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494
CATACOMB

reproduced by Bosio (pp. 355, 391) and others. A romantic air has been thrown over these burial chapels by the notion that they were the places of worship used by the Christians in times of persecution.

EB1911 Catacomb - Fig. 12.—Cubiculum in the Cemetery of St Calixtus.jpg
Fig. 12.—Cubiculum in the Cemetery of St Calixtus.
(From de Rossi.)

This to a certain extent is doubtless true, as in the case of the chapel of Santa Priscilla, where the altar or stone coffin of a martyr remains, with a small platform behind it for the priest or bishop to stand upon. But that they can have been so used to any large extent is rendered impossible by their limited dimensions, as none of them could hold more than fifty or sixty persons. In some of the catacombs, however, there are larger halls and connected suites of chapels which may possibly have been constructed for the purpose of congregational worship during the dark periods when the public exercise of the Christian religion was made penal. The most remarkable of these is in the cemetery of Sant’ Agnese (see plan, fig. 13). It consists of five rectangular compartments, three on one side of the corridor and two on the other, connected by a passage intersecting the gallery at right angles. Two of the five compartments are supposed to have been assigned to male, and two to female worshippers, the fifth, at the extremity of the whole, being reserved for the altar and its ministers. In the centre of the end-wall stands a stone chair (fig. 14), considered to have been the episcopal cathedra, with a bench for the clergy on each side. There is no trace of an altar, which may, Marchi thinks, have been portable. The walls of the compartments are occupied by arched sepulchral recesses, above and below which are tiers of ordinary graves or loculi. The arrangements are certainly such as indicate a congregational purpose, but the extreme narrowness of the suite, and still more of the passage which connects the two divisions, must have rendered it difficult for any but a small number to take any intelligent part in the services at the same time. Although the idea of the use of the catacombs for religious worship may have been pressed too far, there can be no doubt that the sacred rites of the church were celebrated within them. We have already spoken of the eucharistic celebrations of which the cubicula were the scene; and still existing baptisteries prove that the other sacrament was also administered there. The most remarkable of these baptisteries is that in the catacomb of San Pontianus (fig. 15). Ten steps lead down to a basin of sufficient depth for immersion, supplied by a spring. Some of the subterranean chambers contain armed seats and benches cut out of the tufa rock. These are supposed by Marchi and others to indicate schoolrooms, where the catechumens were instructed by the bishop or presbyters. But this theory wants verification. It is impossible not to be struck with the remarkable analogy between these rock-hewn chairs and those discovered in the Etruscan tombs, of the purpose of which no satisfactory explanation has been given.

EB1911 Catacomb - Fig. 13.—Plan of a supposed Church, Catacomb of Sant’ Agnese.jpgEB1911 Catacomb - Fig. 14.—Bishop’s Chair. Catacomb of Sant’ Agnese.jpg
Fig. 13.—Plan of a supposed Church, Catacomb of Sant’ Agnese. (From Marchi.)Fig. 14.—Bishop’s Chair.
Catacomb of Sant’ Agnese.


EB1911 Catacomb - Fig. 15.—Baptistery of San Pontianus.jpg
Fig. 15.—Baptistery of San Pontianus. (From Perret.)

Very exaggerated statements have been made as to the employment of the catacombs as dwelling-places by the Christians in times of persecution. We have, however, sufficient evidence that they were used as places of refugeTheories of the use of the catacombs. from the fury of the heathen, in which the believers—especially the bishops and clergy, who would naturally be the first objects of attack—might secrete themselves until the storm had blown over. This was a purpose for which they were admirably adapted both by the intricacy of their labyrinthine passages, in which any one not possessing the clue would be inevitably lost, and the numerous small chambers and hiding-places at different levels which might be passed unperceived in the dark by the pursuers. As a rule also the catacombs had