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Chapter 4. The Truth About the Grave of St. Paul—The Basilica Paulli in the Forum, and the Basilica Pauli Apostoli on the Road to Ostia.

SPEAKING of the fire which swept over the Forum in the year 210 B.C. under the consulship of Marcellus and Lævinus, Livy says, xxvi. 27, 3, that the flames leapt directly from the public square upon the private houses around “because they were not screened, as they are now, by a belt of basilicæ.” In fact, the first edifice of this kind was erected only in 184 by M. Porcius Cato the elder, under the name of Basilica Porcia. The institution became at once so popular that, before the end of the Republic, five more “regal halls” were built for the accommodation of the habitués of the Forum: the Sempronia in 169 on the line of the Tabernæ Veteres, the Opimia in 121 by the temple of Concord, the Fulvia in 179 by the Argiletum, the Æmilia in 54, and the Julia in 46 (rebuilt and enlarged by Augustus in the year 12).

The basilicæ are identified generally with our law-courts, but such was not their exclusive purpose. They were used not only for the administration of justice but also for exchanges, or places of meeting for merchants and men of business. The two uses are so mixed up that it is difficult to say which was the principal one. We, “laudatores temporis acti,” are in the habit of seeing things rather idealized whenever we speak or think of bygone times, and we like to picture the Forum of Republican Rome as an august and mighty place, in which the destinies of the world were discussed and decided upon, where state trials were conducted, slaves tortured, and the bodies of state offenders, who had undergone capital punishment, exposed on the Gemonian steps, until the executioner would hook them to a chain and drag them across the pavement to one of the openings of the Cloaca Maxima.

The Forum was altogether a much gayer, a more vulgar and matter-of-fact centre of life; used for military reviews and parades as well as for public banquets, gladiatorial fights, and shows of every kind, including exhibitions of works of art, paintings, statues, panoramas, and wonders of nature, such as the serpent fifty cubits long, exhibited at the time of Augustus. Whenever one of these celebrations took place, the shops and the porticoes were hung with shields and tapestries lent to the Ædiles by private collectors, and stands were erected, with seats for hire, much to the annoyance of the populace, whose accommodations were thus considerably reduced. C. Gracchus put an end to this practice by setting fire, in the darkness of night, to the stands.

As regards the every-day city life, we may take the Forum as a place of rendezvous and intrigue; where all kinds of transactions were practised, from the hiring of waiters and flute-players for “at homes” to the borrowing of large sums of money. The shops, originally rented to butchers and schoolmasters, became in time more attractive and ornamental. Civil and criminal cases were tried at the statue of Marsyas, the meeting-place of lawyers, witnesses, and clerks; while auctioneers and slave-merchants usually met by the Argentariæ. The Canalicolæ, a drunken and sharp-tongued race, complainers of everything and everybody, were to be found along the gutter by which the rainwater was drained into the cloaca. Well-to-do citizens preferred the lower end of the Forum and the Sacra Via, lined by the beautiful shops of jewellers, perfumers, and makers of musical instruments. The neighborhood of the Vortumnus at the entrance to the Vicus Tuscus (Via di S. Teodoro) bore an ill fame, and so did the lower Subura, the notorious headquarters of pickpockets and receivers of stolen goods. Copyists, booksellers, and shoemakers had established themselves along the Argiletum, fruiterers and florists on the Summa Sacra Via, and vendors of bronze vases near the temple of Janus.

The basilicæ, likewise, were haunted by a special and generally disreputable set of men, such as fishmongers, who poisoned the vestibules and colonnades with the offensive smell of their merchandise; the “subbasilicani,” concocters and propagators of false news and spicy gossip; and, above all, the bankers and brokers with their usual retinue of usurers, money-lenders, and shady men of business. The arcades of the Julia and of the Æmilia and the middle section of the street “ad Janum” may truly be called the Bourse and the Exchange of ancient Rome.

Before the beginning of the present campaign of exploration it was known that the Basilica Æmilia, the most beautiful of Roman structures of the golden age, lay buried under the block of houses on the north side of the Forum, between the churches of S. Adriano and S. Lorenzo in Miranda; but what its plan and size were, what its state of preservation, what the style of its architecture, no one could tell. The results of the excavations have been rather disappointing to the general public, who labored under the delusion that the place had never been excavated before, though not to us students, who had foreseen the state of despoilment of the basilica in reading the accounts of the search for marbles made at the time of Paul III. by the architects of St. Peter's. The history of the place is briefly this: First constructed in 179 B.C. by the censors M. Fulvius Nobilior and M. Æmilius Lepidus, under the name of Basilica Fulvia, it was repaired a century later by another Æmilius, consul B.C. 78. His son, L. Paullus, having received from Julius Cæsar a gift of 1500 talents, rebuilt the hall from the foundations. The work lasted twenty-five years, and the third dedication of the “æmilia Monumenta,” as Tacitus calls it, took place in 34. A fourth restoration is mentioned under Augustus, a fifth and the last under Tiberius. Classic writers, while expatiating in general terms on the marvellous beauty of the building, give no particulars, except that it was “columnis e Phrygiis mirabilis,” that is, that it was admired for its columns of pavonazzetto, the purple-veined marble quarried near Synnada, in the heart of Phrygia. We owe this particular to Pliny the elder, xxxvi. 24, 2, who published the Natural History in A.D. 77, after the fire of Nero (A.D. 65) and before the fire of Titus (A.D. 80). We know, therefore, that the basilica had not been damaged on the former occasion; but did it escape uninjured on the Second? And what was its fate in A.D. 283, when another great conflagration, which goes by the name of Carinus, raged from one end to the other of the Sacra Via, destroying the Basilica Julia, the Senate House, the Græcostasis, and the Forum Julium, that is to say, the edifices by which the Æmilia was surrounded on every side? Probably it suffered a certain amount of damage, which must have been made good soon after, because we find the basilica mentioned again towards the middle of the fourth century. And here our information ends. What became of it after that time is only a matter of conjecture. Yet it is not improbable to suppose that its spoils were made use of in the construction of the Basilica Pauli Apostoli on the road to Ostia in A.D. 386.

I have already described, in “Pagan and Christian Rome,” p. 150, how the memorial church raised by Constantine over the grave of the Apostle was too small and inadequate for the accommodation of pilgrims who flocked to it in vast numbers from all parts of the world where the doctrines of Christ had been made known. Constantine had had no intention of placing St. Paul in an inferior rank to that of St. Peter, or of showing less respect for his memory; but, while the position of St. Peter's grave in relation to the circus of Nero and the cliffs of the Vatican was such as to give Constantine perfect freedom to extend the basilica in all directions, especially lengthwise, the case with that of St. Paul was remarkably different, because the highroad to Ostia—the channel by which Rome was fed—ran only a hundred and fifty feet east of the grave itself. Hence the necessity of limiting the size of the church within these two points.

In 386 Valentinian, Theodosius, and Arcadius wrote to Flavius Sallustius, prefect of the City, declaring that if the S.P.Q.R. would give their consent for the suppression of a certain old road which ran back of the apse of the Constantinian church, they were ready to rebuild the church ex novo, changing its front from east to west, and extending it towards the Tiber, so as to make it vie in size and beauty with St. Peter's. The consent was willingly given, and the reconstruction, begun in 388, was completed in 395 by Honorius, as certified by the verse


which we read on the “triumphal arch” at the top of the nave, together with the name of Galla Placidia, sister of Honorius, and wife of Atawulf, king of the Goths, at whose expense the arch was covered with the glorious mosaics.

I need hardly say that the new edifice was erected at the expense and with the spoils of older ones, which had once formed the pride and glory of imperial Rome. In fact, we cannot find among the sacred and profane buildings of the fourth and fifth century a single one which could not be compared in this respect to Æsop's crow. If the S.P.Q.R. themselves, to perpetuate the memory of Constantine's victory over Maxentius, erected an arch by the Meta Sudans with the marbles of two or three older ones, and of several patrician mausoleums, the builders of churches did not hesitate, to be sure, to follow the example and lay hands on whatever pagan edifice best suited their purpose. From this point of view our churches can be divided into two groups: those built with the spoils of only one classic monument, such as S. Maria Maggiore, S. Pietro in Vinculis, and S. Lorenzo fuori le Mura, the columns of which were removed from the Macellum Liviæ, the Porticus Tellurensis, and the Opera Octaviæ respectively; and those built at the expense of several, like St. Peter's, the Lateran, S. Agnese, S. Clemente, etc.

The church of St. Paul of the time of Theodosius and Honorius belongs really to both classes, because although its pavement was patched with nearly one thousand inscriptions stolen with equal freedom from Christian as well as from heathen cemeteries, and although the columns dividing the inner from the outer aisles were of unequal size and quality, yet the twenty-four columns of Phrygian marble, by which the nave became renowned all over the world, beautifully matched in color and finish and crowned with capitals of the same exquisite cut, must have been removed from one and the same edifice.1

Archæologists have inquired as to their place of origin. Nicolai and Piale contend that they were removed from the Mausoleum of Hadrian; Fea and Nibby identify them with the “columnæ Phrygiæ” which, according to Pliny the elder, made the Basilica Paulli in the Forum “mirabilis” and unique. The controversy has by no means died out. It was taken up again in 1888 by de Rossi and Huelsen against myself, and after a debate which took up two whole sittings of the Archæological Institute (January 27 and February 3), it ended, as parliamentary debates do, by each side retaining its own view.2

At the beginning of the present campaign we felt sanguine that the spade would be more successful in clearing up the matter than all our reasoning, but unfortunately the search was given up when hardly two fifths of the basilica had been laid bare. Of one thing, however, we are sure,—that a considerable section of the building was dismantled and levelled to the ground at the end of the fourth century, that is, at the precise time when the church of St. Paul was raised on the road to Ostia.

We must remember that shortly after peace and freedom were given to the church, and the doors of temples began to be closed, it became the fashion among the victorious Christians to place pagan buildings under the protection of saints whose names sounded more or less like those of the gods just expelled from the structure or of the founders and former owners of the place. For instance, if a chapel was erected within the precincts of a palace or of a villa which had belonged to one of the Cæsars, or to the imperial domain in general, it was dedicated to St. Cæsarius. Thus we find a church Sancti Cæsarii in Palatio on the Palatine; another of the same denomination in the villa near Velletri, where Augustus passed his youth; and a third at the eighteenth milestone of the Via Labicana, where Maxentius owned a large estate. Temples of Jupiter were dedicated to St. Jovinus or Juvenalis, temples of Saturn to St. Saturninus, temples of Apollo to St. Apollinaris, etc. On the door of the church of S. Martina, built on the alleged site of the Martis forum (Marforio) the following play upon words was engraved:—


No wonder, then, that the materials of the Basilica Paulli should have been chosen to adorn the grave and the memorial church of the apostle of the same name. The two names, in fact, seem to have been purposely put, as it were, in opposition, or rather in comparison, as shown by the following incidents. Towards the beginning of the fourth century it became the fashion to fasten on the neck of runaway slaves and dogs a brass ring from which hung a label giving the name and the address of the owner, with the request that, in case of a renewed attempt to escape, the fugitive should be arrested and brought back to his master. These small keimelia are of great interest on account of the topographic indications they contain, such as “ad ædem Floræ ad Tonsores,” “in regione quinta in area Macari,” “ad Mappam Auream in Abentino,” “de regione XII ad balineum Scriboniolum Romæ,” etc. Nineteen such addresses are registered in vol. xv. p. 897 of the “Corpus Inscr. Lat.” The collars of slaves are distinguished from those of dogs by the formula “servvs svm” (I am the slave of…) with which they begin. Two labels, one undoubtedly of a dog, the other probably so, contain the following; words:—


which mean respectively: “I am the dog of Felicissimus, shepherd of the Basilica of the apostle Paul, (rebuilt by) our three Lords” (Valentinian II., Theodosius, and Arcadius), and, “Hold me because I ran away and take me back to Leo (the porter? of) the Basilica Paulli.” These two labels have been quoted by de Rossi as if they prove that the two basilicas were in existence at the same time, and therefore that the columns of the pagan could not have been made use of in the Christian, but there is no evidence of synchronism. In fact, the dog of Felicissimus the shepherd is by some years the younger of the two, as shown by the palæography of their respective labels.

The latest document certifying the existence of the basilica in the Forum is to be found in the pedestals of Gabinius Vettius Probianus, who was prefect of the City in 377, nine years before the reconstruction of St. Paul's. This energetic magistrate took a leading part in the removal of the statues of gods from temples to civic buildings, such as forums, baths, and courts of justice, where they were set up again and exhibited as mere works of art.3 Seven or eight such pedestals have already come to light, some on the Sacra Via in front of Faustina's temple, some from the Basilica Julia, some from the Æmilia. Those of the Julia declare expressly how Probianus “has put up this statue to ornament the Basilica Julia which he has lately restored,” those of the Æmilia contain the more vague formula, “statuam conlocari præcepit quæ ornamento basilicæ esse posset inlustri.” Together with these and other pedestals a set of plinths has been found, with inscriptions which show their respective statues to have been the work of Praxiteles, of Polycletus, of Timarchus, of Bryaxis, etc. Could we behold once more, could we catch only a glimpse of this marvellous array of masterpieces, by which the Sacred Way of the decadence was transformed into the finest art gallery the world has ever seen, where every famous artist and school was represented by its best productions! Unfortunately they were not chiselled in marble but cast in bronze, which means that they all are beyond hope of rediscovery.

It is to be regretted that the excavation of the Æmilia has been given up, at least for the time being, when the section laid bare amounts scarcely to two fifths of the total area. As far as we can judge at this imperfect stage of exploration, the noble building comprised three parts: a central hall divided into nave and aisles by a double line of columns; a row of rooms or offices on either side of the hall, opening on the outside porticoes; and these last-named porticoes, which decorated the longitudinal sides of the building.

The rooms, or offices, each 5.41 metres wide, 7.15 metres deep, the pavement of which is inlaid with white and polychrome marbles in graceful and sober design, were identified soon after their discovery with the “Tabernæ Novæ” of the republican Forum—unnecessarily, I believe.

The rooms form part of the essential plan and frame of the basilica, corresponding in width to the arcades of the portico on which they open; in other words, there are as many rooms as there are arcades in the façade. Edifices of this kind must have had plenty of meeting and sitting rooms for jurors, judges, lawyers, clerks, and witnesses; others in which records and “pièces à conviction” were kept. It may be possible also that some of the apartments were let to bankers and money-lenders, called “argentarii” and “nummularii” respectively. Well known are the nummularii of the Basilica Julia, like T. Flavins Genethlius, a Thracian by birth, who took to banking after having been a rider in the circus, or L. Marcius Fortunatus, who married the girl Zoe when only sixteen years of age.4 If this sort of people showed partiality for the Julia, it is easy to conceive what a competition there must have been about renting rooms in the Æmilia, which stood right in the “Wall Street” of classic Rome.

The existence of bankers (argentarii) at Rome can be proved as early as 309 B.C., although silver (argentum) was not coined in Roman mints before 268 B.C. Their name, however, can be very well explained if we regard them as the changers of foreign (especially south Italian and Etruscan) silver coins into Roman bronze currency. In progress of time the money-changing business passed into the hands of an inferior class of agents, called “nummularii,” while pure banking-affairs, like the opening of current accounts, the receiving of deposits, the making of loans, was reserved to the argentarii. They acted in a strictly private capacity, and whenever in early times we hear of public or state bankers, we may be sure they were appointed for a special emergency, under the name of “tres viri mensarii,” chiefly to lend money to private individuals during a financial crisis, such as those which occurred in B.C. 351 and 216. When the public treasury lent aid to business men in a similar stress A.D. 33, Tiberius seems to have done it through ordinary bankers, who at all events were always considered to exercise a public function. Just as stockbrokers in London are licensed by the Lord Mayor, and in Dublin by the Lord Lieutenant, so in Rome the bankers were under the supervision of the prefect of the City, and in the provinces under that of the governor.

The business transacted in their offices were the “permutatio,” or the exchange of foreign for Roman coin, subject to the payment of a small agio—the drawing of bills of exchange payable by correspondents abroad, an operation which made it imperative for the banker to be acquainted with the current value of the same coin in different countries and at different times, and the keeping of sums of money for clients. If the money was deposited by the owner as a “depositum,” that is, to save himself the trouble or danger of keeping it and making payments, then the banker paid no interest, but simply honored the cheques of the client as long as there was a balance in his favor; but when the money was deposited, as a “creditum,” at interest for a specified lapse of time, the banker was allowed to use and invest it as he thought best for the common interest.

In case of failure the law enacted that the claims of the “depositarii” should be satisfied before those of creditors who had money at interest in the bank. “Of all this business,” says Professor L. C. Purser,5 “of the receipts as well as of the expenditure the bankers kept accurate accounts in books called ‘codices,’ ‘tabulæ,’ or ‘rationes,’ and there is every reason for believing that they were acquainted with what is called in bookkeeping ‘double entry.’”

The central hall of the basilica, where justice was dispensed, was divided into nave and aisles by two rows of columns, of which many pieces have been found. The pavement, quite well preserved, is inlaid with slabs of giallo, portasanta, africano, cipollino, etc., all rectilinear and arranged so as to harmonize in design with the site of the columns.

The peculiarity of this pavement is that it has been found covered from one end to the other with loose copper coins of the end of the fourth century. And as this abnormal dispersion of coins was either contemporary with or very soon followed by a raging fire (ashes, coals, and burnt matter in general have been found all over the place, forming the first and lowest layer of the stratified rubbish) many of them have been melted and welded together into a shapeless mass of metal. These masses, as well as single coins, have also been cemented against the slabs of the pavement, which appears all marked with spots of verdigris. I do not know how many thousand specimens of this worthless currency have been put aside just now; but what I know is that, great as their number may be, we are only collecting what the Cinquecento excavators have left for us to pick, after appropriating the better part of the spoils. Bartolomeo Marliano, contemporary with the looting of the basilica in 1531, mentions “magnam æreorum nummorum copiam” (a great quantity of copper coins) found by the marble-cutters and limeburners of his days. This band of devastators did irreparable injury to the basilica, reaching the lowest level of its foundations in their quest for building materials, and wrenching from their sockets even the tufa blocks upon which the columns of the nave stood. The spoliation of the Basilica Æmilia can be compared only to that of the temples of Cæsar and Vesta, of which merely the cores of the foundations remain to mark their respective sites. That of the Æmilia must have begun at a very remote period, probably before the end of the fourteenth century, when we hear of a great limekiln, called the “calcaria ecclesiæ sancti Adriani,” established among its ruins, and fed with its marbles. A second campaign of destruction was inaugurated in 1431, when Pope Eugenius IV. granted leave to Filippo di Giovanni da Pisa, stonecutter, to demolish the “old walls known to exist in the place called Zeccha antiqua,” by which name the “ciceroni” of the fifteenth century used to designate the neighborhood of S. Adriano. According to Flavio Biondo, an eyewitness, it took ten years to uproot the foundations of the basilica and to burn into lime whatever materials had escaped the kilns of the preceding century; but in fact the destruction lasted many years longer, through the pontificates of Calixtus III. and Pius II.

Towards the end of the century nothing was left standing except a corner of the edifice, to which the name of “Forinbuaro” (Forum Boarium) had been applied, for the same reason that Metella's mausoleum is still called “Capo di Bove,” that is, on account of the bulls' heads or skulls sculptured on the frieze. This noble ruin had probably been spared by the Quattrocento vandals out of respect for the saint, whoever he was, under whose protection they were placed and whose chapel they contained. Cardinal Adriano Castelli da Corneto, however, did not carry his scruples so far; he simply laid hands on the last remnant of the basilica in 1496, making use of the marbles for his palace (now Torlonia-Giraud) in the Borgo di S. Pietro.

Bramante, Antonio da Sangallo the elder, Fra Giovanni da Verona, and Baldassarre Peruzzi have left most interesting drawings of what they saw discovered and destroyed on this occasion, which I have reproduced in facsimile in my Memoir on the Senate House in the “Atti dei Lincei” for January, 1883, vol. xi.

After this long tale of disasters we should feel inclined to believe that the wretched spot was left in peace; but we have yet to deal with the worst gang of depredators, those of Paul III., whose deeds positively cast into the background those of the so-called barbarians of Alaric, Genseric, and Robert the Norman. I have related in “Ruins and Excavations,” p. 247, how sentence of death was passed on the monuments of the Forum and of the Sacra Via on July 22, 1540, by a brief of the genial Pope Farnese by which the Commissioners for the rebuilding of St. Peter's were given absolute liberty to search for ancient marbles wherever they pleased, to remove them from antique buildings, and to pull these buildings to pieces if they thought it best for their purpose. They started from Faustina's temple in 1540–41 and reached the opposite site of the valley by the Vortumnus and the Augusteum nine years later, carrying off, burning into lime, crushing into fragments every vestige of the stone-work and marble decoration of the arches of Fabius and Augustus, of the temples of Cæsar and Vesta, of the Regia, of the Augusteum, etc. As regards the Æmilia, it seems that, to revenge themselves for their disappointment at finding the place looted already, they uprooted out of pure wantonness the foundations down to the level of spring water, because the possession of a few blocks of tufa certainly could not have repaid the trouble and expense of boring such deep trenches.

By a singular chance two marble blocks, containing only eight letters, escaped their attention; but these eight letters, PAVL…and REST..., tell a long and decisive tale. They bring back to our memory the last episode in the history of the building, the RESToration made at the time of Tiberius by a PAVLus (Æmilius), descendant of the founder. Other marble fragments have been found near the site of the limekiln, or else lying on the pavement of the Via ad Janum. They all belong to the true golden age of Roman art.

Let us now turn our attention to the discoveries made quite lately in connection with the basilica and grave of Paul the Apostle, whose figure appeals to us more forcibly than any other in the history of the propagation of the gospel in Rome. I do not speak so much of reverence and admiration for his work, as of the sympathy and charm inspired and conveyed by his personal appearance. In all the portraits which have come down to us by the score, painted on the walls of underground cemeteries, engraved in gold leaf on the love-cups, cast in bronze, worked in repoussé on silver or copper medallions, or outlined in mosaic, the features of Paul never vary. He appears as a thin, wiry man, slightly bald, with a long, pointed beard. The expression of the face is calm and benevolent, with a gentle touch of sadness. The profile is unmistakably Jewish; in fact, although born in a gentile city, and of parents who had acquired by some means the Roman franchise, although brought up to speak and write with freedom and mastery the Greek language, and made to feel the influence and the atmosphere of a cultivated community, Saul was essentially a Hebrew of the Hebrews. As to the air of refinement which pervades his countenance, we must remember that, though he was a σκηυοποιός or tentmaker by trade, we are not obliged to believe that he was actually compelled to manual labor. The province of Cilicia in general, and Tarsus, his birthplace, in particular, were known for the manufacturing of a goat's-hair cloth called cilicium, largely used for tents. It is not impossible that Saul's father may have owned one such establishment, in which the future apostle underwent his apprenticeship.

The picture I have attempted to sketch does not differ essentially from the one drawn by Conybeare and Howson6 from elements gathered from Malalas, Nicephorus, and the apocryphal “Acta Pauli et Theclæ.” Conybeare and Howson ascribe to the apostle a short stature, a long face with high forehead, an aquiline nose, close and prominent eyebrows. “Other characteristics mentioned are baldness, gray eyes, a clear complexion, and a winning expression. Of his temperament and character St. Paul is himself the best painter.…We perceive the warmth and ardor of his nature, his deeply affectionate disposition, the susceptibility of his sense of honor, the courtesy and personal dignity of his bearing, his perfect fearlessness, his heroic endurance.”7

I believe that the attempt made by Jowett some forty years ago, to demolish what he calls a blind and undiscriminating admiration for Paul, by representing him as a man whose appearance and discourse made an impression of feebleness, out of harmony with life and nature, a confused thinker, expressing himself in broken words and hesitating form of speech, with no beauty or comeliness of style, has met with but little success.

St. Paul saw Rome for the first time in the month of January of the year 61. After his eventful journey across the sea, from Adramyttium to Fair Havens and Malta, his shipwreck on the coast of that island, and a second crossing to the Bay of Naples, he landed at Pozzuoli, and following the Via Campana to Capua, and the Via Appia to Forum Appii, Tres Tabernæ, and Bovillæ, entered the city by the old Porta Capena.8

Julius, the centurion of the eleventh legion Augusta, who had accompanied him by order of Porcius Festus, governor of Judea, handed him over to Afranius Burro, prefect of the Prætorium. He was given a sort of bail, with freedom to preach and evangelize, under the supervision of a police officer. After a lapse of two years, no accuser having come forth to challenge his appeal to the emperors, he underwent his trial in the “consilium principis” and was restored to full liberty and the full enjoyment of his rights of Roman citizenship. The trial probably took place in November or December, 63.

Here ends the evidence of the Acts of the Apostles, which St. Luke is supposed to have finished in the spring of 64. Other particulars about St. Paul's travels and apostolic life may be gathered from the Epistles. He visited Rome for the second time in the year 66, and after a long term of imprisonment was executed at the Aquæ Salviæ on the Via Laurentina, on June 29, in either 67 or 68.

In examining the various details concerning St. Paul's visit to Rome, his execution, his burial, we must sift what is pure and conclusive biblical or archæological evidence from what does not go beyond the limits of a pious tradition or a devout legend. For instance, when we are told that the hired house in which the apostle “mansit biennio” (lived for two years), preaching the gospel freely (“docens quæ de domino Jesu Christo sine prohibitione”), is the one the remains of which are to be seen under the church of S. Maria in Via Lata, we must not give credit to the statement;9 because those remains belong, not to a private dwelling, but to a great public edifice, to the Septa Julia, one of the architectural masterpieces of Agrippa, which extends along the Corso (Via Flaminia) from the Piazza di Venezia to the Piazza di Sciarra, including the sites of the palaces di Venezia, Bonaparte, Gavotti, Doria, Simonetti, and others. It is impossible to believe that a private citizen could have lived in the Septa Julia.

Again, when we are told that St. Paul found shelter in another Roman house, the site of which is actually marked by the church of S. Paolino alla Regola, Via dei Vaccinari, that being the Jewish quarter and the proper field for the apostle's preachings, we must not believe the statement; because the Ghetto, the Jewish quarter of ancient Rome, was in the Transtiberine region and not in the Campus Martius.10 But when we come to the question of the friendship between the apostle and the philosopher Seneca, Afranius Burro, M. Annæus Gallio, and other eminent personages of the imperial court,—friendship denied by many as an impossible occurrence,—archæological evidence shows the fact to be absolutely true. I have already spoken in “Pagan and Christian Rome,” p. 16, of the funeral tablet found at Ostia in 1867, inscribed with the words “Sacred to the memory of Marcus Anneus Paulus Petrus, son of Marcus Anneus Paulus,” which gives us the proof of the bond of sympathy and esteem established between the Annei—Seneca, the consul suffectus at the time of the first trial of St. Paul; his brother Gallio, governor of Achaia—and the founders of the church in Rome. No wonder that Tertullian, “De Anima,” xx., should call the first, “Seneca sæpe noster” (Seneca very often one of ours)!

How strange it seems that students and visitors in general should pay so little attention to the grave of this remarkable man, remains of which have been found at the fourth milestone of the Via Appia, on the left or east side of the road!

L. Annæus Seneca, son of the rhetorician Marcus, a Spaniard by birth, a Roman by residence, banished to Corsica, A.D. 41, on the suggestion of Messalina, was called back to the capital in 49, and made the tutor of the young Domitius. On the accession of his pupil to the imperial throne, under the name of Nero, Seneca became one of his chief advisers, exerting his influence to check his vicious propensities, but taking advantage at the same time of his place of trust to amass an immense fortune. His suburban villas of Alba, Nomentum, Bajæ, etc., vied in extent and magnificence with those belonging to the crown, especially one, located four miles outside the Porta Capena, which Juvenal calls “magni horti” and Tacitus “suburbanum rus.” The conspiracy of Piso, A.D. 65, gave Nero the long-sought-for pretext to get rid of the ill-tolerated adviser; and although there was little or no evidence of his being a party to the plot, his death was decided upon. Seneca, suffering from asthma, had stopped for rest, on his return from Campania, at his villa on the Appian Way, when Granius Silvanus, tribune of one of the prætorian cohorts, surrounded the estate with his men, and showed the doomed man the death warrant. Without betraying any emotion, “Seneca cheered his weeping friends by reminding them of the lessons of philosophy. Embracing his wife, Pompeia Paulina, he prayed her to moderate her grief, and to console herself for the loss of her husband by the reflection that he had lived an honorable life. But as Paulina protested that she would die with him, Seneca consented, and the veins in the arms of both were opened. Seneca's body was attenuated by age and meagre diet, perhaps also from his attacks of asthma; the blood would not flow easily, and he opened the veins in his legs. His torture was excessive; and to save himself and his wife the pain of seeing one another suffer, he bade her retire to her chamber. His last words were taken down in writing by persons who were called in for the purpose, and were afterwards published. Seneca's torments being still prolonged, he took hemlock from his friend and physician, Statius Annæus, but it had no effect. At last he entered a warm bath, and as he sprinkled some of the water on the slaves nearest to him, he said that he made a libation to Jupiter the Liberator. He was then taken into a vapor bath, where be was quickly suffocated. Seneca died, as was the fashion among the Romans, with the courage of a Stoic, but with somewhat of a theatrical affectation which detracts from the dignity of the scene.”11

When the Appian Way was excavated in 1852–53 by order of Pius IX. some reminders of the philosopher's fate were discovered in the neighborhood of the fourth milestone: the lid of a sarcophagus representing the death of Atys, son of Cresus (a subject evidently chosen as a veiled allusion to the death of Seneca himself), a marble head showing a remarkable likeness to his well-known features, and other fragments of a tomb of the first century. All these relics were set up by Canina on the spot on which they had come to light, as shown in the accompanying illustration. However, as Seneca was almost certainly cremated and not inhumated, the sarcophagus cannot pertain to him, though the resemblance of the head to the inscribed portrait of the Villa Mattei cannot be questioned. Another reminder of the same event is to be found in the inscription discovered by Nibby and Gell, while surveying this section of the road in 1824, in which mention is made of a Quintus Granius Labeo, son of Marcus, tribune of the third legion.12 If we recollect that Granius was the name of the officer of the same rank, Nero's messenger of death to Seneca, that he was given in recompense for his services the very villa in which the tragedy had taken place, and that, after his suicide in 66, the property must have been inherited by a near relative, we cannot help connecting the tomb of the Granii with that of Seneca himself.

To come back to the grave of St. Paul: tradition says that his body was claimed from the executioner by the inevitable matron Lucina13 and laid to rest in certain catacombs which the pious lady owned on the left or east side of the Via Ostiensis, back of the apse of the present church, where the sandstone cliffs of the Vigna Salviucci rise to the height of forty-two metres above the valley of the Tiber. Here the sacred remains rested in peace until the persecution of Valerian (253–260), when Christian cemeteries were confiscated for the first time. After a temporary removal to the so-called Platonia near the present church of St. Sebastian, they were once more deposited in the original grave, in the rock-cut catacombs of Lucina.

I have already explained 14 that, when memorial churches were raised over and around the tombs of martyrs, after the peace of the church, the tombs themselves were never touched, altered, removed, raised, or sunk. If the rock in the heart of which the catacombs were excavated stood in the way, and made it impossible to give the memorial building the required form in length, in breadth, and in height, the rock was cut away. This was done in accordance with two rules: first, that the tomb of the hero should occupy the place of honor in the centre of the apse; secondly, that the body of the church should extend east of the tomb.

Applying these principles to the case of St. Paul, it was generally admitted that Constantine the Great had cut away the spur of rock containing the catacombs of Lucina, leaving only the grave of the Apostle in situ. The Liber Pontificalis adds that the grave was encased by the same emperor in a strong room or cella, made of solid sheets of bronze, five feet long, five broad, five high. The belief in this state of things, viz., that St. Paul was actually buried in a rock-cut catacomb, was so firmly rooted among Christian archæologists that in 1867 Monsignor Francis Xavier de Merode, the pugnacious minister of war of Pius IX., and a great lover of Christian antiquities, purchased the Vigna Salviucci—where the rock stands—with the view of making clear the connection between the catacombs and the present grave.

Several Christian crypts were, to be sure, discovered in the Vigna Salviucci and in its neighborhood, which de Rossi identified with those of Timotheus, Felix and Adauctus, and Commodilla, mentioned in the earliest pilgrim-books, but no trace of the alleged catacombs of Lucina was found, or has been found since. The solution of the problem has been obtained within the last few months in the following way.

The scheme for the sanitation and drainage of Rome, which has been carried into execution at a great cost since 1870, involves the construction of two main sewers about ten miles long, one on the right bank of the Tiber running parallel with the Via Campana and emptying into the river at la Magliana, one on the left bank running parallel with the Via Ostiensis and joining the Tiber at Torre di Valle.

This last leaves the City at the western end of the Protestant cemetery by the pyramid of Caius Cestius, crosses the road to Ostia a thousand yards outside the gate, and runs between the apse of St. Paul's and the rock where the apocryphal catacombs of Lucina were said to be, cutting the disputed ground at the depth of thirty-four feet. Such a deep excavation, so near the grave of the Apostle, was expected to give us the solution of the many problems connected, with it. However, before giving the account of what has been found and of the results obtained, I must bring back to the memory of the reader the discoveries made before the present day.

The marble casing of the grave of the Apostle was seen for the first time on July 28, 1838, when the altar above it, injured by the fire of July 15, 1823, was demolished to make room for the present one. A marble floor was discovered composed of four slabs, on which the dedication


is engraved in large letters of the time of Constantine. The slabs and their precious inscription were left visible under the new canopy, and I have myself had the privilege of studying them at leisure (on December 1, 1891), by lowering myself on hands and knees through the “fenestella confessionis.” Two things we must bear in mind: first, that the slabs inscribed with the name of Paul are not in their original position, but appear to have been replaced over the grave most negligently, in a slanting direction; secondly, that the inscription is mutilated at the right end, the last three letters of the word MART(yri) being missing.

Other discoveries took place in 1850, when Pius IX. was laying the foundations of the new canopy; they are of paramount interest for the question we are investigating. It was then ascertained that Paul's grave stands on the margin of an old road, paved with blocks of lava, amidst other tombs of purely pagan type. According to the evidence of an eye-witness, Father Paul Zelly, who was then abbot of St. Paul's, the old road runs at a distance of fifteen feet west of the grave, and at an angle of about 14° with the Via Ostiensis, into which it runs lower down. Besides the Apostle's grave there were the remains of a columbaria or square sepulchral chamber with pigeonholes for cinerary urns. This tomb was found almost intact, but it seems that no attention was paid to it, no drawings taken, and no copies made of the inscriptions which probably accompanied each pigeonhole. I have lately come into possession of some notes, taken at the time of these finds by Vespignani the elder, who acted as assistant to Luigi Poletti, the rebuilder of St. Paul's, but they are of no special importance. The objects put aside “nel cavo della seconda confessione in settembre 1850”15 were the tombstones of a C. Julius Berullus and of a Priscilla, both preceded by the invocation Diis Manibus; two Christian ones, several brick stamps from the kilns of Faustina the elder, and one from the Officina Fauriana. They do not throw much light on the question; and yet we are sure that if proper attention had been paid to these excavations, and a more careful search made among lined that bit of road, we should now know the name of the personage who had given the first disciples of Christ in Rome the permission to bury St. Paul in his own family burial-plot.

The cutting for the main sewer has revealed the following facts. First, there is no connection whatever between the grave of St. Paul and the many Christian catacombs with which the rock of the Vigna Salviucci is honeycombed.

Secondly, these catacombs belong at all events to a much later period than the apostolic age. Boldetti claims to have read in one of them the date of the year 107, marked with the consulship of Sura and Senecio, and that of the year 111, marked with the consulship of Piso and Bolanus. These are certainly the oldest dates ever discovered in Roman catacombs; but even granted that Boldetti has made no mistake, they are at all events forty years more recent than the execution of St. Paul.

Thirdly, the whole neighborhood, from the foot of the rock to the middle of the fields in which the basilica stands, is thickly covered with pagan tombs of the first and second centuries. In the space of a few weeks not less than 183 of them have been discovered in the cutting of the drain alone.

Fourthly, these tombs are placed and oriented on the lines of two Roman roads; namely, the Via Ostiensis—which fits exactly into the modern one—and a branch road which connects the towpath on the left bank of the Tiber with the same Via Ostiensis. To this branch road belongs the pavement discovered in 1850 in the foundations of the canopy.

In the fifth place, the person who claimed the body of the Apostle after the execution, be it the matron Lucina or not, owned not a catacomb, but a burial-plot in the open— “sub diu”—in the angle formed by the junction of the two roads. Here, nearer to the side lane than to the main road, a tomb was raised to St. Paul. We do not know of what nature, size, shape, the tomb was; whether it bore an inscription or not. If we are to believe the Liber Pontificalis, the authority of which after the recent edition of Duchesne is above suspicion, the grave itself must have been small. “Eodem tempore fecit Constantinus basilicam beato Paulo Apostolo? cuius corpus ita recondit in ære, et conclusit sicut Beati Petri.”16 Now the case of solid metal, inside of which Constantine sealed the body of St. Peter, was five feet long, five wide, five high. Five Roman feet equal 1.478 metres. The mean height of the human body being 1.58, the case appears too small. It is impossible to think that the body of Paul was incinerated, and the ashes preserved in a cinerary urn; and even granted that he was of a stature below the average, the coffin in which he was laid to rest would certainly have exceeded the measure of five feet. I agree with Stevenson that the figures have been altered by the carelessness of early copyists of the Liber Pontificalis.

Another explanation offered for the short measure of the case is that the Apostle having been beheaded, the head may not necessarily have been placed in its right position. If I remember rightly, twice tombs of beheaded men have been discovered since the revival of classic studies: one at Cuma, one in the Vatican district, when Pope Paul III. was digging for the foundations of the Bastione di Belvedere. This bastion occupies part of the site of the ancient cemetery of the Via Triumphalis. Among the many tombs and columbaria discovered on that occasion, one belonged to a decapitated person. Ligorio describes the find in the following words (“Bodleian,” p. 139): “There was also a sepulchral chamber decorated with stucco reliefs and paintings, in which a walnut cut out of an agate was discovered;…it was lying near a skeleton which had the skull not in its proper place, but across the legs; and where the skull should have been, there lay a perfect and beautiful plaster mould of the head of the buried man. This plaster mould was removed to the private collection of the Pope.”

In the sixth place, it has been ascertained that the mean level of the tombs which line the two roads is eleven feet lower than the level of the modern road, and about nine feet below that of the nave and aisles of the church.

Comparing these data with the finds of 1850, Stevenson comes to the conclusion that the grave itself must lie about twelve feet and six inches below the floor of the transept, and only eleven feet above the mean level of the Tiber, which runs close by. Now it is a known fact that the Tiber reaches that height fifteen times a year at least, not to speak of extraordinary inundations, like the one of 1870, in the course of which the waters rose twenty-six feet above the level of the grave. We may safely conclude, therefore, that the Apostle was buried in a low, damp, almost swampy field, permanently exposed to the overflow of the river, unless precautions had been taken to keep the waters off by means of levees and embankments and sluices, of which we know absolutely nothing. The metal case of Constantine may have saved the grave from the inflow of water after the erection of the church.

Has the venerable grave come down to us intact since the time of Constantine? The question is more easily put than answered. The church, to be sure, went safely through the barbaric invasions, being considered an inviolable asylum even by the Goths and the Vandals. Of this fact we have the evidence in Epistles 54 and 127 of St. Jerome, where he describes the fate of Marcella, the founder of monastic life in Rome. “This noble matron was left a widow after seven months of marriage, and being pressed by the Consul Cerealis to marry again, determined to sever all connection with the world for the rest of her life. Following the rule of St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, she dressed herself in simple garb, gave up the use of wine and meat, and divided her time between the study of the Scriptures, prayers, and pilgrimages to the tombs of apostles and martyrs. St. Jerome became Marcella's spiritual adviser; such was the serenity and beauty of her character that in one of her letters she is addressed as ‘the pride of Roman matrons.’ However, when Rome became the prey of the Goths, the barbarians broke into her peaceful retreat and tortured her in an attempt to discover the secret hiding-place of her treasures,—treasures that she had long before given up to the needy. Fearing more for the safety of Principia, whom she had adopted as a spiritual daughter, than for her own life, she threw herself at the feet of the Gothic chieftain and begged to be conducted to the church of St. Paul outside the walls, which, like St. Peter's, had been set apart by Alaric as a refuge for women and children”

The Saracenic invasion of 846 makes, however, an exception to the rule. It would be impossible to discuss within the limits of the present chapter all the arguments brought forward to prove or disprove the profanation of the tombs of Peter and Paul in 846. Leaving aside the question of Peter, of which I have spoken at length in “Pagan and Christian Rome,” p. 148, and in “The Destruction of Ancient Rome,” p. 131, there is unfortunately no doubt that the infidels plundered at their leisure the Basilica of St. Paul, and laid their hands on the venerable tomb. We find the evidence of this fact in chapter xxii. of the Life of Benedict III., in Duchesne's edition of the Liber Pontificalis, vol. ii. p. 145: SEPULCHRUM [Pauli Apostoli] QUOD A SARRACENIS DESTRUCTUM FUERAT PERORNAVIT!

The question is, what did the Saracens actually destroy,—the altar erected high above the grave, the canopy or ciborium which covered the altar, or the grave itself? I believe that the expression of the Liber Pontificalis is not to be taken in too literal a sense; for why should Benedict III. have restored and redecorated the group formed by the grave, the altar, and the canopy, if the grave itself had been profaned and its contents scattered to the four winds? And besides, we know that the word DESTRUCTUM, “destroyed,” is an exaggeration; because the marble slab with the epitaph PAVLO APOSTOLO MART(yri) is still in existence, and it is the original of Constantine's time, not a copy made by Benedict III. The tomb incurred another risk in the sack of 1527, when the scum of the soldiery from Spain, Germany, and northern Italy pillaged the City and its sacred edifices for the space of several weeks. L. Mayerhofer, in the “Historisches Jahrbuch,” 1891, p. 721, has published a letter written by an eye-witness, a clerk from Speyer named Theodoric Vafer—alias Gescheid, and dated June 17 of that eventful year, in which he expressly says: “We have (or they have) profaned all the churches of Rome; men and women have been slain over the altar of St. Peter's; the tomb or coffin inside which the remains of Peter and Paul had been laid to rest has been broken open, and the relics dispersed” (Urnam sive tumbarn, in qua requiescebant ossa S. Petri et Pauli effregerunt et ipsas reliquias profanarunt). One thing is certain, however: none of the many hundred published or unpublished accounts of the sack of 1527, consulted by Gregorovius, Grisar, Orano, and other specialists, mention this incident, which, considering the extraordinary devotion of the Romans to the founders of the church, would have caused them greater grief than all the horrors, massacres, tortures they endured in those days. Briefly my opinion is this: The grave of St. Paul has come down to us, most likely, as it was left by Constantine the Great, enclosed in a metal case. The Saracens of 846 damaged the outside marble casing and the marble epitaph, but did not reach the grave. As to the nature of the grave itself, its shape, its aspect, its contents, I am afraid our curiosity will never be satisfied.

This most fascinating of Roman churches is closely connected with England and especially dear to the Anglo-Saxon race. As the emperor of Austria was the protector of St. Peter's, the king of France of St. John Lateran, the king of Spain of S. Maria Maggiore, so the kings of England were the defenders of St. Paul outside the walls. In the shield of the abbot, above the gate of the adjoining cloisters, we still behold the arm grasping the sword, and the ribbon of the Garter with the motto: “Honi soit qui mal y pense!”

  • 1.

    The columns of the nave were forty in all, all fluted and well matched; of those nearer to the arch of Placidia, nine on the right and seven on the left were of white marble, the rest of pavonazzetto, a marble as beautiful as it is easily tarnished by the combined action of dust and damp. Cardinal Antonio Finy († 1743) caused ten columns to be cleaned at his expense. His example was followed by other cardinals. The last four were polished by order of Benedict XIV. They measured 10.25 metres in height, 1.19 metres in diameter, with an intercolumniation of 1.81 metres.

  • 2.

    Compare Mittheil. 1889, p. 242; Thédenat, Le Forum, p. 161; Bull. arch. Com. vol. xxvii. 1899, p. 169.

  • 3.

    “Stabunt et æra innoxia quæ nunc habentur idola!” Prudentius, Peristeph. ii. v. 479, 480.

  • 4.

    Corpus Inscr. vol. vi. 9709, 9711, etc.

  • 5.

    In his excellent article in Smith's Dict. vol. i. pp. 179–183.

  • 6.

    Life and Epistles of St. Paul, p. 762b.

  • 7.

    Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, ed. 1863.

  • 8.

    Compare, among others, Smith, Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul, 3d ed., London, I866; Farrar, Life and Work of St. Paul, London, 1879, vol. ii. chap, xliv., xlv.; Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, London, 1895, p. 315.

  • 9.

    “And he abode two years in his own hired dwelling, and received all that went unto him [xxviii. 30], and preached the kingdom of God, and taught what concerned the Lord Jesus Christ with boldness, none forbidding him [xxviii. 31].” “We infer, therefore,” Canon Farrar says, “that Paul's hired apartment was within close range of the Prætorian Camp.”

  • 10.
    In the excavations which the American School of Athens carried on in 1898 at Corinth, a marble lintel was found among the ruins of a house of the Roman period, upon which the letters

    (συν)AΓωΓH EBP(αιων)

    were engraved. The thought arose that the stone belonged to the very synagogue where Paul “reasoned…every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.” The inscription, however, is much later than the apostolic age; it simply proves that the meeting-place, made famous by the preaching of Paul, continued to flourish down to a very late period. Compare Dr. Richardson's article in the Century, 1899, p. 854.

  • 11.

    Marindin, in Smith's Classical Dictionary, ed. 1894, p. 863.

  • 12.

    Corpus Inscr. vol. vi. 3521.

  • 13.

    This merciful lady, if we believe the agiographs of a later age, seems to have been connected with the most famous executions of Christians from the apostolic age to the beginning of the fourth century.

  • 14.

    Pagan and Christian Rome, p. 119.

  • 15.

    In the foundations of the new Confession, September, 1850.

  • 16.

    “At the same time Constantine built the church of St. Paul, enclosing his body in a case of solid metal, as he had done for St. Peter.”

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