Cemeteries is a term used to designate the burial-places of the early Christians, including the subterranean burying-grounds commonly known as catacombs.
Among the various
titles by which the Christians of the first few
centuries designated the burial-places of their dead,
the most frequent and probably the oldest is the
Greek koimētērion or the equivalent Latin cœmeterium.
It is not found in the Septuagint or in the
New Testament, but the verb koimasthai, "to lie
down to rest," "to sleep," occurs in both the literal
and the metaphorical sense, usually the latter in
the New Testament (metaphorical: Matt. xxvii. 52;
Acts vii. 60, xiii. 36;
I Cor. vii. 39, xv. 6, 18, 20, 51;
among the Latin-speaking races, especially in
North Africa, and it has become customary, following
De Rossi, to use it for all surface burying-grounds
of the primitive Church. The name
"catacomb" is more recent than any of the above
named, but has come into more general use to designate
not only the subterranean burial-places of the
primitive Christians but frequently also those of the
Jews and other races. It is first met with in connection
with the circus of Maxentius near the
Appian Way outside of Rome, in an inscription
which has the phrase fecit et circum in catecumbas.
As relating to a Christian burial-place, it is not
demonstrable before the year 354, when it appears
as a specific designation of the cemetery of St.
Sebastian on the Appian Way, to which it was
limited for centuries. Johannes Diaconus is the
earliest evidence for its application to other Christian
cemeteries, outside of Rome as well as within.
Familiar as the word now is, however, there is no
certainty as to its original signification. The most
probable theory is that of De Waal, followed by
Schultze, that the circus of Maxentius and the
cemetery of St. Sebastian were called in catacumbas
(Gk. kata kumbas, "in the ravine") because of the
sudden dip which the land, including the Appian
Way, takes at that point into a deep hollow.
The burial of Christ in the garden was taken as the model for that of his disciples. The fact that never in the oldest Christian literature (including the New Testament) and not often later is a prohibition of cremation found, and the absence of traces of cremation, cinerary urns, and the like, demonstrate that burial in the earth was the unwritten law. Based originally upon the example of Christ, it was supported later by reasoning which connected the resurrection of the body more or less with its burial. Minucius Felix, however, prefers burial to cremation merely as "the older and better custom" (Octavius, xxxiv. 11). Augustine (De civitate Dei, i. 22; De cura pro mortuis, iii., etc.) takes burial for granted, and so does Origen in the East (Contra Celsum, v. 23, viii. 49; De principiis, ii. 10). It is impossible to decide how far Christians of the Apostolic Age were buried in Jewish and pagan graveyards; but later a strict line of demarcation was drawn, at least as early as Tertullian. The Christian graves were not required to be at a great distance, but there was to be a distinct interval between them and the heathen, and the burial of individual Christians in heathen graveyards was strictly forbidden, and vice versa. Primitive Christianity was thus as exclusive in death as in its worship during life.
As in other things, so here Christianity proved itself a religion of development; and, once more following the general rule, this development was more rapid in the West than in the East. To take but a single important point, the development from the family vault to the general cemetery, the East never went beyond a few experiments, and burying-grounds for the whole of a local church remained exceptional, even at a much later period. The West, on the other hand, while it began with the family vault, and examples of this form persist through the whole of Christian antiquity, was not long in adopting the large common cemetery. The development was not everywhere equally rapid; Sicily was least affected by it, and Rome most. By the third century the common cemetery was the rule here.
The Roman catacombs mark the highest point reached in the development of ancient Christian burial, the greatest and most speedy advance upon its pre-Christian prototypes and upon its own beginnings. The most striking feature of this is not the immense extent attained by the wonderful underground city, but the motive power which created it—the spirit of brotherly love and esprit de corps. As nearly as the obscure beginnings can be traced, this, rather than practical considerations or needs, was responsible for the vast extension of the system. Before the advent of Christianity, it was not uncommon for philanthropists to provide either individuals or whole classes, principally among the poor, with burial-places, and there was nothing in itself remarkable about Christians
These beginnings date from the second century; the third is the great epoch of subterranean burial in Rome; and the new development ceased there first, as it had begun there. It is true that new catacombs were established in the fourth century, such as that of St. Felix on the Via Aurelia, but their number and extent were comparatively insignificant. Burial on the surface, previously rare, increased in frequency with the cessation of persecution, and by the beginning of the fifth century became the rule. The dated inscriptions give an accurate view of the change: if their proportion may be taken, one-third of the burials between 338 and 360, half between 304 and 369, two-thirds between 373 and 400, and after 450 all those who died were buried outside the catacombs. This striking change is not sufficiently explained by the recognition of Christianity; the decisive change does not coincide with the date of the Edict of Milan (313), and both in Sicily and in Palestine burial continued to be as before—in the former on the surface, in the latter underground. It may perhaps be better taken as merely an expression of the general consciousness of the change in the Church's position during the century, corresponding to the change which has been noticed in the ideal portrait of Christ in the same period (see JESUS CHRIST, PICTURES AND IMAGES OF).
After the Roman catacombs ceased to be burial-places, they were by no means deserted, but remained the destination of pious pilgrimages. The veneration of the martyrs and their relics received a great extension in the fourth century, and the use of the ancient burial-places in this way was furthered by the restoration of the passages and chambers and the opening of new approaches by Pope Damasus. A number of fifth and sixth-century popes followed his example. The old chambers were enlarged into chapels, or regular basilicas were established in the catacombs (Sant' Agnete, San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, Santi Nereo ed Achilleo).
While burial either in catacombs or in the open ground was the common practise of primitive Christianity, it sometimes took place in mausoleums or churches. The construction of churches to mark the sepulchers of the martyrs and render them accessible to large numbers of the faithful began soon after the recognition of Christianity. In churches of this kind burial was practised, either by graves dug in the earth or by sarcophagi. The principal churches used in this way in Rome were those of St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Laurence and St. Agnes without the Walls, and St. Pancreas, in and around which large numbers of Christians were buried until late in the sixth century. If in the first three centuries the Christians had respected the civil ordinance which required burial outside the walls of cities, the fourth witnessed a tendency to break down these restrictions. In Constantinople this took place about 381; in the mean while the relics of martyrs had been translated to the churches within the city, and promoted the desire of others to be buried in their neighborhood, so that an imperial edict was required which strictly prohibited such intramural burial. Chrysostom, however, who had sanctioned this restriction, was himself buried in a church in Constantinople in 438, and near him a number of persons of prominence. The increasing prevalence of the practise gradually broke through the law; in Rome there were intramural burial-places in the sixth century—a cemetery on the Esquiline and a number of places in and around the churches of the city, though the solemn translation of the relics of martyrs from the cemeteries outside to the city churches did not begin till the eighth and ninth centuries.
Earlier and fuller information is extant in regard to the officials who had the administration of the cemeteries. With the development from private vaults to burial-grounds for the whole local church, this naturally came within the bishop's sphere of influence. He would of course deputize some of his clergy to assist him, and in Rome from the third century the names of such clerics appear as administrators of the common burying-ground; the first who can be positively identified was in deacon's orders. The Liber pontificalis, in its account of Pope Dionysius (259-268), implies that each of the titular or parish churches of Rome had one cemetery specially assigned to it, and that the priest of each church had the oversight of the corresponding cemetery. At the beginning of the fourth century, the growth of the local church required an enlargement of the number, and a redistribution was made (again according to the Liber pontificalis) by Pope Marcellus (308-309). Assistants of the parish priest in this matter were those called from the end of the fifth century præpositi, who had charge of the more important cemeteries, and the mansionarii, who had charge of the less important burial-places. The præpositi of the catacomb of St. Calixtus, which was not classed with the others, and of St. Peter's, St. Paul's, and St. Laurence's, were subject not to parish priests but directly to the pope.
In Christian antiquity graves were acquired and prepared as in pre-Christian times, either by purchase or gift, and in the lifetime of the destined occupant or at death. People provided their relatives, friends, and servants with graves by their wills or by deed of gift. The only innovation is that which has been already remarked, that local churches provided burial-places for the poor out of the common funds. Both single graves and family vaults were frequently purchased, and the records of the transaction sometimes occupy more space than the funeral inscription proper, giving the names of buyer, seller, and witnesses, the price and location of the grave. In some of the Roman inscriptions, probably relating only to particular churches, the permission of the pope is mentioned. In cases where the purchase-price is mentioned, though it may have included the cost of construction, it seems in some instances to be excessive, and the fossores are likely to have driven a good bargain, especially for places near the tombs of the martyrs, for which there was an increasing demand. Gregory the Great set his face against the selling of graves, but after his death the system seems to have revived. Though the question can not be positively decided, it seems that in Christian antiquity the practise of providing a burial-place during life was more common in the East than in the West, and during the period after Constantine than that before.
A passage in Tertullian (De anima, li.) and the decrees of certain councils against the crowding of bodies on top of one another or close together has led many archeologists to believe that in the primitive Church each Christian had a grave to himself. But this view is untenable, as is shown especially by the excavations of Paolo Orsi in the cemeteries of Sicily, where he frequently found more than one body in a grave, and in one case as many as eighteen. Even in Rome, where more respect was pad to the dead, the inscriptions not seldom show that an old grave was used again for fresh interments, the original tablet being reversed and made to bear the name of the new tenant. The practise seems to have originated and to have been carried on with the least scruple in the East, where as early as the third century measures had to be taken against the violators of graves, not merely those who opened them for the purpose of interring more corpses, but some even who did not shrink from robbing them.
The custom of putting an inscription on a tomb to guard it from profanation is very old, and on the other hand was common in the Middle Ages. The Christian inscriptions of this kind warn those who read them most frequently and expressly against the use of the grave for burial by unauthorized persons; but the writings of fourth-century Fathers and the edicts of Christian emperors in the same period show that this was not the only danger feared. Gregory Nazianzen has left more than eighty epigrams directed against grave-robbers, and John Chrysostom was obliged to scourge this abuse again and again in his sermons. A startling fact is that the Christian inscriptions affixed to graves as a protection seem to be addressed mainly to Christians, if one may judge from their appeals to God and the last judgment. In all the principal sections of the ancient Church numerous inscriptions are found which threaten violators of tombs either with secular or with divine penalties, or with both; but they are nowhere so numerous as in Phrygia and the adjoining provinces of Asia Minor. This frequency may be explained partly by the open and comparatively unprotected nature of the cemeteries there, although such inscriptions are found also in the Roman and Sicilian catacombs; but it is probably due more largely to the pre-Christian tradition in Asia Minor, where pagan inscriptions of the kind were very numerous—while in Rome, on the other hand, they are equally rare, among pagans and Christians. Secular rulers imposed heavy penalties upon violators of graves; they were excluded from profiting by the usual Easter indulgences, and their wives were allowed to get a divorce from them.
The place of these commemorations is not always mentioned in the early authorities. Those described in the Martyrium Polycarpi and the early Gnostic Acta Joannis took place at the sepulcher. What may be inferred from the latter to have been the practise of the Christians of Asia Minor is shown by Tertullian and Cyprian to have prevailed also in Africa—the celebration of the Eucharist in connection with these observances. By this sacred feast, which consolingly united the living with those who had gone before, the memorial ceremonies acquired a specifically Christian character. Later it came to be surrounded a number of other ceremonies. Of these the first to come up was a meal, not the ancient agape but one partaken of in the ordinary way as simple nourishment. These feasts on the anniversaries of the saints led to abuses and excesses which are frequently rebuked by the Fathers, especially in Africa, but also at Milan and in Rome. Offenses not merely against temperance but against morality seem to have taken place on these occasions in the East, according to Chrysostom, and also at the beginning of the fourth century in Spain, where a council legislates against them. In fact, the influence of the pagan dies parentales and femoralia continued to be felt, as was clearly the view of Ambrose and Augustine when they endeavored to regulate such customs, and especially to abolish anything which could seem like the heathen custom of offering food and drink to the dead (Augustine, De moribus ecclesiæ catholicæ, i. 34; Confessiones, vi. 2; and a canon of the Second Synod of Tours, 567). These authorities, however, do not raise any objection to other survivals of pre-Christian customs, such as the offering of balsam and other sweet-smelling spices, which were frequently poured into the grave in liquid form, through specially prepared openings such as are still to be seen in one of Orsi's discoveries in the catacombs of Syracuse, and at San Paolo fuori le Mura in Rome. Incense was also used. It was a common practise to deck the graves with flowers, and lights were sometimes burned, though this was forbidden by the Synod of Elvira on the singular ground that "the spirits of the saints are not to be disturbed." This custom is evidenced by the large numbers of small lamps found in the catacombs, either placed in niches or fastened to the walls, which can hardly have been intended merely for lighting the dark passages.
In the consideration of these points, the geographical division is evidently the right one; but lack of space will allow it to be carried out only in the description of the subterranean burial-places, while a generic classification will have to be adopted for those above ground.
Palestine is rich in tombs hollowed
out of the rock, more or less reminding the beholder
of the sepulcher of Abraham (
Syria offers a considerable number both of ancient church buildings and of ancient cemeteries, both above and below ground, and a type which is a combination of the two, at once hollowed out in the rock and built over above. The openings to the subterranean burial-places are either vertical or horizontal. In the former case they are covered by a stone like the lid of a sarcophagus, or sometimes by a roof with columns or a complete chamber; in the latter, a door leads directly into them by a flight of steps, or one passes first through a portico or anteroom. The inner space, usually rectangular, has in most cases two or three hollowed-out and vaulted graves, each along one wall; six is the largest number cited by De Vogüé. The coffin-shaped place for the body is generally covered, not by a slab, but by a heavy stone shaped like the arched sarcophagus-lids. The principal difference between the known Christian burial-places of Syria (mostly fifth century, to judge from the inscriptions) and their pagan prototypes is the almost universal choice of the arcosolium form among those used in pre-Christian times.
The cemeteries of Mesopotamia seem to correspond in their main features to those of central Syria, including structures wholly or partially above ground and excavations in the rock. An important necropolis is that outside the walls of Constantina in northern Mesopotamia, above ground, containing nearly 2,000 graves. The subterranean burial-places seem to have been mostly connected with ancient stone-quarries, and some of them are more extensive than the similar ones in Syria, though numerous smaller ones have been found.
The best-known early Christian cemeteries in Asia Minor are in the extreme southeastern provinces of Isauria and Cilicia, of which the former had the good fortune to be explored by L. Duchesne. Near the ancient Seleucia (now Selefkeh) are numerous rectangular chambers at irregular distances from each other, excavated in soft limestone and entered by doors. They contain from three to ten graves apiece, somewhat like arcosolia, but standing out further from the walls. Rock-chambers and isolated arcosolia are also found near the village of Libas, and many isolated coffins were scattered around three basilicas at Mout, the ancient Claudiopolis, as well as graves dug straight down and covered with stone slabs. Anazarbe in Cilicia has a large necropolis dating from a late period of Christian antiquity, in which both rock-chambers and rock-coffins are found, as also at Elæussa. A still larger cemetery was probably that of Corykos (now Ghorigos), where chambers are excavated in the rock; sometimes in several lines one above another. These seem to have been all for families or small groups. All about the neighboring hills are large isolated sarcophagi with saddle-back covers. In Pisidia, at Termessos, there are burial-chambers which the crosses show to have been Christian. Since Armenia has Christian rock-tombs at Arabissos (now Yarpuz), it is not unlikely that the intervening province of Cappadocia will yet furnish some examples. It is possible that the lack of interest hitherto shown in the Christian cemeteries of Asia Minor is due to the close resemblance between them and the pagan burial-places; and evidence is not lacking to support the theory that a considerable number which have heretofore been classed as pagan will, upon further investigation, be proved to be Christian.
Accurate modern scientific investigation of the Christian sepulchral remains of Egypt has borne no proportion to the importance of the northern part of that country in the early Church, and the question must be here discussed principally from the evidences to be found in Alexandria. Among the catacombs to which access was gained in the nineteenth century the best known is that discovered in 1858, lying near the Serapeum in the south-western part of the ancient city. A flight of steps leads down into a square anteroom, with a semi-circular niche adjoining it on the west side, and two burial-chambers extending out from it. One of these is long and narrow, vaulted above, and containing thirty-two tombs of the kind into which the body is pushed head or feet first. The other, smaller and square, has three hollowed-out graves, one on each side, and another sunk in the floor. That these were used by Christians is demonstrated by paintings and inscriptions, though more recent in date than the construction. Néroutsos, the most thorough student of the Alexandrian catacombs, mentions another, discovered in 1876, which he believes to be Christian. In this the anteroom resembles a Greek or Roman ædicula, though the capitals of the columns are decorated with lotus-flowers instead of acanthus-leaves. The oblong burial-chamber leading out of this has on three sides rows of graves of the kind described, at right angles with the wall, one above another, to the number of fifty-four. These cemeteries were probably family burial-places, serving for more than one generation. The pagans and Jews of Alexandria undoubtedly began with this system, but there is reason to believe that the Christians did not always adhere to it.
Cyrenaica contains a great number of burial-places hollowed out in the rock, both pagan and Christian, especially in the old capital city; but they have not been explored with sufficient completeness and accuracy to allow the formation of definite conclusions. As far as can be determined, most of the burial-places of Cyrene are excavated in the side of perpendicular cliffs near the city. Only a few of them give positive evidence of Christian use, though there is reason to think that these are not all. A great variety of methods appears, including movable and immovable stone sarcophagi, arcosolia, loculi, graves sunk in the floor, and long, narrow holes in the cliff in which the dead were laid one above another, separated by horizontal slabs.
The cemeteries of Sicily surpass in number those of any other province of the Roman Empire, and show more varied forms than even Rome itself can offer. Each of the races which successively ruled the island brought its own customs with it, while none was strong enough to enforce them to the exclusion of the old. In dealing with the problem of sepulture, Christianity had a number of methods, both aboriginal and mixed, to choose from, and needed only to adopt or adapt. Nor was it limited to Sicilian types; the many ties which connected the island, even in Christian times, with Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, North Africa, and Rome rendered it possible for still other architectural types to find an entrance. The geological formation of the island favored the excavation of subterranean burial-places. Limestone and tufa abound, the latter usually of firmer substance than the tufa granulare of the neighborhood of Rome.
The first stage in the development is formed by the family vaults, of which the simplest show a square, oblong, or trapezoid form with graves in the walls, usually of the arcosolium or loculus type. Next, the small vault developed into a hall, from which recesses ran off on each side, usually shaped like a bell or a flower-pot, though sometimes square, with an opening at the top for light and air. Structures based upon older cisterns are confined to the vicinity of Girgenti, and tombs with a baldachin covering, to eastern Sicily and Malta. Some of these stand free from the walls with the covering supported by pillars on all sides, like the ciborium of an altar; others are supported from one side on pillars, and from the other connect with the wall. In the eastern part are some with decorative facades in front either of a single grave or of a group, furnished with doors and windows.
The main differences in structure depend upon the size of the cemetery. The galleries of the larger catacombs were laid out with one or more main alleys and a number of smaller ones running across or parallel to them. The passages are as a rule comparatively wide, much wider than in Rome. Occupying an intermediate position between passages and chambers are the recesses, as wide as or wider than the corridors, but shorter. These are met with frequently in Sicily, and often contain (besides other types of graves) sarcophagi, sometimes arranged in terraces. Where chambers occur in the large catacombs, they are connected with the galleries, and are in shape square, oblong, trapezoid, or circular, the last being especially preferred in the principal catacombs of Syracuse. The rectangular ones have either a flat or a vaulted roof, the circular are often covered with a cupola, with an opening in the top for light and air. Where the size was sufficiently great to admit the possibility of a fall of the roof, this was guarded against by the construction of pillars out of the solid rock or by the erection of columns. The corridors and chambers are sometimes all on one level, sometimes in different stories.
The variety of grave-forms is even greater than that of the general structure. In most places the commonest type is the arcosolium, sometimes double, one above another. Single graves are found relatively seldom; usually several occur in a row (up to fifteen or even more) under the same vaulted roof. In Sicily loculi are much less common than arcosolia, and where they are numerous certain corridors contain them almost exclusively for children. The "table-tomb" and the grave at right angles with the wall are rare. Sarcophagi, on the other head, were common, either cut out of the natural stone, built up with masonwork, or made of better material, such as marble; and so were graves sunk in the floor of chambers, recesses, and galleries, to the extent of forming a characteristic of the Sicilian cemeteries. The most important of all the Sicilian catacombs was that of San Giovanni near Syracuse, which in extent and skilful laying out surpasses even the Roman.
In Malta most of the ancient cemeteries lie near the capital, in the neighborhood of Carthaginian burial-places. Where the sides of rocky cliffs were accessible, the excavations were horizontal, vertical in the flat country. Some of these have nothing but galleries, others nothing but chambers. As a rule, the galleries are few and short, their height that of a man. Among the grave-forms is one which so far has not been found outside of Malta, known for convenience as the "oven-grave." This is an opening in the wall at a greater or less
Near the village of Trypiti in Melos, surrounded by pagan tombs, is a Christian necropolis unquestionably used as early as the fourth century, composed originally of five separate catacombs, four of which were afterward connected; and it is probable that others still lie concealed in the vicinity. The oldest, that in the middle, consists of a broad main gallery and several side corridors. The width of the galleries varies from 3 ft. 3 in. to 16 ft. 4 in., the height from 4 ft. 7 in. to 7 ft. 6 in. The walls contain arcosolia with semicircular arches and a few loculi, and there are graves sunk in the floor of all the passages, usually in pairs. The three undoubtedly Christian catacombs have no chambers, but the other two, which are probably Christian, have them. Bayet counted 150 arcosolia and sixty-six sunk graves in the whole five.
Far as Melos and Apulia are from each other, it would be difficult to find a closer affinity between types of catacombs than exists between these just described and those of Venosa, of which the one most fully studied is apparently of Jewish origin. Here again one finds the same unusual breadth of galleries, in spite of the friable nature of the tufa, the arcosolium is the predominant form, at least in the main galleries, and the floor is full of sunk graves, while chambers are once more lacking. The principal difference is in the form of the arcosolia, which in Melos are of only one kind, in Venosa of several, answering to the Sicilian variety; and in fact the Jewish catacomb of Venosa offers to a certain extent the intermediate step between Melos on one side and Sicily and southern Italy on the other.
The catacombs of Naples are the most important among those of Campania; and of these the largest and oldest are those of San Gennaro dei Poveri, whose beginnings apparently go back to the first century. Four are enumerated nowadays; but there is reason to suppose that there were originally more. The oldest is trapezoid in ground-plan, with a maximum width of thirty-three feet and length somewhat more. Other smaller rooms open from it to left and right, the latter of which was later remodeled into a church. At the back of the large hall are the entrances to two parallel galleries nearly 100 yards long, connected by numerous transverse passages. From the outer side of each of these stretch out other chambers and galleries, which in their turn ramify still further, though to a much less extent than in the Roman catacombs. The second catacomb is less important, and the other two still leas. They exhibit three types of graves—arcosolia, loculi, and sunk graves. The first are the most numerous in the halls and chambers, as well as in the oldest and most important galleries; unlike the Roman, but like those of Melos and Sicily, they are sometimes in two rows, one above the other. From the irregular disposition of the loculi, which look as if they had been crowded in, it is safe to attribute a later date to them. They form, however, an actual majority of the total number of graves.
At Castellamare there is a later but not uninteresting catacomb, named after St. Blasius. Besides a nearly square entrance-hall, it contains a main gallery nearly twenty-two yards long, with an average breadth of 9 ft. 10 in., lined with arcosolia. On the left of it three side galleries branch out, and at its further end is a chamber from which further galleries continue. The weight of evidence is in favor of a Christian origin. The arrangement of the graves in the chambers at Castellamare and Sorrento is peculiar; they are placed in rows one above another so as to resemble a honeycomb, a form which is lacking in the older catacombs, though it is impossible to say whether it originated with the Christians of these places.
The history of the immense and widely known catacombs of Rome begins, as is the case elsewhere, with the family plot. In the first two centuries, and even later, individual Christians picked out places for the interment of themselves and their families, including in some cases their freed-men. The arrangement of the first cemeteries is not demonstrably derived from pagan models, since there were many Jews in Rome and in the primitive Church there, and these also buried their dead in subterranean cemeteries. But there is reason to believe that, while it would be too much to say that Jewish traditions had no influence on the early development, the first beginnings of the Christian burial system in Rome were derived rather from pagan prototypes.
With the extension of the family plot into the common cemetery for the faithful, underground Rome became apparently a labyrinth, though really its plan is more simple and intelligible than that of some of the larger catacombs outside of Rome. Since the ground was either flat or slightly rolling, the excavation was begun by digging down at an angle into the earth, the descent being furnished with steps, usually covered with brick or marble. After it had reached the required depth (averaging
As to the form of the tombs, the loculus here is the most frequent, larger than necessary in the oldest cases, but later closely following the shape of the body. Sometimes they were dug in deep enough to afford room for several bodies. Above the arcosolia there was usually a nearly or quite semicircular arch. If two bodies were to be buried together in these, a loculus was cut at the back of the hollowed-out apace, or sometimes the arch was carried further back and two spaces hollowed out side by side; or again loculi were cut, especially for children, in the lunette of the arch. A combination of the loculus and the arcosolium is the so-called loculus a mensa or "table-tomb." The grave dug in the floor is found less often than in southern Italy and Sicily, and most of those which exist probably date from a time when the walls were already full. Sarcophagi were also used, made of marble in most cases; these were placed mostly in the cubicula and galleries, but sometimes on the side of the stairs. When the wall-space of a catacomb was filled, the fossores gained more room by digging the floor of the passages deeper. When this had gone so far as to threaten the stability of the walls, a second shaft or gallery was begun at a downward angle from the first, and the whole process repeated. Thus in the catacombs of St. Calixtus and St. Domitilla five different levels are found, the lowest more than eighty feet beneath the surface. An approximate conception of the vast extent of the Roman catacombs may be gained from the calculations of Michele Stefano de Rossi and of Marchi. The former estimated the total length of the passages at 550 miles, the latter at 750. The number of bodies buried there is variously given as from three and a half to six millions.
The catacombs of the towns around Rome and in Etruria resemble the Roman, it is true, more than the Sicilian; but there are striking differences, as in the typical ones of Bolsena, Chiusi, and Soriano, which, when examined in detail, lead to the conclusion that the influence of the ancient Etruscan burial-customs had much to do with them. It extended, in fact, very nearly to the gates of Rome, and some of its characteristics are found in the catacombs of Rignano and at the twentieth milestone on the Via Flaminia.
The simplest form of cemeteries in the open air is found in Upper Egypt, where, in order, to save the soil available for agriculture and at the same time to protect the graves from inundation, the Christians laid their dead to rest on the border of the desert, in large cemeteries used by a considerable district. They seldom used wooden coffins, but tied the corpse, mummified with asphalt or natron, to a sycamore board, then wrapped cloths around it and buried it in an ordinary grave.
The discovery in 1873 of a cemetery dating from the fourth and fifth centuries at Portogruaro, the ancient Julia Concordia, gives an accurate idea of other vanished burying-grounds, especially in northern Italy. Several hundred sarcophagi of Istrian limestone rest either directly on the ground or on large square bases. They are carved out of a single block of stone, usually without anything on their sides except inscriptions, and covered with heavy roof-shaped covers. The cemeteries of Arles, Vienna, and Treves were similarly laid out. At Arles five layers of graves ultimately existed, one above another, separated only by a layer of earth—the lowest heathen, the upper ones Christian. Much the same was the arrangement at Vienna and at Treves, except that in the latter there are both sarcophagi and graves lined with masonry or brick and covered with slabs of brick, limestone, or sandstone. Here again the lowest layer contains a number of pagan inscriptions and sarcophagi, the most probable inference being that the Christians in Gaul and the Rhine country occupied former pagan burial-places. The areæ of northern Africa attained a certain celebrity even during the epoch of persecution, and were carefully investigated by French scholars during the nineteenth century. One at Lambèse, about sixty-five by fifty-three yards in extent, was surrounded by a slight wall, and apparently contained nothing but ordinary graves. Elsewhere, in addition to these, small vaulted structures were erected over the bodies, as at Cæsarea (modern Cherchel) in Mauretania. Two important open-air cemeteries existed at Tipasa; in the center of one was a basilica erected over the body of the martyr Salsa.
The word "mausoleum," now usually restricted to large and imposing monuments, was used in ancient times for less important tombs, and memoria is also frequently employed. These small memorial buildings have mostly disappeared. They must have been particularly numerous in regions where the small family burial-place was the rule, and where the custom of erecting them had been prevalent in pre-Christian times. Syria and Mesopotamia have supplied a considerable proportion of them, and Asia Minor probably had as many; but they existed also in countries where the common burying-ground was the rule. Some stood among graves in the open air, as above the Catacomb of St. Calixtus in Rome; others near or attached to churches, as at Tipasa and two that adjoined the old St. Peter's in Rome; others, again, were isolated, like the tomb of Galla Placidia and that of Theodoric at Ravenna.
When, after the cessation of persecution, the erection of churches over or near the graves of the saints was carried out on a large scale, the development of cemeteries in connection with them followed as a consequence of the desire of Christians to be buried near the resting-place of the martyrs. In spite of the ancient law forbidding burial within the walls of the city, such burials continued after the relics of the martyrs were brought in to the principal churches of various places (see CHURCH-YARD). Burial within the church itself was not everywhere approved. In Spain and Gaul, particularly, it was even a subject of adverse conciliar legislation, although this barrier did not suffice to keep back the flowing tide of popular piety. Both literary and monumental evidence attests the existence in the most widely separated portions of the primitive Church of buildings used both for worship and for interment. A large number of them arose outside the walls of Rome. Unfortunately many smaller buildings of this class sank into decay or oblivion during and after the Middle Ages, while the larger ones were so transformed in course of time that to-day they have scarcely a trace of their original use. It is thus easier to examine the extant ruins in order to form an idea of the construction adopted in the first instance. Of these undoubtedly the most significant is that discovered and explored by Delattre at Damous-el-Karita near Carthage. Here, in the church proper and atrium as well as in the immediate neighborhood, more than 14,000 inscriptions or fragments of inscriptions were brought to light. The dead were buried in ordinary sunk graves, lined and covered with slabs, though some were constructed of masonry, frequently covered with stone slabs, and a number of sarcophagi were founds these latter sunk flush with the floor. Of the great burial-churches in Rome, the best example was until recently furnished by that of Santi Nereo ed Achilleo, the floor of which was literally crowded with graves and sarcophagi. The church of St. Paul without the Walls, also at Rome, which from the fourth century was a favorite burial-place, was surrounded by a space intended especially for interment, covered by a roof supported on columns, and adorned with paintings; and that of St. Balbina, also outside the city, had a teglata under which the dead were buried.
In the primitive age, the simple grave dug in the earth was the commonest form for cemeteries above ground. It was ordinarily not so deep as the graves of to-day, and was frequently lined with slabs of stone, with brick, or with masonry. This custom led to the enlargement of the simple grave into a vault capable of holding several bodies. Of these vaults none have been so thoroughly investigated as were these of the upper cemetery of St. Calixtus and the churches of St. Laurence and St. Paul without the Walls by De Rossi. In the first-named large holes were dug, and then divided off by partitions into spaces each large enough for one body. The materials used in construction were tufa, brick, marble, and thick layers of mortar. In these compartments the corpses were placed one above another, a slab covering the one first buried and serving as a support for the next. The place of the slab was occasionally taken by an arched covering of brick or by a layer of masonry. In this particular cemetery the excavation was carried deep enough to contain ten or even more bodies thus superimposed; the average is between eight and nine. The same system is found at Ostia, Porto, and Tropea in Calabria, as well as in North Africa and at Athens. In other cases, as in the same cemetery of St. Calixtus, the corpses were laid side by side and separated by an upright slab. While the usual shape of all these graves was rectangular, some occur in North Africa which correspond roughly to the shape of the body, and are rounded off at the head and foot. They were frequently also wider at the head than at the foot, giving a bell-shaped type which corresponds to examples found in the Sicilian catacombs. In both cases this type is a survival of native pre-Christian usage.
The closing of the graves, whichever of these
The term sarcophagus was originally used by the ancients in connection with a kind of stone found near Assos in Asia Minor, which was supposed to have the property of consuming the flesh of the corpse in a short time (Pliny, Hist. nat., XXXVI. xvii. 27), but it was often employed for receptacles made out of other stone. The early Christians, taking over both name and things, used the stone they found at hand. For relief decorations, however, the porous and often flawed limestone was ill adapted, and marble was generally selected where these were desired. The most usual form was that of a parallelepiped, hollowed out to receive the body. The shape of the body was sometimes partially reproduced on the outside, especially in North Africa, or at least the head was semicircular; while at Rome the head and foot were alike. Sarcophagi for children seldom occur, because they were usually buried with their parents in the larger ones. When more than one body was to be placed in the same sarcophagus, stone partitions were sometimes placed in the interior. Christian sarcophagi were frequently adorned with more or less elaborate decorations, usually in relief, though the taste of the North African Christians for mosaic led them to employ it in some cases.
Wooden coffins were also used, either enclosed in the sarcophagi or buried in the earth; but on account of their perishable material they have almost disappeared. A coffin of cypress was found in the marble sarcophagus of St. Cecilia, and Gsell found others of oak and pine in sarcophagi at Tipasa. A plain rectangular chest of cedar, but richly decorated with plates of gold and silver, received the remains of St. Paulinus at Treves, and was afterward enclosed in a large sandstone sarcophagus. Coffins of lead were also known; but the most peculiar receptacles were those in the shape of an amphora or large water-vessel. These easily held the corpses of little children; when they were used for full-grown persons, they were sometimes taken apart and lengthened by the addition of cylindrical pieces taken from other amphoræ, and then cemented together.
Corresponding to the great variety of arrangement and structure noticed above is a still greater wealth of objects pertaining to the equipment and decoration of the resting-places of the dead. Many of these objects seem natural and intelligible to-day, but others appear peculiar, especially the provision of household utensils. The furnishing of tombs with inscriptions and with painted or carved images is but an inheritance of the traditions of earlier civilized peoples, especially the Greeks and Romans; and it seems on the face of it not unlikely that the provision of these various other objects was similarly a following of ancient custom. It is indisputable that these pre-Christian peoples regarded the grave as a house, and gave it corresponding arrangements and decorations. Roman tombs sometimes accurately resemble dwelling-houses, with atrium, triclinia, and the like. Numerous pagan inscriptions designate either a burial-vault or a single grave as a house, the eternal house, etc. These same designations and an analogous form of construction are not uncommon in early Christian usage, as might be shown, did space permit, from monuments, inscriptions, and the writings of the Fathers. This conception of the grave as a house offers the only satisfactory explanation of what would otherwise be so mysterious, the character of the objects in the tombs as gifts to the dead. In themselves unnecessary if not senseless additions, they merely demonstrate the power of long custom, from which even medieval Christianity was not able wholly to emancipate itself.
Proper clothing for the corpse was universal, no matter what form of grave was used. Even those who died of the plague in Alexandria had their seemly vesture (Eusebius, Hist. eccl., vii. 22). Linen seems to have been the usual material, and white the color, though costly stuffs, such as silk and purple and gold brocade were sometimes used. Ambrose, Chrysostom, and Jerome protested against the use of gold-embroidered garments, and the first and last also against silk. At a later period synods even found it necessary to legislate against luxury in grave-clothes, e.g., that of Auxerre in 578. In the same century Gregory of Tours relates that a kinswoman of King Childebert was buried "with great ornaments and much gold," which, however, were soon stolen. The indications thus given in the literature of the period are confirmed by numerous discoveries, the largest number of which have been in Upper Egypt. Here the garments are mostly of linen, less often of pure wool or silk. As to mere ornaments, though Gregory of Nyassa says that the body of his sister Macrina was stripped before burial of rings and necklaces, the discoveries show that this was not the common practise. On the contrary, the number of such objects found leads to the conclusion that many bodies were more richly adorned in death than in life. Among them are rings, earrings, bracelets and anklets, necklaces, combs and hairpins, fibulæ, etc., made of various materials and frequently bearing Christian emblems, such as the monogram of Christ, the Good Shepherd, the dove, fish, and cross. With these ornaments it is easy to confuse the amulets sometimes found,
Where the grave-diggers of the catacombs, or the stone-cutters who made sarcophagi, designed the space for the corpse, as was often the case, so that its head was higher than its feet, there was no need for any support for the head But in other cases such supports were placed in the tomb, the most primitive sort being of one or more stones. In Upper Egypt rich leather cushions stuffed with tow have been found, so sumptuously decorated as to deserve the name of works of art. Vessels of clay served the same purpose in North Africa. Sometimes supports were provided for the whole body—in North Africa a layer of beton, here and elsewhere simple arrangements of flat bricks, in Catania perforated brick supports on low feet, like benches. On sanitary grounds the grave was often lined with unslacked lime, which was also sprinkled over the corpse. Traces of this custom have been found in the Roman catacombs and elsewhere, as in North Africa. The dead were also laid in some places on a bed of laurel leaves.
While the Christians of the primitive age usually contemned the use of perfumed oils and waters, they used such things for the dead in considerable quantities. The dead were anointed before they were dressed for burial, and then sprinkled with perfumes or regularly embalmed with spices, though this latter practise seems to have been comparatively rare in Rome. Anything like mummifying was still more uncommon, outside of Egypt. Usually cloths wet with perfumes were laid upon the body, especially the face, and vessels of the most diverse shapes filled with perfumery were set near it. It is practically certain that some of the vessels known as Ampullæ contained these perfumes, and others wine. As food and drink were set out for the martyrs and other saints at the commemorative feasts, it is safe to say that this took place also at burials. There is also the often-discussed possibility that such vessels contained the elements of the Eucharist, or at least the consecrated wine, in connection with the practice condemned at the Third Council of Carthage and often later, of making the dead partakers in the communion.
Another class is formed by the large number of domestic utensils of every sort which have been found in the graves. These comprise vessels of all kinds, mostly of clay but sometimes of glass or more costly materials, knives, forks, spoons, writing-tablets, styluses, ink-stands, hammers, nails, spinning-wheels, chisels, and tools of many different kinds. Other objects of daily use pertain less to mere utility than to luxury and adornment. A varied collection of articles such as served the women of those days for the toilet have been discovered in and near the tombs of the catacombs, made of metal, mosaic, ivory, glass, enamel, and mother-of-pearl. The grave being conceived, in a certain sense, as the house or chamber of the departed, there is nothing surprising in the discovery that parents, for example, placed near the bodies of the children they had lost even the trifles which had been dear to them in life—dolls, small figures of men and animals, small lamps, spoons, etc., savings-banks, and ivory letters of the kind used in the schools. Even things relating to the amusements of grown-up people—boards for games, dice, and the like—are occasionally found. Pieces of money are of frequent occurrence. Since there is evidence that the old pagan custom of providing the dead with money to pay Charon for the ferriage persisted among Christians in Greece and elsewhere, there is no doubt that at least some of these coins were placed there from that point of view.
After the burial was finished, it was a common practise to fix in the still wet mortar with which the loculi and arcosolia of the subterranean cemeteries were closed small vessels, usually of glass, sometimes shells, for the same purpose as the vessels inside the grave. A repeated renewal of these is evidenced by the tomb of one Peregrina (d. 452) in the Catacomb of San Giovanni at Syracuse, several glasses must have been broken and replaced, and there was also a clay censer still containing coals and some grains of intense. The lamps similarly affixed to the outside of the graves were intended to be lighted at the funeral and on memorial days. Semicircular niches were made in the adjacent walls to hold them. From the reign of Constantine the lamps burning at the graves of the martyrs were kept up with special reverence; the oil from them was credited with miraculous power, and pilgrims often took a small quantity of it home with them.
Many of the objects mentioned above (a, §3) are found embedded in the mortar outside the graves, sometimes as gifts, but in other cases undoubtedly as means of identification among the thousands of graves in the large catacombs, the majority of which had no inscriptions, possibly owing to the poverty of the survivors. Some of these substitutes for the regular incised blocks of marble or other stone are letters, numbers, etc., embedded or scratched in or above the place where the tomb is closed; others are small objects of great variety, rings, buttons, glasses, bits of mosaic, animals' teeth, shells, coins, stones of fruit and leaves of plants, fixed in the mortar before it dried.
In their use of sepulchral inscriptions the early Christians merely continued the tradition of still older civilizations. Outside of the family vaults, on or over the door of which the name of the occupants or owners appeared, the inscriptions were placed on or at least near the graves. The most peculiar exception to the general usage is formed by those which have the inscriptions inside the graves, where they can not have been visible to passers-by. Karl Schmidt discovered a number of inscribed gravestones in the necropolis of Antinoe in Egypt which seemed to have been laid originally well down in the graves,
In these the presence has already been noted of tables, benches, and chairs for the observance of the commemorations of the dead. The dimensions of such tables as have been discovered imply that the number of participants was small. While such furniture is practically absent from the Roman Catacombs, where wood must accordingly have been used, several tables of more durable material have been found in North African burial-places. The galleries and chambers of the catacombs also contained receptacles for the materials used in mixing mortar for closing up the tombs. Those which have been preserved, made usually of clay, with incrustations of mortar and lime still upon them, may have been used either for this purpose or on sanitary grounds, to counteract the effluvia of the place. Lighting arrangements are found here too, although the galleries must have been in comparative darkness, to judge from the way in which Jerome quotes Ps. lv. 15 and Vergil, Æneid, ii. 755 in connection with the memory of his visit to the Roman Catacombs. As the arcosolia were frequently ornamented with paintings in their vaults and lunettes, and the loculi on their exterior side, so also the chambers and less frequently the galleries of the catacombs were decorated in the same way. No doubt the structures above ground connected with the cemeteries were painted in much more numerous cases than the scanty remains extant at the present day would lead one to suppose.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Townshend, Catalogue of Books Relating to the Disposal of Bodies, New York, 1887. On the general question consult: F. Piper, Einleitung in die monumentale Theologie, Gotha, 1867; J. Wilpert, Principienfragen der christlichen Archäologie, Freiburg, 1889; F. X. Kraus, Ueber Begriff, Umfang und Geschichte der christlichen Archäologie, Freiburg, 1879; idem, Real-Encyklopädie der christlichen Alterthümer, 2 vols., ib. 1880-86; V. Schultze, Archäologische Studien, Vienna, 1880; Die Katakomben, die altchristlichen Grabstätten, Leipsic, 1882; R. Grousset, Étude sur l'histoire des sarcophages chrétiens, Athens, 1885; L. Wagner, Manners, Customs and Observances, London, 1885; A. Hasenclever, Der altchristliche Gräberschmuck, Brunswick, 1886; H. Marucchi, Éléments d'archéologie chrétienne, Paris, 1900; Neander, Christian Church, vols. i.-iv., consult Index, s.v. "Burial"; Schaff, Christian Church, ii. 286-310, 380-385; Moeller, Christian Church, i. 279-283
For burial in Palestine consult: T. Tobler, Golgatha, pp. 201 sqq., et passim, St. Gall, 1851; idem, Zwei Bücher Topographie von Jerusalem, ii. 227 sqq., Berlin, 1854; J. N. Sepp, Jerusalem und das heilige Land, i. 273 sqq., Schaffhausen, 1873; Survey of Western Palestine, London, 1881 sqq.; Mittheilungen und Nachrichten des deutschen Palästina-Vereins, Leipsic, 1895 sqq.; Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement, passim; C. Mommert, Golgotha und das heilige Grab zu Jerusalem, Leipsic, 1900. For Syrian burial consult: F. E. C. Dietrich, Zwei sidonische Inschriften, pp. 11 sqq., Marburg, 1855; C. J. M, de Vogüé, Notice archéologique sur les monuments encore existants en Terre Sainte, Paris, 1870; idem, Syrie centrale, Paris, 1865-77.
For North Africa consult: A. L. Delattre, Inscriptions chrétiennes provenant de la basilique de Damous-el-Karita à Carthage, Constantine, 1863; idem, Les Tombeaux puniques de Carthage, Lyons, 1890; idem, Antiquités chrétiennes, Paris, 1900; R. M. Smith and E. A. Porcher, History of the Recent Discoveries at Cyrene, London, 1864; Néroutsos-Bey, Notice sur les fouilles récentes . . . , pp. 26 sqq., 48, Alexandria, 1875; idem, L'Ancienne Alexandrie, pp. 38 sqq., 53-54, 61, Paris, 1888; Pierre Gavault, in Bibliothèque d'archéologie Africaine, part 2, 1897; S. Gsell, Recherches archéologiques en Algérie, Paris, 1893; idem, Les Monuments antiques de l'Algérie, ib. 1899; M. de Bock, Matériaux pour servir à l'archéologie de l'Égypte chrétienne, St. Petersburg, 1901.
For Asia Minor consult: J. T. Wood, Discoveries at Ephesus, pp. 12 sqq., London, 1877; F. Cumont, Mélanges d'archéologie et d'histoire, xv. (1895) 245 sqq.; W. M. Ramsay, Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, vol. i., parts 1, 2, Oxford, 1895-97; idem, in Journal of Hellenic Studies, passim.
On the Greek Islands consult: L. Ross, Reisen auf den griechischen Inseln, iii. 145-151, Stuttgart, 1845; L. P. di Cesnola, Cyprus, New York, 1877; C. Bayet, in Bulletin de correspondance Hellénique, ii. 347-359, Paris, 1878.
On the catacombs at Rome the literature is enormous. The following is a selection: G. B. de Rossi, Roma sotterranea, 3 vols., Rome, 1864-77 (the one great book, largely reproduced in English in J. S. Northcote and W. R. Brownlow, Roma sotterranea, 2 vols., London, 1879, an authorized summary); with De Rossi's monumental work should be mentioned the periodical edited by him, Bollettino di archeologia cristiana, Rome, 1863 sqq. (the repository of reports of discovery and decipherment); F. X. Kraus, Roma sotterranea, Freiburg, 1879 (based on De Rossi and Northcote and Brownlow); S. d'Agincourt, Histoire de l'art par les monuments, 6 vols., Paris, 1809-23; W. Rostell, in E. Z. Platner et al., Beschreibung der Stadt Rom, i. 355-416, Stuttgart, 1830; G. Marti, Architettura della Roma sotterranea cristiana, Rome, 1844; C. Maitland, Church in the Catacombs, London, 1847; L. Perret, Les Catacombes de Rome, 6 vols., Paris, 1851-55 (plates are valuable, the text is superseded); W. I. Kip, Catacombs of Rome, New York, 1854; D. de Richemont, Les Catacombes de Rome, Paris, 1870; P. Allard, Rome souterraine, Paris, 1874; J. H. Parker, Archæology of Rome, parts ix., x., xii., London, 1877 (a standard work); T. Roller, Les Catacombes de Rome, Paris, 1881; W. R. Brownlow, Cemetery of St. Priscilla and Recent Discoveries, London, 1892; M. Armellini, Le Catacombe romane, Rome, 1880; idem, Gli antichi cimiteri cristiani di Roma e d'Italia, ib. 1893; R. Lanciani, Ruins and Excavations of Ancient Rome, Index "cemeteries," Boston, 1897; A. Weber, Die römischen Katakomben, Regensburg, 1900.
For cemeteries in Italy outside Rome consult: G. B. Pasquini, Un antico cimitero, Sienna, 1831; idem, Relazione di un antico cimitero . . . , Montipulciano, 1833; C. F. Bellermann, Die ältesten christlichen Begräbnisstätten, Hamburg, 1839 (at Naples); G. Scherillo, Le Catacombe Napolitane, Naples, 1870; F. Liverani, Le Catacombe . . . di Chiusi, Sienna, 1872; T. Roller, Die Katakomben von San Gennaro . . . in Neapel, Jena, 1877: V. Schultze, Die Katakomben von San Gennaro, ib. 1877; F. Colonna, Scoperto di antichità in Napoli, 1876-1897, Naples, 1898.
For Sicily, Malta, and Sardinia consult: G. P. Badger, Description of Malta and Sardinia, pp. 255-260. Malta, 1838; A. A. Caruana, Recent Discoveries at Notabile, Malta, 1881; idem, A Hypogeum . . . , ib. 1884; B. Lupus, Die Stadt Syracus im Alterthum, pp. 271, 275, 323-327, Strasburg, 1887; V. Strazzulla, in Archivio storico Siciliano, xxi. 104-188, Palermo, 1896; J. Führer, in AMA, 1 Klasse, xx. (1897), part 3; idem, Forschungen zur Sicilia sotterranea, Munich, 1897 (a work of the first importance).
For England: Caroline B. Southey, Chapters on Churchyards, London, 1870; E. E. Jarrett, Lessons on the Churchyard, ib. 1880; Mrs. B. Holmes, London Burial Grounds, ib. 1896.
Consult also: J. B. D. Cochet, La Normandie souterraine ou Notices sur des cimetières romains et des cimetières francs, Dieppe, 1855; idem, Sépultures gauloises, romaines, franques et normandes, 2 vols., ib. 1857.
The original article by Müller, in Hauck-Herzog, RE, x. 794-877f, is a learned treatise and should be consulted by advanced students.
Calvin College. Last modified on 05/10/04. Contact the CCEL.