, another valuable and largish collection of material remains. We have already seen that, for the Cripta Balbi museum curators, lamps bearing menorot are clear evidence for a thriving Jewish community in late antiquity. During the late nineteenthand early twentieth-century excavations of the Monteverde catacombs, hundreds of these lamps were recovered.68 Leonard Rutgers carbondates some from this collection to the third to the early fifth century.69 The Monteverde catacombs’ lamps, according to reports, were of the ordinary type commonly sold in late antiquity, and featured a range of decorative motifs: galloping horses, palm fronds, and fish. Of all the hundreds of lamps excavated, remarkably, only nine made their way into museum collections. These were all donated to the Lateran Museum in 1904 by the Pellegrini-Quarantotti family. Republished in 2012 in Rossi and Di Mento’s collection of studies on the Monteverde catacombs,



One in Berlin is said to have come from Randanini, but provenance is uncertain. Müller, Jüdische Katakombe, 51; N. Müller, “Cimitero degli antichi ebrei posto nella via Portuense,” Dissertazioni della Pontificia Academia Romana di Archeologia 12 (1915): 205–308. 69 L. V. Rutgers et al., “Radiocarbon Dating of Several Ancient Jewish Oil Lamps from Rome,” Radiocarbon 49/3 (2007): 1216. See also M. T. Paleani, “Su alcune lucerne fittili rinvenute nella catacomba ebraica di Monteverde a Roma,” in Historiam Pictura Refert. Miscellanea in Onore di Padre Alejandro Recio Vegazones O.F.M. (Rome: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 1994), 407–23; A. Provoost, “Les lampes à recipient allongé trouvées dans les catacombs romaines,” Bulletin de l’Institut Historique Belge de Rome 41 (1970): 17–55. On the industry more generally, see W. V. Harris, “Roman Terracotta Lamps: The Organization of an Industry,” JRS 70 (1980): 126–45. 67

68

279

280

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

they bear images of roosters, a chi rho, a palm frond, and Aphrodite.70 The r­ emaining five, made from the same mold, have low relief images of menorot.71 Of the five lamps decorated with menorot from a supposedly “Jewish” catacomb out of a collection of well over 100, many scholars have noted that the menorah form on four of the five is highly stylized. These menorot have only five arms rather than the traditional seven and lack a base; in its place is only a sort of small circle or ring, with the result that if they were meant to be candelabra, they could not have stood on a flat surface. In fact, these closely resemble hamsa amulets long used in the Middle East to ward off the evil eye, which have five “fingers” and a small circle or ring base for hanging or wearing. Are the images on the Monteverde lamps then menorot at all? If the similarity to the hamsa form is not coincidental, then it would make sense to place an apotropaic symbol on an oil lamp intended for a burial site. On the other hand, if they are indeed menorot, as most scholars have insisted, then explanations for their odd shape vary. Jessica Dello Russo suggests that perhaps the lamp’s visual field was too small for all seven branches so five could suffice to convey the idea;72 Leonard Rutgers hypothesizes that perhaps the non-Jewish workshop that produced these lamps did not have a clear enough idea about what a “real” menorah looked like, so made a sort of plausible or recognizable likeness.73 But whether or not these were menorah lamps from Monteverde’s catacombs, it is rarely mentioned that they actually constituted only a miniscule proportion of the hundreds of lamps excavated from the site, at least some of which bore a wide variety of secular and religious iconography including christograms and Aphrodite. I draw two conclusions from all this. First, investing Jewish symbols such as menorot with the meaning that they carry in modern Judaism is to overwrite, without due cause, the meaning(s) that they might have had in third- or fourth-century Rome. It is to envision late antique Roman Judaism as modern Judaism or worse, the Judaism of the ghetto. The truth, however, is that we cannot know what late antique Roman Judaism looked like on the basis of the presence of Jewish symbols on

72 73

70 71

Rossi and Di Mento, La catacomb ebraica di Monteverde, 334. All of these are now in the Vatican collections; inv. #s 38108–38112. Dello Russo, “Recent Jewish Catacombs,” 52. Rutgers et al., “Radiocarbon Dating,” 1216.

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

mortuary materials. We cannot, without any shade of doubt, insist that the menorah was consistently a marker of Jewish identity, or that that identity would be recognizable to us as “Jewish” today. By extension – and this is my second conclusion – we must not imagine a single, self-isolating Jewish community behind the use of a menorah, particularly not as one that used the menorah deliberately as an identity marker, or even less as a nostalgic evocation of the Temple and the days of Jewish glory before the Diaspora. Once one stops considering Jewish material culture as a phenomenon studied in isolation – the Jewishness of which is a given – and considers this material culture within its documented find-spots, we are left far less sure of what is Jewish and what is not, what constitutes an ancient Jewish community; and, indeed, what this ancient Judaism was that challenges the borders of normative and modern categorization.74 *** It is time to turn to Jewish inscriptions – a substantial corpus of materials that has been used, particularly by scholars such as Harry Leon, to sketch the outlines of Rome’s Jewish community in late antiquity. Leon drew on these inscriptions to distinguish between the “conservative” Jews buried at Monteverde and the more “Romanized” Jews of Randanini, who, in a substantial majority of instances (62%) omitted from their inscriptions all religious symbols … while in the Monteverde catacomb, the users of which were apparently the most conservative group, a majority (54%) put some symbol of Judaism on their epitaphs, and in nearly all instances included the Menorah … As for the Catacomb of Via Nomentana [i.e., Villa Torlonia], its users were for the most part so poor, it seems, that in the great majority of instances they could afford nothing more elaborate than a simple inscription traced with a paint brush on the stuccoed closure of the grave. Hardly ever was there room for a Menorah or any other symbol.75

But before we could hope to reconstruct any community as Leon does here, we must first sever the connections consistently drawn between the existence of Jewish inscriptions and the phenomenon of Jewish

See Müller, jüdische Katakombe, 59. See also Marucchi, cimitero giudaico, 27–28. H. Leon, “Symbolic Representations in the Jewish Catacombs of Rome,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 69/2 (1949): 88.

74

75

281

282

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

catacombs. The “Jewishness” of both the Monteverde and the Vigna Randanini catacombs, as we have seen, has depended heavily on their inscriptions.76 These inscriptions, however, appear to have been, as a rule, loosely connected with our two “Jewish” catacombs. Although Bosio noted only painted and chicken-scratched graffiti inscriptions in the Monteverde catacombs, within the next century, ten Jewish inscriptions reached the attention of the Papal Court. Where they came from remains a mystery, particularly since the Monteverde catacomb was the sole Jewish catacomb to have been discovered and it had not yielded moveable inscriptional finds. Between 1740 and 1750, Leon reports that thirteen more “Jewish” inscriptions appeared supposedly from Monteverde, although there is little evidence that the catacombs there were still navigable at that time.77 The mystery of the Jewish inscriptions’ provenance continued into the twentieth century. In 1913, a new area of the Monteverde catacomb was discovered, but its inscriptions were “few and comparatively unimportant.”78 Yet after the war, in 1919 the Director of the Museo delle Terme, Roberto Paribeni, published twenty-five new inscriptions “which were found at the catacomb [of Monteverde].”79 When Leon published his article in 1928, he had seen all these new inscriptions firsthand in the basement of the Museo delle Terme. Although the Monteverde catacomb had completely fallen into ruin by then, Leon reports an astonishing 207 Jewish inscriptions that had supposedly been removed from them over the course of 300 years. Of these, thirty-four were eventually lost, and seven Leon discounts as “clearly pagan.” He also excludes twelve others, for unspecified reasons.80





Rome’s Jewish inscriptions were collected and published numerous times between 1685 and 1749; see Leon, “The Jewish Catacombs and Inscriptions,” 301, for the complete publication details. 77 Leon, “Jewish Catacombs,” 305; the inscriptions are CIG 9901–9903; 9912–9919. G. Bevilacqua, “Le iscrizioni della catacomba di Monteverde nei Musei Vaticani,” in I. di Stefano Manzella, ed., Le iscrizioni dei Cristiani nel Vaticano: materiali e contributi scientifici per una mostra epigrafica, Inscriptiones Sanctae Sedis 2 (1997), 15. 78 Leon, “Jewish Catacombs,” 308. 79 Ibid. These probably came from land-owning individuals in Monteverde or Vatican antiquarians such as Antonio degli Effetti or Gasparo di Carpegna who had free rein to extract materials from known catacomb sites. 80 Leon, “Jewish Catacombs,” 309. 76

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

Were these Jewish inscriptions all really from the Monteverde catacombs? I don’t believe so. Either the stones came from a different Jewish catacomb or diverse Jewish burial sites along the Monteverde escarpment, or else they came from other burial grounds that were not uniformly Jewish, but which contained Jewish burials. By the second decade of the twentieth century, Rome’s catacombs had been despoiled to the point that things were popping up all over the place. Leon himself reports that one of the newly discovered inscriptions hailed not from the Monteverde catacombs directly, but from the area near the late medieval Jewish burial ground at Porta Portuensis.81 The carving may therefore not be late antique at all, but a later one cut in the ancient style; or it may have found its way to this known Jewish site from elsewhere. As for Vigna Randanini, 180 inscriptions were originally associated with that site. Raffaele Garrucci published 130 of these;82 Orazio Marucchi published an additional five.83 In 1884, when the vineyard was sold, many of the inscriptions were removed into collections, although some were later re-placed.84 The number remaining in the catacomb dwindled from 136 reported in 1904 to 121 enumerated by Leon in 1922.85 All these inscriptions – whether from Randanini, Monteverde, or unprovenanced – have been duly recorded and extensively scrutinized. Specialized Jewish epigraphic collections have emerged under JeanBaptiste Frey (compiled in 1936, but not published until 1952), and most recently, David Noy.86 The key problem here becomes evident when Noy







Leon, “Jewish Catacombs,” 309, n. 55. JIWE 2 548 was found in 1744 during the rebuilding of the Church of the SS. Quaranta leading to S. Francesco a Ripa, where JIWE 2 549 was also located. 82 Garrucci, Cimitero, 23–69; Garrucci, “Nuove epigrafi ebraiche di Vigna Randanini,” in Dissertazioni Archeologiche II, 153–67, and idem, “Epigrafi inedite di Vigna Randanini,” Dissertazioni Archeologiche II, 178–85. 83 Orazio Marucchi, “Scavi nella Vigna Randanini,” Cronachetta Mensuale, ser. 3, vol. 2 (1883), 188ff. 84 O. Marucchi, Catacombe romane, 244, note 2. 85 Leon, “Jewish Catacombs,” 309. 86 J.-B. Frey, Corpus Inscriptionum Judaicarum (CIJ) (1936); David Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe, vol. 2: The City of Rome (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995). The Monteverde inscription collection has also been edited anew by Alessandra Negroni in Rossi and Di Mento, La catacomba ebraica di Monteverde. 81

283

284

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

states that the chief rationale for including the inscriptions he does as “Jewish” is their provenience from a Jewish catacomb.87 This means, among other problems, that we generally cannot detect the presence of Jews in late antique Rome unless they were buried in either Randanini or Monteverde. However, the number of Jewish inscriptions attributed to these sites – around 500 – is far greater than the number of inscriptions that those sites once contained, according to site reports. It means, too, that Jews buried outside these sites are only identified as Jewish if they employed explicitly Jewish symbols or expressions such as “in peace be his/her sleep.” The resultant inscription collections are thus data sets beset with interpretive pitfalls for any scholar hoping to draw on them to work on social and cultural history. The assignation of a Jewish nature to certain inscriptions immediately presented intractable difficulties for compilers. The criteria that an early generation of scholars employed to determine “Jewishness” was both intuitive and subjective. For that reason, the early sources disagreed substantially on whether a number of inscriptions were Jewish or not. The problem was not made any clearer in twentieth-century collections. Although Jean-Baptiste Frey was more even-handed than most earlier Vatican scholars when it came to the antiquity and worth of Rome’s ancient Jews, as a Catholic priest he invariably applied a subjective and sometimes arbitrary need to keep Jewish and Christian materials strictly divided from one another.88 Leon, meanwhile, blamed the classical epigraphers with a lack of familiarity with Jewish antiquities, since they “not infrequently failed to recognize the Jewish character of these inscriptions and classified them as pagan or Christian.”89 While this is true, the opposite – that inscriptions that had no overtly Jewish symbols or language were classified as Jewish merely by virtue of having come from a “Jewish” catacomb – is also true. Modern scholars of late antiquity have tended toward a certain naiveté in using these collections, which depend on a subjective

Noy, JIWE 2, ix: “The same criteria have been used for determining an inscription’s ‘Jewishness’ as in JIWE I. In most cases this means provenance from a Jewish catacomb.” 88 J.-B. Frey, “L’ancienneté des catacombs juives à Rome,” Rendiconti della Pontificia Accademia 7 (1936): 185–98. 89 Leon, “Jewish Catacombs,” 302.

87

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

set of criteria in order to separate Jewish from non-Jewish inscriptions. Compilers considered inscriptions “Jewish” depending on a number of factors: the presence of Hebrew or Aramaic (very rare in Rome, and limited to “shalom” or to transcriptions of names); Greek language but biblical names for the deceased such as “Judah” or “Sarah”; the presence of Jewish symbols such as the menorah or etrog; certain formulae perceived as Jewish (“here lies so-and-so …”); mention of a synagogue or synagogue position such as archisynagogus or grammateus; and finally, find spot.90 Ideally, these criteria might be clustered, such that inscriptions with a number of these elements might be more securely identified as Jewish than ones with just a few. In the end, identification as “Jewish” is an inexact science, as Ross Kraemer points out in her perceptive article from 1991.91 As Kraemer astutely demonstrates, each one of these criteria might properly be critiqued and abandoned, but that is not my concern here. Rather, I’m struck by the extraction of “a Jewish community” from a number of these epitaphs, particularly those ones that explicitly mention a synagogue. Don’t these synagogues, mentioned on a number of Jewish epitaphs, prove definitively that Jews organized into a community, perhaps at Trastevere? Yes and no: Roman catacomb inscriptions name eleven distinct synagogues: the Agrippesian, Augustesian, Calcaresian, Campensis, Elaea, Hebrew, Secenian, Siburesian, Tripolitan, Vernaclesian, and Volumnesian.92 Interestingly, from them, the synagogues appear to have been scattered in different areas of the city. Two are named after a neighborhood in Rome: the Campensis synagogue probably refers to the Campus Martius,93 and the synagogue of the Siburesians, to the Suburra.94 Otherwise, synagogues are associated



Larry Kant, “Jewish Inscriptions in Greek and Latin,” ANRW II.20.2 (1987): 671–713. 91 Kraemer, “Jewish Tuna,” 141–62. 92 For a thorough study of synagogue offices at Rome, see Lee Levine, The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000). 93 JIWE 2 288: ἐνθάδε κεῖτε Ἀννιανὸς • ἄρχων • πιος υἱὸς Ἰουλιανοῦ πατρὸ συναγωγῆς • Καμπησίων • αἰτῶν {ἐτῶν} η μηνῶν β· ἐν εἰρήνῃ ἡ κοίμησις αὐτοῦ. 94 JIWE 2 338 (CIJ I 140), which commemorates an “archon of the Sibouresians,” although note that the synagogue is here only implied.

90

285

286

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

with specific ethnicity or a native city, such as that of the Tripolitans;95 some are named after, perhaps, a donor or sponsor (Augustesians, Agrippesians, Volumnesians).96 One may point to an occupational group (the synagogue of the Calcaresians, or “lime workers”).97 It is important to emphasize that the sole evidence for synagogues in Rome derives from these inscriptions; otherwise, we have neither textual nor archaeological evidence, unfortunately. Without such, it would be unwise to imagine actual synagogue buildings in Rome. They may indeed have existed, as we know from ancient synagogues elsewhere in the Diaspora, including nearby Ostia. But they may have been small household meeting sites rather than freestanding, designated meeting spaces. They may have JIWE 2 113 (CIJ I 408): “ἐνθάδε κεῖται Σύμμαχος εἰεροσάρχης Τριπολίτης {γερουσιάρχης} ἐτῶν # π' # ἐν ἐ ρήνῃ {εἰρήνῃ} ἡ κοίμη σι αὐτοῦ”: “here lies Symmachus, ieirosarches of the Tripolitans,” again with the synagogue only implied; JIWE 2 113 = CIJ I 318; JIWE 2 166= CIJ I 390: “ἐνθάδε κεῖτε Πρόκλος ἄρχων συναγω γῆς Τριπολειτῶν· ἐν εἰρήνῃ κοιμάσθω,” “Here lies Prokios archon of the synagogue of the Tripolitans.” 96 JIWE 2 170 (CIJ I 365): “Here lies Kailis, prostates of the Agrippesians”; JIWE 2 549 for Zosimus, archon of the synagogue of the Agrippesians (found not at Monteverde but embedded into the floor of San Salvatore a Curte; JIWE 2 189=CIG 9902, “Here lies Kuntianos, gerousiarch of the synagogue of the Augustesians”; JIWE 2 95 (CIJ I 301): “Here lies Annis, the gerousiarch of the synagogue of the Augustesians. In peace be his sleep”; JIWE 2 194 (CIG 9903): “Here lies Flavia Antonina, wife of Datibus the Zabian, from the synagogue of the Augoustesians.” See also JIWE 2 547 from Trastevere, commemorating Marcus Quintus Alexus, grammateus and mellarchon of the Augustesion for twelve years; JIWE 2 167 (CIJ I 343): «ἐνθάδε κῖτε Ἵλαρος ἄρχων ἀπὸ συναγωγῆς Βολυμνησίων,” «Here lies Hilaros, archon from the synagogue of the Bolumnesians.» See also JIWE 2 100: «ἐνθάδε κεῖτε Σίκουλος Σαβεῖνος μελλάρχων Βολουμνησίων ἐτῶν β μηνῶν ι.” The synagogue of the Volumnesians is mentioned on four different inscriptions attributed to Monteverde; the name may possibly trace to Volumnius, procurator in Syria during the Augustan period, who may have returned to Rome with Jewish household slaves. Because all inscriptions mentioning this particular synagogue have an ostensibly Monteverdian provenience, many interpreters assume that it was in Trastevere, but there is no secure basis for this. 97 There are six inscriptions, all supposedly from Monteverde, which mention this synagogue, along with one from the nearby city of Portus. See H. Leon, “New Materials about the Jews of Ancient Rome,” Jewish Quarterly Review 20 (1930): 301–31. JIWE 2 68 (CIJ I 304) commemorates Aper, an archon of the Calcaresians, as well as JIWE 2 97 (CIJ I 316): “Here lies Gaudentis, archon of the Kalkaresondis, in peace”; JIWE 2 164: “Here lies Pomponius, twice archon of the synagogue of the Kalkaresis. He lived for 60 years.” For the Jews at Portus, see Harry Leon, “The Jewish Community of Ancient Portus,” HTR 45 (1952): 165–75.



95

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

existed only conceptually – that is, a “synagogue” may have consisted of Jews meeting together and creating sacred or study space – a space that ceased to exist after the minyan dispersed. The existence of eleven ­different synagogue names also does not mean that, in the third and fourth centuries, Rome had eleven different synagogues, as is commonly supposed; that is based on the assumption that all the inscriptions were absolutely contemporaneous. It is possible that, over time, one replaced another, or that there were originally fewer and the number increased over time, or conversely, that the number lowered if, for instance, more legislative restrictions were put in place. It is important to emphasize, finally, that dating inscriptions is an inexact science, unless the inscriptions themselves offer a secure chronological anchor. “All we can say with confidence,” writes Tessa Rajak in her excellent book on the Jewish Diaspora in the Roman Empire, “is that ­several [Roman] synagogues used the same catacomb complex.”98 But I myself would not be so confident even in this. Rajak assumed that the epigraphs mentioning synagogues had indeed all actually come from the Monteverde catacombs – a “traditional” ascription that, upon closer examination, is far from clear. As Jewish inscriptions were assembled in the early modern period and collected together in the Lateran’s Sala Giudaica, their actual provenance was lost. The culling of inscriptions was far from systematic or scientific, and the burden to keep Christian catacombs free from Jewish “taint” ensured that the issue of true provenance was obscured. Since the Monteverde catacombs were the sole Jewish catacombs to be known before the nineteenth century, all Jewish inscriptions found at that time were automatically assigned to Monteverde; it was simply natural to expect, after all, that a Jewish inscription came from a Jewish site. The case of Randanini was far more complex, as its inscriptions were sold off and scattered widely; still, those with identifiably Jewish elements or features came to be gathered together. Only one epitaph from Randanini mentions a synagogue; it belongs to a man named Maronis, who died at the age of 24 and who was commemorated by his parents. Maronis was an archon of the Siburensians, apparently connected to a synagogue familiar from other inscriptions at Monteverde and Villa Torlonia.99 This evidence alone



Rajak, “Inscription and Context,” 438. JIWE 2 338. From Villa Torlonia, JIWE 2 451 and JIWE 2 452.

98 99

287

288

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

troubles Rajak’s already limited confidence. In third-century Rome, Jews were buried according to a logic that is impossible to map. One thing that the emphasis on synagogues obscures, however, is that those inscriptions mentioning synagogues are in the minority, and little evidence suggests that synagogue “communities” had anything to do with burials. Rather, most Jewish burials were financed and arranged by family members, just as for non-Jews in the Empire. It should be apparent, by now, that Jewish inscriptions may or may not tell us what we would like to know about the nature of Rome’s Jewish community. They tell us very little about the nature of something we might call “Jewishness” or, perhaps better, about Jewish identity constructions. Jews shared names and burial or memorial formulae with both pagans and Christians, just as they shared burial customs. Alessandra Negroni’s recent comprehensive study of the 258 Monteverde inscriptions highlights that many of the Jewish deceased (particularly women) had Greek or Latin names, including names of the gods, and that they shared terms of affection with Christian and pagans.100 That they also shared burial space seems likely, given the striking disjuncture between the number of epitaphs that mark religious identity only ambiguously, as well as from the remarkable number of unprovenanced stones that gradually appear in Vatican collections from only two known “Jewish catacombs,” one of which held, by all excavation and anecdotal reports, no portable inscriptions but only rudely scratched graffiti. The evidence points to much more robust interactions between Jews and non-Jews in late antiquity, which included burial in one and the same complex. *** I have argued here that Jewish catacombs, no less than Christian catacombs, are apologetic sites largely conceptualized in the early modern era and projected onto ancient burial space. They do not accurately represent what these same burial spaces looked like in antiquity nor how they functioned within the broader fabric of late antique urban Rome. Instead, they have been re-formed by both Christian and Jewish scholars as reflections of a Roman Jewish community that may be largely fictive. The folly of falling into this trap of constructed reality is evident from a generation of scholarship that proceeded to reconstruct the nature of this community based on the catacombs themselves.

Negroni, in Rossi and Di Mento, Catacomba ebraica, 160.

100

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

According to Leonard Rutgers, the wide distribution of the c­ atacombs – and the varied social classes they served – suggests that we should think of “Jewish communities” in Rome rather than imagining a monumental community of Roman Jews. But we do not know the true boundaries of these Jewish communities and their permeability. We do not know how they thought of themselves and their non-Jewish neighbors. Indeed, we cannot say that such a thing as a “Jewish community” existed at all – only that there were certainly Jews in Rome. “Community,” after all, presumes a particular sort of social network, whether tight or loose, where Jews had opportunity to build not only individual identities as Jews but communal identity as well. They would have had to have known one another, socialized together, worshipped together, agreed upon aspects of shared social identity, and so on. There is no indication from textual or archaeological sources that Rome’s ancient Jews were in the position to do this. If, however, we try to reconstruct late antique Roman Judaism solely on the basis of what this corpus of inscriptions tells us, there are a few things we might say. First, these people were likely bilingual, using both Greek and Latin. Although Greek was their dominant language (unlike for pagan and Christian inscriptions), often their epitaphs are written in a combination of both, including Latin written in Greek characters or vice versa. Second, their knowledge of Hebrew or Aramaic appears to have been rudimentary at best. Third, judging from the basis of their names and the quality of the inscriptions, they drew generally from the lower classes of the free poor, slaves, or poor freedpeople – the same social group as late antique Christian inscriptions.101 Absolutely nothing can be discerned about their religious or ritual life, degree of adhesion, or participation in distinguishing elements of Judaism. Did they practice circumcision? Keep the Sabbath? Celebrate Passover? None of this is recorded on their stones, although it is possible for them to have done so. For example, a few Christian epitaphs from the same period

Note the interesting observation of G. Fuks, “Where Have All the Freedmen Gone? An Anomaly in the Jewish Grave-Inscriptions from Rome,” Journal of Jewish Studies 36/1 (1985): 25–32 (esp. 30), that no Jewish inscription from Rome identifies the deceased as either a slave or a freedperson. The article is, however, outdated and relies on erroneous assumptions; in addition, just because one is not clearly designated a slave, it does not mean that that person was not, in fact, a slave. Most epitaphs of slaves lack explicit notation of slave status; this is usually discerned from the name of the deceased or other status markers.

101

289

290

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

note the specific time of death relative to a major feast day of a saint. Both Christian and pagan epitaphs frequently note the deceased’s death date; not a single one of these Jewish stones do. We can only speculate why this is, but it may mean that Jews did not celebrate anniversaries of deaths as was common practice in Rome for centuries.102 In order to extract more detailed demographic evidence from these inscriptions, I compiled a database of over 500 epitaphs, drawn from David Noy’s Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe, looking for specific patterns in commemoration and elementary statistics; the results are suggestive rather than rigorously empirical, given the glaring problems of this data set. There are also particular commemorative patterns that emerge from this sort of work for which the researcher needs to be attentive; it is impossible to use Roman epigraphy to determine basic data such as life expectancy, for example. My findings are thus restricted to this particular group of inscriptions and cannot be used to extrapolate the nature and contours of a “community” – only to point out habits and commemorative patterns that these inscriptions share, as well as a few things that we expect to find but do not. Some interesting things emerge when we consider the data set as a whole. We find, for instance, a number of honorary titles that are unique to Roman Jewish inscriptions: grammateus (twenty-five instances), pater of the synagogue (ten instances), gerousiarch (fourteen instances), and archon (forty-eight instances) along with its variations (for example, mellarchon, “about-to-be-archon,” or disarchon, “twice archon”) are the most common. There are also a few other titles that are less common, and ones that we might expect to find are absent. “Priest” (both as hieros and hierousiarch), for example, appears a few times, while “rabbi” or “teacher” rarely does.103 Virtually all these honorific titles are held by men or boys.104

Also lacking from Randanini, Monteverde, and Torlonia are benches or other furniture and facilities for funerary feasts – although these could have been on the surface – as well as painted scenes of dining, as we find in Christian and nonChristian catacombs. The ostensibly Jewish gold glass I have discussed above, however, do contain the common adjuration for toasting the dead, and at least one fragmentary gold glass still shows a bench, table, and food for a funerary meal. 103 See the sole instance at JIWE 2 307, where the deceased is a “teacher of the law.” 104 Even very young boys could hold an honorific title; see, for instance, JIWE 2 256 for a grammateus who dies at the age of six. The sole female office holders are matres of the synagogue (JIWE 2 542, 251, 577). 102

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

Other bits of social demographics are hard to come by. Only one records an occupation other than a synagogue honor – JIWE 2 342 from Vigna Randanini commemorates a worker in a butcher shop, Alexander. This is not to say, of course, that Jews did not put their occupations on their tombstones, only that there is a single example of a tombstone identified as Jewish where an occupation is mentioned. As in other epigraphic collections, the most common type of commemoration is from parents to children (including foster children), although again, in keeping with Christian epigraphs, rarely are children under the age of five commemorated. When they are commemorated, I would say that their ages are more likely to be given to the day than non-Jewish inscriptions. The overall impression one receives from analyzing this data is that Roman Judaism of late antiquity resembled a voluntary association or religious association more than anything else. It is interesting that elsewhere in the Empire, non-Jews clearly commandeered the term “synagogue” to describe their voluntary associations. Ross Kraemer notes three examples.105 The first, an inscription from Kyzikos dated to 119 BCE, records that the members of an association dedicated to Cybele and Apollo appointed a priestess, Stratonike, “in the synagogue of Zeus.” The second instance is another synagogue named in the context of an association of Zeus, this time from a mid-first-century BCE papyrus from the Fayyum. Finally, an inscription from Thrace refers to a “synagogue” of barbers with its own archisynagogus, accompanied by an inscription to Zeus Lopheites. Kraemer also cites the work of G. H. R. Horsley, who reproduces a guild dedication to Zeus Hypsistos from Pydna (Macedonia) dating to the middle of the third century (that is, roughly contemporaneous with our Roman inscriptions) that counts among its officers an archon, an archisynagogus, a prostates, and a grammateus.106 Horsley concludes from this that Jews drew their synagogue organization from the terminology of religious associations, such that these terms came to be nativized, so to speak, and thus associated explicitly (and exclusively) with Judaism.

Kraemer, “Jewish Tuna,” 145. G. H. R. Horsley, ed., New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Published in 1976–1989 (North Ryde: Ancient History Documentary Research Center, Macquarie University, 2012), 1. 26–27, cited in Kraemer, “Jewish Tuna,” 147.

105 106

291

292

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

If we were to consider what sort of religious group (as opposed to voluntary association, although to some degree this is a false dichotomy) this data set resembles, the closest correlate, I think, would be Mithraism. If late antique Judaism at Rome were like Mithraism, then we might profit from Richard Gordon’s recent study of Mithraism as “small group religion,” where Mithraism (with a capital M) existed only as an early modern invention; to put it differently, Gordon sees in antiquity no “Mithraism” but only “Mithraists.”107 The reality “on the ground” for Mithraists consisted of relatively loosely affiliated groups that met periodically and had their own particular sets of rules, rituals, and so on. To reconsider Judaism of late antique Rome as a small group religion may well be helpful; we would find no Judaism writ large, but rather Jews, operating in small groups in the city, some of which organized themselves into synagogues (whatever that means, but they may well have not been designated buildings or depended on such buildings for their existence). These groups would have shared certain titles for members such as pater (also, interestingly, an initiatory level for Mithraists) – we do not know what action merited receiving a particular title – and met intermittently. Each probably had its own set of criteria for entrance. “Small group religion” Judaism also moves us away from thinking in grand terms of “a Jewish community” at Rome, which maintained ancestral customs and a sense of separation from everyone else. All our evidence points to this as an invented fiction. These groups may have welcomed outsiders; they may not have chosen “Jewish” as their primary identity in every social setting; they may not have regularly studied the Torah or kept kosher; they may have affiliated themselves with a “synagogue” – whatever that looked like to them – or they may not have. And yet they drew on a vocabulary that was distinctively Roman Jewish, even if elements of that vocabulary are almost completely foreign to those of us who study Judaism, save for their fondness for putting menorot on their tombstones. This repeated motif – so reassuringly familiar while other things like Jewish honorifics are not – I suspect explains why so much energy has gone into using the menorah as the definitive sign of Jewish normative community in Rome.

Richard Gordon, “Projects, Performance, and Charisma: Managing Small Religious Groups in the Roman Empire,” in Richard L. Gordon, Jörg Rüpke, and Georgia Petridou, eds., Beyond Priesthood: Religious Entrepreneurs and Innovators in the Imperial Era (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017), 277–316.

107

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

Some critics might charge that this reconstructed “small group Judaism” that I suggest here looks suspiciously like the Judaism of many North American Jews. I am indeed guilty of this, just as I freely admit that I know dozens and dozens of North American Jews who freely mingle with non-Jews, who do not and have never kept kosher, who innovate from tradition in, say, embracing female rabbis to head their congregations. I know Jews who have never set foot in a synagogue, who do not know more Hebrew than “shalom,” and who never yearn for an ancestral homeland other than America, place of their birth as well as their grandparents and great-grandparents. This is modern American Judaism, and it remains up to us to decide whether or not it is exclusively a “modern invention” or whether it is possible to conceptualize an equally cosmopolitan, “modern” Judaism in imperial and late antique Rome. I am one of those who believes, as a Roman historian, that Rome of the Empire was not always so different from modern America, and thus, that keeping American social models in mind to test their applicability, soundness, and feasibility in the Roman world is, if nothing else, a worthy thought experiment. Certainly, a small group religion of individuals exploring Jewish identity in the broad religious marketplace of the Roman Empire seems at least as feasible to me, based on our extant evidence, as a social model of a monolithic, self-segregating Jewish community somewhere in Rome. For reasons that I find confounding, but which I have tried to understand in this chapter, the myth of Jewish isolationism dominates historical studies, but with little empirical support and little thought as to what drives this myth and what its implications are for understanding our own assumptions and biases. Few scholars are willing to admit that the Jews of late ancient Rome could and did exist within mixed marriages and/or mixed family units. Yet the social realities of the Empire – those drawn to one religion or another, or human beings drawn to one another despite complications that might separate them, or the complexities contained in the Roman “extended family” that included slaves, foster children, and freedpeople – all made the theoretical position of clearly defined and maintained “Jewish identity” difficult to sustain. If some scholars have allowed that perhaps lines between Roman pagans and Jews were sometimes crossed in late antiquity, most scholars have not commented on the potential blurriness of lines between late antique Roman Jews and Christians. In fact, the evidence that such blurred lines did in fact exist between Jews and Christians in late

293

294

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

antique Rome is not that difficult to find. Enter Leonard Rutgers, who in a sensible article from 1992, dismisses the argument for Jewish isolation: “on a day-to-day basis, a ghetto mentality was not characteristic for life in third- and fourth-century Rome.”108 He continues, “It is beyond doubt that all these groups [pagans, Christians, Jews] could make use of one and the same cemetery.”109 Rutgers makes a persuasive argument for economic interactions between Jews and non-Jewish Romans, noting that Jewish material culture – sarcophagi, lamps, and so on – appear to have been made in the same workshops that produced non-Jewish materials. In a more recent demographic study, Rutgers notes that there was no difference in life expectancies between Jewish and Christian populations in Rome, “a function of the integration of the Jews into the texture of late antique Roman non-Jewish society.” He continues, “instead of living wholly separated lives, they intermingled all the time.”110 Inscriptions at the Monteverde site produced both Jewish and Christian artifacts, and in close proximity. CII 84 features both a chi rho and a menorah; another, an inscription in Kaufmann’s Handbuch der altchristlichen Epigrafik has a chi rho on an inscription with Hebrew letters (55, n. 1).111 We might note that these stones are found only in smaller published collections. They cannot be classified under Christian inscriptions, nor under Jewish ones, and thus, again, their very existence falls into obscurity. One fascinating late inscription found on the Via Latina, first published in Bosio’s Roma Sotteranea, records that one Avinius purchased a trisomus grave for three male friends or relatives named Vinius, Lucius, and Calvilius. The stone, which is still extant, bears a chi rho and ends with the Christian formula “in pace.”112

Rutgers, “Interaction,” 109. Ibid., 110. 110 L. V. Rutgers, “Catacombs and Health in Christian Rome,” 44. See also Rutgers, “Nuovi dati sulla demografia della comunità giudaica di Roma,” in G. Lacerenza, ed., Hebraica hereditas. Studi in onore di Cesare Colafemmina (Napoli: Istituto Universitario Orientale, 2005), 237–54, and idem, “Reflections on the Demography of the Jewish Community in Ancient Rome,” in M. Ghirlardi and C. Goddard, eds., Les cités de L’Italie tardo-antique (IV–VI siècles) (Rome: École Française de Rome, 2006), 345–58. 111 For more Christian-decorated objects in the Jewish catacombs; see R. Martorelli, LTUR: Suburbium 4 (2005), 223. 112 A. Bosio, Roma sotterranea (Rome, 1634), 333; see also ICUR 6 15780: “Calevius bendidit Avin(io) trisomu ubi positi erant Vini et Calvilius et Lucius in pa(ce) co(n)s(ulatu) Stil(ichonis).” 108

109

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

Iconographically the piece is remarkable; it features a fish, a house or tomb, a depiction of Lazarus in his tomb, and a candelabrum with seven lamps, although the EAGLE database of early Christian inscriptions terms it a heptalychnus rather than a menorah. If it was meant to be a menorah – and I believe it is – this stone is our only extant ­evidence from Rome of Jews and Christians in a single grave. It appears to date to the late fourth or fifth century – a time of increasing Christian restrictions against the Jews. This must be around the same time as a remarkable inscription in Noy’s Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe, which commemorates a man by the name of Sigisimund who married a woman called Sarra. Although we don’t know that Sarra was necessarily Jewish, surely Sigisimund was a Goth, and thus, a member or descendent of the Arian Christian invaders of Rome in 410 CE. We know of this alliance only because Sarra chose to have a menorah engraved on Sigisimund’s epitaph.113 *** On the other side of this revised picture of Jews and Christians coexisting harmoniously “on the ground,” as Christianity gained momentum in the wake of Constantine’s reign, we find Christian legislation aimed at drawing clear dividing lines between them. Both the infamous burning of the synagogue at Callinicum in 388 CE by overzealous monks and the ruling at the early fourth-century Council of Elvira that forbade Christians from sharing meals with Jews happened far from Rome. One wonders if, despite Rutgers’ claim that all was quite well on the Roman home front, the climate in the city was shifting toward hostility for Roman Jews of the fourth century. Constantine’s rulings forbidding mixed marriages between Christians and Jews were reinforced once more in 388 CE with harsher punishments: mixed marriage constituted adultery, punishable by death.114 Constantine writes a letter endorsing the Nicene canon that stipulates that the date of Easter should not be calculated by the Quartodeciman rule, which made Good Friday

See also ICUR 4 12262, the epitaph of a man named Aron Chrestianus, whom Jessica Dello Rosso (“Monteverde Jewish Catacombs,” 25) speculates may be a converted Jew. 114 Cod. Theod. 16.8.6 (329 CE), referring to women in imperial weaving establishments who had married Jewish men whom they had encountered through their craft. See also Cod. Theod. 9.7.5; cf. Cod. Theod. 3.7.2.



113

295

296

Raising Late Antique Jews from the Valley of Dry Bones

coincide with the Fourteenth of Nisan of the Jewish Passover: “Nothing is to be held in common with the murderers of the Lord” (Eusebius, Vita Constantini 4.37). The bishop Ambrose was moved, in 393 CE, to ­“rescue” the martyrs Agricola and Vitalis from their original burial sites in a Jewish cemetery in Bologna to Christian holy ground (On Virginity 1.7; PL 16.354). If, indeed, I am wrong that there was no such thing as a strictly Jewish catacomb, and Constantine was right – that “nothing hallowed and Christian could be held in common with the murderers of the Lord,” then the segregation of Jews into their own burial spaces was hardly their own doing. The phenomenon of strictly Jewish catacombs from late antiquity should not be held up as acts of a strong community policing their own boundaries to retain their “distinct society” creds, but rather, as the remnants of the first Jewish ghettos – the result of a nascent Christianity’s unforgiveable act of matricide.115 On the other hand, if I am right and the “Jewish catacomb” is the long result of an early modern Christian attempt at containing a fluid and thriving religion into a containable form so as to preserve intact a “pure” and “Judenfrei” early Christianity, then again, we might consider abandoning both their fantasized Judenrein spaces and our celebration of a distinct and self-isolating Jewish community that, in reality, was born of early modern prejudices.



115

On the destruction of Rome’s synagogues, see Ambrose, Ep. 40 and 41 (PL 16.1148–69).

7. Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos) Here lie I at the chapel door, Here lie I because I’m poor. The further in the more you pay. Here lie I as warm as they.1

N

orth London’s Highgate Cemetery, charmingly packed with largely Victorian-era graves, is a marvel of early modern city planning. One hundred and seventy thousand souls have found rest within these thirty-seven acres. The cemetery is the end result of a pattern that has its origins in the Roman practice of human burial outside city walls. In Rome, extra-urban inhumation gradually gave way to burials inside urban spaces by the fifth century CE. By the Middle Ages, inhumations in church graveyards or crypts had become the customary way to dispose of the dead. But even ancient Romans knew that putting burials inside a city would quickly become unsustainable; the dead and the living are not meant to exist in close proximity. By the nineteenth century, London had long been a crowded, fetid, unhealthy metropolis where urban churchyards spilled their dead into the world of the living. In the space of only fifty years, London’s population grew from 1 million to 2.3 million. Catharine Arnold writes memorably about London’s infelicitous relationship with the dead: about dance halls and dance parties unwittingly held on scores of festering corpses; the pungent odor of human decay overcoming people with retching nausea; and the



1

Quoted in Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 34.

297

298

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

spreading of pestilence as sewer rats gnawed on human flesh.2 Thus, in a great wave of sensible modernizing, in the nineteenth century the dead were evicted, sent packing to seven newly constructed massive cemeteries on the city’s outskirts. The “magnificent seven” were gloriously peaceful places – left wooded, or planted with gardens and benches for quiet contemplation. Here, death was a beautiful, tragic thing. Mourners, racked by grief, might nonetheless be healed from their suffering through the contemplation of nature and beauty. Highgate is a sad place, but it is no charnel. Death brings suffocating loss, but not direct confrontation with the reality of biological decay and decomposition. Highgate Cemetery accomplished something else revolutionary: it moved death out of a religious frame into a secular one. For a thousand years in Britain, the dead were buried in churchyards or deposited in the vaults under a church. The Church, in a sense, thus gathered to its bosom its own, consolidating its community of believers so as to wait, together, for the glorious resurrection of the dead. But where it provided comfort on ideological grounds, it failed spectacularly on practical grounds. By the nineteenth century, as more secular ideals soaked through British culture, burial apart from the Church’s embrace became a viable, even attractive alternative. Not only were Highgate and the other six Victorian cemeteries lovely and restful places of clean air and cavorting foxes, they were secular spaces. This is not to say that Christianity was not present – indeed, it was, from the extensive use of quotations from the Bible, the crosses, the omnipresent mourning stone angels. Technically, Highgate is dedicated to St. James, and part of the extended territories of the Church of England. But she and her sisters broke from the ancient pattern of burying the dead ad sanctos – cozying up to the saints, as close as money could afford. The wealthy – and there were very many of these at Highgate – chose to show off their wealth through conspicuously costly display rather than proximity to the holy. In a sense, this “turn” pointed back to Roman necropoleis, where the best families built the best tombs. Religion, and belief, had nothing to do with where one was buried, or how. Highgate Cemetery was opened in 1839, but it is not frozen in time; it remains a working cemetery. A number of notables are buried there,



Catharine Arnold, Necropolis: London and Its Dead (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006).

2

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

Photo by Nicola Denzey Lewis, 2015.

299

Figure 14.  Grave of Karl Marx, 2015.

from writer George Eliot to Malcolm McLaren, style impresario and manager of the Sex Pistols, to the singer George Michael. But Highgate’s most famous interment is the great socialist philosopher Karl Marx (1818–1883). Marx’s funerary monument – not from the time of his death, but erected in 1956 – is an ugly gray slab surmounted by sculptor Laurence Bradshaw’s oversized bronze bust of Marx’s head, giving the impression that the philosopher is standing in a large box up to his shoulders with a plaque over where his stomach would be. Across where his shoulders would be, engraved in large gold letters, are the famous last words from his Communist Manifesto: WORKERS OF ALL LANDS UNITE (Figure 14). Thomas Laqueur, in his recent book on the cultural history of the dead, opens with a description of Marx’s grave.3 It is not precisely the grave itself that interested Laqueur, but what surrounds it. Nearby rests



Thomas Laqueur, The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015).

3

300

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

the bodies of Marx’s family – exhumed from elsewhere and reburied here. Around them lie the graves of other socialist notables. Most recently, the socialist historian Eric Hobsbawm bought up a sizable plot just there, by Marx. It is a classic, and ironic, example of a secular ad sanctos burial. The phenomenon of depositio ad sanctos around Marx’s body – here, around this most secular of thinkers, surrounded by other resolutely secular thinkers, in a secular cemetery rather than a churchyard or crypt – underscores my argument in this chapter: that ad sanctos burial is not really about sanctity at all, but about the pull of certain powerful culture-makers, even after death. It is about aligning with particular values, about demonstrating affiliations, strengthening ties and community. It is about memory, and continuation. But what it is not about, I argue, is proximity to holiness. Why does this matter? Because the Cult of the Saints is based upon the conviction that the “corporeal turn” rendered human corpses holy things, and this holiness was transitive, if not precisely contagious. Because the bodies of martyrs exuded holiness, people sought to be as close as possible to them – not only during one’s lifetime, but also in death. A burial ad sanctos was, in the words of a famous inscription, “Quod multi cupiun(t) et rari accipiun(t)”: the thing to which many aspired but few received. But how prevalent was this attitude in late antiquity, really? It might be noted that the original of this oft-quoted inscription – such a precious testimony to the power of ad corpus burial – was at some point lost, and was transmitted in a well-known collection of Christian epitaphs, the Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres (ILCV).4 The cynical among us might also point out that the editor of



Ernst Diehl, Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres (Berlin, 1925–31) (ILCV), I, #2, 148. The inscription itself, with a consular date of 381 CE, belongs to the grave of a woman from Velletri. It was already only fragmentary when copied down: “… NA IN DOM CVLTRIX/ … P NVTRIVIT/ … VIS/ … PERORVM/ …  MERITA ACCEPIT/ … IMINA SANCTORVM/ … T ACCEPIT/ … N ET RARI ACCIPIVN/ … S VACRIO CS.” The missing half has been partially restored, thus, from the fourth line: “amatrix pauPERORVM/quae pro tanta MERITA ACCEPIT/sepulcrum intra lIMINA SANCTORVM/ … T ACCEPIT/ quod multi cupiuNt ET RARI ACCIPIVNt/Antonio et S VACRIO CS.” For the full inscription and restoration, see O. Marucchi and J. Armine Willis, Christian Epigraphy: An Elementary Treatise with a Collection of Ancient Christian Inscriptions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011 [1912]), #166, p. 179.

4

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

ILCV, the German scholar Ernst Diehl (1874–1947) was somewhat of an armchair epigrapher, reproducing inscriptions from earlier compilations or syllogae without himself ever seeing the originals. The mystery of the inscription remains. Was it authentic? Or an early modern forgery to justify an early modern view of the past, such as we see at Monselice? Certainly, the key point – that many “desired” a burial next to the saints – is entirely an early modern restoration of lost text. Even if it were authentic or authentically restored, it appears to be the sole epigraphic testimony to a supposedly widespread desire. Did Roman Christians also aspire to be buried next to the saints? How often? What is the evidence? I argue here that the practice of ad sanctos burial, far from being obvious, cannot be definitively determined from archaeology. Further, it was not a late antique Roman practice. Yet the phenomenon of ad sanctos burial is taken for granted as a concept that was operative across the late Empire. It is easy to misperceive a grave or a series of graves as ad sanctos, particularly if one has an investment in the founding principles of “sacred archaeology.” At the heart is the issue of martyrs’ bodies and their ability to sanctify space – a radical shift from earlier conceptualizations of both bodies and place. One of my aims in this book has been to disrupt the automatic connections we so often make between corporeal relics and the establishment of sacred space. The catacombs were not “sacred space” in late antiquity, although they were deliberately presented as such from the Counter-Reformation until the present. When the cult of the martyrs breezed through Rome beginning in the late fourth century, it brought only modest changes to the city’s topography, insofar as this era saw the production of a few memoriae to martyrs.5 These memoriae were indeed constructed, but they often reflected papal self-interests and thus were not necessarily as significant (nor as frequented) as later interpreters have claimed. Furthermore, Romans “connected the dots” between corpses, corporeal relics, and the sanctification of space only imperfectly and sporadically. Key sites of Christian worship (the example I offered here



Agostino Amore, I Martiri di Roma (Todi: Tau, 2013); J. B. Ward-Perkins, “Memoria, Martyr’s Tomb and Martyr’s Church,” in Akten des VII. internationalen Kongresses für christliche Archäologie. Trier (Vatican City: Pontifico Istituto, 1965), vol. 1.3–25. Joseph. D. Alchermes, Cura pro mortuis and cultus martyrum: Commemoration in Rome from the Second through the Sixth Century (Ann Arbor, MI: UME Dissertation Services, 1989).

5

301

302

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

in Chapter 4 is St. Peter’s) were holy hot spots, not because they were believed to hold Peter’s bones, but because they focused and sharpened Christian collective memory. The theory of “la mémoire collective” – that is, the shared cultural memory of a particular society – has been both usefully adopted by cultural historians of Rome and also properly critiqued.6 In essence, since mind is not shared, “memory” also cannot be shared. “Collective memory,” as explored by sociologists from Maurice Halbwach’s seminal work until the present, then, is not so much about remembering as it is about creating, sharing, and purveying a particular focused cultural myth.7 In this sense, I find the concept of “collective memory” to be a helpful way of thinking about the work that burial and commemoration around a saint’s tomb did. Very little – if any – of this work is, or was, about notions of transitive holiness. Much of it, it seems to me, was about building up a sense of community around the body of a martyr. Identification with a martyr could be “personal,” in the sense of maintaining a relationship of spiritual patronage, or it could be something akin to “civic,” that is, a particular town lays claim to a “patron” saint. Rome’s most significant “patron saints” for late antiquity – Peter and Paul, then the local martyrs Agnes, Lawrence, and Sixtus – were very much involved in the construction of local Christian “collective memory,” but ad sanctos burials did not coalesce around them. On the other hand, “personal” identification with a martyr did result in people who wished to be buried nearby, but the practice was not popular in Rome and limited to a narrow chronological period around the fourth century. Among the powerful, it was uncommon enough that even Pope Damasus, impresario of the saints, chose not to be buried ad sanctos. His family hypogeum lay close to the sub divo complex of the martyrs Marcus and Marcellianus, but not close enough to be

For Rome, see the results of Karl Galinsky’s Memoria Romana research project, recently published in three separate volumes: K. Galinsky, ed., Memory in Rome and Rome in Memory, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome sup. Vol. 10 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014); K. Galinsky and K. Lapatin, eds., Cultural Memories in the Roman Empire (Los Angeles: Getty Museum Publications, 2015), and K. Galinsky, ed., Memory in Rome and Early Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016). 7 Maurice Halbwachs, La mémoire collective (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France).

6

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

considered clearly ad sanctos. These martyrs, too, were not acknowledged in any of Damasus’ elaborate elogia. And by the sixth century, Gregory the Great dismisses burial ad sanctos as unnecessary at best and risky at worst. Still, the significance of saints’ shrines for creating and purveying a particular myth of origins served one more important community: the emergent Church, by which I mean not so much an entire corpus of believers, but specifically the clergy. If there were such a thing as “collective memory” around the tombs of the saints, the remembering was not done by ordinary Christians, but by the city’s bishops and presbyters. These were the men who had a particular investment in remembering the saints and martyrs of Rome. We see this most clearly in the case of Damasus and his elogia, which I have argued here were not for the benefit of pilgrims but to bolster the collective memory of a more narrow and learned “community” of fellow ecclesiastics. While harnessing the power of the martyr’s narrative was useful for building a sense of Roman Christian identity, promoting the practice of burial around a saint apparently was not, for there is scant evidence of this in Rome. As for early modern Catholics, the principle of ad sanctos burial was dangerously ambivalent; on the one hand, Augustine and Gregory dismiss the practice as superstitious and unnecessary – something highly educated men of the early modern Church knew well from their studies of patristic literature. “Everyone,” writes the Catholic archaeologist Orazio Marucchi in 1912, “wished to be buried near the martyrs; hence the more ignorant were led to believe that this alone was sufficient to secure salvation.”8 On the other hand, the idea that burials accrued around the bodies of the saints simply supported something against which these men would hardly argue: that the saints’ holiness was unquestioned and real, and that their holy bodies sanctified space, naturally drawing believers to wait with them for the resurrection of the dead. In the end, the Vatican’s “sacred archaeologists” were primed to perceive all burials in the vicinity of a martyr as necessarily ad sanctos, since the martyr’s power to attract nearby burials was taken for granted. After all, such a burial was often desired, but rarely received. ***



8

Marucchi, Christian Epigraphy, 180.

303

304

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

Depositio ad sanctos, or the practice of burying bodies at or next to the grave of a martyr, is generally identified as a medieval, not a late antique, practice in Europe. Henri Leclercq, in a lengthy article on the topic published in the Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, shifted focus to late antique practice, although his testimony contained some anachronistic errors.9 It was not until 1988, however, that any modern scholar produced a comprehensive volume on the topic. That year, the French patristic scholar Yvette Duval published her book on ad sanctos burials in North Africa, Auprès du saints corps et l’âme, which quickly established itself as the defining study on the topic.10 Duval sees the development of burial ad sanctos in three distinct phases: first, a few privileged individuals chose to be buried close to the bodies of martyrs in suburban catacombs. By the fourth century, the pattern broadened to include large numbers of ad sanctos tombs clustered around large funerary basilicas holding the bodies of martyrs. Beginning in the fifth century, the bodies of saints were translated into urban basilicas, and ad sanctos burials collected around these relics. While the pattern that Duval discerned may have held for North Africa, it was not the pattern for Rome. In Rome, there was no “first stage” of a few privileged individuals choosing to be buried ad sanctos in the catacombs during the late third or early fourth century. During the course of the fourth century, Rome’s notable new structures included several massive funerary basilicas located at cemeteries along the urban periphery, but these (much to archaeologists’ ­surprise) did not contain any ad sanctos burials. When human inhumation moved inside what was left of Rome’s walls in the fifth century, they came before, not after, the transfer of relics to urban churches. Even when bones were brought inside the walls from the catacombs, the pattern of burials around the urban churches that contained them do not precisely correspond to the location of the bones. If there were any pattern to late antique Roman burial, it defies analysis or ­categorization. In this chapter, I’ll explore some of

Y. Duval, Auprès des saints corps et l’âme: l’inhumation “ad sanctos” dans la chrétienté d’Orient et d’Occident du III e au VII e siècle (Paris: Études ­Augustiniennes, 1988). 10 Duval, Auprès des saints corps. The book was based on Duval’s 1977 doctoral ­dissertation, advised by Charles Pietri, Henri Marrou, and P.-A. Fevrier.



9

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

the epigraphic and archaeological attestations of ad sanctos burial in a critical light, from the catacombs, the funerary basilicas, to urban cemeteries and intramural burials. *** Depositio ad sanctos was a topic of mounting concern in the fourth century. Ad sanctos burial attests to changes in mentality during late antiquity that charged human remains with a new potency. It started, insofar as we can see, in Augustine’s territory. According to the passio of the North African martyr Maximillian, the martyr’s body was tenderly gathered by the wealthy matron Pompeiana, who buried it next to the tomb of Cyprian.11 The events of the passio took place around 295 CE; most Catholic scholars, therefore, consider that the beginning of the practice.12 It seems to me, however, that it was not until the late fourth century that the passio form became common, and many fourth- and fifth-century practices were thus retrojected into the past within this literature. At any rate, by the fourth century – and in places outside of Rome – depositio ad sanctos was certainly done, and was beginning to garner controversy.13 In 396 CE, Ambrose of Milan decided to cede the tomb he had prepared for himself beneath the altar of a funerary basilica in his city to place within, instead, the bones of Gervasius and Protasius. Choosing to be buried alongside, his became the first instance of episcopal burial ad sanctos.14 It was not just the bishops themselves who wanted to be buried close to holy bodies. In his capacity as bishop, Paulinus of Nola had ceded to Herbert Musurillo, Acts of Maximillian 3.4; Duval, Auprès des saints corps, 52. For the North African evidence, see also V. Saxer, Morts, martyrs reliques en Afrique chrétienne au premiers siècles (Paris: Beauchesne, 1980); Brown, Cult of the Saints, 33. 12 Duval, Auprès des saints corps, 52. 13 See Jean-Charles Picard, Le souvenir des évêques: Sépultures, listes épiscopales et culte des évêques en Italie du Nord, des origins au Xe siècles. Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome, 268 (Rome: École Française de Rome, 1988). See English review. See also Armelle Alduc-Le Bagousse, ed., Inhumations de prestige ou prestige de l’inhumation? Expression du pouvoir dans l'au-delà (IVeXVe siècle). Table ronde du CRAHM 4 (Caen: CRAHM, Université de Caen Basse-Normandie, 2009). 14 See Ambrose, Ep. 77 to Marcellina and his Hymn 11. Picard, Le souvenir, sees here the genesis of a complex set of customs around episcopal burial and memory that was uniquely north Italian.

11

305

306

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

the wishes of a local member of the elite, a woman by the name of Flora. Flora had implored Paulinus to allow her to bury her son, Cynegius, near the grave of the Nolan martyr Felix. Paulinus allowed it, for he himself had buried a son next to the bodies of martyrs at Acalá. Yet it apparently remained a question for Paulinus: was there truly a benefit to the practice? He addressed his question to his fellow bishop, Augustine of Hippo. Augustine responded to Paulinus in a characteristically thoughtful response on the nature of Christian death and burial entitled the De cura gerenda pro mortuis or On the Care to Be Taken of the Dead (421 CE).15 It remains our only comprehensive late antique document to discuss burial. Augustine made it abundantly clear in De cura that there was little benefit to be gained from burial ad sanctos. Only moral acts performed by the living were beneficial to the soul after death; the corpse was but a passive and lifeless object that could not benefit from proximity to holiness. If there were any value to ad sanctos burial, it was that the prayers of those who came to visit the martyrs might also leak over to benefit those buried nearby (“adjuvat defuncti spiritum non mortui corporis locus, sed ex loci memoria vivus precantis affectus”) (De cura, 4.5). In the case of Flora, it could only be a certain kind of comfort to the bereaved mother: When therefore a Christian mother desired to have the body of her dead Christian son deposited in the basilica of a martyr because she believed that his soul would be aided by the merits of the martyr, the very believing of this was a type of supplication, and this would profit if anything would. And in that her thoughts refer to this same tomb, and in her prayers she more and more prays for her son, the spirit of the departed is aided, not by where its dead body had been placed, but by the living affection of the mother who remembers that place. (De cura 7)

Augustine was skeptical about the intercessory powers of the dead – even of those who had died as martyrs. It was true, he agreed: Felix had appeared at Nola as the barbarians besieged the city; there were reliable witnesses. But this miracle had happened through divine power, not through the agency of the martyrs themselves. The prayers of the living



15

Augustine, De cura pro mortuis gerenda (CSEL 42.619–660); English translation by H. Brown, NPNF ser. 1, 3.539–551.

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

were powerful, not the corpses of the martyrs: “… the martyrs are interested in the affairs of the living through divine power, for it is not possible for the departed by their own nature to be interested in the affairs of the living” (De cura 19). Long after Augustine and Ambrose, the issue was still live in Rome. In Book IV of Gregory the Great’s Dialogues, the bishop takes up the question of whether there was any benefit to being buried close to the saints.16 No, he says. In fact, there may even be dangers for those who were not worthy; better would be prayer and the dedication of funerary masses to the souls of the departed. The sentiment was very much in keeping with Augustine, but then, one would expect no less from Gregory, a quintessentially Roman Christian of Rome. A question – broached by Duval, in fact – is whether Augustine and Gregory held minority positions, and whether, despite the relative silence on the issue from late antiquity’s leading bishops in the West, burial ad sanctos as a practice was going like gangbusters among the lay elite of the late Empire. In The Cult of the Saints, Peter Brown directed our attention to the “tensions between private and communal” that the practice of depositio ad sanctos could bring to a community. “Ostentatious and particularized loyalties to the holy dead,” he remarked, “disrupted the ideal community of the believers.”17 In effect, the Cult of the Saints privatized the holy, facilitating access to the saint’s tomb only for those who were well connected and wealthy, creating “a privileged religious topography of the Roman world.”18 Flora’s act of grief and desperation – her desire to place her dead child in the best possible place to benefit from a martyr’s intercession – meant highlighting the social divisions between the haves and the have-nots; this was a dangerous precedent, and prevented the blessed access that the entire Christian community should enjoy in relation to the saints.19 But should the entire Christian community equally enjoy access to the saints? In Rome, we see a slightly different pattern emerging: special access after death tended to be restricted to members of the clergy. It appears that the creation of martyr shrines, usually grafted on top of ordinary Christian cemeterial sites, was almost exclusively directed



Brown, Cult of the Saints, 32. Ibid. 18 Ibid. 19 Ibid., 35. 16 17

307

308

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

by the city’s bishops. I have already discussed the case of Damasus’ martyr shrines in Chapter 2; after Damasus’ day, a number of other active martyr shrines were underwritten, so to speak, by papal funds. A fine example of a papal martyrium with a funerary complex is the small Catacombs of San Valentino off the Via Flaminia to the north of the city, nestled into the hills of Parioli.20 There is, predictably, still debate among scholars as to who Valentinus was. According to Roman martyrologies, he was a Roman priest martyred under Gallienus (253– 268 CE) whose body was buried by a matron named Sabinilla. Or perhaps he was the very same famous Saint Valentine of Terni whom we still celebrate today on Valentine’s Day, who was buried here but reached true posthumous acclaim only in his hometown.21 Or, most plausibly, perhaps Valentinus was a wealthy donor who gave his lands for Christian burial, and who was then elevated to the status of martyr in the sixth century – a pattern we see at Rome for many other saints including Cecilia and Pudenziana.22 At any rate, Valentinus’ grave was a shallow sub-dial burial at the foot of the Parioli hill. A martyrial basilica was constructed around it, first by Julius I (336–352 CE), then by Honorius I (625–638 CE), and finally Theodore I (642–649 CE). By the sixth century, the site featured a large open-air necropolis as well as a catacomb. Were these ad sanctos burials? In a sense, yes, in that they were in the vicinity of a martyr’s grave. At the same time, the logic of the precise arrangement is lost. If noblewomen vied with bishops to have their children buried close to Valentinus, those narratives have regrettably disappeared from history. The impression remains, however, that if anyone valued Valentinus, it was the popes who built and maintained the site over at least six hundred years rather than ­laypeople carrying on a practice that the Church sought to suppress or contain.

For the site report from the 1949 excavation, see B. M. Apollonj Ghetti, “Nuove indagini sulla basilica di S. Valentino,” RAC 25 (1949): 171–89. 21 For the first theory, see M. Armellini, Gli antichi cimiteri cristiani di Roma e d’Italia, III (Rome: Tip. Poliglotta, 1893), 151–61; for the second (and patently apologetic) theory, see V. Fiocchi Nicolai, “Il culto di S. Valentino tra Terni e Roma: una messa a punto,” in Atti del convegno di studio: L’Umbria meridionale fra tardo-antico e altomedioevo. Aquasparta, 6–8 Maggio 1989 (Perugia: Università degli studi, 1989), 165–78. 22 Agostino Amore, “S. Valentino di Roma o di Terni?” Antonianum 41 (1966): 260–77. 20

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

A martyrial shrine with a slightly different, but equally papal, history is the small catacomb of Panfilo on the Via Salaria Vetus.23 The complex originated in the second half of the third century as a small, triangular plot of land with aboveground burials and a catacomb on one level. This oldest level, Regio II, was arranged in a characteristic “fish-bone” pattern of regular galleries that meet at right angles; thus there were no ad sanctos burials here and the graves were all assigned to individuals of generally modest means. By the fourth century, the catacomb levels had deepened to accommodate more burials (probably around 2,500 in total) on two more levels, and the bodies of two martyrs, Theophilus and Pontianus, were identified as sharing a double cubiculum.24 There is no compelling reason to believe that these martyr burials attracted additional burials; although the site expanded during the fourth century, virtually all catacombs in the city also grew in this era. Barbara Borg has demonstrated convincingly that the establishment and use of both the Catacombs of Panfilo and its aboveground cemetery had nothing to do with its martyrs; it likely stood on imperial property. Inscriptions from the site reveal the tombs of a number of imperial freedpeople and slaves, along with many soldiers.25 In other words, those who were buried there had connections to the emperor, not the desire to be close to the martyrs. At some point in the fifth century, however, the Catacombs of Panfilo attracted papal interest. A small altar and fenestella was set up over an a mensa grave containing Pamphilus’ relics, translated from North Africa. The grave is in cubiculum Cf, which contains numerous bits of graffiti that scholars date to the fifth or sixth century.26 Remarkably, many of the names of those leaving graffiti are not Roman but clearly those of foreign pilgrims: for example, we find Maldager (ICUR 10 26314, an African name), Gunneis (ICUR 10 26316), Grimauldus P. Pergola, Catacombe romane: storia e topografia (Rome: Carocci, 1999), 112–14; E. Josi, “Relazione di lavori ed escavazioni nei cemeteri delle Salarie,” RAC 1 (1924): 9–119; E. Josi, “Relazione relative a esplorazioni diverse. Stagione scavi 1924–1925,” RAC 3 (1926): 141–221; LTUR IV (2006) 157–62 s.v. Pamphili coemeterium (A. Granelli). 24 B. Borg, Crisis and Ambition: Tombs and Burial Customs in Third-Century CE Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 96. 25 Borg, Crisis and Ambition, 97. 26 The inscriptions for both the older upper levels and the newer, deeper level are recorded in ICUR, vol. 10.



23

309

310

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

(ICUR 10 26318), Euda or Geuda (ICUR 10 261319), and Gaido (ICUR 10 26320, a Longobard name). Even more remarkably, a number of these “barbarians” held church offices. In fact, most of the ad sanctos graffiti are not from ordinary pilgrims but ecclesiastics: we find the graves, for instance, of a “monk and sinner” (mon[achus] peccator) by the name of Maiulus (ICUR 10 26315.1); an acolyte (Martinus acolot[h]us s[an]c[ta]e Ro[mana] eccl[esiae], ICUR 10 26316.2); and a large number of presbyters: Gunneis (ICUR 10 26316), Ioannis (ICUR 10 26317), Ioh(annes) (ICUR 10 26318), Grimauld(us) (ICUR 10 26318), Hetta (ICUR 10 26317.6), Heard (ICUR 10 26317.5), Leonas and Leo (ICUR 10 26319.2), Surlo (ICUR 10 26317.3), Istefanus and Laurentius, Albanus and Anastasi (all ICUR 10 26319). By contrast, among the 419 epitaphs published from the site, there is not a single ad sanctos burial inscription; the epitaphs either predate Pamphilus’ shrine, or the ordinary Romans buried there remained disinterested in his presence and the presence of other martyrs in the complex. In their place, we occasionally find epitaphs and graffiti requesting intercession – not addressed to Pamphilus, but to the ordinary dead, such as this one written in Latin but with Greek characters: “Septimia, pray for me; for your husband; pray for Alexandria.”27 A third interesting example: the Catacombs of Bassilla on Via Salaria Vetus, only a short distance farther north from Panfilo. Perhaps we have here an instance of a private martyr site in conflict with a papally sanctioned martyr cult. Here, Damasus promoted the martyrs Protus and Hyacinth, enlarging the area around their graves by building a small subterranean basilica, adorned with one of his elogia that explained his building work even as he promoted the martyrs: Extremo tumulus latu[it sub aggere montis] hunc Damasus monstrat [servat quod membra piorum]28 The grave was hidden under the highest point of the mountain; Damasus reveals this, so that he might protect the limbs of the saints.

ICUR 10 26436: Σε 〈πτ〉 ει| μεα| Ειλαρα| πετε προ μη| πορ μαρετω τυο| Σεπτιμια πετε| προ ᾿Αλεξαν| δρια. 28 ICUR 10 26668; reproduced by Ferrua, #47. The elogium was not discovered in situ, but is embedded into the pavement of SS. Quattro Coronati near the Colosseum.



27

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

During excavations of the site in March 1845, the Jesuit archaeologist Giuseppe Marchi (1795–1860) famously found Hyacinth’s untouched grave.29 Marchi insisted that the grave inscription remain where it was, thus preserving intact a martyrial shrine.30 Hyacinth’s grave inscription was set up by a Roman presbyter by the name of Leopardus; later tradition sought to link the two.31 According to the Passio S. Eugeniae, both were martyred under Valerian (257 CE). The complex also contains another funerary basilica to San Ermete (Hermes), the building of which necessitated the destruction of many earlier graves.32 These funerary basilicas at Bassilla, however, seem oddly removed from the rest of the burials in the complex, which do not seem to have been ad sanctos. There appears to be a clear disjuncture between the burial patterns of the ordinary Christians buried there and the martyrial basilicas. There is little question that we find a range of slaves, freeborn but poor, and freedpeople all buried together here. Of 402 epitaphs where the name of the decedent was legible, 358 of these decedents (82.6 percent) had one name only, a sign that they were either slaves or the very poor freeborn. The names of the inhabitants of the cemetery are typically late Roman, representing a mix of indigenous and foreign-born names. Two people, Maurusia (ICUR 10 26777) and Miggini (ICUR 10 27132), have North African names; there is a very large number of Greek Christian names, such as Agape, Zoe, Kyriakos, Kyriake, and Irene. Many names derive from Roman or Greek gods: Aphrodite, Aphrodeisios, Dionysia and Dionysatia, Cerealis, Asclepius, Artemisia, Apolinaris, which probably only indicates their status as slaves. Among the more interesting inscriptions is that of a tabularius (some kind of record keeper or registrar) named Septimius Aurelius Primus, a descendent of freedmen of Augustus (ICUR 10 27079); a pastillarius or baker of

Giuseppe Marchi, Il sepolcro dei santi martiri Proto e Giacinto (Roma, 1845). For an analysis of the inscriptions, see C. Carletti, Iscrizione cristiane inedite del cimitero di Bassilla “AD S. Hermetem” (Rome: Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1976). On the basilica, see Krautheimer, CBCR 1.195–208. 30 W. H. C. Frend, Archaeology of Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996). 31 ICUR 10 26673. 32 There is also a lengthy inscription set up to the martyr Liberalis (ICUR 10 27256), but the original is lost and it appears to also have been ascribed to the Catacombs of Agnese.



29

311

312

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

sweets (ICUR 10 27021); and Renatus, a faber or artisan (ICUR 10 27157). There is one doctor, the African Miggini (ICUR 10 27132), 33 and one slave (servus) in the imperial household. Unlike at the Catacombs of Panfilo, Bassilla has fewer graves belonging to members of the clergy, thus even fewer ad sanctos burials or graffiti. Of people holding positions in a church, there are only a handful of inscriptions. There is a leader of the people and a pastor, one lector (ICUR 10 26679), 34 and (unusually) three exorcists (ICUR 10 26776; ICUR 10 26864; ICUR 10 27138). Of the women in church offices, we find one bedvae (i.e., vidua) perhaps enrolled in a formal order of widows, who allegedly lived to be 100 (ICUR 10 27148); and we find a few virgins. None of these epitaphs, however, make reference to Damasus’ martyrs or request ad sanctos burial. What remains curious about the Catacombs of Bassilla, to me, is that someone named Bassilla, was commemorated there. Bassilla is recorded as one of only two local female saints in the Calendar of 354’s Depositio Martyrum, which was commissioned for a private citizen. Later Roman martyrologies tell us that she was martyred in the Great Persecution around 304 CE, but this is surely accrued narrative. Still, at least one grieving set of parents recognized Bassilla as a domina, a “lady” in heaven. From the catacombs that bear her name derives a famous epitaph, now on display at the Pio Cristiano Museum at the Vatican, that calls upon her to act as the heavenly protector of an infant: “Lady Bassilla, we, Crescentinus and Micina, commend to your care our daughter Crescentia, who lived for ten months and ten days” (“domina Bassilla com/mandamus tibi Cres/centinus et Micina/filia nostra Crescen(tia 〈m〉 ?)/que vixit men(ses) X et dies”).35 To the best of our knowledge, the real Bassilla was not a martyr but a wealthy matron who donated her praedium or country estate for Christian burial; in this case, what appears to have happened at the catacombs bearing her name is that a private, “popular” cult in her posthumous honor was entirely unconcerned to develop a corporeal shrine (there is no grave or shrine

“Miggini medico/qui vixit anis XX/ V minsis VII diebus/XXI.” The inscription is now in the Regional Archaeological Museum of Palermo. 34 “[hi]c requiescet Rufinus lector/qui vixit ann(os) p(lus) m(inus) XXXI/[dep]ositus in pace III idus sept(embres)/[Ar]cadio et Honorio augg(ustis) V conss(ulibus)” (402 CE). 35 ICUR 10 27060. The 609 inscriptions from the site are published in ICUR 10.



33

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

to Bassilla). For reasons that are unclear, Damasus attempted to shift the focus away from Bassilla’s non-corporeal cult to a papally sanctioned corporeal cult of three martyrs, around whose bodies he prepared a small basilica, and to whom he composed elaborate elogia.36 Let me be clear. I am not saying that there were no martyria in Rome and no ad sanctos burials, just that there was no cult of relics craze that adumbrated other forms of Christian life and Christian burial. I am saying, instead, that martyria were the preoccupation of bishops and presbyters rather than laypeople. It is therefore unsurprising that the practice of depositio ad sanctos, in Rome, appears to be more common among members of the clergy than among laypeople. What we find more often than ad sanctos burials in Rome are privileged burials. The issue remains how we distinguish a privileged burial from a true burial ad sanctos. At its heart, the theoretical foundation of ad sanctos is based on notions of a transitive, contagious holiness; proximity to the martyrs brings “extra plus” blessings to whoever was interred nearby. But what such a burial looked like is often difficult to discern from other forms of burial. For example, ad sanctos burials are virtually indistinguishable from an earlier pattern of familial burials, where the paterfamilias held the most significant burial in a chamber and then members of the extended family were arranged secondarily in relationship to the primary burial. In other words, family members were clustered around the paterfamilias’ tomb, with immediate family members placed close by, then members of the extended family, and so on. A family tomb might remain in the possession of a family for over a century, with burials added successively. These “extra” burials would be tucked in wherever there was space – in the walls, and certainly lined up in the floors in front of the main grave. In what proximity to the main grave this took place depended on a number of factors. How big was the surviving family? Would they have allowed the burial of clients, slaves, or other dependents in a family cubiculum? How many? How “stable” was the family geographically, such that a century of familial dead might have been placed in the same chamber? In addition, it happened

Damasus appears to have done the same thing at the Catacombs of Generosa to the south of the city, where the single, large privileged inhumation in the complex (the grave of Generosa, who donated her lands?) is literally bisected by a fourthcentury wall, then built over and replaced with a martyrium to Faustinus, Simplicius, and Viatrix.

36

313

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

314

frequently that the dead needed to go somewhere, and thus a second or even third or fourth wave of burials by nonfamily members crowded into available space. The result is a tomb chamber with a large number of burials oriented around one grave – not because the original burial was that of a martyr, but simply because it was the most significant, monied person (or couple) in the chamber. Let me give a particular example from Rome of a family burial misinterpreted as burial ad sanctos. In the 1950s, during a wave of expansive building in Rome’s suburbs, builders discovered an imperial-era necropolis and adjoining catacomb a short way off the Via Ostiense southwest of the city.37 Father Antonio Ferrua conducted the Pontifical Commission’s excavations of the site’s catacombs, which seemed clearly to be Christian. The site is an extraordinary one. It contains only two painted cubicula, but at least one of these is exquisitely frescoed with scriptural scenes and, on the ceiling, a tondo of the Good Shepherd surrounded by images of four apostles. This section was, perhaps, only loosely connected to the rest of the catacomb, being accessed by its own staircase – a nice example of a privileged burial, but without being ad sanctos. There were also, in the complex, a series of mass grave chambers dating from the third century, where the dead were not only placed in numerous slots along all walls, but laid out in layers on the floor separated by broken roof tiles, of which there were thousands. We know literally nothing about these scores of dead – whether or not they were Christian is completely impossible to discern. But at the far end of the complex from the painted cubicula, there is a fairly large chamber that looks for all the world like a subterranean basilica.38 At the front of this basilica there is an oversized grave painted with scenes that are difficult to discern, but which clearly feature a woman. When Ferrua came upon this basilica with a woman’s grave at the front of it, he assumed that it was a martyrial shrine. Further, he supposed that the paintings showed scenes from the apocryphal legend of Paul and Thecla, to the point where he supposed that since Paul’s burial was relatively nearby at the site of San Paolo fuori le mura, that this new catacomb complex must be ad sanctos. The woman’s grave must



U. M. Fasola, “Il complesso catacombale di S. Tecla,” RAC 40 (1964): 19–50. U. M. Fasola, “La basilica sotterranea di S. Tecla e le regioni cimiteriali vicine,” RAC 46 (1970): 193–288.

37

38

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

have held the relics of Thecla, Paul’s most ardent female disciple. Later excavators, however, disagreed: the tomb was likely not Christian at all, but the principal bisomus grave in a very large family tomb chamber. In fact, there was nothing at all convincing to connect the site to San Paolo or the apostle Paul, nothing to indicate a pattern of ad sanctos burials at this complex, and no connection to Thecla – no presumed saint or martyr. Nevertheless, the complex, administered by the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, is still known as the Catacombs of Thecla, although modern guides are quick to point out the error in Ferrua’s reasoning. The most fascinating case(s) of burials erroneously conceived as ad sanctos – when it turns out they were not – are the city’s fourth-century circiform funerary basilicas. We can consider them next. *** The shift in thinking that began to privilege the “Very Special Dead,” that is, the saints and martyrs, should be identifiable or measurable from patterns of burial. In Rome, we can indeed witness a shift in burial patterns that occurred around the Constantinian period, but it is not what we might expect. Specific to the first half of fourth-century Rome is the case of its circiform funerary basilicas – monumental edifices for the dead, only scant evidence for which remain today.39 Archaeologists have identified six of these basilicas: Sant’Agnese off Via Nomentana, San Lorenzo off Via Tiburtina, Villa dei Giordani/ Tor di Schiavi off the Via Praenestina, SS. Pietro e Marcellino off the Via Labicana, San Sebastiano off the Via Appia,40 and another

Classic works: Krautheimer, CBCR; F. Tolotti, “Le basiliche cimiteriali con deambulatorio del suburbio romano: questione ancora aperta,” MDAI, Römische Abteilung 89 (1982): 152–211; Monica Hellström, “On the Form and Function of Constantine’s Circiform Funerary Basilicas in Rome,” in M. Salzman, M. Sághy, and R. Lizzi Testa, eds., Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome: Conflict, Competition, and Coexistence in the Fourth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 291–313; L. Morin, “La basilique circiforme et ses antecedents,” Echos du Monde Classique/Classical Views 34 (1990): 263–77. 40 E. Jastrzebowska, “S. Sebastiano, la più antica basilica cristiana di Roma,” in F. Guidobaldi and A. Guiglia Guidobaldi, eds., Ecclesiae Urbis (Vatican City: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 2002), 1141–55; Anna Maria Nieddu, La Basilica Apostolorum sulla Via Appia e l’area cimiteriale circostante (Vatican City: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 2009).



39

315

316

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

one excavated in the 1990s off the Via Ardeatina.41 There may have been more.42 Their form was unique: roofed but reminiscent of a circus with a short oblique wall at one end that mimicked the form of the circus carceres, these huge structures at their other end formed a graceful curve. Unlike the catacombs, these structures did not take advantage of the city’s topography and, indeed, required tremendous labor to level terrain; furthermore, there appears to have been no particular logic to their placement, other than that they all lie more or less equidistant from the city along consular roads. Scholarship on the circiform basilicas has been thin and generally ignored. This is, in part, because most of these basilicas had been destroyed by the modern era. Without clear examples to study, their function and significance in the fourth century could hardly be properly assessed. Without extant subterranean ruins to navigate, the circiform basilicas also lack the picturesque “romance” of the catacombs that drew visitors for over a millennium. They were never used for very long – a failed experiment, perhaps? – and had disappeared almost entirely by the eighth century. What the funerary basilicas reveal, however, is a picture of late antique Christianity quite different from the one conventionally painted in secondary literature. Their existence reminds us, first of all, that the catacombs had competitors, so to speak, for where the dead might be inhumed. The relationship between catacomb and funerary basilica is not yet understood, but the funerary basilicas appear to have predated them in a number of instances. The basilicas of Via Praenestina, Via Labicana, and Via Appia are probably the earliest; indeed, in a recent



For the Ardeatina excavations: V. Fiocchi Nicolai, M. P. Del Moro, D. Nuzzo, and L. Spera, “Lo scavo della nuova basilica circiforme della via Ardeatina, 1995–1996,” Rendiconti della Pontificia Accademia Romana 68 (1999): 69–233; V. Fiocchi Nicolai, “Una nuova basilica a deambulatorio nel comprensorio della catacomba di ‘S. Callisto a Roma’,” in Akten des XII Internationalen Kongresses für christliche Archäologie, September 22–28, 1991 (Vatican City: Pontifical Institute of Christian Archeology, 1995), 776–86; V. Fiocchi Nicolai, “Basilica Marci, coemeterium Marci, basilica coemeterii Balbinae: A proposito della nuova basilica circiforme della via Ardeatina e della funzione funeraria delle chiese ‘a deambulatorio’ del suburbia romano,” in Ecclesiae Urbis, 1175–201. 42 Hellström, “Form and Function,” 201. 41

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

article, Monica Hellström argues that the Via Praenestina complex predates Constantine, dating to the late Tetrarchy.43 With a large freestanding mausoleum unconnected to a catacomb, it appears to have been abandoned after only forty-seven burials. And yet, even if this one experiment fizzled, the principle of constructing large edifices to “house” the dead did not fade from Roman minds. Someone evidently continued to think that this was a good idea, for at least five more were built. Intriguingly, funerary basilicas, with their curved walls at one end, recognizable “apse,” and long central hall, look for all the world like they were built as churches. Ramsay MacMullen comments, in The Second Church, It is a remarkable demonstration of the martyr-cult dynamic, that over the course of little more than a generation of Peace, the church chose to devote one-eighth of its new-found freedom and funding to its bishop and his in-city needs for daily or weekly services, but seven-eighths to the martyrs, in the form of several sizeable, costly buildings, and ­several more, really huge ones of the highest ambition, of which in turn, six were funerary churches.44

Here, MacMullen seems to follow the hagiographic Life of Sylvester, which attributes three of the circiform basilicas to Constantine: San Lorenzo, Sant’Agnese, and Via Labicana. In truth, it is no longer clear that Constantine had anything to do with these buildings. To call these buildings “funerary churches” and to link them with the cult of the martyrs is to misrepresent funerary basilicas, which were not “churches” in any sense of the word. MacMullen himself is aware of this; he writes, “there was no built provision in them for religious services, no baptistery, sacristy, chancel, ambo, altar, nothing; and in the second place, their floors were rapidly filled up with burials and until absolutely every square inch was accounted for. They were simply carpeted with gravestones.”45 Burials ran four or five deep into the floors, and lined the walls inside and out.



Ibid., 295; as she notes, the Via Labicana and Via Appia ones some scholars also date early. 44 R. MacMullen, The Second Church: Popular Christianity A.D. 200–400 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009), 86. 45 MacMullen, Second Church, 82. 43

317

318

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

For those who see the Cult of the Saints as the chief driving force behind late antique Christianity, the most vexing problem with the funerary basilicas has been their lack of relationship with saints and their relics. Their circus form, with their length and ambulatory at the end, suggests a space ideal for pilgrimage, with the bones of the martyrs placed at the far end. But this turns out to have been a mistaken interpretation. In this time of the ostensible rise of the cult of the martyrs in the fourth century, none of these circiform basilicas were martyrial. None contained clearly martyrs’ graves. What we do find at these funerary basilicas are privileged burials, usually in the front inside curve of the “apse,” or else more or less where you might expect an altar to be in a cathedral. The frontal apse area of the Via Ardeatina basilica contains some privileged burials, but these were probably graves of the wealthy, not martyr graves. Some archaeologists speculate that the primary grave at this site is that of the Pope Mark (336 CE), based on the Liber Pontificalis’ notice that Mark had a funerary basilica constructed here, over the Catacombs of Balbina next to the larger complex of Callixtus. The location certainly matches. But Mark was not a martyr and had no cult in the city; his large burial space represents a fairly typical elite burial, where the person with resources has access to the finest, and largest, grave in a complex. The funerary basilicas’ lack of martyr shrines is puzzling, given the perception of the Cult of the Saints as the dominant manifestation of fourth- and fifth-century Christianity. If Christians sought to be buried ad sanctos, why the construction of what amounted to human car parks, with burials stacked up to five deep in a massive burial complex with no central martyr’s shrine? The problem is so pervasive that generations of scholars have assumed the presence of martyrial shrines and altars even when they have not been found. We find, therefore, statements such as this in modern scholarship: “… the Church did not modify the arrangement of … cemeteries, apart from the introduction of funerary basilicas, the earliest of which were established over the graves of martyrs or local saints, and soon attracted inhumations ad sanctos.”46 Some have noted



Leslie Webster and Michelle Brown, eds., Transformation of the Roman World AD 400–900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 94.

46

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

that the funerary basilicas by St. Peter’s, Sant’Agnese, and San Lorenzo are associated with specifically Roman martyrs. But the funerary basilicas probably predate the association of the saints with these shrines. 47 The Sant’Agnese and San Lorenzo basilicas are not spatially related to the tombs of Agnes and Lawrence. The Via Labicana basilica – mentioned in the Liber Pontificalis – was disconnected from the Catacombs of Peter and Marcellinus. None of the burials in this complex were oriented toward the martyr tombs of Peter and Marcellinus; indeed, if there was any orientation at all, it was toward the mausoleum of Helena on the same site. Similarly, the Appia complex had no martyr tomb, although in the Renaissance it came to be associated with the Memoria Apostolorum, on top of which it was built. Yet Monica Hellström, in her recent study, points out that given the utter and ruthless destruction of the memoria that resulted from the building of the basilica, it is highly unlikely that Peter and Paul were still venerated there at that time.48 If the funerary basilicas were a pre-Constantinian innovation, that would mean that these complexes were not originally Christian, and thus the fact that they do not conform to an ad sanctos pattern is unsurprising. However, the very simple burials in them suggest that they were indeed filled with Christians. Certainly, over time these massive structures would have accumulated more Christian burials, and, at any rate, the secondary addition of altars at the end of the ambulatory suggested that although they had not originally functioned as churches, they might later be pressed into use as such. Let’s look at two of these basilicas in more detail: the one at Sant’Agnese, and the complex at San Lorenzo. The tendency to associate these complexes with the martyrs Agnes and Lawrence comes rather naturally; both Agnes and Lawrence were “homegrown” Roman martyrs, and both are explicitly named in the Calendar of 354, our earliest testimony of local martyr cult. ***



Hellström, “Form and Function,” 299. Ibid., 300; Nieddu, Basilica, 116.

47 48

319

320

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

Sant’Agnese fuori le mura’s funerary basilica still retains, to this day, a substantial amount of its retaining wall; visitors can see it rising up majestically, an ancient artificial mound, when they exit the newly opened S. Agnese/Annibaliano metro station. Within the modern parish compound of Sant’Agnese itself, the remains of the basilica’s curved walls are protected behind a gate and a low stone wall, adjacent to the gorgeously mosaicked fourth-century mausoleum of Santa Costanza on the one side and a small soccer pitch on the other. The beautiful mausoleum here remains the more extraordinary sight in the compound, followed by the handsome church of Sant’Agnese built by Honorius I in the seventh century. The church boasts a long stairway lined with hundreds of early Christian inscriptions and special guided tours down into the modest catacombs under the compound. The funerary basilica is generally ignored; there’s not much to see, now, even though it is the best preserved of these fourth-century circiform basilicas. It’s difficult for a casual observer to discern the architectural relationship between all the buildings and structures on the site; indeed, even archaeologists dispute questions of chronology and intent. Who built these structures? When? And why? The obvious answer – because these were ad sanctos burials clustered around the grave of St. Agnes – becomes less than clear upon investigation. According to the Liber Pontificalis, during the pontificate of Sylvester I (314–334 CE), Constantine ordered a mausoleum built for his daughter Costanza (Constantina) at her request, along with a funerary basilica and baptistery (LP 1, 180–181). But there is reason to doubt the LP. Richard Krautheimer suggested a later date (347–349 CE) for the mausoleum’s construction: under Constantius II, when Constantina still resided in Rome. 49 More recently, the Italian archaeologist Francesco Tolotti argued that the circiform basilica on the Via Nomentana was one of the last to be built, probably between 340 and 350 CE.50 Excavations in 1992 revealed different masonry techniques and a lack of relationship between the funerary basilica and the mausoleum, indicating that the two buildings were constructed separately at different times.51



CBCR I, 35. Tolotti, “Basiliche,” 164. 51 David J. Stanley, “New Discoveries at Santa Costanza,” DOP 48 (1994): 259.

49 50

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

It wasn’t until 1956 that the Pontifical Commission began their modern excavations at Sant’Agnese fuori le mura. They quickly uncovered the foundations of an apsed structure in the middle of the circiform basilica’s nave.52 The structure, measuring 15 × 30 feet, was deemed to be a tomb, dating from the cemetery’s foundation in the 340s CE. But was this Agnes’ tomb, or at least, the place where her relics had come to reside? The answer was not what Vatican authorities might have expected; the remains of Agnes were, at that time, apparently still at the Cimitero Maggiore catacombs nearby. The tomb was, perhaps, the original burial place of Costanza.53 Lacking the bones of a saint, there are, then, no ad sanctos burials at the original basilica on the compound; instead, the graves follow the customary pattern for funerary basilicas; they run all the way up and down along the inside and outside walls, with more privileged (i.e., larger and thus more expensive) graves inside the curve (Figure 15). A second, independent but partial excavation of the site was undertaken by archaeologist David Stanley in 1992.54 One curious feature of the excavation was the discovery of a small, triconch structure that juts out from the southern end of the long western wall of the Sant’Agnese’s funerary basilica; it lies directly beneath Costanza’s annular mausoleum, and thus it had to predate it. The triconch form is typical of late antique martyr shrines;55 two similar ones are known in Rome. One is at the Catacombs of Callixtus; the second is the tomb of a bishop, Leo, that Giovanni Battista de Rossi excavated in 1857 at San Lorenzo fuori le mura.56 Like the triconch structure at Agnese, the San Lorenzo triconch juts out from its funerary basilica at roughly the same place.





U. Fusco, “Sant’Agnese nel quadro delle basiliche circiformi di età costantiniana a Roma e nel suo contesto topografico: lo stato degli studi,” in M. Magnani Cianetti and C. Pavolini, eds., La Basilica Costantiniana di Sant’Agnese (Milan: Electa, 2004), 10–28. 53 Stanley, “New Discoveries,” 260. 54 Ibid., 260. 55 A. Grabar, Martyrium. Recherches sur le culte des reliques et l’art chrétien antique (Paris: Collège de France, 1946), 1.103–4; P. Zovatto, “Origine e significato della Tricora-martyrium: L’esempio di Concordia,” Palladio 15 (1965): 7–34; N. Duval and J. Cintas, “Le martyrium de Cincari et les Martyria Triconques et Tétraconques en Afrique,” MEFRA 88 (1976): 853–927. 56 U. Fasola, “Indagini nel sopraterra della Catacomba di S. Callisto,” RAC 56 (1980): 221–78. 52

321

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

Source: David J. Stanley, 2012.

322

Figure 15.  Floorplan of funerary basilica at Sant’Agnese fuori le mura, 2012.

If the large grave area in the center of the basilica’s apse was not built for Agnes’ relics, as expected, then was this diminutive Agnese triconch the original martyr shrine of Agnes? Archaeologist David Stanley surmises that it may have been, but since Agnes’ bones had not yet been translated from the Cimitero Maggiore when the structure was built, if this little structure had held anything material, they might possibly have been contact relics.57 More likely, however, is that the triconch was a privileged tomb – if not someone from the Constantinian dynasty, then another person of note. Its form, after all, is similar not just to the bishop Leo’s tomb at San Lorenzo, but also to many other private family tombs that were appended to or adjacent to the outer walls of several other cemetery churches in Rome.58 Its odd placement could be explained by the mere fact of terrain; at Sant’Agnese the cemetery church was constructed on a large, man-made earthen platform built over the side of a hill that quickly descended to the valley to the west of the basilica. This steeply sloping ground was apparently unsuitable for the construction of family



Stanley, “New Discoveries,” 260. See Krautheimer, CBCR 4.136–39 and pl. VII, and Tolotti, “Le basiliche,” 178, fig. 7.

57 58

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

mausolea, with the unsurprising result that none has been discovered at Sant’Agnese. The only ground that was level with that of the basilica was located at the eastern end of the southern f lank of the nave and was reserved for the triconch martyrium. Whatever the true nature of the triconch addition might be – a family grave or a martyr shrine – we might emphasize that the hundreds of graves in the circiform basilica are not properly ad sanctos; they do not orient themselves in any relation to the triconch structure; what’s more, the best and fanciest graves lie at perhaps the farthest point from the structure in the entire structure, occupying what we would expect to see as the most sacred area of a Christian basilica: the apse at the central nave. Constantina died in 354 CE, by which time her magnificent mausoleum was waiting to hold her body. It was clear that she honored Agnes above all; she dedicated the mausoleum to Agnes as the victorious­ virgin, virgo victrix, the felix virgo memorandi nominis, whose name “must be remembered.” But as much as Agnes and her cult has been promoted over the centuries as the true “draw” to this site on the Via Nomentana relatively far from the city center, it’s likely that Agnes would have been nothing without imperial patronage. Those who sought to honor her merely demonstrated through piety their fealty to the imperial family, the first, best, and greatest of the Christian emperors. When the bishop Liberius (352–366 CE) was under siege politically, it was here that he took refuge. His patronage of Agnes was duly noted, but we should not be so naïve as to imagine that that was all he was claiming as he moved himself and his supporters to this compound. And when Pope Damasus managed to oust his great rival Liberius and gave thanks to Agnes, it was not just about participating in the cult of martyrs, but about his conquest of space and the powerful message of imperial patronage and protection. *** The basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le mura still stands in an ugly, gray section of Rome, tucked behind numerous tram tracks and flower ­sellers who ply their wares to people coming in through the main gates of Rome’s largest cemetery, the Campo Verano. The high cemetery walls literally wrap around the basilica, reminding us that this territory has been associated with burial for two millennia. The handsome

323

324

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

church is really a church within a church – a twelfth-century edifice encloses a late antique church, probably first built under Honorius I between 579 and 590 CE. According to the Calendar of 354, however, a feast day in honor of Rome’s native Saint Lawrence on August 10 had been celebrated here on the Via Tiburtina since the middle of the fourth century. The history of San Lorenzo fuori le mura is convoluted and contested. According to the Liber Pontificalis (LP 1, 181), it was Constantine himself who built the first cemetery basilica in this spot, equipped with a stair leading down to the shrine containing Lawrence’s body, at the catacombs that honeycomb the lands in five deep levels under the present-day Campo Verano. As with Sant’Agnese, many scholars challenge the LP’s story of Constantinian foundations. Richard Krautheimer reproduces a funerary inscription with a consular date of 405 CE that records the presence of Lawrence’s crypt here, along with an access stairway, but which mentions no basilica.59 Two other undated epitaphs refer to a basilica but not to a tomb; one of these calls the basilica ad ­domnum Laurentium, thus at the “house,” or more generously, “place” of Laurence. But the first secure mention of Lawrence’s physical remains at San Lorenzo fuori le mura dates no earlier than the late sixth century, from a letter of Gregory the Great; Gregory notes that in the course of renovating the basilica during his time, Lawrence’s tomb was discovered for the first time, and was opened by mistake.60 By the seventh century, pilgrims visited the tomb according to two pilgrims’ itineraries, the Epitome and Salisburgense, but it stood outside one of the two basilicas by now at the site. One basilica – the basilica maior – was the older of the two; at the new one, the aecclesia beati Laurentii Martyris, one might draw close to the body; but now we are speaking of late seventhcentury evidence. In the fourth and fifth centuries, all that stood at this site was a funerary basilica, the remains of which were excavated in 1949 during the course of fixing the substantial damage the church incurred during World War II. This massive tufa brick structure was



R. Krautheimer, Enrico Josi, and Wolfgang Frankl, “S. Lorenzo fuori le Mura in Rome: Excavations and Observations,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 96/1 (1952): 1. 60 Gregory the Great, Epistolae, Bk 4, Ep. 30 (PL 77, 107ff). 59

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

entirely paved with graves.61 Without Lawrence’s body or tomb or known access to it, none of these burials at that time could have been considered ad sanctos.62 Lawrence, according to tradition a third-century deacon, was apparently deeply revered as a local martyr in Rome, particularly by local elites. His is an outstanding example of extrabodily praesentia; there were various cult sites in the city associated with him, including San Lorenzo in Damaso, San Lorenzo in Lucina, and a small oratory or shrine on the Oppian Hill. His chief relic was never his corpse (or even contact relics) but the craticula, a portion of the grill upon which he met his death. San Lorenzo in Damaso, named for its eponymous founder Pope Damasus, had some sort of annex recorded in an inscription as a domus religiosa, dedicated by a senatorial class woman by the name of Attica; it may have been a chapel but, more likely, a small “home monastery.”63 Another inscription, now lost, alludes to a baptistery here. There was no martyrial shrine or relics attested at San Lorenzo in Damaso until the eighth-century Liber Pontificalis, at which point we learn that Damasus’ remains had been moved there.64 San Lorenzo in Lucina, established by Sixtus III (432–440 CE) had no claim to Lawrence’s body, but it did have a baptistery by the fifth century.65 As Joseph Alchermes has noted, more than 500 years elapsed before this church was associated with any relic of Lawrence and, when it was,









Krautheimer, Josi, and Frankl, “S. Lorenzo,” 4; see also W. Frankl and E. Josi, “Descrizione sommaria di ulteriori trovamenti presso San Lorenzo nella via Tiburtina,” RAC 26 (1950): 48ff. 62 The catacombs adjacent to the site, interestingly, are not associated with Lawrence but with a Roman matron named Cyriaca, who donated these lands for cemeterial use. They remain – called the Catacombs of Cyriaca – and although accessible through various entrances in the modern church complex, they are closed to the public. According to Krautheimer et al., the galleries were enlarged under Honorius to allow access to the tomb chamber associated with Lawrence, but this was a late change. 63 Alchermes, Cura pro mortuis, 243, with other references including CBCR 2.146, 148; Charles Pietri, Roma Christiana, 1.465. 64 Alchermes, Cura pro mortuis, 248. LP I, 500: “[Hadrianus] renovavit etiam et tectum basilicae beati Laurenti quae appellatur Damassi, ubi et vestem super eius altare de stauracim obtulit; simulque et aliam vestem de post altare fecit, ubi requiescit corpus sancti Damassi.” 65 Olof Brandt, “San Lorenzo in Lucina: New Light on the Early Christian Basilica,” unpublished paper. 61

325

326

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

it was not corporeal but a portion of the craticula.66 The oratory or shrine on the Oppian at vicus Patricius (the modern Via Urbana) was connected, in hagiographical legend, with the location where Lawrence encountered a community of faithful Christians, praying with them and washing their feet.67 This last example underscores the complexity of pilgrimage sites over 1,000 years of Christendom, most of which were worthy of visitation because they were connected with a saint through specific pious acts or significant events, rather than with their material remains. For reasons that are difficult to discern, San Lorenzo fuori le mura became a significant papal “hub” in the fifth century. Buried there is a succession of fifth-century bishops: Zosimus (417–418 CE), Sixtus III, Hilarius (461–468 CE), and Simplicius (468–483 CE). At some point, as we have seen, there was almost certainly a martyr shrine to Lawrence there, but there were other significant papal interventions in the landscape to draw people: Hilarius established a monastery, two libraries (one Greek, one Latin), a bath, a swimming pool, and a country estate. Symmachus (498–514 CE) constructed almshouses, and Pelagius II (579–590 CE) executed a wide range of rebuilding and expansion ­projects. In other words, there was much to draw people to San Lorenzo besides the saint’s bones; the area provided a wide range of social services otherwise rare in the city. If martyrs and their cults were invented after circiform basilica complexes – particularly the funerary basilicas – in order to “authenticate” them, or to ground a burgeoning Cult of the Saints in the sixth century (but not before then), the question remains: why were these funerary basilicas devised, if not to facilitate the Cult of the Saints and to make possible numerous ad sanctos burials? Virtually all the circiform basilicas stood on imperial foundations, except those on the Via Ardeatina and the Via Appia. Hellström writes, “The attraction [of inhumation at these sites] appears to have been the imperial patrons, truly the ‘extraordinary dead’ in these complexes, rather than the martyrs.”68



Alchermes, Cura pro mortuis, 246. Ibid. 68 Hellström, “Form and Function,” 310. 66 67

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

Hellström sees the prevailing message of the circiform basilicas to be not about the importance of the martyrs, but the patronage and beneficence of the imperial family. All the basilicas for which land ownership is known stood on imperial estates.69 She argues, “The primary message the funerary basilicas conveyed was dynastic. The aim of their builder(s) … was to make manifest a patronage relation between the (as not yet firmly established) imperial family and the Roman populace, using symbols contemporary Roman audiences understood well.”70 Rome’s unique funerary basilicas presented a real alternative form of burial, perhaps to individuals lacking family connections who otherwise might be concerned with being properly interred after death. “Being Christian” at this point – at least when it came to death and burial – meant not hoping to be close to the saints, but to be still under the aegis of imperial protection. As Hellström notes, the basilicas might also have given a unique opportunity to those hobbled by circumstances of birth in the late Empire, “offering a relatively humble social stratum a monumentality in death that went far beyond their prominence in life.”71 If Monica Hellström is right – as I believe she is – then we learn two things: first, at least during the fourth and early fifth centuries, these funerary basilicas were not conceived as shrines of the saints, and there was no such thing as burial ad sanctos in them. Even more remarkable is that their form – huge edifices with wide ambulatories and a central nave – could easily have lent themselves to the cult of relics burgeoning elsewhere. Translated relics might have been placed within altars in the nave, as was later practice, and as was, apparently, the practice in basilicas in Nola and Milan. And yet, at Rome, this never happened. Instead, the funerary basilicas were gradually abandoned as a form altogether, their sturdy walls slowly chipped away over the ensuing centuries, leaving only the barest shells crumbling in the verdant countryside. Interestingly, the funerary basilicas on the sites associated with ­specific martyrs – and here I mean the complexes of Agnes and



Ibid., 300–1. Ibid., 294. 71 Ibid., 310.

69 70

327

328

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

Lawrence – were probably the last ones to be built in the city. Historian Alan Thacker raises the intriguing idea that we have gotten the idea of martyr-cult and, by extension, ad sanctos burial at Rome quite backward. He notes that the cults of Agnes and Lawrence at these sites really only took off in the late sixth and early seventh centuries, when new basilicas were constructed in their honor by Pelagius II and Honorius I.72 He argues that these saints likely became famous because they came to be identified as associated with the funerary basilicas built around imperial monuments, and not the other way around: Although these burial complexes were thus primarily expressions of imperial status and patronage, they proved crucial to the success of the martyr cults which came to be associated with them. In the case of St. Agnes on the Via Nomentana and probably St. Lawrence on the Via Tiburtina, the founder plucked a local martyr from obscurity to become titular of the basilica. In the case of the basilica on the Via Labicana, there is no indication that the presence of graves subsequently identified as martyrial played any part in the location, design, or nomenclature of the complex.73

In other words, the emperors ordered funerary basilicas on their Roman properties, but by the sixth century, these properties came to be more associated with martyrs than with their imperial patrons. Thacker cites Jean Guyon on the relationship between the martyrs Peter and Marcellinus and the Via Labicana complex: “ce n’est pas pour ces ­martyrs qu’aurait été créé la basilique et c’est au contraire la basilique qui aurait créé les saints.”74 ***



Alan Thacker, “Rome of the Martyrs: Saints, Cults and Relics, Fourth to Seventh Centuries,” in Éamonn Ó. Carragáin and Carol Neuman de Vegvar, eds., Roma felix: Formation and Reflections of Medieval Rome (Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007), 28. 73 Thacker, “Rome of the Martyrs,” 29. 74 “It was not for the martyrs that the basilica had been created, but, to the contrary, the basilica itself had created the saints.” J. Guyon, Le cimetière aux deux lauriers. Recherches sur les catacombes romaines, Bibliothèque des Écoles Françaises d’Athènes et de Rome 264 (Rome: École Française de Rome, 1987), 262. 72

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

Writing on the Christianization of the territories along the Via Appia, the Vatican topographer and archaeologist Lucrezia Spera notes changes in burial practices in the third and fourth centuries: burials tended to be closer in toward the city than they were before, and members of the elite classes began to prefer cubicula within catacombs to isolated mausolea on their own properties. New open-air cemeteries were constructed over catacombs. If burials moved closer in to the city, however, it may well have had to do with the shrinkage of Rome itself in late antiquity along with the abandonment of suburban estates rather than anything to do with the Cult of the Saints. Nevertheless, Spera insists, unsurprisingly, that the principal reason for these shifts had to do with the desire to be buried close to martyrs.75 New areas behind martyrial basilicas – called retrosanctos – were opened up, a phenomenon particularly evident from sites such as Damasus’ renovations of the subterranean area dedicated to the twin martyrs Nereus and Achilleus, or behind the tomb of Sixtus.76 But given that the building of the basilica necessitated the destruction of older burial spots, it is hardly surprising that new spaces were made available to those who needed space for inhumation; we do not know if those who were buried in the new retrosanctos areas had much choice in the matter. As for the preference for catacomb cubicula rather than family mausoleum, there were no doubt a complicated series of factors that went into such a decision, from economic considerations to mere fashion. To claim that the desire to be close to the martyrs was the sole – or even dominant – reason for the shift is to substantially overstate the case. Critics of my position might assert that there are numerous funerary inscriptions from Rome’s catacombs that attest to ad sanctos burials. Orazio Marucchi devotes several pages to the subject in his 1912 handbook of Christian epigraphy.77 All these inscriptions attest to purchases

Spera, “Christianization,” 35. Spera, “Christianization,” 35, 37. See the change vividly in the floorplans in V. Fiocchi Nicolai et al., The Roman Catacombs. The large subterranean basilica dedicated to the saints dates to ca. 600 CE, much later than Damasus, who is typically credited with more extensive and monumental “interventions” than he actually accomplished. 77 O. Marucchi, Christian Epigraphy: An Elementary Treatise with a Collection of Ancient Inscriptions Mainly of Roman Origin, trans. J. Armine Willis (Cambridge, 1912). 75

76

329

330

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

of grave plots close to various martyrs – Cornelius, Felicitas, Hippolytus. Their effusive praise for martyrs, however, is entirely absent, as is mention of the saint’s body; they are, on the other hand, quite precise about the location of the purchase: “above the ­arcosolium near the grave of Hippolytus” (“LOCV AT IPPOLITV SVPER ARCOSOLIV PROPTER”) or “on the second floor [of the catacomb] near the steps to the grave of the martyr Castulus” (“I SECVNDV MARTYRE DOMINV CASTVLV ISCALA”).78 In his recent handbook of Christian inscriptions, epigrapher Carlo Carletti also records a number of ad sanctos inscriptions of a similar nature, such as this one set up by the unnamed wife of one Iovines who had purchased a grave for himself and his wife near the tomb of Pope Gaius at the Catacombs of Callixtus: “[b]ene merenti Iovine que cum coi[u]gem suum habuit annos V et d[e]cessit annorum XXII, que compa[ra]bit sibi arco[so]lium in Callisti at domn[um] deposita [f]uit III Idus Februarias Gaium. Fecit coiugi suae merenti in pace.”79 Similar inscriptions from Carletti’s collection include ICUR 7 20059 (ad Ippolitu); ICUR 8 23546 (ad santa Fel[icitatem]; and ICUR 8 21017 (ad sancta martyra [Agnes]).80 Some invoke a martyr or martyrs but in general terms that tell us little about corporeal sanctity, such as this epitaph of Babosa, from the time of Siricius, successor to Damasus (384–94 CE): “dulcis virginia Babosa refrigeret tibi Deus et Cristus et domni nostri Adeodatus et Felix, venisti in pace pridie kal(endas) aprilis,” scratched into the loculus mortar at Commodilla.81 Here, the martyrs Adeodatus and Felix have been elevated to the same status as God

Marucchi, Christian Epigraphy, #156, #157, p. 175; see also #163, #164, #165, p. 178. “To the well-deserving Iovines who spent five years [in marriage] with his wife, and [who] died at the age of 23, who purchased for himself an arcosolium [grave] at the place of the martyr Gaius in Callixtus. He was buried on the third of the ides of February. His wife established this [memorial]. In peace to the deserving.” C. Carletti, Epigrafia dei cristiani in Occidente dal III al VII secolo: ideologia e prassi (Bari: Edipuglia, 2008), #178 (ICUR 4 9924), from the Catacombs of Callixtus. 80 Carletti, Epigrafia, 279. 81 “To the sweet virgin Babosa. May God and Christ and our lords Adeodatus and Felix refresh you; you came in peace on the pridie of the kalends of April.” Carletti, Epigrafia, #176 (ICUR 2 6152). The inscription is recorded as a graffito scratched into the wall at Callixtus in Marucchi, Christian Epigraphy, #128, p. 163.



78 79

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

and Christ, and work as intercessors from heaven. There is no mention of whether or not the grave is ad sanctos. All these inscriptions reflect, to me, not an “ignorant” belief in salvation through proximity, but employ a quasi-legal language about the location of a valuable purchase, not out of place for a Roman funeral inscription. The saint, too, is consistently referred to as “dominus” or “domina,” – that is, in language reminiscent of the client-patron relationship, from which the quality of sanctity stood quite apart. It is natural, it seems to me, that individuals and communities retroactively coalesced around martyrs and ecclesiarchs – not because their bodies were considered more holy, but because they were the patrons of these new communities. In other words, we misinterpret ad ­sanctos as people gathering near the bodies of the saints because holiness is ­somehow perceived as transitive. But the bodies of patriarchs and patrons always formed the chief graves in complexes, with relationships marked out even in death by proximity to it. *** Now we come to the difficult issue of churches with relics inside Rome’s walls, and whether there were truly ad sanctos burials around them. Catholic archaeologists have resisted a “secular” interpretation for the movement of burials inside the city walls, seeing them as clearly connected with special privilege, if not with ad sanctos outright.82 Yet the evidence is rather more difficult to interpret. Just as in the case of Rome’s circiform basilicas where the Cult of the Saints didn’t drive burial ­patterns but latched on to them – associating specific saints with specific monuments only after the fact – we now know that burials



U. Fasola and V. Fiocchi Nicolai, “Le necropolis durante la formazione della città Cristiana,” in Actes de XIe Congrès internationale d’archéologie chrétienne (Lyon, Vienne, Grenoble, Geneve, Aoste 1986), (Vatican City: Pontificio istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1989), 1153–213; P. Testini, “Spazio cristiano nella tarda antichità e nell’alto medioevo,” Atti del VI Congresso Nazionale di Archeologia Cristiana, Pesaro-Ancona 17–18 settembre 1983 (Florence: Nuovo Italia, 1986), 31–48; V. Fiocchi Nicolai, “Gli spazi delle sepulture cristiane tra il III e il V secolo: Genesi e dinamica di una scelta insediativa,” in Letizia Pani Ermini and Paulo Siniscalco, eds., La communità cristiana di Roma (Vatican City: Libreria editrice vaticana, 2000), 341–62; V. Fiocchi Nicolai, Strutture funerarie ed edifici di culto paleocristiani di Roma dal IV al VI secolo (Vatican City: IGER, 2001).

82

331

332

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

inside the walls predated the arrival of relics in the churches. “While urban burials proliferated in the sixth century,” Marios Costambeys notes, “the first evidence for translation of relics comes from the seventh, and the major transfers were only effected by Paul I (757–767 CE), some two centuries after the first urban cemeteries appeared.”83 The comparative chronologies of urban burials and translation of relics strongly indicate that the saints followed the dead, rather than the other way around. “Before the eighth century,” writes the Italian topographer Gisella Cantino Wataghin, “Christian sources show a remarkable lack of interest in fixing a Christian burial space.”84 As Costambeys notes, the practices and customs of human burial in late antiquity became more diverse than ever. Roberto Meneghini and Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani compiled a list of late antique urban burials in Rome between the fourth and the sixth centuries.85 They are numerous, occupying tremendous swaths of the city’s public lands including bath complexes, porticoes, the valley of the Colosseum, the Castro Pretorio, the Mausoleum of Augustus, and the Domus Tiberiana.86 As Nicholas Purcell puts it, “expensive but proper disposal of the dead in the disabitato gave way to the cheap and cheerless wedging of the deceased in the interstices of the newly informal urban matrix.”87 An impartial eye can detect no visible “pattern” of burial in late antique Rome besides the obvious: bodies went wherever available space could be found, without a distinct preference for “sacred”









M. Costambeys, “Burial Topography and the Power of the Church in Fifth- and Sixth-century Rome,” PBSR 69 (2001): 172. 84 G. Cantino Wataghin, “The Ideology of Urban Burials,” in G. P. Brogiolo and B. Ward-Perkins, eds., The Idea and Ideal of the Town between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 162. 85 R. Meneghini and R. Santangeli Valenzani, “Sepulture intramuranee e paesaggio urbano a Roma tra V e VII secolo,” in P. Delogu and L. Paroli, eds., La storia economica di Roma nell’alto medioevo alla luce dei recenti scavi archeologici (Firenze: All’insegna del giglio, 1993), 89–111. 86 Costambeys, “Burial Topography,” 173, n. 16, with the list from R. Meneghini and Santangeli Valenzani; See also A. Augenti, “Iacere in Palatio. Le sepulture alto medievali del Palatino,” in G. P. Brogiolo and G. Cantino Wataghin, eds., Sepolture tra IV e VIII secolo (Mantua: SAP, 1998), 115–22. 87 N. Purcell, “The Populace of Rome in Late Antiquity: Problems of Classification and Historical Description,” in W. V. Harris, ed., The Transformations of Vrbs Roma in Late Antiquity (Portsmouth, RI, 1999), 156, on burial inside the wall around 408 CE. 83

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

or “sanctified” territory associated with a known Christian cemetery, catacomb, or even a church within the walls.88 It is true that some urban churches did have burials around them; Meneghini and Santangeli Valenzani list those fifth-century complexes that each contained over ten excavated burials: Quattro Coronati, Sant’Eusebio, Santa Maria Antiqua, San Saba, Santa Bibiana, San Gregorio Magno, and Santa Susanna.89 At the same time, there is nothing to distinguish the burial patterns around these churches from the burial patterns around more secular spaces, and, more strikingly, these were not churches that contained relics. In fact, notes Costambeys, “It is difficult … to identify specific urban churches before the eighth century that held relics and around which burials clustered as a consequence.”90 In a brilliantly incisive article, Marios Costambeys considered the “pattern” of urban burials around two particular late antique churches on Meneghini and Santangeli Valenzani’s list: the titular church of Sant’Eusebio on the Esquiline (now adjacent to the Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele) and the papal church of Santa Bibiana, not far away (now near the Termini train station).91 Sant’Eusebio was constructed most likely in the fifth century, on the site of an elite fourth-century domus that once stood next door to the domus of the famed Roman urban praefect, Vettius Agorius Praetextatus. A century after Praetextatus’ death, Rome had changed dramatically. The sumptuous domu¯ s of the elite had given way to a vast late antique cemetery surrounding the titulus. The cemetery covered the area presently occupied by the Piazza Vittorio



Cantino Wataghin, “The Ideology of Urban Burials.” See also G. Cantino Wataghin, J. Esparraguer, and J. Guyon, “Topografia della civitas cristiana tra IV e VI sec.,” in Early Medieval Towns in the Western Mediterranean, Ravello, September 22–24, 1994 (Mantua: SAP, 1996), 17–41; C. Lambert, “Le sepolture in urbe nella norma e nella prassi (tarda antichità – alto medioevo),” in L. Pároli, ed., L’Italia centro-settentrionale in età longobarda (Florence: All’ Insegna del Giglio, 1997), 285–93. 89 R. Meneghini and R. Santangeli Valenzani, “Intra-mural Burials at Rome between the Fifth and the Seventh Centuries A.D.,” in J. Pearce, M. Millett, and M. Struck, eds., Burial, Society and Context in the Roman World (Oxford: Oxbow, 2000), 263–69. 90 Costambeys, “Burial Topography,” 171. 91 Ibid. He draws his data from R. Meneghini and R. Santangeli Valenzani, “Sepolture intramuranee a Roma tra V e VII secolo D.C. – Aggiornamenti e ­considerazioni,” Archeologia Medievale 22 (1995): 283–90. 88

333

334

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

Emmanuele and extended north, well past Santa Maria Maggiore, as far as the baths of Diocletian. Remarkably, however, the relationship between the huge urban cemetery and the small church of Sant’Eusebio is far from clear.92 The orientation or pattern of burials do not point toward or become denser the closer that they come to the church, which we would expect with ad sanctos burials. The case of Santa Bibiana is slightly different, but equally provocative; here we have not a large cemetery but three distinct burial areas surrounding the church. The first, near the so-called Temple of Minerva Medica, held a cluster of amphora burials; the second, within a disused balneum, held a cappuccina burials, and the third – directly in front of the church – held three burials in reused sarcophagi, probably dating to the sixth century.93 Costambeys notes that only the third group can securely be associated with the church, and yet three burials do not a cemetery make. We might add that three burials in front of a church also do not technically constitute ad sanctos burials – even though Santa Bibiana is held to be one of the few intramural churches that held relics early on – reputedly as early as the fourth century. If the phenomenon of burial ad sanctos were really as much of a popular custom as it appears to be in secondary literature, why do we find only three burials at perhaps the earliest intramural martyrial church in Rome? And why, then, aren’t these more clearly ad sanctos burials? Costambeys connects burial patterns not to an imagined desire to be close to the holy, but to issues of property ownership and origins of the churches themselves. These issues were complex in late antiquity. Sant’Eusebio most likely had its foundation as a titulus in the first half of the fifth century, and thus, like all other titular churches, lacked ­relics. Eusebius was the name of the original titleholder, not a martyr but a landowner, as in the case of all other titular churches in Rome. By 595 CE, there was indeed a cult of Saint Eusebius, which the Martyrologium



Costambeys, “Burial Topography,” 175. Although others would disagree; see A. Carile, ed., Teoderico e I Goti tra Oriente e Occidente (Ravenna: Longo Editore, 1995), 204–5. More suspicious is G. Cantino Wataghin, “Ideology of Urban Burials,” 159; L. Pani Ermini, “Roma tra la fine del IV e gli inizi del V secolo,” in G. Sena Chiesa and E. A. Arsland, eds., Felix temporis reparatio. Atti del Convegno archeologico internazionale “Milano capital dell’impero romano,” Milano 1990 (Milan: ET, 1992), 201. 93 Costambeys, “Burial Topography,” 175. 92

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

Hieronymianum notes was celebrated within the walls in the first half of the fifth century. But this was not connected to any mention of his relics either there or anywhere else in the city. Nevertheless, even without relics or a robust saint’s cult, the largest Christian cemetery within the walls developed around Sant’Eusebio’s environs. By contrast, Costambeys notes that Santa Bibiana was always a papal church, having been either founded or completed by Simplicius I (468–483 CE). The Liber Pontificalis mentions it as a basilica that held  the martyr Bibiana’s bones: “basilicam intra urbe Roma, iuxta palatium Licinianum, beatae martyris Bibianae, ubi corpus requiescit” (LP I, 249).94 Costambeys, however, is more skeptical: “It may be doubted that Bibiana’s relics were actually present at the church.”95 All that the sarcophagi burials at the portico of the church indicate, however, is that people with money chose to be buried in association with the church, not specifically with its relics. “However,” writes Costambeys, “if at Santa Bibiana wealth brought a grave close to the church, the many cemeteries in places where no church stood indicate that neither wealth nor relics were the main determinants of burial topography in sixth-century Rome.”96 What, then, does Marios Costambeys presume might be the main determinants of where late antique Romans were buried? He connects both Sant’Eusebio and Santa Bibiana with ancient horti, divided up by the fourth century but still owned by either senatorial aristocrats or, in the case of the southern slopes of the Esquiline, by the Constantinian family.97 In the case of Santa Bibiana, Simplicius appears to have either appropriated a portion of imperial lands, or was given it through legitimate transfer.98 Sant’Eusebio, by contrast, had “entirely private associations” having been established by a now-lost founder of considerable means. In any case, “Strikingly absent from this scenario are saints,” remarks Costambeys. He continues,



Also: the works of E. Donckel, “Studien uber den Kultus der hl. Bibiana,” Römische Quartalschrift 43 (1935): 23–33; idem, “Der Kultus der hl. Bibiana in Rome,” RAC 14 (1937): 125–35. 95 Costambeys, “Burial Topography,” 180. 96 Ibid., 180. 97 Ibid., 181. 98 Ibid., 181. 94

335

336

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos) Graves sometimes clustered around churches (though in only a minority of cases), but those churches cannot be said to have contained, or even to have been believed to contain, saintly relics. The occasional presence of higher status burials in and around churches may represent a desire not for proximity to a saint, but for the most direct possible relationship with the Church. Such graves, after all, had to be bought from the clergy (effectively if not actually); other plots need not have been. The former therefore guaranteed direct sponsorship of prayer.99

Gisella Cantino Wataghin agrees, noting that the connection between relics and burial needs to be more carefully scrutinized not just in Rome, but throughout central Italy: Although churches in cities begin to acquire relics already by the end of the fourth century, it does not seem that these burials can be explained in terms of inhumations ad sanctos; rather, their undoubtedly privileged position derives from association with the ecclesia and with the role which this assumes as the center of the community and as a space for the exercise of the power, both spiritual and secular, of the bishop.100

In this revised and more sophisticated analysis of ad sanctos burial in a more localized context, what emerges is a new sense of the power of the bishop and the status of the clergy in accessing sacred space. What that meant, functionally, is not just that bishops used relics to direct piety into new more robust channels, but that they could use the entire church space, the access to which could be “much desired but rarely received.” To return to our matron’s inscription from Velletri, it is possible to read it not as a testimony to ad sanctos in the narrow sense of proximity to ­corporeal relics, but as a desire to be given a privilege ordinarily reserved for “proper” members of the clergy: to be considered, because of her concern for the poor, as one who merited privileged burial in the environs of the church. This particular pattern – restricting church burial to members of the clergy or those fideles laici who had handsomely donated to that church – was common enough to be ratified



Ibid., 189. Cantino Wataghin, “Ideology of Urban Burials,” 160.

99

100

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

in an act of the Council of Mainz of 813 CE, thus confirming that where one was buried was governed, as Costambeys argues, “as much by levels of patronage as by the widespread desire for proximity to the holy.”101 *** We are left, finally, with the question of why bone relics were translated from the catacombs into urban churches when, in essence, they were neither necessary for the economy of late antique Christian burial nor especially valued in Rome. In the early 1950s, a Danish scholar, Ejnar Dyggve, proposed (following de Rossi) that intra muros burials began as a consequence of relics moved into regional churches.102 Dyggve’s ideas still have their supporters; apparently reversing her position from the quotation I have just reproduced, Cantino Wataghin argues that by late antiquity, intra-urban burials were common enough, but “… from the late fourth century on, the desire for a burial ad sanctos is the main factor in determining the structure and hierarchy of suburban ­cemeteries.”103 Disappointingly, she supports this assertion with a ­footnote reference to Brown’s Cult of the Saints along with Yvette Duval’s Auprès des saints corps et l’âme. This is especially disconcerting in view of the fact that she had just spent several pages insisting that Rome presents a unique case from the pattern of burials elsewhere. But if burials did not move inside the walls so that people might be close to the saints within urban churches, and in fact relics followed bodies and not vice versa, why did bones from the catacombs come within the city walls in the first place? According to the evidence of both the Liber Pontificalis and monumental inscriptions set up in intramural churches, the work of moving catacomb bones was the particular contribution of a limited set of seventh- and eighth-century bishops. In the seventh century, Theodore (642–649 CE) translated the remains of the martyrs Primus and Felicianus from via Nomentana to another papal church, San Stefano

Costambeys, “Burial Topography,” 189. E. Dyggve, “The Origin of Urban Churchyards,” Classica et Mediaevalia. Revue Danoise de Philologie et d’Histoire 13 (1952): 147–58; see also E. Dyggve, “L’origine del cimitero entro la città,” Atti dello VIII Congresso internazionale di studi bizantini, Palermo 3–10 aprile 1951 (Rome: Associazione nazionale per gli studi bizantini, 1953), 2.138–41. For the reference in de Rossi, see La Roma sotterranea cristiana descritta e illustrate (Rome, 1864–77), 3.557. 103 Cantino Wataghin, “Ideology of Urban Burials,” 153. 101

102

337

338

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

Rotondo on the Caelian Hill (LP 1.75.4). Leo II (682–683 CE) translated the bodies of Simplicius, Faustinianus, Beatrix, and others from the Catacombs of Generosa on the Via Portuense and brought them to a chapel adjoining Santa Bibiana (LP 1.82.5). These early translations, however, may well have been contact relics rather than actual bones; perhaps, rather, the LP retrojected later medieval practices to an earlier period because aside from the LP, there is little to support such early translations. Under the pontificate of Paul I (757–767 CE), however, bone translations really picked up speed, at least according to the Liber Pontificalis (LP II.95).104 These were apparently not select relics of martyrs, but mass translations of quantities of human bones from the catacombs, where they were deposited under certain urban churches. It was, frankly, a curious thing to do. In the 1980s, a British scholar, John Osborne, refuted Ejnar Dyggve, arguing that intramural burials were a consequence of the Gothic wars, which saw the ransacking of the suburban cemeteries by the Gothic army (Procopius, De Bello gothico 7.13–16, 17; LP I, 291).105 Osborne wondered why Paul I would embark upon the unpleasant undertaking of moving the relics inside the walls, speculating that it could have been because of the plundering of the Lombards. Osborne’s thesis was ­bolstered by a decree of the Roman synod of 761 CE, by which Paul I confirmed the establishment of the monastery of San Silvestro in Capite. By way of explanation for the translation of relics to this new foundation, we are told that the cemeteries outside the walls had long since fallen into neglect due to the plundering of the Lombards, who had themselves removed bones for relics. The catacombs were left in such a dilapidated state that they were used, for a time, to house animals. If Osborne was correct, then the translation of relics inside the walls had little to do with the corporeal turn, but rather about preserving

John McCulloh, “From Antiquity to the Middle Ages: Continuity and Change in Papal Relic Policy from the 6th to the 8th Century,” in E. Dassmann and K. Suso Frank, eds., Pietas: Festschrift für Bernhard Kötting (Münster: Aschendorff, 1980), 312–24. 105 John Osborne, “Death and Burial in Sixth-Century Rome,” Echos du Monde Classique/Classical Views, 28, n. s. 3 (1984): 291–99. The suburban cemeteries actually continued in use in the second half of the sixth century: see P. Testini, Le catacombe e gli antichi cimiteri cristiani in Roma (Bologna: Capelli, 1966), 91; ICUR 2 4794; ICUR 7 1726. 104

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

the integrity of the Christian past. The Lombards entered the catacombs not to destroy them but to take relics for themselves, since the cult of relics was far more developed among Christian communities outside of Rome. Osborne writes, “The subsequent translations were a response to this demonstrated insecurity of the suburban shrines, rather than the physical condition of the underground passages.”106 More recently, Dale Kinney moved the discussion into a new key; she proposes that the removal of saints’ bodies from the catacombs in the seventh and eighth centuries was another form of spoliation, as bodies were “useful” for the renewal projects of the papal state that began with the alliance between Pope Stephen II and Pepin in 754 CE and which continued until the ninth century.107 Seen this way, bones were part of this process of renovation that also kept its eye on Rome’s glorious past, in a way no different from the celebratory reuse of marble revetments, coffin covers, and other spoliated building bits that built up the city’s medieval churches. *** So far, I have worked to disaggregate the relationship between ordinary human burial and martyr bodies, both inside and outside the walls. The catacombs provide only meager evidence for ad sanctos burials; the layout and function of intramural churches in Rome do not provide any clear correlation between the Cult of the Saints and the practical problem of burial. In essence, there appears to have been some recognition that burial around a church was attractive, but again, the argument is difficult to sustain without more epigraphic evidence and when one considers the number of random burials at more secular spaces in the late antique city. In an elegant and learned study, Ann Marie Yasin has noted this disjuncture between burials and church architecture.108 She points out that



Osborne, “Death and Burial,” 291. Dale Kinney, “Spoliation in Medieval Rome,” in Stefan Altekamp, Carmen Marcks-Jacobs, and Peter Seiler, eds., Perspectiven der Spolienforschung: Spoliierung und Transposition. Topoi: Berlin Studies of the Ancient World 15 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), 261–86. 108 Ann Marie Yasin, Saints and Church Spaces in the Late Antique Mediterranean: Architecture, Cult, and Community (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 3. 106

107

339

340

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

a number of late antique churches exist – not only at Rome – where there are burials but no securely identified martyr’s grave or relic deposits. She writes, While scholars have, for example, stressed the materiality of saints’ remains in attracting later graves to physical proximity with them in death, many aspects of the appearance and arrangement of church burials seem to have little directly to do with the saints, and the relative chronology of burials rarely conforms to a pattern of neat expansion out from the initial nucleus of the martyrium.109

Furthermore, she observes that inscriptions or images of the saints rarely mark the location of relics. In fact, “the direct, architectural assimilation of saints’ tombs, relics, or memorials to church altars is less regular than we might expect.”110 The most sacred part of a church was often enough not the place where the relics were held, but a secondary site – or a church might contain more than one “holy hot spot,” from a saint’s memorial without a relic, or a liturgical altar that also lacked relics. Put differently, from an architectural perspective, the internal topography of the holy in a wide variety of early Christian churches had little, practically, to do with the presence of relics. Yasin’s point (or one of them) is that saints could be present without being present materially; she thus elegantly disengages the Cult of the Saints from the cult of relics, with which it has become far too closely aligned in Catholic scholarship. In essence, if there were anything we might begin to call depositio ad sanctos, such burials were apparently not so much about soaking up the sanctity that proximity to a martyr could confer, but simply that those with money and power (or a position in the Church) made a show of g­ etting the best seats in the house – closest to the most important e­ lement of a church. Those who had less money got the nave rather than the apse, or a floor slab grave rather than a wall niche sarcophagus. Those who donated their money or their lives might expect to find a privileged burial of some kind. At Rome, these were often those who held church offices. ***

Yasin, Saints and Church Spaces, 3. Ibid., 2.

109 110

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

I argue throughout this book that we have gotten too wedded to the idea of material sanctity in late antiquity, to the belief that the physical presence of bones was needed in order to render a place holy. I maintain that the attitude is a modern one, unattested in Rome before the early modern period. Convinced as we are in the corporeal turn, we believe that pilgrims would not have gone to martyrial shrines unless there was something “real” to go to, that people would wish, above all things, to be laid to rest at the holy bones of some saint or the other. But what constituted “real” presence in late antiquity? Divine presence was real, and it had nothing to do with human remains. The Roman conviction that the gods specially favored the city and protected it (and also individuals) naturalized, in a sense, the Cult of the Saints as, at least in its initial development in Rome, largely immaterial. By this I mean that the involvement of Christian Rome’s first recognized spiritual stars – Agnes, Lawrence, Peter, and Paul – was not specifically linked to place, aside from the city itself. In every case, then, these spaces were sacred because they were associated with divine protectors of the city, not because they held their bones. Only much later did relics come to mark divine presence. This saintly bilocation or extracorporeal sanctity had its advantages, in that the faithful could have their petitions heard in multiple locations at once; if the Vatican was inaccessible because it lay on imperial lands, or the Memoria Apostolorum because it was jealously monitored by private individuals (and we are unsure which one of these was the case), the devout could find accessibility at one or the other. If one could not access the church of San Lorenzo fuori le mura, there were other places to go where Lawrence was just as powerfully present. Memorial bilocation, too, could also fuel the fires of a largely local, contestational Christian community that drew upon a “here, not there” cult of the saints rather than a more flexible “either … or” model of locative piety. Again, to know which one of these models of piety late antique Romans employed is beyond our grasp; the existence of other examples of multiple cult sites for local saints like Lawrence – each in different quadrants of the city and laying claim to, at the very least, the memory and patronage of the very same saint – is evidence enough for a complex topography of memoriae. Each place coalesced a particular, local piety; each place was useful, and each place, to the faithful, was equally “real,” bones or not.

341

342

Disposing of Depositio (Ad Sanctos)

At the same time, it is possible that a martyr’s shrine could still be holy even despite the presence of human corpses or bones that remained, in the late antique Roman context, heavy with the deep humility of human mortality. The presence of bones may have meant, in an ancient context, that a specific set of coded social behaviors were enacted given their presence. Traces of this way of thinking, of connecting to memory and tradition, can still be felt. At Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, Elvis’ grave outside the house does not make his homestead more sacred, but people’s behaviors are amplified and altered in its presence. People feel free to weep at the grave but not, say, in his kitchen, merely fifty yards away. Some feel compelled to engage in memorializing behaviors that would not have been done otherwise: leaving flowers or mementoes, ­taking pictures. Likewise, the presence of the martyrs in the catacombs may have sparked ritual actions of commemoration and respect that their absence may not have.111 Bones, however, remained rather beside the point; sanctity was so much more than mere human remains.



S. Diefenbach, Römische Erinnerungsräume. Heiligenmemoria und kollektive Identitäten im Rom des 3. bis 5. Jahrhunderts n. Chr (Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2007); B. Dignas and R. R. R. Smith, eds., Historical and Religious Memory in the Ancient World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

111

8. Inventing Christian Rome I 

n 1986, the Yale University historian of Rome, Ramsay MacMullen, published a relatively short essay – one of my favorites on late antiquity.1 Its title, “What Difference Did Christianity Make?” hinted at its subversion, its reversal of centuries of conservative Christian scholarship that saw Christianity as the solution both obvious and triumphant to the moral decline of dissolute Rome. The question was not MacMullen’s own, but one that he borrowed from the famed Egyptologist E. A. Judge. Judge, in turn, had once posed it to the great doyen of Roman history, A. H. M. Jones. MacMullen was not interested in “self-evident” answers such as the impact of Constantinian basilica building but on Christianity’s effect on people, “how broad patterns of secular life changed as a result of the population being now believers.”2 MacMullen went on to “test” his question across five areas: changes in sexual norms, slavery, gladiatorial shows, judicial penalties, and corruption. In all these areas where Christian morality might come to alter or replace traditional Roman values, MacMullen saw either little change or perhaps even change for the worse. In summarizing his answer to his question – what difference had Christianity made? – MacMullen famously concluded, “not much.”3 Ramsay MacMullen, “What Difference Did Christianity Make?” Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 35/3 (1986): 322–43. The topic of the transition of the Roman Empire to a Christian one has long been the focus of MacMullen’s work. See also R. MacMullen, The Corruption and the Decline of Rome (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988); R. MacMullen, Changes in the Roman Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990). 2 MacMullen, “What Difference Did Christianity Make?” 322. 3 Ibid., 341–43.



1

343

344

Inventing Christian Rome

In this book, I began with Peter Brown’s assertion in his landmark The Cult of the Saints that late antique Christianity was the cult of relics.4 And throughout this study I have asked a question in the spirit of MacMullen’s: what difference did the Cult of the Saints make for Rome? And I have come to the same qualified conclusion: not much. The revolution, the “corporeal turn,” that occupied a wide swath of the late Empire’s population – from clerics to matrons, from Gaul to Jerusalem – which Brown documented so brilliantly in 1981 simply passed through Rome itself with little more than a shudder. If Brown and later, historian Simon Ditchfield, came to use the metaphor of the Cult of the Saints as “rewiring” Christian piety through the stronger, better channels of episcopal control, late antique Rome’s adherence to its ancient traditions, its sense of collective identity, and the relative weakness of its bishops meant that it was well-insulated against any attempts to rewire.5 Vulnerable spots in its existing wiring – for instance, the pressures that Damasus must have felt at the considerable power that his contemporaries Ambrose or Paulinus channeled through their use of saints’ cults in their cities – resulted in only a relatively unnoticed sparking that produced his elogia and interventions in some extra-urban cemeteries. The imperially sponsored relic shrine of St. Felix at the Pincio and the private confessio at the oratory at Giovanni e Paolo on the Caelian were other sparks that failed to ignite or short out Rome’s preexisting system(s) of approaching a Christian God.6 By the time we reach Gregory the Great rebuffing Constantina, refusing to exhume and translate the saints for her benefit, we can appreciate how well grounded was Rome’s distinctive wiring.

Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 12. To be fair, Brown was not making an empirical statement, but expressing how outside cultures such as the Nestorians of central Asia viewed late antique Christianity. 5 Rewiring the sacred circuit: Simon Ditchfield, “Thinking with the Saints: Sanctity and Society in the Early Modern World,” Critical Inquiry 35 (2009): 577. 6 For the shrine on the Pincio (which may have been owned by the Christian Anicii) in its urban and political contexts, see Claire Sotinel, “Chronologie, topographie, histoire: quelques hypotheses sur S. Felix in Pincis, église disparue,” in Ecclesiae Urbis. Atti del Congresso Internazionale di studi sulle chiese di Roma (IV–X secolo) I. Roma, 4–10 settembre 2000 (Vatican City, 2002), 449–71, and eadem, “Places of Christian Worship and Their Sacralization in Late Antiquity,” in C. Sotinel, Church and Society in Late Antiquity and Beyond (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010).

4

Inventing Christian Rome

I have made a claim throughout this book for Roman exceptionalism. The Cult of the Saints never caught on in Rome because Rome was different from any other place. In late antiquity, as earlier, what happened in Rome stayed in Rome – at least when it came to customs around the dead, and when it came, by the sixth century, to the issue of translating Rome’s many saints elsewhere. I have pointed to the city’s essential conservatism – a conservatism that resulted in a reluctance among the city’s elites to embrace the strange new superstition that was Christianity in the first place, to abandon time-honored ways of burying the dead, to see the corpse as inherently blessed. Romans knew that powerful beings did not need the vulgarity of fleshly body to manifest beneficence and holiness and intercede for humans. And if the gods became distant or absent, the power of creating and sustaining a memory of what it meant to be a Roman of Rome – and later, a Christian – was sufficient to bring people together and thus to “sacralize” a place.7 A thousand years after Gregory the Great, things were different. Both the need for a collective, Catholic memory and the labile quality of the saints and martyrs – a puissant set of beings who might be invoked or even merely invented to suit – were elements on which early modern Catholic “sacred archaeologists” sought to capitalize. In particular, memory – even constructed, “collective” memory – was still more powerful than it had been in the fourth and fifth centuries. In times of crisis – and the Counter-Reformation along with the nineteenth-century threat of the modern nation-state were certainly times of crisis for the Catholic Church – powerful men turned to the past to reinvent Rome according to the Church’s own image. Ancient martyrs and saints were “discovered” nestled in their graves, ancient churches were revitalized and renovated, catacombs were converted to holy shrines, all according to the proto-Catholic fantasies of a smallish coterie of men. Because of all their work, the real late antique Rome became hard to see. But is it impossible to see? I don’t believe so, but I am certain of one thing: we historians of late antiquity need to be less naïve about the nature of our source collections. To screen out the interference of early modern interests, we must either hold these sources at bay, or get

S. Diefenbach, Römische Erinnerungsräume. Heiligenmemoria und kollektive Identitäten im Rom des 3. bis 5. Jahrhunderts n. Chr. (Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2007).

7

345

346

Inventing Christian Rome

ready to engage them deeply enough to see where they have re-created a past so successfully that we simply believe them. Instances of widely disseminated misinformation, such as that the Christian catacombs were administered by “the Church” since the third century, or that the Pantheon was consecrated as a church in 608 CE with the deposit of cartloads of human bone, must be chased down and re-queried rather than passed along in our publications. Collections and assemblages of late antique Christian materials must be considered as less than neutral data sets. We need to ask: what is missing from these collections, and why? What can’t we see? What are the rules, often unspoken and unwritten, concerning the logic of these collections, and their modes of classification – for example, what makes an epitaph Christian or Jewish? How do we know that’s correct? Why do we think only Christians were buried in Christian catacombs? Who told us so, and why? If the evidence in front of us seems to bear out an oft-told story, why is that so? Was it always there, or was it put there to convince us that this oft-told story is true? Finding answers requires some forensic thinking – a desire to get a better, fuller picture of antiquity, to chase down and solve a mystery. And we should do this in full humility in the face of our own blindnesses, shortcomings, and biases. What can’t we see? *** Here is what our early modern Catholic sources refused to let us see: in the century from the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (312 CE) to the Gothic sack of Rome in 410 CE, the city of Rome remained intransigently itself. That is to say, this was not the era of Christianization. From the fourth to the beginning of the fifth century at Rome, it was more or less business as usual. One could still attend chariot races in the Circus Maximus, well funded and well attended through the mid-sixth century.8 The Colosseum was still used up until the same point for spectacles,



8

Richard Lim, “People as Power: Games, Munificence, and Contested Topography,” in W. V. Harris, ed., The Transformations of Vrbs Roma in Late Antiquity (Portsmouth, RI, 1999), 65–81; A. Marcone, “L’allestimento di giochi annuali a Roma nel IV secolo d.C.: aspetti economici e ideologici,” in Sergio Roda, ed., La parte migliore del genere umano: aristocrazie, potere e ideologia nell'occidente tardoantico: antologia di storia tardoantica (Turin: Scriptorium, 1994), 307–25.

Inventing Christian Rome

although the emphasis shifted to animal hunts from gladiatorial fights.9 Time-honored patterns of civic patronage continued as usual, with the restoration of buildings and the erection of new statues in the Forum following ancient canons of honor and representation.10 The Calendar of 354 lists numerous traditional festivals still alive in Rome, including the Carmentalia, Quirinalia, Feralia, the multiday festivals of Isis and Magna Mater, the Matralia, and the Saturnalia.11 The Lupercalia was still going on despite Pope Gelasius’ resounding condemnation of it in 495 CE.12 In the political and economic heart of the city, key institutions continued; Ammianus Marcellinus’ account of Constantius’ visit to Rome in 357 records that the emperor was taken on a whirlwind tour that included the

On animal hunts (venationes) held in 523 CE in the Colosseum, see Cassiodorus, Variae 5.42; S. Orlandi, “Il Colosseo nel V secolo,” in W. V. Harris, Transformations, 249–64; Jill Harries, “Favor populi: Pagans, Christians and Public Entertainment in Late Antique Italy,” in K. Lomas and T. Cornell, eds., Bread and Circuses: Euergetism and Municipal Patronage in Roman Italy (New York: Routledge, 2003), 125–41. See also Bryan Ward-Perkins, From Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages: Urban Public Building in Northern and Central Italy AS 300–850 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 111–16. 10 Gregor Kalas, “Writing and Restoration in Rome: Inscriptions, Statues, and the Late Antique Preservation of Buildings,” in Caroline Goodson, Anne E. Lester, and Carol Symes, eds., Cities, Texts, and Social Networks 400–1500: Experiences and Perceptions of Medieval Urban Space (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010), 21–43; Carlos Machado, “Religion as Antiquarianism: Pagan Dedications in Late Antique Rome,” in John Bodel and Mika Kajava, eds., Dediche sacre nel mondo Grecoromano: diffusione, funzioni, tipologie (Rome: Institutum Romanum Finlandiae, 2009), 331–54; idem, “Building the Past: Monuments and Memory in the Forum Romanum,” in William Bowden, Adam Gutteridge, and Carlos Machado, eds., Social and Political Life in Late Antiquity (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 157–92; idem, “City as Stage: Aristocratic Commemorations in Late Antique Rome,” in Éric Rebillard and Claire Sotinel, eds., Les frontiers du profane dans l’antiquité tardive (Rome: École Française de Rome, 2010), 287–317; J. Weisweiler, “From Equality to Asymmetry: Honorific Statues, Imperial Power, and Senatorial Authority in Late-Antique Rome,” Journal of Roman Archaeology 25 (2012): 319–50. 11 See M. Salzman, “The Christianization of Sacred Time and Sacred Space,” in W. V. Harris, Transformations, 123–34. 12 Gelasius, Adversum Andromachum, ed. and trans. G. Pomarès, Lettre contre les Lupercales et dix-huit messes du Sacramentaire Léonien, SC 65 (Paris: du Cerf, 1959). See also Neil McLynn, “Crying Wolf: The Pope and the Lupercalia,” JRS 98 (2008): 161–75; Y. M. Duval, “Des lupercales de Constantinople aux lupercales de Rome,” Revue des études latines 55 (1977): 222–70; T. P. Wiseman, “The God of the Lupercal,”JRS 85 (1995): 1–22; M. Munzi, “Sulla topografia del Lupercalia: il contributo di Costantinopoli,” Studi classici e orientali 45 (1994): 349–51. 9

347

348

Inventing Christian Rome

Senate, the Temple of Jupiter Capitoline, the Colosseum, various monumental bath complexes, the Pantheon, the temple of Venus and Rome, the Forum of Peace, the theater of Pompey, the stadium of Domitian, the forum of Trajan, and the Circus Maximus.13 Lucrezia Spera notes that the Caelian Hill retained virtually the same appearance as it had in earlier centuries.14 The same roads crossed and framed it as earlier in the Empire. The residential character of the district remained, along with its public buildings: the Castra Peregrina, barracks of the Fifth Cohors Vigilum, the Macellum Magnum, the temple of the Divus Claudius, and the Basilica Hilariana. The Campus Martius, too, remained essentially unchanged throughout the fourth century.15 A hundred years later, the theaters of Pompey, Balbus, Marcellus, Domitian’s stadium, and Odeon were maintained, as well as the Ara Pacis, Trigarium, Circus Flaminius, and the baths of Agrippa and Alexander Severus.16 The durability of Rome’s traditional institutions should help us to place in sharp relief the accounts of Jerome, Prudentius, and Damasus that work so hard to fix a thriving Roma Christiana on top of an essentially non-Christian city. It should also give us pause when we read older scholarship that has been seduced or comforted by their image of Rome as a city where martyrs came to replace gods, and martyrs’ shrines, the now-ruinated temples. Recent work in archaeology points to a more

Amm. Marc. 16.10.14. Kristina Iara, “Lingering Sacredness. The Persistence of Pagan Sacredness in the Forum Romanum in Late Antiquity,” in Aude Busine, ed., Religious Practices and Christianization of the Late Antique City (4th–7th cent) (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 141–65. 14 Lucrezia Spera, “Characteristics of the Christianization of Space in Late Antique Rome. New Considerations a Generation after Charles Pietri’s Roma Christiana,” in Kaizer, Leone, Thomas and Witcher, eds., Cities and Gods: Religious Space in Transition (Leuven: Peeters, 2013), 121. Spera has published extensively on the topic in Italian; see now L. Spera, “La cristianizzazione di Roma: forme e tempi,” in F. Bisconti and O. Brandt, eds., Lezioni di Archeologia Cristiana (Vatican City: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 2014); eadem, “Le forme delle cristianizzazione nel quadro degli assetti topografico-funzionali di Roma tra V e IX secolo,” PostClassical Archaeologist 1 (2011): 309–48; eadem, “Cristianizzazione e suburbio romano: impianto dei cimiteri e modifiche degli spazi extramuranei tra III e IV secolo,” in Rosa Maria Bonacasa Carra and Emma Vitale, eds., La Cristianizzazione in Italia tra tardoantico ed alto medioevo. Atti del IX Congresso Nazionale di Archeologia Cristiana, Agrigento 20–25 novembre 2004 (Palermo: Carlo Saladino, 2007), 169–94. 15 Spera, “Characteristics,” 132. 16 Ibid., 127. 13

Inventing Christian Rome

and more complex picture of life in fourth-century Rome. As Richard Krautheimer observed, Romans, provincials, and foreigners gawked at temples, palaces, administrative buildings, basilicas, theaters, porticos; heaps of marble, or marble imitation, gilded capitals, triumphal arches, honorific statues. To a fourth-century visitor, all this was the grand show that reflected the glory of Rome and her Empire.17

The city could still impress a visitor; it was still grand and gilded. From the built environment, it is impossible to detect any catastrophic change, and certainly not religious change. That was to come. The gradual abandonment and spoliation of pagan temples throughout the fourth century, long thought to be symptoms of pagan Rome’s inevitable decline – did not necessarily mean the end of paganism; Rome was an ancient city, and buildings simply fell to ruin then as now.18 Newer, better ones could be built, or if funds were short, sacrifices and observances could always be done elsewhere.19 Other temples soldiered on throughout the fourth century. In the Campus Martius, the Iseum and the temples of Largo Argentina, the Pantheon, Aurelian’s temple of the Sun, and the temples of Circus Flaminius all still functioned; we know from Ammianus that the Temple of Bonus Eventus had its portico restored in 374 CE (29.6.19). On the Aventine, still open in the fourth century were the temple of Diana; the precinct of Minerva; Jupiter Libertas; and Juna Regina; the sanctuaries of Mercury, Ceres, Liber and Libera; Flora (restored by Quintus Fabius Memmius Symmachus,

Richard Krautheimer, Rome: Profile of a City: 312–1308 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 9. 18 See Michael Mulryan, “The Temple of Flora or Venus by the Circus Maximus and the New Christian Topography: the ‘Pagan Revival’ in Action?” in Luke Lavan and Michael Mulryan, eds., The Archaeology of Late Antique “Paganism,” 210–11; Douglas Boin, “A Hall for Hercules at Ostia and a Farewell to a Late Antique ‘Pagan Revival’,” AJA 114/3 (2010): 253–54. 19 L. Pani Ermini, “Roma tra la fine del IV e gli inizi del V secolo,” in G. Sena Chiesa and E. Arslan, eds., Felix temporis reparatio: atti del Convegno archeologico internazionale Milano capitale dell'impero romano: Milano, 8–11 marzo 1990 (Milan: ET, 1992), 193. On the “end” of pagan sacrifice, see D. Ullucci, The Christian Rejection of Animal Sacrifice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); G. Stroumsa, The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformations in Late Antiquity, trans. S. Emanuel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

17

349

350

Inventing Christian Rome

praetor in 401), Luna; Consus; Vertumnus; the Bona Dea Subsaxana; Silvanus Salutaris; and Jupiter Elicius.20 Even if the public cults suffered a death blow from Gratian’s withdrawal of funding for them in 382 CE followed by the Theodosian decrees of 395 CE, there was still plenty of religion around. The cults of Magna Mater still continued, with a ban on the college of the dendrophoroi based at the Basilica Hilariana making it into the books only in 415 CE (CTh 14.8.1); a number of senatorial classmen duly recorded their religious honors and offices on their epitaphs, noting that they had all performed a taurobolium.21 Since the second century, Roman religion had been moving from monumental and state-sponsored ceremony to more intimate venues in the houses and insulae of well-connected freedpeople or the occasional member of the elite. Certainly Mithraic groups – like Christian groups, based essentially in Rome in residential or military areas and dominated by freedpeople – were going like gangbusters throughout the fourth century.22 Jonas Bjørnebye estimates, in the fourth century, an active population of as many as 25,000 Mithraists in Rome, or about five percent of the population, meeting in as many as 250 separate mithraea.23 On the Aventine among sumptuous villas one could find a number of such mithraea, as well as a functioning Phyrgianum and a Dolichenum, both constructed within private houses.24 There is little sense that these house-based shrines either gave way to Christian







Spera, “Characteristics,” 127. For the Temple of Flora, see Mulryan, “The Temple of Flora,” 209–28. On the continued use of the Iseum, see S. Ensoli, “I santuari di Iside e Serapide e la resistenza pagana in età tardoantica,” in S. Ensoli and E. La Rocca, eds., Aurea Roma. Dalla città pagana alla città Cristiana (Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider, 2000), 267–87. 21 N. McLynn, “The Fourth-Century Taurobolium,” Phoenix 50 (1996): 312–30. 22 Jonas Bjørnebye, “Hic locus est felix, sanctus, piusque benignus”: The Cult of Mithras in Fourth-century Rome. PhD dissertation, University of Bergen, Norway, 2007. 23 Bjørnebye, “Hic locus est felix,” 65. Compare F. Coarelli, “Topografia mitraica di Roma,” in Mysteria Mithrae. Atti del seminario internazionale su ‘La specificità storico-religiosa dei misteri di Mithra, con particolare riferimento alle fonti documentarie di Roma e Ostia. Roma e Ostia 28–31 marzo 1978 (Leiden: Brill, 1979), 69–79. 24 Spera, “Characteristics,” 127. G. M. Bellelli, “Les sanctuaires de Iuppiter Dolicheus à Rome,” in Gloria Bellelli and U. Bianchi, Orientalia sacra urbis Romae. Dolichena et Heliopolitana. Recueil d’études archéologiques et historicoreligieuses sur les cultes cosmopolites d’origine commagénienne et syrienne (Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider, 1996), 306–31.

20

Inventing Christian Rome

351

structures, or that their clients were a dying breed, lurking in the shadows of a progressively Christian landscape. And that’s only in the heart of the city: in the urban periphery, the capacious villas of great men served as ad hoc shrines to an active audience of friends and clients. On the Via Labicana by the Catacombs of Peter and Marcellinus, excavators revealed a luxurious villa with an adjoining temple tomb and mausolea – a fourth-century Downton Abbey – and the Villa of the Quintilii off Via Appia has also revealed some fascinating evidence for late antique religion, including Christian plates and a Mithraic tauroctony frieze with a hole at the top, indicating that it could be moved and installed in various places, to transform a profane space into a mithraeum.25 Cults of the Saints were not the only religious activities carried on at the fringes of the city; they are simply where we tend to focus our attention. *** With all the evidence for a variegated religious Rome, the ultimate “invention” of the early modern period, then, is the claim that late antique Rome was a Christian city. It has been easy enough to believe. In the modern West, the blame lies not so much upon the fantasies of Rome’s sacred archaeologists, but with our own captivation with Constantine. After all, it was Constantine’s “conversion” prior to his military success at Rome that forever changed the Empire.26 Constantine’s building projects – monumental Christian structures that dramatically altered the fabric of the city – unbridled Christians; they were finally free to openly worship the God of their hearts.27 “Christian Rome” thus began with

Excavations on Via Labicana: T. Ashby and G. Lugli, “La Villa dei Flavi Cristiani ‘ad duas lauros’ e il suburbano imperiale ad oriente di Roma,” Atti della Pontificia Accademia Romana di Archeologia: Memorie 2 (1928): 157–92; on Villa of the Quintilii and Mithraic frieze, see Andreina Ricci, ed., La Villa dei Quintili: fonti scritte e fonti figurate (Rome: Lithos, 1998). 26 The bibliography on Constantine and Rome is, of course, immense, but worth mentioning is Ross Holloway, Constantine and Rome (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004); H. A. Drake, “The Impact of Constantine on Christianity,” in N. Lenski, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Constantine (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 111–36; R. Van Dam, Remembering Constantine at the Milvian Bridge (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011). 27 For early work, see R. Krautheimer, “The Constantinian Basilica of the Lateran,” Antiquity 34 (1960): 201–6, followed by his monumental CBCR project. See also Charles Odahl, “The Christian Basilicas of Constantinian Rome,” The Ancient World 26/1 (1995): 3–28. 25

352

Inventing Christian Rome

“Constantinian Rome,” although in recent decades, scholars have troubled this picture. Constantine rarely visited Rome, and his intentions in ordering his basilicas to be built, as we have seen, were unlikely to have been in order to sow Christian worship. The basilicas themselves remain controversial structures; they were purpose-built, it turns out, neither for the liturgy nor for veneration of the martyrs. Constantine may not even have been entirely responsible for their building in the first place; some unknown innovator had beaten him to building the first circiform basilica at San Sebastiano, and other basilicas in the city apparently had nothing to do with him. Even St. Peter’s may have been the work of one of Constantine’s sons.28 In recent years, focus has shifted from the problematic Constantinian basilicas to the other, more secular buildings constructed or restored under Constantine, including the Aqua Virgo aqueduct, the Baths of Helena, and the Porticus Constantini.29 Ramsay MacMullen’s groundbreaking work in his slim monograph, The Second Church, approached the issue of the Constantinian basilicas from a different direction; calculating how many people may have fit in a basilica, he concluded that most Christian activities happened not in these vast spaces, but elsewhere – in parish churches but, most notably, around the cemeteries outside the city.30 The argument is somewhat specious: most of the Constantinian basilicas were within (or themselves constituted) cemeteries outside the city, but MacMullen was certainly right to deflect our attention from an imagined Constantinian Christianity sweeping Rome post-312 CE. But perhaps MacMullen’s

See, for example, G. W. Bowersock, “Peter and Constantine,” in J.-M. Carrié and R. Lizzi, eds., Humana sapit. Études d’antiquité tardive offertes à Lellia Cracco Ruggini (Turnhout: Brepols, 2002), 207–17; A. Logan, “Constantine, the Liber Pontificalis and the Christian Basilicas of Rome,” Studia Patristica 50 (2011): 31–53; R. Westall, “Constantius II and the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican,” Historia 64/2 (2015): 205–42. On the chronology of basilicas, see Monica Hellström, “On the Form and Function of Constantine’s Circiform Funerary Basilicas in Rome,” in M. Salzman, M. Sághy, and R. Lizzi Testa, eds., Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome: Conflict, Competition, and Coexistence in the Fourth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 291–313. 29 P. Liverani, “Interventi urbani a Roma tra il IV e il VI secolo,” Cristianesimo nella storia 29/1 (2008): 4. F. Guidobaldi, “Sull’originalità dell’architettura di età constantiniana,” XLII Corso di cultura sull’arte ravennate e bizantina (Ravenna: Edizione del Girasole, 1995), 419–41. 30 Ramsay MacMullen, The Second Church: Popular Christianity A.D. 200–400 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009). 28

Inventing Christian Rome

most shocking act, in The Second Church, was to severely ratchet down prior estimates on just how many Christians there were in the fourth century. The archaeological evidence, he argues, “points to an organized community about a tenth of the size generally assumed at that latter date: say, five percent or less.”31 In terms of numbers, MacMullen sees only about seven percent of the population as Christian at the turn of the fifth century – far, far lower than conventional estimates of 100 percent.32 Part of the explanation lies in what defines a Christian. For MacMullen, “‘Christians,’ in historical, not theological, terminology, we can only know as we see them in some act of worship.”33 He continues, “What can be learned from the cemeteries shows a large worshipful population ‘doing their own thing,’ as we would put it nowadays.”34 Concerning his downward revision of population numbers and the continuation of traditional forms of ancestor veneration, MacMullen concludes, “For the historian it is a problem, a skandalon.”35 In fact, for the historian, that fourth-century Christianity apparently consisted largely of ritual acts performed in honor of the ancestors isn’t really a skandalon. Perhaps it is for the theologian. Should we expect, after all, a Christian population to behave differently (better?) from a non-Christian one? MacMullen himself had already laid that idea to rest. But he is not wrong to question our use of terminology. “Christian,” along with concepts such as “Christianization” are problematic for this very reason of definition. Christianization, as Aude Busine observes, is a confusing term because it refers, at once, to a process and its result.36 To see it requires, perhaps, expecting it to be there in the first place – the luxury of clear hindsight, which produces, in its turn, a tendency to oversimplify the process. Why investigate complexities if the outcome is known? This was the view that undergirded classic studies that saw the decline of the classical city as the inevitable outcome of moral and social decadence, with Christianity emerging triumphant for its clear-eyed,



MacMullen, The Second Church, 88. Note that W. V. Harris, “Introduction,” in his edited volume Transformations, 12–13, rightly refuses to give numbers even for total populations, as do all the contributors to his volume. 33 MacMullen, The Second Church, 110. 34 Ibid., 111. 35 Ibid., 112. 36 Aude Busine, “Introduction: Religious Practices and Christianization of the Late Antique City,” in A. Busine, ed., Religious Practices and the Christianization, 2. 31

32

353

354

Inventing Christian Rome

unwavering gaze at the better, more hopeful model of the City of God. Gibbon, of course, suggested, scandalously, the opposite – the Empire had been made soft by the labile, inward-turning monks and ascetics, no longer manly-man statesmen and soldiers to keep a disorderly Empire in line.37 Since Gibbon, the issue of Rome’s Christianization has emerged with finer, more sophisticated argumentation and a keen attempt to suspend judgment, as well as to untangle the threads connecting the collapse of the post-classical city with the rise of Christianity. Long dominating late Roman historiography has been the impression that pagans and Christians were locked in an intractable battle, with Christianity emerging as the sole victor.38 The picture still emerges from significant studies such as Arnaldo Momigliano’s edited volume based on his Warburg lectures, The Conflict between Pagans and Christians in the Fourth Century (1963) and most recently, Alan Cameron’s The Last Pagans of Rome (2011), a book at least thirty years in the making, and in many ways a response to Momigliano and to Herbert Bloch, whose two classic essays had introduced the concept of a “pagan revival.”39 At the same time that Momigliano had delivered his Warburg lectures, Bloch had suggested that the “pagans” of Rome had organized – during the usurpation of Eugenius in 392–394 CE – a revival, a last gasp before disappearing altogether from Rome’s landscape. Cameron vigorously argued that there was no revival; the true situation of political and social Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J. B. Bury (New York: Limited Editions, 1946). 38 Andreas Alföldi, The Conversion of Constantine and Pagan Rome, trans. Harold Mattingly (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1948). Alföldi envisions a late Roman pagan senate of the fourth century wholly opposed to rising Christianity. For the most recent conversations on the debate, see R. Lizzi Testa, ed., The Strange Death of Pagan Rome: Reflections on a Historiographical Controversy (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013). 39 Herbert Bloch, “A New Document of the Last Pagan Revival in the West,” HTR 38 (1945): 208–44; Herbert Bloch, “A Pagan Revival in the West?” in Arnaldo Momigliano, ed., The Conflict between Christians and Pagans in the Fourth Century (Oxford: Clarendon, 1964), 193–218. Alan Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome (New York: Oxford, 2011). Cameron published a much earlier short piece by the same name: Alan Cameron, “The Last Pagans of Rome,” in W. V. Harris, ed., The Transformation of Vrbs Roma in Late Antiquity, 109–21. Also see P. Brown and R. Lizzi Testa, eds., Pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire: The Breaking of a Dialogue (IVth–VIth Century AD). Proceedings of the International Conference at the Monastery of Bose (October 2008) (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction, 2011).

37

Inventing Christian Rome

interrelations in the fourth and fifth centuries was complex and protracted. For Cameron, for instance, the Christianization of the Senate had happened long before the end of Constantine’s reign in 337 CE; for Peter Brown, by contrast, this was a slow process that accelerated only in the 360s.40 Both sides produced compelling arguments. In my view, Christians were not truly at war, ideologically, with nonChristians. The problem is in fact somewhat different: it lies with our own tendency to see Rome of the fourth century as either a fraught landscape between pagans and Christians, or else a landscape of accommodation: pagans and Christians living peaceably side by side. W. V. Harris has rightly criticized this perspective: “It is all too easy,” he notes, “to convert the history of late antiquity into a team rivalry, pagan versus Christians.”41 The dominant frame for analysis here is corporate religious identity. Virtually all studies of fourth-century Rome have used this frame: we consistently divide citizens of late ancient Rome into pagan and Christian, usually to the detriment of any other sort of analytical frame. And why? Because, I think, the historiographical tradition that has explored this question derives from the Catholic Church, and it has set the terms for all subsequent examinations. What about shifting our attention away from religion in favor of some other social dialectic: rich versus poor, men versus women, locals versus foreigners? What happens when we withhold religion from our historical investigation? Or, better still, what happens if we abandon a polarizing approach to late antiquity altogether? A sensible understanding of the era, it seems to me, would arise only from restricting attention to either end of any ideological or sociological spectrum in favor of examining the vast field between the two poles. “The time has come,” declared Federico Marazzi in 2000, “to produce a model for late antique Rome that goes beyond the divisive confrontation between two polarities, the classical and the Christian.”42 Indeed. In the

Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012); see extended review of this and Cameron’s book by Kate Cooper, “The Long Shadow of Constantine,” JRS (2014): 1–13. 41 Harris, “Introduction,” 13. 42 Federico Marazzi, “Rome in Transition: Economic and Political Change in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries,” in Julia M. H. Smith, ed., Early Medieval Rome and the Christian West: Essays in Honour of Donald A. Bullough (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 40.



40

355

356

Inventing Christian Rome

seventeen years since he made this statement, progress has been well underway, particularly when we move away from examinations of Rome’s elite classes. Recent work by architectural historians gives pause to the concept of a radical urban transformation where the primary driver of change was the Christian religion.43 Seen from the perspective of this group of scholars, other practical matters drove the continuation of the city: the need to keep things functioning, for instance, or the need to bury the dead.44 There was not one rise and fall of Rome; the city continually expanded and contracted on a minor scale, like a living, breathing organism. Nicholas Purcell has investigated population shifts in and out of late antique Rome.45 In the fourth and fifth centuries, he notes, the city was not precisely shrinking; people were still coming to Rome, but they were coming under compulsion – what he terms “unfree” laborers there to press through a miserable subsistence. But the really important people in Rome were fleeing, leaving “narrow coteries of people who owed the inflation of their status to their decline in numbers.”46 These people shifted the foundation of civic support away from the traditional annona to, gradually, private charity.47 This point is key because it moves us





The bibliography is growing but should include Bryan Ward-Perkins, From Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages; L. Pani Ermini, Christiana loca. Lo spazio Cristiano nella Roma del primo millenio (Rome: Fratelli Palombi, 2000); eadem, “Forma Urbis: lo spazio urbano tra VI e IX secolo,” in Roma nell’alto medioevo. Settimane di studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’alto medioevo XLVIII (Spoleto: Presso La Sede del Centro, 2001), 255–323; R. Meneghini and R. Santangeli Valenzani, Roma nell’alto medioevo. Topografia e urbanistica della città dal V al X secolo (Rome: Libreria dello Stato, Istituto poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 2004); as well as the grander project, LTUR. 44 Marazzi, “Rome in Transition,” 21–42; Ermini, “Roma tra la fine del IV e gli inizi del V secolo,” 193–202; idem, “Santuario e città fra tarda antichità e altomedioevo,” in Santi e demoni nell’alto medioevo occidentale (secoli V–XI) (Spoleto: Presso la Sede del Centro, 1989), 837–81. On intramural burials, see R. Meneghini and R. Santangeli Valenzani, “Sepulture intramuranee e paesaggio urbano a Roma tra V e VII secolo,” in P. Delogu and L. Paroli, eds., La storia economica di Roma nell’alto medioevo alla luce dei recenti scavi archeologici (Firenze: All'insegna del giglio, 1993), 89–111. Much of this argument is in English in R. Meneghini and R. Santangeli Valenzani, “Intra-mural Burials at Rome between the Fifth and the Seventh Centuries A.D.,” in J. Pearce, M. Millett, and M. Struck, eds., Burial, Society and Context in the Roman World (Oxford: Oxbow, 2000), 263–69. 45 N. Purcell, “The Populace of Rome in Late Antiquity: Problems of Classification and Historical Description,” in W. V. Harris, ed., Transformations, 135–61. 46 Purcell, “Populace,” 146. 47 Ibid. 43

Inventing Christian Rome

away from seeing late antique Rome as primarily driven by Christian devotion (or else, perhaps more cynically, the ambitions of local bishops) as expressed through the medium of the Cult of the Saints. Rather, the primary drama was economic. The church came to replace traditional civic support structures not because of (or, primarily, to serve) the piety of the populace but because such assistance was sorely needed in the midst of economic crisis. The fifth century was particularly unkind to Rome. After the Gothic sack of 410 CE under Alaric, the nature of the urban fabric decisively changed. It was not merely the sack that devastated the city; there were also famines, earthquakes, fires, and plagues.48 The grander buildings of the Caelian were abandoned or repurposed for raising livestock, tanning, or burying the dead.49 Smaller, humbler edifices squatted in the empty shells of imperial-era buildings. The Basilica Hilariana, for example, became a small bleaching plant with artisanal workshops tucked in its edges; other public spaces gradually filled with shallow graves. The effects of the Vandal sack of 455 CE are largely unknown.50 One thing is clear, however: after this time – unlike in earlier eras – the city was unable to rebuild. Once crowded places like the Porticus Minucia lay abandoned.51 A dominant new pattern was the incursion of private individuals into what was once public, civic space. In the Forum, for instance, the Basilica Aemilia burned down in the fifth century and was never rebuilt, but small shops behind it continued on for another century.52 In other spaces in the heart of the city, there were haphazard





Jean Durliat, De la ville antique à la ville byzantine: le problème des subsistances (Rome: École Française de Rome, 1990); S. J. B. Barnish, “Pigs, Plebeians and Potentes. Rome’s Economic Hinterland c. 350–600 A.D.,” PBSR 55 (1987): 157– 86; Dionysius Stathakopoulos, Famine and Pestilence in the Late Roman and Early Byzantine Empire: A Systematic Survey of Subsistence Crises and Epidemics (New York: Routledge, 2016). 49 Spera, “Characteristics,” 126. On burials in the city during this period, see my ch. 7, xxx. See also L. Pani Ermini, “Roma da Alarico a Teoderico,” in Harris, Transformations, 40; Orlandi, “Il Colosseo nel V secolo,” 254. 50 Harris, “Introduction,” in Transformations, 11. 51 D. Manacorda, Crypta Balbi. Archeologia e storia di un paesaggio urbano (Milan: Electa, 2001), 45. 52 M. Steinby, ed., LTUR 1.186. Remarkably, parts of the basilica’s façade were still visible in the fifteenth century; see Dale Kinney, “Spoliation in Medieval Rome,” in Stefan Altekamp, Carmen Marcks-Jacobs, and Peter Seiler, eds., Perspectiven der Spolienforschung: Spoliierung und Transposition. Topoi: Berlin Studies of the Ancient World 15 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), 265.

48

357

358

Inventing Christian Rome

human burials. Procopius, on a visit in the sixth century, idly mentions cattle grazing in the forum, and watching a steer climbing on a fountain (De bello gothico 4.21.11–17). This was not colonization nor democratization of public space as much as it was an erosion of ancient barriers based on sheer human desperation and the need to survive, what Dale Kinney nicely calls “a long fade-out.”53 *** This is what Christianization really looked like: in the midst of an ­emptied-out city, Christian buildings came to inhabit this bleak, atomized landscape. The Church of Rome began to dominate, not triumphantly, but as an interstitial institution, gradually filling in the empty spaces that had appeared following the barbarian invasions.54 The fifth century is the era in which the titular churches grow in number – some (such as the titulus of Marco in the Campus Martius established in 336 CE) had existed for a while, but others were newly founded in emptiedout residential districts.55 On the Aventine, the tituli of Balbina, Prisca, and Sabina were founded only after the sack of 410 CE. Santa Prisca, sitting on top of a mithraeum that had, at that point, been abandoned, was first mentioned in the Synod of 499, along with Santa Balbina, which had previously been known as the titulus Tigridae. The great tripleaisled church of Santa Sabina was built on an empty lot abandoned after the sack. In the Campus Martius, the tituli of Lucina, Damasus, and Marcello came to join the titulus of Marco. The titulus known now as the Quattro Coronati may be as early as the fifth century, according to the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, and was perhaps the same as a titulus Aemilianae mentioned in the Synod of 499. On the lower fringe of the Palatine, the fourth-century church of Sant’Anastasia, hidden within private buildings, sat alone until joined by the sixth-century foundations of San Caesarea and Santa Maria Antiqua.56

Kinney, “Spoliation,” 264. Spera, “Characteristics,” 127. 55 L. Reekmans, “L’implantation monumentale chrétienne dans le paysage urbain de Rome de 300–850,” RAC 44 (1968): 173–207. 56 A. Augenti, “Continuity and Discontinuity of a Seat of Power: The Palatine Hill from the Fifth to the Tenth Century,” in Julia M. H. Smith, ed., Early Medieval Rome and the Christian West: Essays in Honour of Donald A. Bullough (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 49. 53

54

Inventing Christian Rome

By the end of the fifth century, each of Rome’s neighborhoods had at least one titular church, founded on top of domūs or a different sort of structure – perhaps a mithraeum, or a workshop. There is no reason to think that this layering was anything other than a practical reuse of abandoned space. Still, the logic of the tituli’s placement has captivated scholars. Was there a grand design behind it? If so, who orchestrated it? Charles Pietri argued that the tituli developed according to an elaborate papal plan aiming at the comprehensive “conversion” of the city.57 Marazzi, by contrast, suggests that tituli sprung up more or less randomly, as lay donors opened their properties for Christian meetings.58 This model, however, suggests that tensions likely emerged between urban elites and the papacy for control on a local level – certainly plausible, but in conflict with early modern Catholic visionaries who saw the Christianization of Rome as a natural evolution from private to papal foundations. There was clearly, in the fifth century, a shift in the administrative nature of the tituli. Federico Marazzi puts it this way: “In short, in the fifth century there emerged a ‘church of the city.’ But Rome was not yet a ‘city of the church.’”59 By then, most of the urban elites had become Christians and worked to establish churches throughout the city. Many of the titular churches, such as the important titulus Byzantis and Pammachii on the Caelian, had once had private foundations; in the fifth century, they might also be founded by powerful members of the clergy, such as the wealthy presbyter Peter who founded the basilica of Santa Sabina, placing Pope Celestine’s name on it rather than his own. Other churches, such as the grand, circular memorial chapel San Stefano Rotondo founded by Pope Simplicius (468–483 CE), were built on lands that were part

Charles Pietri, “Régions ecclésiastiques et paroisses romaines,” in Actes du XIe Congrès International d’Archéologie Chrétienne. Lyon, Vienne, Grenoble, Genève et Aoste, 21–28 septembre 1986 II (Vatican City, 1989), 1035–62; see also L. Duchesne, “Les regions de Rome au Moyen Age,” MEFRA 10 (1973): 126–49. Complicating matters: J. Hillner, “Le chiese paleocristiane di Roma e l’occupazione degli spazi pubblici,” in Ecclesiae Urbis, 1.321–29. 58 Marazzi, “Rome in Transition,” 36. 59 Ibid., 35.



57

359

360

Inventing Christian Rome

of imperial donations. Marazzi suggests that papal churches such as San Stefano were established according to what he calls “juridical correctness”: All the land used for the building of these churches … either already belonged to the Christian community of Rome (and apparently had done so from before the Constantinian peace), or formed part of the private patrimony of the emperor, who never appropriated public or fiscal land for this purpose.60

Under the foundations of San Stefano Rotondo, for instance, was the Castra Praetoria, razed and backfilled by the fifth century. This pattern of church buildings on top of older, imperial, secular buildings (but not, notably, Roman temples) became Rome’s new normal. Significantly, this flurry of Christian building and expansion was not triggered by the Cult of the Saints, but by the practical needs of the populace. It is during the time of Simplicius that we first hear of popes being involved in the annona, as well as in building hospices for the urban poor. As Federico Marazzi observes, in the late fifth century, “the papacy undertook a wide range of civic good works that had hitherto been among the traditional fields of aristocratic activity.”61 Only by around the year 500 CE had the church “gained sufficient status within and beyond the city of Rome,” Marazzi observes, “to enable it to act inside the city as one of the leading political players.”62 Neighborhood churches as urban centers offered much-needed social services, coming through this route rather than through the relic trade to dominate the political scene. Although churches continued to be founded and to offer significant services to Christians – not the least of which was baptism in affiliated baptisteries (a fifth-century innovation), two new Christian institutions emerged in the sixth century: the monastery, and the hospice or hostel (xenodochium).63 Both became new urban hubs. There was a vast xenodochium on the Caelian on the land held by the Christian Valerii. There was also a Xenodochium

Ibid., 23. Ibid., 38. 62 Ibid. 63 For a discussion focused more on the seventh to ninth centuries, but with some useful comments on the sixth, see Hendrik W. Dey, “Diaconiae, Xenodochia, Hospitalia, and Monasteries: ‘Social Security’ and the Meaning of Monasticism in Early Medieval Rome,” EME 16/4 (2008): 398–422. R. Santangeli Valenzani, “Pellegrini, senatori e papi. Gli xenodochia a Roma tra il V e il IX secolo,” Rivista dell’istituto nazionale d’archeologia e storia dell’arte 3/19–20 (1996–97): 203–26.

60 61

Inventing Christian Rome

Aniciorum, suggesting that one activity of the great Christian families was to provide food and shelter to those of lesser means through establishing this sort of edifice. Another xenodochium was installed in the Porticus Minucia, becoming by the time of Gregory the Great a diaconia.64 There were, by the sixth century, at least two substantial monasteries on the Caelian: San Andrea, established by Gregory the Great on an ancient domus on his lands; and San Erasmo. Not far away on the Aventine stood the monasteries of Euprepia, Bonifacio, and Saba. On the Campus Martius, there was a monastery near the baths of Agrippa, another in Largo Argentina, and two more near Crypta Balbi. The sixth century – in many ways a great era for the Catholic Church under the redoubtable Gregory – also witnessed a massive drop in population. Rome lost, astonishingly, perhaps as much as ninety percent of its population.65 The Church simply filled the vacuum. “So much property was ceded to the Church that by the end of the century,” writes Dale Kinney in her study of early medieval spoliation, “Pope Gregory I found himself with more real estate than he could put to use. Many public buildings, including the Baths of Trajan, Caracalla, and Diocletian, ceased to function and were occupied by cemeteries.”66 The monasteries, diaconiae, and xenodochia, however, were able to function as self-­ contained units – key to their survival in a turbulent era.67 This quick summary of quite recent archaeological work in Rome reflects a new way of understanding Christianization that moves away from older, more triumphalist modes.68 Andrea Augenti writes instead about the “gradual establishment of the church” in Rome’s topography, “in the least traumatic way possible from a cultic point of view.”69 This new perspective has emerged from careful research that moved from the general to the particular, as scholars work literally neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street, building by building, investigating on a microlocal level transformation and alterations to the civic fabric.70 Often

Kinney, “Spoliation,” 269. Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani, “Public and Private Space in Rome during Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages,” Fragmenta 1 (2007): 67–74. 66 Kinney, “Spoliation,” 269. 67 Spera, “Considerations,” 133. 68 See also Liverani, “Interventi urbani a Roma tra il IV e il VI secolo,” 1–31. 69 Augenti, “Continuity,” 52. 70 For some useful microstudies of individual buildings, see S. Episcopo, Il titulus Marcelli sulla via Lata. Nuovi studi e richerche archeologiche (Rome: Palombi, 2003); Gregor Kalas, “Architecture and Elite Identity in Late Antique Rome: Appropriating the Past at Sant’Andrea Catabarbara,” PBSR 81 (2013): 279–302; 64 65

361

362

Inventing Christian Rome

enough, however, even with painstaking archaeological analysis, the process of religious change, specifically, remains opaque. A building might be destroyed and another (Christian) one built in its place, but why was it destroyed in the first place? Was it dangerously old and decrepit, thus demolished for reasons ranging from the practical (safety) to the idealistic (civic beautification or revitalization)? Did Christians really take over pagan spaces in a spirit of violent triumphalism, leaving ax and hack marks in mithraea? Or had the site long been abandoned? What really went on in these spaces? Why are so many churches, seemingly, built on top of mithraea? Or, conversely, why did Christians build over many different types of buildings but not pagan temples until the beginning of the seventh century? These mysteries cannot be solved, unfortunately, from archaeology alone. They will likely not be solved anytime soon; at least, however, we can be attentive to those things that cannot be known. *** I have made the claim in this chapter that the greatest early modern invention is the very concept of a late antique Christian Rome. To be precise, however, the greatest early modern invention is the concept of a late antique Catholic Rome. When we begin to see late antique Rome from the work of Christian archaeologists – from Boldetti and Bosio, through de Rossi, and up to twentieth-century figures such as Charles Pietri and Louis Reekmans – it is already Catholic. Pietri’s Roma Christiana and Reekmans’ “L’implantation monumentale chrétienne dans le paysage urbain de Rome de 300–850” both follow the early modern Catholic conviction that more important than a Constantinian Rome was a papal Fabio Barry, “The Late Antique ‘Domus’ on the Clivus Suburanus. The Early History of Santa Lucia in Selci and the Cerroni Altarpiece in Grenoble,” PBSR 71 (2003): 111–39; Beat Brenk, “Microstoria sotto la chiesa del SS. Giovanni e Paolo. La cristianizzazione di una casa privata,” Rivista dell’Istituto nazionale d’archeologia e storia dell’arte 18 (1995): 169–205; idem, “La cristianizzazione della domus dei Valerii sul Celio,” In Harris, Transformations, 69–84. For neighborhoods, see Paolo Liverani, “Interventi” (Lateran); Augenti, “Continuity and Discontinuity” (Palatine); D. Manacorda, “Trasformazioni dell’abitato nel Campo Marzio: l’area della Porticus Minucia,” in P. Delogu and L. Paroli, eds., La storia economica di Roma nell’alto medioevo alla luce dei ricenti scavi archeologici (Florence: All’insegna del Giglio, 1993), 31–42 (Campus Martius); V. Gioia, L’Aventino, un colle classico tra antico e moderno (Rome: Istituto poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 2004) (Aventine). Relatedly, see L. Spera, “The Christianization of Space,” 23–43. The point of projects like LTUR is to do precisely this sort of meticulous mapping.

Inventing Christian Rome

Rome.71 At what point Rome’s papacy became a driving force in the city has been long debated; certainly, it was the principal aim of papal scholars to demonstrate that it had always been so. They did not do so merely to flatter their sponsors but because they believed – not without reason – that the security, stability, and authority of the papacy in their own day depended upon it. It is also the case that our best Roman Christian sources from late antiquity record the history of the Church writ large. We find a certain self-reflexive use of a small selection of sources that scholars have depended upon to reconstruct late antiquity: the Liber Pontificalis; the letters of Jerome, Gregory the Great, Leo; the medieval itineraria and gazetteers; the syllogae of Damasan inscriptions. As Jacob Latham sagely observes, “in the main a late antique history of the Roman episcopacy depends on sources generated by the episcopacy itself.”72 In this way, the study of Rome’s topography has long been recursive, tethered to the history of its bishops, as is the history of the city’s Christianization as a social process. Sources reflecting “the other side,” like the largely forgotten Libellus precum of 384 and the Collectio Avellana – still episcopal but at least occasionally reflecting the perspective of losers in episcopal contestations – have received, comparatively, much less attention from Catholic scholars.73 A useful edition of the Collectio Avellana, along with a comprehensive study, has still not appeared.74 The insistence that late antique Rome was a Catholic Christian city has driven scholarship in fascinating ways. In a recent essay, Ine Jacobs complains that scholars have paid an inordinate amount of

Charles Pietri, Roma christiana: recherches sur l’Église de Rome, son organisation, sa politique, son idéologie de Miltiade à Sixte III (311–440), 2 vols. (Rome: École Française de Rome, 1976); Reekmans, “L’implantation monumentale,” 173–207. 72 Jacob A. Latham, “From Literal to Spiritual Soldiers of Christ: Disputed Episcopal Elections and the Advent of Christian Processions in Late Antique Rome,” Church History 81/2 (2012): 298–327. 73 Libellus precum 34,121 (CCSL 69.390). 74 A project is underway at Loyola University Chicago, but in the meantime the most modern edition, by Otto Guenther, dates to 1895–98: Imperatorum Pontificum Aliorum inde ab A. CCCLXVII usque ad A. DLIII datae Avellana quae dicitur Collectio. Recensuit commentario critico instruxit, indices adiecit, Otto Guenther. Pars I – Prolegomena. Epistulae I-CIV. Pragae/Vindobonae/Lipsiae 1895. Pars II. Epistulae CV–CCXXXXIIII. Appendices. Indices. Pragae/Vindobonae/Lipsiae. CSEL 35 (1898).

71

363

364

Inventing Christian Rome

archaeological attention to prayer halls in church basilicas, because prayer is seen as the most significant activity; sometimes the rest of the church complex is not even excavated.75 Jacobs highlights other significant features of church architecture such as water features or fountains that probably served not only an aesthetic function but a practical one as well. Nevertheless, very little attention has traditionally been given to these more “secular” features of late antique architecture, with the result that aspects of Catholic practice and devotion – celebration of the liturgy, or prayer, Mass, or veneration of the martyrs – dominate our understandings of what church buildings were for, and how people behaved in and in relation to them. Similarly, in terms of martyr cult, those catacombs with martyr tombs have been more studied and supported than those without. Unsurprisingly, martyr graves are also the focus of attention of Christian archaeologists to the detriment of studying the thousands upon thousands of graves of ordinary people. Further, the perception of the catacombs as “holy” has prevented much useful scientific study on the skeletons they contain. Only limited work has been done on carbon dating or isotopic analysis of human remains, which would yield a great deal of interesting data.76



Ine Jacobs, “Holy Goals and Worldly Means. Urban Representation Elements in Church Complexes,” in Aude Busine, ed., Religious Practices and the Christianization of the Late Antique City (4th–7th cent) (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 71–114. 76 The principal exception has been the mass grave at the Catacombs of Peter and Marcellinus, investigated by a joint team from the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology and the University of Bordeaux; see Philippe Blanchard, Dominique Castex, et al., “A Mass Grave from the Catacomb of Saints Peter and Marcellinus in Rome, Second-Third Century AD,” Antiquity 81 (2007): 989–98; S. Kacki, H. Révillas, et al., “Réévaluation des arguments de simultanéité des dépôts de cadavres: l’exemple des sépultures plurielles de la catacombe des Saints Pierre-etMarcellin (Rome),” Bull. Mém. Soc. Anthropol. Paris 26 (2014): 88–97. Leonard Rutgers has also done some profitable isotopic analyses from the Catacombs of Villa Torlonia and the Catacombs of Commodilla. See Rutgers, “Catacombs and Health in Christian Rome,” in Christian Laes, Katariina Mustakallio, and Ville Vuolanto, eds., Children and Family in Late Antiquity: Life, Death and Interaction (Leuven: Peeters, 2015), 35–52; Leonard Rutgers et al., “Stable Isotope Data from the Early Christian Catacombs of Ancient Rome: New Insights in the Dietary Habits of Rome’s Early Christians,” Journal of Archaeological Science 36 (2009): 1127–34. 75

Inventing Christian Rome

Catholic historiography has not only told us where to look, it’s told us how to look – how to determine or assess Christianization, from its speed to its comprehensiveness to its doctrinal purity and simplicity. The recent wave of Christian topographical studies does much to add depth and expertise to the problem, but it is still a Catholic undertaking, conducted under the auspices of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology. Falling outside their purview are topics such as lay donors and donations in late antiquity; alternative modes of Christian behavior and performance beyond that identified as Catholic; or incidents of mixed or complicated identity (particularly Jewish-Christian intermarriage, as we have seen in Chapter 6). Much more attention has been paid to the development of Catholic ceremony, particularly the stational liturgy in Rome, than to what went on in churches or Christian homes.77 We know very little about the early liturgy, but we know that it was not performed in the funerary basilicas. Whether it was performed in the city’s titular churches – particularly in the fourth century – is also debatable, particularly because there were, in that century, only a few, and they were far enough from one another that any comprehensive program could not have been developed. Christian Rome for the fourth and fifth centuries was a wholly disparate Christianity, where what went on in one church may have borne only a passing resemblance to what went on in another church across the city. The directed gaze of early modern Catholics allows us to see only late antique Catholic Rome. On a doctrinal level, there was considerable disagreement about basic modes of being Christian. Thus there were, in Rome, not just orthodox strongholds but also Arian communities; there were Montanists, Novatianists, Priscillianists, Marcionites, and likely others – Valentinians, Donatists, Sabellians, and even groups

77

A. Chavasse, La liturgie de la ville de Rome du Ve au VIIIe siècle. Studia Anselmiana 112 (Rome: Pontificio Ateneo S. Anselmo, 1993); Sible De Blaauw, Cultus et décor: liturgia e architettura nella roma tardoantica e medievale: Basilica Salvatoris, Sanctae Mariae, Sancti Petri. 2 vols. (Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1994). De Blaauw also has a shorter article, “A Classic Question: The Origins of the Church Basilica and Liturgy,” in Olof Brandt and Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai, eds., Acta XVI Congressus Internationalis Archaeologiae Christianae (Vatican City: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 2013), 553–62; See also Mark Humphries, “Liturgy and Laity in Late-Antique Rome: Problems, Sources, and Social Dynamics,” Studia Patristica 71 (2014): 171–86; Olof Brandt, “The Archaeology of Roman Ecclesial Architecture and the Study of Early Christian Liturgy,” Studia Patristica 71 (2014): 21–52.

365

366

Inventing Christian Rome

with no clear name.78 Epiphanius mentions Marcionites (Pan. 42.1.2) and Sabellians (Pan. 62.1) active in Rome in his day; Novatianists were protected in the fourth century because of their resistance to Arianism (Socrates, His. Ecc. 7.10), before being persecuted by Pope Celestine.79 The Manichaeans were particularly despised, although they, too, were present in Rome.80 Just because these groups were harder to see from later Catholic historiography, we have no right to imagine their absence from a multicultural, multiethnic Roman civic population. As Harry Maier noted in his excellent article on the matter, “there was also a heterodox topography in Rome.”81 Various decrees and imperial legislation were designed to curb “heretical” Christianity: Maier reminds us of an imperial letter published in Rome in 391 CE, ordering that “the polluted contagions of the heretics should be expelled from the cities and driven forth from the villages” (Cod. Theod. 16.5.20). Another law addressed to Felix, prefect of Rome in 398 CE, targeted Jovinian and his followers (Cod. Theod. 16.5.53). A decree of 407 CE condemned Manichaeans, Donatists, and either Phyrgians or Priscillianists (Cod. Theod. 16.5.40).82 Also visible on Rome’s horizons were supporters of Pelagius and Rufinus, along with various unsanctioned monastic conventicles.83 “Early Christian Rome,” remarks the ever-wise Jas´ Elsner, “was a crucible in which the argument for a united church overcoming a resilient pagan establishment … was itself the cover for a prolonged and internal Christian dispute about episcopacy and control.”84 I would agree except to add that this argument was not so much late antique as it was early modern. The perception of Christian triumph over paganism at Rome mattered deeply in the nineteenth century. In late antiquity, I would argue that Christians in





These groups are what L. Duchesne termed “Little Churches” of Rome; see L. Duchesne, Early History of the Christian Church (London, 1931), 2.366; Harry O. Maier, “The Topography of Heresy and Dissent in Late-Fourth-Century Rome,” Historia 44/2 (1995): 232–49, and chapter two, “Rewiring the Sacred Circuit”. 79 Maier, “Topography,” 234, n. 10. 80 See persecution by Siricius in LP 1. p. 216; Cod.Theod. 16.5.18 (Rome, 389 CE). 81 Maier, “Topography,” 234. 82 Maier, “Topography,” 235; Cod.Theod. 16.5.53 (Milan, 398 CE). 83 Maier, “Topography,” 236; see P. Brown, “Pelagius and his Supporters: Aims and Environment,” in Religion and Society in the Age of Saint Augustine (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1972), 183–207. 84 J. Elsner, “Inventing Christian Rome. The Role of Early Christian Art,” in C. Edwards and G. Woolf, eds., Rome the Cosmopolis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 75. 78

Inventing Christian Rome

Rome were far more involved with local skirmishes than with presenting a picture of their religion conquering paganism. On a political level, there is no question that late antique Rome was riven with Christian factionalism.85 On the one hand, there existed a resolutely imperial Christianity, which shifted doctrinally according to the inclinations and beliefs of the emperors themselves; whether an emperor was Arian or Nicene played out across Rome’s landscape, as individual popes or other members of the clergy were alternately supported or exiled. And then, in Rome, there was clear neighborhood factionalism that erupted periodically into spasmodic and frightening violence. In an incisive article, Jacob Latham asserts that throughout the fourth century, the bodies of saints divided up territory in a way that was part of the adversarial Christian factionalism of the day.86 Far from following the ethereal lines of a martyrial sacred circuit, he argues, Christians carved up the city according to local alliances. The instruments of such butchery were sticks and clubs, not censers and bones. Mob factions ensconced themselves at martyrial sites, not because they especially venerated the martyrs there, but because of more practical concerns such as land holdings and imperial support. The clearest example is the embedding of the supporters of Damasus’ rivals Ursinus and Liberius at the complex of Sant’Agnese fuori le mura; there is every reason to imagine they chose the site because of its imperial connections rather than anything to do with venerating Agnes.87 When, later, Damasus emerged victorious from the fray, his public support for the cult of Agnese and the erection of one of his famous elogia at her tomb, the point he wished to make was not merely that Agnes was there, but that he had conquered more territory, “converting” it to a more proper or licit monepiscopacy. Examinations such as Latham’s help us to redraw Rome’s “Catholic” landscape. “From the fourth until the mid-sixth century, then,” Latham writes, “the Christian contestation of space among rival Christian groups could only take the form, at least rhetorically if not actually, of bloody conflict.”88 Latham’s observation that the fourth- and fifth-century

H. A. Drake, “Intolerance, Religious Violence, and Political Legitimacy in Late Antiquity,” JAAR 79/1 (2011): 193–235. See also John Curran, Pagan City and Christian Capital: Rome in the Fourth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). 86 Latham, “Processions.” 87 The conflict is well known and well recorded. Original source: Collectio Avellana 1.1–12. See Latham, “Processions,” esp. 324; Maijestina Kahlos, “Vettius Agorius Praetextatus and the Rivalry between the Bishops in Rome in 366–367,” Arctos 31 (1997): 41–54. 88 Latham, “Processions,” 324. 85

367

368

Inventing Christian Rome

city was not one of holy martyrs but spontaneous and ugly ecclesiastical brawls complicates the sacred-profane boundary, particularly when clashing factions spilt blood on the streets and, indeed, on the very territory of “sacred” sanctuaries. It also makes sense of the distinctive language of Damasus’ elogia, which rarely mention the corpse of the martyr in positive and intimate terms, but which are replete with martial imagery. “This overwhelming use of military language suggest that from the mid-fourth to the mid-sixth century,” Latham writes, “the spatial strategies and behaviors of the Christian church, as presented by its various officials, were best understood as occupation and war. Various protagonists occupied, held, and barricaded themselves in churches or cemeteries, which were advanced upon, charged at, and invaded.”89 Again, it must be clear: the Church was not the sole institution that used violence to settle disputes; this was the way of the city, and Christians simply drew upon a particular, fractious vocabulary of civic dissert in a world where resorting to clubs and rocks was perhaps more common than we might imagine. Let me return briefly to the issue of mapping religious change. I have critiqued approaches to late antique Rome that emphasize only a Christian topographical overlay of the late antique city – those maps that signal the Christian implantation of tituli and basilicas, martyr shrines, and pilgrimage spots, but without properly mapping the dialectical relationship with other modes of late antique religious activity, which still took place to a greater or lesser degree until the sixth century. My second critique of many maps is that they present “Christianization” as a relatively simple process of replacement of one religious tradition – “paganism” – with another. This simplification suggests that Christianity was unified in vision and praxis. Rather, as we have seen, the “rise” of Christianity in the city was riven with factionalism expressed on various levels: social, doctrinal, political, practical. There was far more going on “on the ground” than a simple case of city-wide change in religious allegiances from pagan to Christian. This process of Christian colonization of space, bound up in ­internecine strife, is largely lost when we consider modern maps of Rome’s Christianization, such as those included in virtually all articles on the topic. We might consider a very good one, by Letitia



Ibid., 325.

89

Inventing Christian Rome

Pani Ermini, reproduced also by Lucrezia Spera. It is not a map of Christianization, precisely, but a map of Christian sites. It nicely distinguishes between different types of Christian institutions, including titular churches, diaconiae, and monasteries. It also at least places Christian buildings in some sort of general relationship with major, preexisting buildings such as the Colosseum or the Castra Praetoria. But it does not tell us much about which buildings were still being used. It also offers a very long timeline – Christian buildings up until the ninth century – thus producing the impression that Rome in the ninth century looked more or less like Rome in the fourth century, at least in terms of general contours. Perhaps more useful, then, is a similar map also published by Lucrezia Spera in an article published in Italian.90 It reworks a map by the ­prominent Christian archaeologist Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai, which in turn was based on data compiled in Louis Reekmans. This map also uses color-coding but divides the time period 384–882 CE into five sequential eras. This solves the problem of too broad a time frame. It also pulls back to allow us to see Rome’s suburban Christian sites, but to the detriment of useful detail inside the city walls. In Chapter 2, I considered the case of an earlier variant of these maps, including a minor critique of it and of the mapping endeavor in general: maps divert our attention from reality to a fictive late antique Rome; the sites marked reflect, for instance, a normative proto-Catholicism. I return to the topic here, in this final chapter, to suggest that we leave these maps behind us. We might consider instead the fascinating possibilities offered by alternate conceptual maps based on information that has previously been considered unimportant to the Catholic scholars who have composed them. One such map might show, for instance, a division into districts, sites, shrines, and sites “sacred” to different Christian factions, showing considerable local variations in both practice and authority, more Harnack than de Rossi.91 Did Valentinians in Rome have sacred sites? Certainly groups like the Novatianists did, and the Montanists appear to have congregated at two martyrial c­ emeteries on the Via Aurelia: the shrine of Processus and Martinianus and the



Spera, “Le forme,” 314. Adolf von Harnack, Mission and Expansion of Christianity, trans. and ed. J. Moffatt, 2 vols. (London: Williams and Norgate, 1908).

90 91

369

370

Inventing Christian Rome

cemeterial complex dedicated to San Pancrazio.92 This map would more realistically depict the fissile world of late antique ecclesiastical Rome, while sacrificing the model of unity and monarchical authority upon which the Damasus-centered conceptual maps are built. We might also draw up a map that provides a fuller picture of the Roman suburbs that included other installations besides the great urban Christian cemeteries, from bathhouses, private villas, and their mausolea, to farms and industrial lands. Again, this map would lack the specific “cone of vision” that a Catholic, Damasus-centered map imposes upon a diverse landscape, one by no means devoid of human activity separate from the veneration of dead human beings. In essence, this is the sort of work that the great LTUR: Suburbium project has been working to accomplish, yet as a resource it is fairly obscure and difficult to find. Yet another map might include contemporaneous non-Christian “sacred space,” both within and outside Rome’s walls. No map of late antique Christian Rome shows the correlation between Christian sites and, say, Mithraic sites, still flourishing in the late fourth century. Such a map would disrupt the myth of Christianization in fourth-century Rome, giving a more proportional perspective on traditional cults that continued to thrive well into the period when we are told they were in decline. *** The final invention of early modern scholars is that late antique Rome was a city. The city that it was, in the fourth century, was a city about to experience nothing short of urban death. The population dropped precipitously in the fifth century and was literally drained of its inhabitants by the sixth century. The walls held for a while; thirty-four new guard towers were added after 410 CE. But after the second sack, the walls ceased to be a meaningful division of “urban” versus “extra-urban.”93



The Novatian catacombs on the Via Tiburtina are well preserved and published in ICUR 7, 480–513. For the martyrium of Processus and Marcianus see the account of Praedestinatus 1.86 (PL 13.646–7) and Maier, “Topography,” 248; for Pancrazio as a Montanist site, see W. Tabbernee, Montanist Inscriptions and Testimonia: Epigraphic Sources Illustrating the History of Montanism (Mercer, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997); A. Ferrua, “Di una communità montanista sull’Aurelia alle fine del IV secolo,” La Civiltà Cattolica 2 (1936): 218–27. 93 R. Coates-Stephens, “The Walls and Aqueducts of Rome in the Early Middle Ages, AD 500–1000,” JRS 88 (1998): 166–78. 92

Inventing Christian Rome

371

Gisella Cantino Wataghin offers evocative words on what was to become of Rome after the sixth century. “The seventh century does not use the word urbs any more except in very special contexts.”94 Isidore of Seville, she reminds us, used two conceptual models to describe the ancient city: as a place, and as a body. By the seventh century, she notes, Rome was neither of these things; it had contracted into “settlements scattered like leopard-spots.”95 These spots centered around churches in what had been the center of the city and cemetery churches in the periphery. People buried their dead in these churches not because they wanted them to be close to the saints, but because this was, in Rome, where civilization had retracted. In these walled and fortified compounds, with their monasteries and xenodochia, there still existed access to lifegiving provisions and protection. Rome had become the Church – but this contraction around the bodies of the saints had nothing to do with the Cult of the Saints, but to a maelstrom of historical forces (“uncontrolled and unruly motion,” to use the language for deurbanization that Cantino Wataghin uses) that had brought a once-proud and distinctive city to its knees. In this new landscape of scattered settlements – a “polycentric urban system” – it was not so much that Christianization happened or triumphed, but that civilization continued on in little hot spots. *** From an archaeological point of view, our vision of late antique Rome has traditionally been restricted by a very sharp alternation of shadow and light. The shadow was in a sense the declining classical city, devoid of any real functions as a result of what happened in the period between the victory of Constantine over Maxentius and the transfer of the main imperial residence from the old to the new Rome, i.e., Constantinople, which came into being as a capital with a strongly asserted Christian identity. The light was the new Christian identity of the old Rome, established by the foundation of the cathedral at the Lateran and the martyrial sanctuaries in the suburbium.96



G. Cantino Wataghin, “Ideology,” 155. Ibid., 154. 96 Marazzi, “Rome in Transition,” 22. 94 95

372

Inventing Christian Rome

Was late antique Rome a city of light? Was it all about the martyrial sanctuaries? Or was it more complicated than the binary of light and shadow? One might well ask how the internal, internalized map of “lived Rome” differed from the “imagineered” map of early modern Catholic archaeologists, and what part the saints and martyrs of the city played in that world. Late antique Christianity in Rome was not relics and the Cult of the Saints. It was not crowds of pilgrims to martyr shrines. It was not dining and toasting the dead at capacious outdoor triclia. Well, it was some of that. But it was also but one religious option out of many in the fourth century. It was a series of household meetings; a neighborhood celebration or a massive brawl over what bishop was in charge of whom; an immersion into a baptismal pool in a crowded urban clutch of apartments and industrial buildings; a prayer uttered, or a vow fulfilled. To be “Christian” was not to take on a subsuming identity; it was but one of many possible civic identities for a variety of Romans who were used to playing multiple civic roles.97 In the midst of this multiplicity of Christian forms, buildings, and individual identities, the Cult of the Saints was but one such form. It was not “late antique Christianity” tout court. It was an extra-Roman set of practices that one could certainly find in the city, but it was far from the engine that drove late antique Roman Christian piety. Indeed – there was never a single engine. What people did as Christians depended on innumerable variables – shaped by era, custom, habit, accessibility, convenience, fear, love, hopelessness, social class, gender, the desire to conform, the desire to be different. We don’t know what percentage of those who became Christian did so by choice rather than by compulsion. Was Christianness a vocation, or an accident of birth? Would ordinary people have heard of the shrine of Protus and Hyacinth established by Damasus? Cared about Saint Agnes? What else did they do, if not spending all their time at the shrines of the saints, adoring bones and trafficking relics? There is no simple answer to this question. I have not written much in this book about the ordinary citizens of late antique Rome and what they believed; that is a subject for another time. This is a book about space, place, and process. It is,



For an outstanding comparative example from North Africa, see Éric Rebillard, Christians and their Many Identities in Late Antiquity, North Africa, 200–450 CE (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012).

97

Inventing Christian Rome

I hope, about developing different ways of seeing late antique Rome. Here I agree profoundly with Federico Marazzi, when he tells us that the key to understanding late antique Rome is complexity.98 If Christianization of the individual is erroneously seen as a new, totalizing identity, we also make the mistake of making Christian Rome a totalizing identity. Rome could be Christian at one moment and not at another – temporally, for instance, at the celebration of Agnes’ feast on one day and the Saturnalia on another. Rome could be Christian in one place – Jerome’s friend Marcella’s house on the Aventine as she and her friends gathered to pray and read scripture – and pagan in another – at the mithraeum next door, where other friends and neighbors feasted in honor of Mithras. Romans, I imagine, had little difficulty in negotiating such complexity. A new use for Christian topography is not to map the “Christianization” of Rome, but to help us to develop a sensitivity to what archaeologist Luke Lavan nicely terms “a human spatial narrative for late antiquity.”99 Richard Lim offers us something similar: Rome’s topography was constituted, he writes, “by the interactions between particular practices and imaginative structures, and by specific patterns or modalities of temporal and spatial use.”100 Within that spatial narrative, we might take a hint from Bernard Lahire: human beings are plural actors, and from Michel de Certeau: each individual may negotiate and mobilize multiple identities to navigate the city. The identity “Christian” was not totalizing but could be activated or invoked within a particular spatial context: within the home, within a titular church, at a cemetery. At any rate, we do a certain violence to formative Roman Christianity when we make it locative. We must not make the mistake of fixing holiness in the landscape. Romans did not. Numerous tombstones speak to the translation of the dead to a new heavenly realm; even Damasus’ saints shine down from elsewhere. Late antique Roman Christians had their world securely on earth, but they were also citizens of heaven. Theirs was a translocative community, held together by the universalizing power of scripture, of baptism, and a sure belief in a future or other world.

Marazzi, “Rome in Transition,” 22. L. Lavan, “The Political Topography of the Late Antique City: Activity Spaces in Practice,” Late Antique Archaeology 1/1 (2003): 331. 100 Lim, “People as Power,” 265–66. 98

99

373

Bibliography

Alchermes, J. D. Cura pro mortuis and cultus martyrum: Commemoration in Rome from the Second through the Sixth Century. Ann Arbor: UME Dissertation Services, 1989. Alchermes, J. D. “Petrine Politics: Pope Symmachus and the Rotunda of St. Andrew at Old St. Peter’s.” Catholic Historical Review 81/1 (1995): 1–40. Alduc-Le Bagousse, A., ed. Inhumations de prestige ou prestige de l’inhumation? Expression du pouvoir dans l’au-delà (IV e–XVe siècle). Table ronde du CRAHM 4. Caen: CRAHM, Université de Caen Basse-Normandie, 2009. Alexander, L. “Mapping Early Christianity.” Interpretation 57/2 (2003): 163–75. Alföldi, A. The Conversion of Constantine and Pagan Rome. Trans. Harold Mattingly. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1948. Allara, A. “Corpus et cadaver, la ‘gestion’ d’un nouveau corpus.” In F. Hinard, ed. La mort au quotidian dans le monde Romain, 69–79. Paris: De Voccard, 1995. Amore, A. “S. Valentino di Roma o di Terni?” Antonianum 41 (1966): 260–77. Amore, A. I Martiri di Roma. Todi: Tau, 2013. Ando, C. “The Palladium and the Pentateuch: Towards a Sacred Topography of the Later Roman Empire.” Phoenix 55/3–4 (2001): 369–410. Angerstorfer, A. “Antike jüdische Grabinschriften aus christlicher Zeit (ca. 100–500 n. Chr.). Spuren von Hoffnung auf eine Auferstehung der Toten und die ‘kommende Welt.’” In J. Dresken-Weiland, A. Angerstorfer, and A. Merkt, eds. Himmel – Paradies – Schalom: Tod und Jenseits in antiken christlichen und jüdischen Grabinschriften. Handbuch zur Geschichte des Todes im frühen Christentum und seiner Umwelt 1, 277–386. Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner, 2012. Appollonj Ghetti, B. M., et al. “Nuove indagini sulla basilica di S. Valentino.” RAC 25 (1949): 171–89.

375

376

Bibliography Appollonj Ghetti, B. M., et al. Esplorazioni sotto la Confessione di San Pietro in Vaticano: esuguite negli anni 1940–1949, 2 vols. Vatican City: Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1951. Arbeiter, A. Alt St. Peter in Geschichte und Wissenschaft: Abfolge der Bauten, Rekonstruktion, Architekturprogramm. Berlin: Mann, 1988. Armellini, M. Gli antichi cimiteri cristiani di Roma e d’Italia, III. Rome: Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1893. Arnold, C. Necropolis: London and Its Dead. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006. Ashby, T., and G. Lugli. “La Villa dei Flavi Cristiani ‘ad duas lauros’ e il suburbano imperiale ad oriente di Roma.” Atti della Pontificia Accademia Romana di Archeologia: Memorie 2 (1928): 157–92. Augenti, A. “Roma: l’età tardoantica.” Enciclopedia dell’arte, classica e orientale, secondo supplemento 1971–94. 5 vols. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana fondata da Giovanni Treccani, 1994–1997. Augenti, A. “Iacere in Palatio. Le sepulture alto medievali del Palatino.” In Gian P. Brogiolo and G. Cantino Wataghin, eds. Sepolture tra IV e VIII secolo, 115–22. Mantua: SAP, 1998. Augenti, A. “Continuity and Discontinuity of a Seat of Power: The Palatine Hill from the Fifth to the Tenth Century.” In Julia M. H. Smith, ed. Early Medieval Rome and the Christian West: Essays in Honour of Donald A. Bullough, 43–54. Leiden: Brill, 2000. Baciocchi, S., and C. Duhamelle, eds. Reliques Romaines: invention et circulation des corps saints des catacombes à l’époque modèrne. Rome: École Française de Rome, 2016. Backus, I. Historical Method and Confessional Identity in the Era of the Reformation, 1378–1615. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Baldovin, J. F. The Urban Character of Christian Worship: The Origins, Development, and Meaning of Stational Liturgy. Roma: Pontificium Institutum Studiorum Orientalium, 1987. Barag, D. “A Jewish Gold-Glass Medallion from Rome.” Israel Exploration Journal 20 (1970): 99–103. Barclay-Lloyd, J. “Krautheimer and S. Paolo fuori le Mura: Architectural, Urban and Liturgical Planning in Late Fourth Century Rome.” In F. Guidobaldi and A. G. Guidobaldi, eds. Ecclesiae urbis: atti del Congresso internazionale di studi sulle chiese di Roma (IV–X secolo), Roma, 4–10 settembre 2000, vol. 1, 11–24. Vatican City: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 2002. Barclay-Lloyd, J. “The Church and Monastery of S. Pancrazio, Rome.” In F. Andrews, C. Eggers, and C. M. Rousseau, eds. Pope, Church and City: Essays in Honor of Brenda M. Bolton, 245–66. Leiden: Brill, 2004. Bardy, G. “Pélérinages à Rome vers la fin du IVe siècle.” Analecta Bollandiana 67 (1949): 224–35.

Bibliography Barker, E. R. Rome of the Pilgrims and Martyrs: A Study in the Martyrologies, Itineraries, Syllogae, & Other Contemporary Documents. London: Methuen & Co., 1913. Barnes, T. Constantine and Eusebius. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981. Barnish, S. J. B. “Pigs, Plebeians and Potentes: Rome’s Economic Hinterland c. 350–600 A.D.” PBSR 55 (1987): 157–86. Barnish, S. J. B. “Transformation and Survival of the Western Senatorial Aristocracy, ca. A.D. 400–700.” PBSR 56 (1988): 120–55. Barnish, S. J. B. “Religio in Stagno: Divinity, and the Christianization of the Countryside in Late Antique Italy.” JECS 9/3 (2001): 347–402. Barry, F. “‘Pray to Thy Father Which Is in Secret’: The Tradition of Coretti, Romitorii, and Lanfranco’s Hermit Cycle at the Palazzo Farnese.” In J. Imorde et al., eds. Barocke Inszenierung, 191–221. Emsdetten: Edition Imorde, 1999. Barry, F. “The Late Antique ‘Domus’ on the Clivus Suburanus, the Early History of Santa Lucia in Selci, and the Cerroni Altarpiece in Grenoble.” PBSR 71 (2003): 111–39. Baruffa, A. The Catacombs of St. Callixtus: History, Archaeology, Faith, 4th ed. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1991. Baruffa, A. Giovanni Battista De Rossi: L’archeologo esploratore delle catacombe. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994. Bastianensen, A. A. R. “Ecclesia martyrum.” In M. Mamberigts and P. van Deun, eds. Martyrium in Multidisciplinary Perspective: Memorial Louis Reekmans, 333–50. Leuven: Peeters, 1995. Bauckham, R. “The Martyrdom of Peter in Early Christian Literature.” ANRW II.26.1 (1992): 554–8. Baumgarten, P. M. G. B. De Rossi, fondatore della scienza di archaeologia sacra. Rome: Tipografia della Pace di FilippoCuggiani, 1892. Beard, M., J. North, and S. R. F. Price. Religions of Rome. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Bellelli, G. M. “Les sanctuaires de Iuppiter Dolicheus à Rome.” In G. M. ­Bellelli and U. Bianchi, eds. Orientalia sacra urbis Romae. Dolichena et Heliopolitana. Recueil d’études archéologiques et historico-religieuses sur les cultes ­cosmopolites d’origine commagénienne et syrienne, 306–31. Rome, 1996. Bender, B. “Place and Landscape.” In C. Tilley, W. Keane, S. Küchler, M. Rowlands, and P. Spyer, eds. Handbook of Material Culture, 303–14. London: SAGE, 2006. Bernt, G. Das lateinische Epigramm im Ubergang von der Spätantike zum frühen Mittelalter. Munich: Arbeo Gesellschaft, 1968. Bertonière, G. The Cult Center of the Martyr Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina. Oxford: B.A.R, 1985.

377

378

Bibliography Birch, D. Pilgrimage to Rome in the Middle Ages: Continuity and Change. Woodbridge, Suffolk; Rochester: Boydell Press, 1998. Bjørnebye, J. “ ‘Hic locus est felix, sanctus, piusque benignus’: The Cult of Mithras in Fourth-century Rome.” 2007 PhD dissertation, University of Bergen, Norway. Blair-Dixon, K. “Damasus and the Fiction of Unity: The Urban Shrines of Saint Lawrence.” In F. Guidobaldi and A. Guidobaldi, eds. Ecclesiae Urbis: Atti del Congresso internazionale di studi sulle chiese di Roma (IV-X secolo); Roma, 4–10 settembre 2000, 331–52. Studi di antichità Cristiana 59. Vatican City: Pontificio Istituto de Archeologica Cristiana, 2002. Blair-Dixon, K. “Memory and Authority in Sixth-century Rome: The Liber Pontificalis and the Collectio Avellana.” In K. Cooper and J. Hillner, eds. Religion, Dynasty, and Patronage in Early Christian Rome, 300–900, 59–76. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Bloch, H. “A New Document of the Last Pagan Revival in the West.” HTR 38 (1945): 208–44. Bloch, H. “A Pagan Revival in the West?” In A. Momigliano, ed. The Conflict Between Christians and Pagans in the Fourth Century, 193–218. Oxford: Clarendon, 1964. Bockmuehl, M. “Peter’s Death in Rome? Back to Front and Upside Down.” Scottish Journal of Theology 60/1 (2007): 1–23. Bodel, J. “Graveyards and Groves. A Study of the Lex Lucerina.” American Journal of Ancient History 11 (1986): 1–33. Bodel, J. “Death on Display: Looking at Roman Funerals.” In B. Bergmann and C. Kondoleon, eds. The Art of Ancient Spectacle, 258–81. Studies in the History of Art 56. Washington, DC: The National Gallery of Art, 1999. Bodel, J. “Dealing with the Dead: Undertakers, Executioners and Potter’s Fields.” In V. Hope and E. Marshall, eds. Death and Disease in the Ancient City, 128–51. London: Routledge, 2000. Bodel, J. “From Columbaria to Catacombs: Communities of the Dead in Pagan and Christian Rome.” In L. Brink and D. Greene, eds. Roman Burial and Commemorative Practices in Earliest Christianity, 177–242. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 2001. Boin, D. “Late Antique Ostia and a Campaign for Pious Tourism: Epitaphs for Bishop Cyriacus and Monica, Mother of Augustine.” JRS 100 (2010a): 195–209. Boin, D. “A Hall for Hercules at Ostia and a Farewell to a Late Antique ‘Pagan Revival’.” AJA 114/3 (2010b): 253–66. Boldetti, M. A. Osservazioni sopra i cimiterj de’santi martiri ed antichi cristiani di Roma. Rome, 1720. Bond, S. “Mortuary Workers, the Church, and the Funeral Trade in Late Antiquity.” JLA 6/1 (2013): 135–51.

Bibliography Booth, A. “The Chronology of Jerome’s Early Years.” Phoenix 35/3 (1980): 237–59. Bordieu, P. “The Forms of Capital.” In J. G. Richardson, ed. Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, 241–258. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1986. Borg, B. E. “What’s in a Tomb? Roman Death Public and Private.” In J. Andreu, D. Espinosa, and S. Pastor, eds. Mors omnibus instat. Aspectos arqueologicos, epigrificos y rituals de la muerte en el Occidente Romano, 51–78. Madrid: Liceus, 2011. Borg, B. E. Crisis and Ambition: Tombs and Burial Customs in Third-Century CE Rome. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Borys, A. M. “Number, Spoils, and Relics: Totemic Images in a Mnemotopia.” Journal of Architectural Education 54/1 (2000): 28–34. Bosio, A. Roma Sotterranea: Opera Postuma. Rome, 1632. Bowersock, G. B. “Peter and Constantine.” In J.-M. Carrié and R. Lizzi Testa, eds. “Humana Sapit.” Études d’antiquité tardive offertes à Lellia Cracco Ruggini, 209–17. Bibliothèque de l’antiquité tardive 3. Turnhout: Brepols, 2002. Bowes, K. “Early Christian Archaeology: A State of the Field.” Religion Compass 2/4 (2008): 575–619. Boyer, P. Religion Explained. The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York: Basic Books, 2001. Brandenburg, H. Ancient Churches of Rome from the Fourth to the Seventh Century: The Dawn of Christian Architecture in the West. Trans. Andreas Kropp. Turnhout: Brepols, 2005. Brandt, O. “Jews and Christians in Late Antique Rome and Ostia: Some aspects of Archaeological and Documentary Evidence.” Opuscula Romana 29 (2004): 7–27. Brandt, O. “The Archaeology of Roman Ecclesial Architecture and the Study of Early Christian Liturgy.” Studia Patristica 71 (2014): 21–52. Branham, J. R. “Sacred Space Under Erasure in Ancient Synagogues and Early Churches.” The Art Bulletin 74/3 (1992): 375–94. Branham, J. R. “Mapping Sacrifice on Bodies and Spaces in Late-Antique Judaism and Early Christianity.” In B. Wescoat and R. G. Ousterhout, eds. Architecture of the Sacred: Space, Ritual, and Experience from Classical Greece to Byzantium, 201–30. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Brenk, B. “Microstoria sotto la chiesa del SS. Giovanni e Paolo. La cristianizzazione di una casa privata.” Rivista dell’Istituto nazionale d’archeologia e storia dell’arte 18 (1995): 169–205. Brenk, B. “La cristianizzazione della domus dei Valerii sul Celio.” In W. V. Harris, ed. The Transformations of Vrbs Roma in Late Antiquity, 69–84. Portsmouth: Journal of Roman Archaeology, 1999. Brent, A. Hippolytus and the Church of Rome in the Third Century. Communities in Tension Before the Emergency of a Monarch-Bishop. Leiden: Brill, 1995.

379

380

Bibliography Brent, A. “Was Hippolytus a Schismatic?” VC 49 (1995): 215–44. Brown, P. “Aspects of the Christianization of the Roman Aristocracy.” JRS 51 (1961): 1–11. Brown, P. “Pelagius and His Supporters: Aims and Environment.” In P. Brown, ed. Religion and Society in the Age of Saint Augustine, 183–207. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1972. Brown, P. The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. Brown, P. Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982. Brown, P. “Enjoying the Saints in Late Antiquity.” EME 9 (2001): 1–24. Brown, P. Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012. Brown, P. and R. L. Testa, eds. Pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire: The Breaking of a Dialogue (IVth-VIth Century AD): Proceedings of the International Conference at the Monastery of Bose (October 2008). Piscataway: Transaction, 2011. Bruni, S. “La via Appia Antica. Gli scavi tra Settecento e Ottocento.” In A. La Regina, D. Morandi, and S. Bruni, eds. Via Appia. Sulle ruine della magnificenza Antica, 23–34. Milan: Leonardo Arte, 1997. Buchheit, V. “Christliche Romideologie im Laurentius-hymnus des Prudentius.” In P. Sirth, ed. Polychronion: Festschrift Franz Dölger zum 75. Geburtstag, 121–44. Heidelberg: Winter, 1966. Buddensieg, T. “Le coffret en ivoire de Pola, Saint-Pierre et le Latran.” Cahiers Archéologiques 10 (1959): 157–200. Buonarroti, F. Osservazioni sopra alcuni frammenti di vasi antichi di vetro ornate di figure trovati ne’ cimiteri di Roma. Florence, 1716. Burgess, R. W. “The Chronograph of 354: Its Contents, Manuscripts, and History.” JLA 5/2 (2012): 345–96. Busine, A., ed. Religious Practices and the Christianization of the Late Antique City (4th – 7th cent). Leiden: Brill, 2015. Butler, J. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex.” New York: Routledge, 1993. Caldelli, M. L. “Forgeries Carved in Stone.” In Krister Bruun and Jonathan Edmonson, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Roman Epigraphy, 48–54. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Caldwell, D. and L. Caldwall, eds. Rome: Continuing Encounters Between Past and Present. Burlington: Ashgate, 2011. Cameron, A. “The Last Pagans of Rome.” In W. V. Harris, ed. The Transformation of Vrbs Roma in Late Antiquity, 109–21. Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Studies Supplementary Series, 1999. Cameron, A. The Last Pagans of Rome. New York: Oxford, 2011.

Bibliography Cameron, A. The Later Roman Empire: AD 284–430. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993. Campbell, I. “The New St. Peter’s: Basilica or Temple?” Oxford Art Journal 4/1 (1981): 3–8. Cantino Wataghin, G. “The Ideology of Urban Burials.” In G. P. Brogiolo and B. Ward-Perkins, eds. The Idea and Ideal of the Town between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, 147–80. Leiden: Brill, 1999. Cantino Wataghin, G., J. M. Gurt Esparraguera, and J. Goyon. “Topografia della civitas cristiana tra IV e VI sec.” In G.-P. Brogiolo, ed. Early Medieval Towns in the Western Mediterranean, Ravello, 22–24 September 1994, 17–41. Mantova: Editrice S.A.P, 1996. Capitelli, G. “L’archeologia Cristiana al servizio di Pio IX: ‘la catacombe in facsimile’ di Giovanni Battista De Rossi all’Esposizione Universale di Parigi del 1867.” In A. Coscarella and P. De Santis, eds. Martiri, santi, patroni: per una archeologia della devozione. Atti X Congresso Nazionale di Archeologia Cristiana, Università della Calabria, 15–18 settembre 2010, 555–66. Calabria: Università della Calabria, 2012. Cappelletti, S. The Jewish Community of Rome: From the Second Century BC to the Third Century CE. Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 113. Leiden: Brill, 2006. Carcopino, J. Études d’histoire chrétienne: Le christianisme secret du carré magique [et] les fouilles de Saint-Pierre et la tradition. Paris: A. Michel, 1953. Carletti, C. Iscrizione cristiane inedite del cimitero di Bassilla “Ad S. Hermetem.” Rome: Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1976. Carletti, C. Damasus und die römischen Martyrer: anno Damasi saeculari XVI. Vatican City: Pontificia commissione di archeologia sacra, 1986. Carletti, C. “‘Scrivere i santi’: Epigrafia del pelegrinaggio a Roma nei secoli VII-IX.” In Roma fra oriente e occidente, Settimane di studio del centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo 49, 323–60. Spoleto: Centro italiano di studi sull’alto Medioevo, 2002. Carletti, C. Epigrafia dei cristiani in Occidente dal III al VII secolo: ideologia e prassi. Bari: Edipuglia, 2008. Carletti, S. Guida della Catacomba di San Callisto. Vatican City, 1981. Carroll, M. Spirits of the Dead. Roman Funerary Commemoration in Western Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Carruthers, M. The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400–1200. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Caseau, B. “Sacred Landscapes.” In G. W. Bowersock, P. Brown, and O. Grabar, eds. Interpreting Late Antiquity: Essays on the Postclassical World, 21–59. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001.

381

382

Bibliography Castagnoli, F. Il Vaticano nell’antichità classica. Vatican City: Biblioteca apostolica vaticana, 1992. Cecchelli, M. “Scavi e scoperte di archeologia cristiana a Roma dal 1983 al 1993.” In E. Russo ed. Atti del VII Congresso Nazionale di Archeologia Cristiana I, Cassino 20–24 settembre 1992, 335–56. Cassino: Università degli Studi di Cassino, 2003. Chadwick, H. “St. Peter and St. Paul in Rome: The Problem of the Memoria Apostolorum ad Catacumbas.” JTS 8 (1957): 31–52. Chandlery, P. J. Pilgrim-walks in Rome: A Guide to the Holy Places in the City and Its Vicinity. London, 1908. Chavasse, A. La liturgie de la ville de Rome du Ve au VIIIe siècle (Studia Anselmiana) 112. Rome: Pontificio Ateneo S. Anselmo, 1993. Chin, C. “The Bishop’s Two Bodies: Ambrose and the Basilicas of Milan.” Church History 79/3 (2010): 531–55. Chilton, B. “The Epitaph of Himerus from the Jewish Catacombs of the Via Appia.” Jewish Quarterly Review 79/1 (1988–89): 93–100. Christie, N. and S. T. Loseby, eds. Towns in Transition: Urban Evolution in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Aldershot, Hants/Brookfield: Scolar Press, 1996. Cistellini, A. San Filippo Neri: gli scritti e le massime. Brescia: Editrice La scuola, 1994. Clark, E. A. “Claims on the Bones of Saint Stephen. The Partisans of Melania and Eudocia.” Church History 51/2 (1982): 141–56. Clark, G. “Bodies and Blood: Late Antique Debates on Martyrdom, Virginity and Resurrection.” In D. Montserrat, ed. Changing Bodies, Changing Meanings; Studies on the Human Body in Antiquity, 99–115. London: Routledge, 1998. Clark, G. “Translating Relics: Victricius of Rouen and the Fourth-century Debate.” EME 10 (2001): 161–76. Coarelli, F. “Topografia mitraica di Roma.” In U. Bianchi, ed. Mysteria Mithrae. Atti del seminario internazionale su ‘La specificità storico-­religiosa dei ­misteri di Mithra, con particolare riferimento alle fonti documentarie di Roma e Ostia.’ Roma e Ostia 28–31 marzo 1978, 69–79. Rome, 1980. Coates-Stephens, R. “The Walls and Aqueducts of Rome in the Early Middle Ages, AD 500–1000.” JRS 88 (1998): 166–78. Conde Guerri, E. Los “fossores” de Ro