Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

cution. Marcella held the office of deaconess in the Christian Church, and when even the privacy of her own house was not a sufficient safeguard against the prying of pagan spies, she was wont

[graphic][merged small]

to retire to the deeper seclusion of this subterranean place of prayer. On each side of the door were seats hewn in the solid rock, one for the deaconess, the other for the female catechist who shared her pious labours. Around the wall was a low stone seat for the female catechumens, for the most part members of her own household, who here received religious instruction. The accompanying engraving indicates the appearance of this ancient oratory or class-room, its main features unchanged, although the lapse of centuries has somewhat marred its structure and defaced its beauty.

With solemn rites and prayers the remains of the martyrs were consigned to their last long resting-place. Amid the sobs and tears of the mourners, the good presbyter Primitius paid a luving tribute to their holy lives and heroic death —all the more thrilling because they themselves stood in jeopardy every hour. In the presence of the martyred dead the venerable pastor then broke the bread and poured the wine of the Last Supper of the Lord, and the little company of worshippers seemed united in still closer fellowship with those who now kept the sacred feast in the kingdom of their common Father and God.

Before they left the chamber, Hilarus, after he had hermetically sealed the tombs of Demetrius and Ezra, his son, cemented with plaster a marble s'ab against the opening of that on which was laid-rude couch for form so fair---the body of the chief subject of our ower true tale.” As it was designed to be but a temporary memorial of the virgin martyr, until the costly epitaph which the Empress was to provide should be ready, he took the little pot of pigment which he had

[ocr errors]

brought for the purpose, and 'th his brush in, scribed the brief sentence :

IN

VALERIA DORMIT IN PACE.
ANIMA DULCIS, INNOCVA, SAPIENS ET PVLCHP

XRO.

EN. V. DIES X.

QVI VIXIT ANNOS XVIII.

“Valeria sleeps in peace. A sweet spirit-guileless, wise, beautiful—in Christ. She lived eighteen years, five months, ten days.”

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][merged small]

Alas! the timne never came when that costly memorial should be reared. The violence of persecution soon drove the Empress herself an exile from her home, and when the storm rolled away there was none left to carry out her pious wish. Through the long centuries that humble epitaph was all the memorial of one of the noblest, sweetest, bravest souls that ever lived. And even that rude slab was not destined always to cover her remains. After the re-discovery of the Catacombs in the sixteenth century, many of their tombs were pillaged for relics, or in the vain search for treasure. By some ruthless rifler of the grave this very slab was shivered, and the lower part of the epitaph destroyed; and there upon its rocky bed, on which it had reposed for well-nigh fifteen hundred years, lay in mouldering dust the remains of the maiden martyr, Valeria Callirhoë. Verily Pulvis et umbra sumus!

Primitius and Hilarus, with the little company of devout men who lore the martyrs to their burial, now proceeded to the entombment, in a neighbouring crypt, of the bodies of Adauctus and Aurelius. As they advanced through the dark corridors, but dimly lighted by their tapers' feeble rays, the silence of that under-world seemed almost aj palling. Black shadows crouched around, and their footsteps echoed strangely down the distant passages, dying gradually away in this vast valley of the shadow of death. Almost in silence their sacred task was completed, and they softly sang a funeral hymn before they turned to leave their martyred brethren to their last long sleep.

Suddenly there was heard the tumultuous “ tramp, tramp," as of armed men. Then the clang of iron mail and bronze cuirass resounded through the vaulted corridors. The glare of torches was seen at the end of a long arched passage, and the sharp, swift word of military command rang out stern and clear.

“Forward! Seize the caitiffs ! Let nut one escape! Slay if they resist !” and a rush was made to the chamber where the notes of the Christian psalm had but now died away.

“Out with your lights !" exclaimed, in a muffled tone, Hilarus, the fossor.

“ Follow me as closely and as quietly as you can.

Good Father Primitius, your arı. By God's help we will disappoint those hunters of men of their anticipated

prey."

“Or join our brethren in martyrdom, as is llis will," devoutly added Primitius. “He doeth all things well.”

But we must go back a little to learn the cause and means of this armei in vision of the Catacombs,

« PredošláPokračovať »