Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub
[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

ARKER and darker grew the shadows of night

over the great empty and desolate amphitheatre, but a few hours before clamorous with the shouts and din of the tumultuous mob. The silence seemed preternatural, and a solemn awfulness seemed to invest the shrouded forms which lay upon the sand. By a merciful provision of the Roman law, it made not war upon the dead, and the bodies even of criminals were given up to their friends, if they had any, that they might not be deprived of funeral rites. Having wreaked his cruel rage upon the living body, the pagan magistrate at least did not deny the privilege of burial to the martyrs' mutilated remains. It was esteemed by the primitive believers as much an honour as a duty, to ensepulchre with Christian rites the remains of the sacred dead.*

* See Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., vii., 16 and 22. Eutychianus, a Roman Christian, is recorded to have buried three hundred and forty-two martyrs with his own hands. Faustus, the faithful freedman of Adanctus, Hilarus, the fossor, and the servants of the Christian matron, Marcella, came at the fall of night to bear away the boilies of the martyrs to their final resting place in the silent Catacomb. The service was not devoid of danger, for vile informers prowled around seeking to discover and betray whomsoever would pay the rites of sepulture to the remains of the Christian martyrs. But there are gulden keys which will unlock any doors and seal any lips, and Marcella apared not her wealth in this sacred service.

On the present occasion, too, special facility was given for carrying out this pious purpose. Through the infliuence of the Empress Valeria, Hilarus, the fossor, was enabled to show to the chief custodian of the amphitheatre an authorization under the hand of Galerius for removing the bodies of the “ criminals who had paid the penalty of the law”—so ran the rescript.

Beneath the cliff-like shadow of the Coliseum gathered this little Christian company. The iron gates opened their ponderous jaws. By the fitful flare of a torch weirilly lighting up the vaulted arches, with gentle and reverent hands, as though the cold clay could still feel their lightest touch, the bodies of the dead were laid upon the biers. Through the silent streets, devout men in silence bore the martyrs to their burial. Through the Porta Capena, which opened to the magic spell of the Emperor's order; through the silent “Street of Tombs,” still lined with the monuments of Rome's mighty dead, wended slowly the solemn procession. There was no wailing of the pagan nonia or funeral dirge, neither was there the chanting of the Christian hymn. But in silence, or with only whispered utterance, they reached the door of the private grounds of the Villa Marcella.

First the bodies were borne to the villa, where, by loving hands, the stains of dust and blood were washed away. Then, robed in white and bestrewn with flowers, they were placed on the biers in the marble atriun. Again the good presbyter Primitius read the words of life as at the burial of Lucius, the martyr,* and vows and prayers were offered up to God.

While this solemn service was in progress, a lady, deeply-veiled, was seen to be agitated by violent grief. Convulsive sobs shook her frame, and her tears fell fast. When the forms of the martyrs were uncovered, that their friends might take their last farewell, the Einpress Valeria, for it was she, fluug herself on her knees beside the body of the late slave maiden, and ained ears of deep emotion on her face. More lovely in death than in life, the fine-cut features seemed

* See Chapter VI.

like the most exquisite work of the sculptor carved in translucent alabaster. A crown of asphodel blossoms—the emblems of immortality —encircled her brow, and a palm branch--the symbol of the martyr's victory-was placed upon her breast.

“Give her an honoured place among the holy dead," said the Empress, amid her sols, to the venerable Primitius.

“I have given orders," said the Lady Marcella, “that she, with her father and brother, shall sleep side by side in the chamber prepared as the last resting-place for my own family. We shall court it a precious privilege, in God's own good time, to be laid to rest near the dust of His holy confessors and martyrs.”

“ Aurelius shall share the tomb," said Hilarus, the fossor, “ which he made for himself while yet alive, beside his noble wife, Aurelia Theudosia.

“Be it mine to honour with a memorial tablet the remains of my good master Adauctus,” said Faustus, the freedman, with deep emotion.*

* Through the long lapse of ages this memorial has been preserved, and may still be read in Gruter's great collection of ancient inscriptions. It is also referred to in Gibbon. In the epitaph occur the following fine lines:

INTEMERATA FIDE CONTEMPTO PRINCIPE MVNDI

CONFESSVS XRM CAELESTIA REGNA PETISTI.

“ It shall be my privilege," said the Empress, “ to provide for my beloved handmaiden, as a mark of the great love I bore her, a memorial of her saintly virtues; and let her bear my name in death as in life, so that those who read her epitaph may know she was the freed woman and friend of an unhappy Enpress.”

The Empress Valeria now retired, and with her trusty escort, returned to the city.

With psalms and hymns, and the solemn chanting of such versicles as: “ Convertere anima mea, in requiem tuam”—“Return unto thy rest, O my soul ;” and “Si ambulavcro in medio umbræ mortis, non timebo mala "_" Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil,” the funeral procession wound its way, by gleaming torchlight, through the cypress glades of the garden to the entrance of the Catacomb of Callixtus. Here additional torches and tapers were lighted, and carefully the sacred burdens were carried down the long and narrow stair, and through the intricate passages to the family vault of the Lady Marcella.

This vault was one of unusual size and loftiness, and had been especially prepared for holding religious service during the outbreak of perse

“With unfaltering faith, despising the lord of the world, having confessed Christ, thou dost seek the celestial realms."

14

« PredošláPokračovať »