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THE TOMBS OF THE APOSTLES ST. PETER AND ST. PAUL
‘If thou wilt go to the Vatican or to the Ostian road thou wilt find the trophies of the Apostles who founded this Church.' These words of the Roman presbyter Gaius (identified by Dr. Lightfoot505505Apost. Fathers, part i. vol. ii. pp. 318, 377–83. with the well-known Hippolytus bishop of Portus) in his treatise against the heretic Proclus are a positive testimony to the existence at the end of the Second Century of trophies or memoriae—i.e. small oratories—over the graves of the Apostles Peter and Paul. It further indicates in what localities these visible monuments were to be found. Eusebius, to whom we are indebted for the preservation of this piece of valuable evidence, makes the further statement that the names of the Apostles were to be seen in the cemeteries of Rome in his day.506506Hist. Eccl. ii. 25.
The ‘Liber Pontificalis' contains what appears to be an authentic record of the construction of one of these memoriae. Of bishop Anacletus (Anencletus) it is said ‘Hic memoriam Beati Petri construxit et composuit.' The erection of these monuments may therefore be placed in the early years of Domitian's reign.
The evidence from traditional sources as to the exact position of the spots where the two Apostles were martyred and afterwards buried is very detailed and complete, and, as is usual in topographical references, is accurate, even though the narratives, in which these references occur, are in the main apocryphal fictions of a late date.
The principal authorities in the case of St. Peter are as follows:
‘Liber Pontificalis': [Petrus] ‘sepultus est via Aurelia in templum Apollinis, iuxta locum ubi crucifixus est, iuxta palatium Neronianum, in Vaticanum, iuxta territorium Triumphale.'
Jerome, ‘De Viris Illustribus': ‘Sepultus est in Vaticano iuxta viam triumphalem totius orbis veneratione celebratur.'
‘Martyrium Beati Petri Apostoli': ‘Ad locum qui vocatur Naumachiae iuxta obeliscum Neronis in montem.'
‘Acta Petri': ‘Apud palatium neronianum iuxta obeliscum inter duas metas.'
‘Liber Pontificalis': [Cornelius] ‘posuit iuxta locum ubi crucifixus est, inter corpora sanctorum episcoporum, in templum Apollinis, in monte aureo, in vaticanum palatii neroniani.'
‘De locis S.S. Martyrum': ‘Petrus in parte occidentali civitatis iuxta viam Corneliam ad milliarium primum in corpore quiescit.'
From these notices it will be seen that three roads are mentioned—the Via Aurelia (Nova), the Via Triumphalis, and the Via Cornelia. These three roads met at a point close to the Pons Neronianus or Triumphalis. Between the Via Aurelia Nova and the Via Cornelia stood the Circus of Nero, between the Via Cornelia and the Via Triumphalis the Vatican hill. The Circus of Nero was the scene of the Games at which a multitude of Christians perished by horrible tortures in the spring of 65 A.D., and here according to the ‘Acta Petri' suffered St. Peter ‘iuxta obeliscum inter duas metas'—that is on the spina at a point equidistant from the two goals, where the obelisk stood, the same obelisk removed in 1586 to the front of the Basilica. The palatium Neronianum and the Naumachia were appellations given in later days to the remains of the Circus, which was destroyed when Constantine built the first Basilica above St. Peter's tomb. The Mons Aureus (a corruption of Aurelius) was so called from its proximity to the Via Aurelia Nova, later the name was extended to the Janiculum also, the southern part of which is still called Montorio.507507For the tradition connected with S. Pietro in Montorio and its origin see Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome, p. 128; Barnes, S. Peter in Rome, p. 98.
Templum Apollinis. Duchesne writes (‘Lib. Pont.' i. 120): ‘Quant au temple d'Apollon, il y a, clans cette désignation, un souvenir du célèbre sanctuaire de Cybèle, qui s'élévait tout près du cirque et de la basilique, et qui fut, jusqu'aux dernières années du ive siècle, le théâtre des cérémonies sanglantes du taurobolium et du criobolium . . . Le Collège des xv. viri sacris faciundis, qui était chargé du culte de cette déesse, étaient aussi directeurs du culte d'Apollon.' In any case there was a building on this spot popularly known as the templum Apollinis, witness the notice in the ‘Liber Pontificalis' of Pope Silvester (314–335 A.D.): ‘eodem tempore Augustus Constantinus fecit basilicam beato Petro apostolo in templum Apollinis.' (Duchesne, ‘Lib. Pont.' i. 176.)
The body of St. Peter then was buried in a small cemetery on the Vatican hill close to the place where he was crucified. Over this tomb Anencletus erected his memoria, and in the immediate vicinity the first twelve bishops of Rome, with the exception of Clement and Alexander, were according to the ‘Liber Pontificalis' laid to rest—in each case the phrase recurs ‘sepultus est iuxta corpus beati Petri in Vaticanum.' In time the entire space available was filled up. Zephyrinus was the first to be buried in 217 A.D. on the Appian Way, and his successor Calixtus created the crypt in the great subterranean cemetery called after his name, where he himself and a number of his successors were interred. The crypt of the Popes was discovered in 1854 by De Rossi, and the inscriptions on the broken coverings of the Sarcophagi of several of the bishops may still be seen. Excavations made near the Great Altar of St. Peter's in the early seventeenth century by Paul V and Urban VIII revealed many interesting facts. A large coffin was found made of great slabs of marble containing a mass of half-charred bones and ashes, pointing to the probability that Peter was interred close by the remains of the martyrs who had perished as living torches at the Neronian Vatican fête. All round the ‘Confessio' in which the Apostle's relics were supposed to rest were placed coffins side by side against the ancient walls, containing bodies swathed in Jewish fashion. On the slabs that covered them were no inscriptions, save in one case where the name Linus could be deciphered.508508The evidence of Torrigio (but see below Drei's plan) is not clear, whether the name Linus was a separate word, or the termination of such a name as Marcellinus. The tomb of Linus appears however to have been known in the ninth century according to the poet Rhabanus Maurus. Acta Sanct. 6 Sept. p. 543. Whether these were the bodies of the earliest bishops of Rome it is impossible to say, but the discovery, taken in conjunction with the statements of the ‘Liber Pontificalis' which topographically are so often correct, makes the supposition credible. The evidence is far from complete, but it is weighty. The historical character of the notices relating to the Vatican interments in the ‘Liber Pontificalis' is borne out by the remarkable omission of Clement and also of Alexander. The legend of Clement's martyrdom in the Chersonese is fictitious. It may be taken as certain that he did not die in Rome. In the ‘Liber Pontificalis' we read concerning Alexander—‘sepultus est via Numentana, ubi decollatus est, ab urbe Roma non longe, miliario VII.' In the Itinerary or Pilgrim Guide of William of Malmesbury: ‘In septimo miliario eiusdem viae [Nomentanae] s. papa Alexander cum Eventio et Theodulo pausant' (De Rossi, ‘Rom. Sott.' i. 179).509509There is some doubt about Alexander. Marucchi, Elém. d'Arch. Chrét. i. p. 28. Again the later notices as to the burials of Zephyrinus, of Callistus and their successors not on the Vatican but upon the Appian Way have been verified by De Rossi and other modern archaeologists. The statements as to the discoveries made in the excavations of 1615 and 1626 rest on contemporary authorities. Francesco Maria Torrigio, who was with Cardinal Evangelista Pallotta an eye-witness of the exhumations of 1615, has given an account of them in his work ‘Le sacre Grotte vaticane,' 1639, and Giovanni Severano also relates what he had heard in his ‘Memorie sacre delle sette chiese di Roma,' 1629. The master mason Benedetto Drei, who was likewise an eye-witness of the discoveries made in 1615, has left an engraved plan originally intended for Torrigio's book; one copy of this, in the British Museum, is of exceptional interest, for it is covered with autograph MS. notes in the handwriting of Drei himself.510510An excellent reproduction of this will be found in Barnes's St. Peter in Rome, facing p. 304. Drei's MS. notes confirm the reading Linus. In this one can see how the tombs are so arranged round the central shrine that the bodies seem to surround that of St. Peter ‘like bishops assisting at a council.' An account quite as circumstantial and authentic is given by a certain R. Ubaldi, canon of the basilica, of the excavations made in 1626. The MS. containing this narrative lay forgotten in the Vatican Archives until it was discovered by Professor Gregorio Palmieri in recent years and was transcribed and published by Cavalicre Mariano Armellini in his work ‘Le Chiese di Roma,' 1891. An English version may be found in A. S. Barnes, ‘St. Peter in Rome,' pp. 315–338, a work full of interesting material and valuable research.
Let us now turn to the tomb of St. Paul on the Ostian Way. The Apocryphal Acts all declare that St. Paul as became his status as a Roman citizen suffered martyrdom by decapitation—honestiores capite puniantur, and that he was led out to a place known as Aquae Salviae, near the third mile-stone on the Ostian Way. This tradition has not been seriously disputed. In the Greek Acts the addition is made that the Apostle suffered under a pine-tree—εἰς μάσσαν καλουμένην Ἀκκούαι Σαλβίας πλησὶ τοῦ δένδρου τοῦ στροβίλου. An extant inscription of Gregory the Great, 604 A.D., records the gift by him of a piece of land at the Aquae Salviae to the basilica of St. Paul—‘Valde incongruum ac esse durissimum videretur ut illa ei specialiter possessio non serviret in qua palmam sumens martyrii capite est truncatus ut viveret, utile iudicavimus eandem massam quae Aquas Salvias nuncupatur . . . cum Christi Gratia luminaribus deputare.'511511Marucchi, Elém. d'Arch. Chrét. ii. p. 74; De Rossi, Roma Sotterranea, i. p. 182; Bullet. di Arch. Crist. 1869, pp. 81 ff.; Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome, pp. 156–7. A memorial chapel was built here in the fifth century, whose remains were discovered in 1867 under the present Church of S. Paolo alle Tre Fontane, and in 1875 in the course of some excavations for a water tank behind this church a number of coins of Nero were found together with several pine-cones fossilised by age.
The body of St. Paul according to tradition was buried by a Christian matron of the name of Lucina in a plot of ground, which was her property, about a mile nearer to Rome. It was not a subterranean cemetery but one on the surface, and the piece of land was confined, being hemmed in between the Ostian Road and another road, which has since disappeared, known as the Via Valentiniana.512512Stevenson, ‘L'area di Lucina sulla Via Ostiense' in Nuovo Bullet:. di Arch. Crist. 1898, pp. 68 ff. This spot in the time of the presbyter Gaius, about 200 A.D., was marked like that of St. Peter on the Vatican by a memorial oratory (trophy) probably erected by Anencletus at the same time as the Petrine memoria already referred to.
That the bodies of the Apostles did not continuously remain undisturbed in their first resting places is one of those traditions which can be supported by a body of evidence, leaving indeed some points doubtful and obscure, but as regards the main fact almost conclusive. In that Kalendar of the Church known as the ‘Feriale Philocalianum' (about 354 A.D.) under the heading ‘Depositio Martyrum' occurs the following entry:
‘III. Kal. Iul. Petri in Catacumbas et Pauli Ostense—Tusco et Basso cons.'
The names of the Consuls fix the date as 258 A.D. and show that this entry is taken from some official source. It is clearly unintelligible as it stands. De Rossi however discovered at Berne a Codex of the ‘Martirologium Hieronymianum' which exhibits the same entry in a fuller form:
‘III. Kal. Iul. Romae natale apostolorum sanctorum Petri et Pauli—Petri in Vaticano via Aurelia Pauli vero in Via Ostensi, utrumque in Catacumbis, passi sub Nerone, Basso et Tusco consulibus.'513513Duchesne, Lib. Pont. i. p. cv.
This can only mean that on June 29 the Feast of the Apostles was kept in three places or stations—at the Vatican, on the Ostian Road, and in a place known as the Catacombs in memory of some event which took place in the consulate of Tuscus and Bassus, 258 A.D. The words bassi sub Nerone must be regarded as a parenthesis. The existence of these three stations is proved by a hymn of pseudo-Ambrose for June 29, as these lines show:
Tantae per urbis ambitum
Stipata tendunt agmina;
Trinis celebrator viis
Festum sacrorum Martyrum.
Now it can be proved that these consular dates in the Kalendar signify in other cases a translation of remains, and the conclusion is that a translation of the bodies of St. Peter and St. Paul to the Catacombs took place in 258 A.D.
There are many testimonies to the fact that the bodies of the two Apostles did actually rest in the cemetery ad Catacumbas, but the authorities differ as to the period at which the translation took place and also as to the duration of time during which the relics remained in their temporary tomb. The story contained in the Apocryphal ‘Acta Petri et Pauli' speaks of certain unknown people from the East who after the Apostles' martyrdom attempted to carry off the bodies to their own country, but being overtaken by an earthquake the people of Rome took the bodies from them at the third milestone on the Appian Way at the place called ad Catacumbas. Here the remains were deposited for one year and seven months until tombs were built for them on the Vatican and the Ostian Way. Now this story, of which there are several slightly differing versions, is almost certainly based upon a real historical event, the translation which took place in 258. The late writers of the ‘Acta' were utterly indifferent to chronology, and the deposition in the cemetery on the Appian Way when Tuscus and Bassus were consuls was associated with the martyrdoms and relegated with the accompaniment of many confused and legendary details to the time of Nero. All probability is against the story of the ‘Acta.' Even if the Apostles were put to death at the same time, and I have shown that there is a very strong presumption that St. Peter's death preceded that of St. Paul by two years, nothing could be more unlikely than the bringing back of their bodies to be interred in the vicinity of their places of execution when once they had been laid safely to rest in the cemetery on the Appian Way. There were as yet no sacred associations connected with the Vatican Hill and the Ostian Way to move the Roman Christians to act in the manner described in these apocryphal narratives.514514A letter of Gregory the Great to the Empress Constantina about 600 A.D. shows that the legend of the early translation was current in his time and accepted by him. Opp. St. Greg. ii. ep. 30.
The cause of the translation of 258 A.D. is not difficult to divine, for this was the year of the outbreak of the persecution of Valerian. An Edict had been issued against the Christians, forbidding their meetings in the cemeteries. It might well be that fears were aroused lest the sacred tombs of the Apostles should be desecrated, and so the bodies were removed to a place of greater safety. The researches of archaeologists have shown that the cemetery ad Catacumbas must in those days have been admirably adapted for the purpose. It was ancient already, it lay apart from other cemeteries, and it resembled rather a pagan than a Christian place of burial (Duchesne, ‘Lib. Pont.' cvii). It has been in recent years most carefully examined and studied and in the chamber known as the Platonia or Platoma a double tomb may still be seen, said to be that in which the bodies were placed.515515Dr. A. De Waal, Die Apostelgruft ad Catacumbas an der Via Appia; Marucchi, Le Merorie degli Apostoli Pietro e Paolo in Roma, 1903, pp. 75–92. Here Damasus (366–387 A.D.) built a basilica, which until the eighth century was known as the Basilica of the Apostles, and on the walls of the Chamber he placed an inscription in verse. In the ‘Liber Pontificalis' we read—‘Hic fecit basilicas duas: una beato Laurentio iuxta theatrum . . . et in Catacumbas ubi iacuerunt corpora sanctorum apostolorum Petri et Pauli, in quo loco platomam ipsam, ubi iacuerunt corpora sancta, versibus exornavit.' This poem of Damasus has fortunately been preserved. The text runs thus:
Hic habitare prius sanctos cognoscere debes
Nomina quisque Petri pariter Paulique requiris
Discipulos oriens misit quod sponte fatemur
Sanguinis ob meritum Christum qui per astra secuti
Aetherios petiere sinus regnaque piorum
Roma suos potius meruit defendere cives
Those words discipulos oriens misit may possibly have given rise to the later apocryphal fictions about the unknown men from the East, who tried to carry off the bodies of the Apostles. Damasus however here clearly means by these words the Apostles themselves, the word discipulos being used instead of Apostolos through the exigencies of the metre. He says in effect that though the East had sent the Apostles, Rome, which had been the scene of their labours and their deaths, had the best claim to retain them.
But even if it be granted that the notices in the ‘Feriale Philocalianum' and the ‘Hieronymian Martyrology' contain an official authentic statement that a translation of the relics to the cemetery ad Catacumbas took place in 258 A.D., as such authorities as the Abbé Duchesne, Monsignor de Waal, Professor Marucchi, and Father A. S. Barnes admit, there are other difficulties to be overcome, and they differ from one another in their interpretation of documentary evidence, and in their views as to whether there were two translations or one only, and as to the duration of the sojourn of the relics in the Platonia. The Apocryphal ‘Acta' say that the bodies were taken to the Catacombs immediately after the martyrdom of the Apostles and were removed to the tombs that had been prepared on the Vatican and on the Ostian Way one year and seven months afterwards. The Itineraries or Pilgrim Guides of the fifth and sixth centuries make the sojourn to be forty years: ‘Et iuxta eandem viam (Appiam) ecclesia est S. Sebastiani martyris, ubi ipse dormit, et ibi aunt sepulchra Apostolorum Petri et Pauli; in quibus xl annos requiescebant (‘De locis S.S. Martyrum'); ‘Postea pervenies via Appia ad S. Sebastianum martyrem, cuius corpus iacet in inferiori loco, et ibi sunt sepulchra Apostolorum Petri et Pauli in quibus xl annos requiescebant' (‘Salzburg Notitia'). As Duchesne and Barnes say, the term forty years is here undoubtedly intended as a round number, though the former is inclined, it seems to me, to extend it too widely.517517Duchesne (Lib. Pont. cv and cvii) suggests a date after 313 A.D., Barnes (St. Peter in Rome) 308 or 309 A.D. The exact number of forty years would bring us to an impossible date, the height of the fiercest persecution which the Christian Church had to endure—that of Diocletian. The period of one year and seven months mentioned in the Apocryphal ‘Acta' has, I have little doubt, some historical basis, which now it is impossible to discover,518518See suggestion infra, p. 269. but that the relics of the Apostles remained in the Platonia at least until the year 284 the ‘Acta' of St. Sebastian testify. According to these ‘Acta ' the Saint was buried in the Catacomb which still bears his name close to the Platonia because he had in a vision expressed the wish that his body might lie near the vestigia of the holy Apostles.519519Acta Sanctorum, Jan. 2, p. 622. There is another difficulty to be surmounted. In the biography of Pope Cornelius, 251–253 A.D., in the ‘Liber Pontificalis' the statement is made that at the request of a certain matron Lucina by name the bodies of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul were taken up by night; and that Lucina first buried the blessed Paul in her own ground (in praedio suo) on the Ostian Road and then that Cornelius placed the body of Peter close to the spot where he was crucified among the bodies of the holy bishops—‘in templum Apollinis, in Monte Aureo in Vaticanum palatii Neroniani iii Kai. Iul.' Now it is clear that if the bodies of the Apostles were only brought to the cemetery ad Calacumbas in 258 A.D., they cannot have been restored to their former tombs some years earlier. Duchesne, Marucchi, and Barnes are all of opinion that this paragraph in the notice of Cornelius has been somehow misplaced.520520Duchesne, Liber Pont. i. p. 151; Marucchi, Le Memorie degli Apostoli Pietro e Paolo, p. 56; Barnes, St. Peter in Rome, pp. 116 ff. Further it is stated that after the martyrdom of this Pope this same Lucina gathered together his remains (cuius corpus noctu collegit) and buried it in her own ground (praedio suo) in a crypt close to the Cemetery of Callistus. Apparently therefore Lucina had property, which she converted into a cemetery, both on the Ostian and the Appian Way.
Now Barnes has proposed a solution of this difficulty which is both ingenious and well worthy of consideration.521521St. Peter in Rome, pp. 119–127. He suggests that in some worn MS. the name Marcellus has been read as Cornelius and that the passage relating to the restoration of the bodies of the Apostles to their original tombs belongs to the biography of Marcellus. The Pontificate of Marcellus is separated from that of his predecessor Marcellinus by an interregnum due to the persecution of Diocletian, and its date was probably 306–309 A.D. In the biography of this Pope there is again mention of a certain matron, Lucina, the widow of a man named Marcus. On the martyrdom of Marcellus she gathered together his remains (cuius corpus collegit) and buried it in the Cemetery of Priscilla. Lucina, it is said, gave all her property to the Church, and a comparison of the various documents seems to point to that portion of the cemetery of Priscilla on the Via Salaria Nova, where Marcellus and his successors were buried, having been the property of this Lucina. By the time of the accession of Marcellus the bodies of the Apostles had been in the Platonia nearly 50 years. The abdication of Diocletian in 305 A.D. led to peace522522Gibbon, Decline and Fall, vol. ii. p. 161: ‘The revolt of Maxentius immediately restored peace to the Churches of Italy and Africa, and the same tyrant who oppressed every other class of his subjects showed himself just, humane, and even partial towards the afflicted Christians.' being restored to the Christian Church in Rome by the advent of Maxentius to power. This then would be a very fitting time for a new pope to prepare the removal of the Apostolic relics from the catacomb to their original tombs. There is extant an inscription of Damasus523523De Rossi, Inscr. Crist. ii. pp. 62, 103, 138. which tells us that the severity of Marcellus to those who had lapsed in the persecution stirred up violent strife and discord leading to sedition and the shedding of blood.
Veridicus rector, lapsos quia crimina fiere
Praedixit, miseris fuit omnibus hostis amarus;
Hinc furor, hinc odium sequitur, discordia, lites,
Seditio, caedes; solvuntur foedera pacis.
Crimea ob alterius, Christum qui in pace negavit,
Finibus expulsus patriae est feritate tyranni.
Haec breviter Damasus voluit comperta referre
Marcelli ut populus meritum cognoscere posset.
This inscription contains no reference to Marcellus having brought back the bodies of St. Peter and St. Paul to the Vatican and the Ostian Way, but the brevity of the poetical encomium of Damasus, as he himself states, made him confine himself to praising those actions of the bishop which were the cause of the suffering and exile that befell him.524524That there is confusion in the traditions relating to Cornelius and Marcellus is evident from the fact that in the Liber Pontificalis Cornelius is beheaded in Rome, in the Liberian Catalogue in exile at Centumcellis, cum gloria dormitionem accepit. Damasus makes Marcellus apparently die in exile. In the Liber Pontificalis he is condemned to tend horses in stables at Rome and dies of ill-usage. The inscription of Damasus is however authentic, as is the extant slab containing the words Cornelius Martyr, in the crypt where this Pope was buried. I would suggest, however, that in these discords and tumults, to which the inscription refers, may be found perhaps an explanation of the delay of one year and seven months in the entombment of the Apostles of which the Apocryphal ‘Acta' (Passio Petri el Pauli) speak. The strange passage, which tells of how ‘while the bodies of the Apostles were being carried off by the Greeks to be taken to the East, there was a great earthquake and the Roman people ran out and seized them in the place which is called Catacumba at the third milestone on the Via Appia, and the bodies were kept there for one year and seven months, until the places were built in which their bodies were placed, and then they were brought back with glory of hymns and were deposited that of St. Peter in the Vatican and that of St. Paul on the Ostian Way at the second milestone,' may well be a distorted and misdated version of events that really took place in the days of Marcellus. Let us suppose that on the first anniversary day of the Apostles, June 29, after the accession of Maxentius an attempt was made to remove the relics from the Catacombs, but that it was frustrated by the sudden attack of a hostile crowd, from whose hands the bodies were with difficulty rescued and taken back to the Platonia. Then about a year and a half later after all preparations had been carefully made the translation was successfully carried out. Now in the ‘Liberian Catalogue' under the heading depositio martyrum the entry occurs ‘viii. kl. Martias fatale Petri de Cathedra,' and this commemoration Professor Marucchi states was according to ancient documents observed from the Fourth century with such feasting that it gained the popular name of ‘dies sancti Petri epularum.'525525Marucchi, Elém. d'Arch. Chrét. ii. pp. 453–6; De Rossi, Bullett. d. Arch. Crist. 1890, p. 72 ff. Further in the Laterculum of Silvias, 448 A.D., it is said that in earlier times this commemoration, held on February 22, was a joint festival of SS. Peter and Paul.526526Blunt, Annot. Book of Common Prayer (‘The Conversion of St. Paul') Was it not then on this date that after a year and seven months the actual translation took place?
What may be called the Marcellus hypothesis remains however little more than a plausible conjecture, for no positive evidence can be brought forward to establish its truth.
Nevertheless an examination of the Apocryphal ‘Acta' reveals the fact that a certain Marcellus was supposed to be the writer of the ‘Passio Petri et Pauli' from which the extract quoted above about the attempt to carry off the Apostles' bodies, and about their lying for a year and seven months in the Catacombs, is taken. Marcellus it is who after the martyrdom takes the lead in burying St. Peter ‘near the Naumachia in the place called the Vatican.' Lipsius in his work on the Apostolic legends devotes a whole section to what he styles ‘der sogenannte Marcellustext.'527527Lipsius, Die Apokryphen Apostelgeschichten und Apostellegenden, 2er Band 1e Hälfte, pp. 284–386. One MS. Cod. Urbin. is headed—‘III. Kl. Iulii Passio beatorum Petri et Pauli a Marcello discipulo Petri edita quique idem interfuit passioni.' Nor is this all. On late authority St. Paul was said to have been buried by a certain matron Lucina in her own property (in praedio suo) on the Ostian Way,528528De Rossi, Roma Sotterranea, ii. p. 262; Stevenson, ‘L'area di Lucina sulla Via Ostiense,' Nuovo Bullett. 1898, p. 60 ff. In the ‘Liber Pontificalis' the Lucina of the Cornelius biography buries St. Paul on the return from the Catacombs on the Ostian Way ‘in praedio suo.' The Lucina of the Marcellus biography is the widow of Marcus, in the ‘Passio Petri et Pauli' Marcus is the father of Marcellus. In all probability the three Lucinas are one and the same person, whose activity was connected with the life of Pope Marcellus. If this should be so, it will at once appear that a strong case is made for placing the return of the relics from the Platonia in the pontificate of Marcellus, about 307 A.D.
That the bodies of the Apostles were believed to lie in the tombs on the Vatican and on the Ostian Way when Constantine determined to erect basilicas over their remains is certain. The exact year in which these were built is unknown, except that it was in the Pontificate of Pope Silvester, 314–335. The words of the ‘Liber Pontificalis' (Duchesne, 176 and 178) tell us that the object of the Emperor was to do honour to the sacred tombs of the Apostles. The sarcophagus which contained the body of St. Peter he enclosed in bronze from Cyprus and fixed it at the central point of a cubical chamber of masonry—‘cuius loculum undique aere Cypro conclusit, quod est immobile; ad caput, pedes V; ad pedes, pedes V; ad latus dextrum, pedes V; ad latus sinistrum, pedes V; subter, pedes V; supra, pedes V; sic inclusit corpus beati Petri et recondit.' He then placed on the coffin a cross of gold (with an inscription)—‘super corpus Petri, supra aera quod conclusit, fecit crucem ex auro purissimo, pens. lib. cl. in mensuram loci, ubi scriptum est hoc CONSTANTINVS AVGVSTVS ET HELENA AVGVSTA HANC DOMVM REGALEM SIMILI FVLGORE CORVSCANS AVLA CIRCVMDAT, scriptum ex litteris nigellis in cruce ipsa.'
Constantine likewise built a basilica on the Ostian Way to the memory of St. Paul, whose sarcophagus was, like St. Peter's, enclosed in bronze and a cross of gold placed over it ‘cuius corpus ita recondit in aere et conclusit sicut beati Petri . . . et crucem auream super locum beati Pauli apostoli posuit pens. lib. cl.' The scrupulous care that was taken not to disturb the tombs in any way was conspicuously shown in the instance of the Constantinian basilica of St. Paul. It was the custom in the early basilicas that the altar upon the tomb of the saint or martyr to whom the church was dedicated should be placed at the west end at the central point of the chord of an apse round which the clergy sat on either side of the bishop or other dignitary. The Celebrant stood with his back to this apse facing eastward with the congregation before him in the nave. Now the tomb of St. Paul lay so near to the Ostian Way, one of the main roads from Rome, that this first basilica was of diminutive proportions. Before however many years were past it was felt that so small a church was unworthy of St. Paul, and another basilica on the same scale as that of St. Peter was erected in 386 A.D. To effect this without touching the tomb and altar led to a completely new departure in the internal arrangements of the basilica, a new departure that was to have permanent results by being generally adopted.529529Barnes, St. Peter in Rome, p. 215 ff.; Belloni, Della grandezza et la disposizione della primitiva Basilica Ostiense. The church was reversed, the apse was now placed at the east end, but the celebrant still stood on the west side of the altar facing eastwards, with result that he looked towards the clergy in the apse and had his back to the congregation in the nave: a custom which has since become universal. Another innovation arose from the desire to cover all the consecrated ground, where the first basilica had stood, and a transverse nave at right angles to the main nave was built, and thus came into existence in 386 A.D. the earliest known example of a cruciform church. No stronger evidence could be brought forward to show the scrupulous and reverential care with which the early Christians cherished and guarded the burial places of their dead. In this they were aided by the laws of the State, which declared every tomb to be ‘locus sacer, locus religiosus,' and there is seen to be no impossibility in the assumption that the sarcophagi which Constantine enclosed in bronze really contained the bodies of the Apostles. Whatever care was bestowed on other tombs, those of St. Peter and of St. Paul would from the first be regarded with exceptional veneration, and be watched over and tended with peculiar devotion, so that it would be most unlikely that those who translated the relics to the catacombs in 258 A.D. should have made any mistake.
The question whether these sarcophagi encased in bronze by Constantine are still in existence, or whether they were destroyed by the Saracens in 846 A.D. or by the soldiery of Bourbon in 1527, can only be answered positively by excavations which it may safely be said will never be undertaken. Probability on the whole seems to be that, though the shrines were plundered and destroyed, the tombs themselves were untouched. If the story told by Bonanni,530530Bonanni, Temp. Vatic. Historia, published in 1696, p. 149. who professes to be giving from the MS. of a contemporary of the event (Torrigio) the evidence of eyewitnesses, be true, then in some alterations that were being made in 1594 by the orders of Pope Clement VIII to the altar of the Confession an aperture was opened through which the sarcophagus of St. Peter with the gold cross gleaming upon it was seen by the Pope himself, and Cardinals Bellarmine, Antoniano and Sfondrato. By Clement's command the aperture was filled up with cement and has not been opened since. Further in the excavations by Paul V in 1615 and by Urban VIIl in 1626, in the immediate vicinity of the shrine, conclusive evidence was obtained that the early Christian sepulchres which clustered round the sacred resting place of the Apostle had never been disturbed.
In the case of St. Paul's shrine a very interesting discovery made in 1835, when the basilica was being rebuilt after the great fire of 1823, points to the conclusion that the tomb had not been interfered with since the fourth century. A slab of marble measuring seven feet by four feet was uncovered with the simple inscription
The opinion of archaeologists who have examined the slab is unanimous that the character of the inscription and the form of the letters fix the date as belonging to the age of Constantine. Under the name531531There are also two square apertures of later date, purpose unknown. is a round aperture, the ancient billicum confessionis, sometimes called the fenestrella or little window, through which handkerchiefs or other objects were lowered so as to be hallowed by contact with the sarcophagus.
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