Bible Study Monthly Menu

Return BSM Menu

November & December

Return to this Month's Menu

Back to Home page

A Voice from
the Catacombs

The pagans of Rome often remarked on the strange living hope which transformed the lives of those from among their number who became converts to Christianity. Nowhere is this contrast between the living faith that is Christianity and the dark despair that characterised paganism, more marked than in the epitaphs set up by pagan and Christian over their dead. The Christian sentiments, of which many examples are found in the Catacombs at Rome, breathe a spirit of calm and even joyous confidence for the future. The pagan epitaphs reveal utter hopelessness and resentment against a bitter fate which offered them no recompense for the trials and vicissitudes of life. Here are a few examples, all belonging to times between the year AD74 and the seventh century.

Petronia, a Deacon's Wife

The Type of Modesty

In this place I lay my bones

Spare your tears, dear

Husband and Daughters, and

Believe that it is forbidden

To Weep for One who Lives in God

Buried in Peace on the Third

Before the Nones in October

In the Consulate of Festus.

Another one, much more brief, but how eloquent


In Peace

And in Christ.

Against this, read a pagan epitaph, brief in its tragedy of a pagan father who has lost a well beloved daughter, without hope of reunion:

I, Procope, Lift up my hands

Against God, Who snatched

Me Away Innocent

She Lived Twenty Years

Proclus Set up This

Not so the Christians who set this brief word on the stone of a pilgrim who had reached the end of the Way

The Dormitory of Elpis

To us a dormitory is a sleeping place. To the early Christians the grave was but dormitory. Our own word 'cemetery' is the Greek 'koimeterion', meaning a place of sleep. So two loving Christian parents, many centuries ago, laid their child to rest in a grave far below the streets of Rome and inscribed upon her stone ‑

Here Sleeps Porcella in Peace,

She Lived

3 Years 10 Months 13 Days

That peace was denied the sorrowing mother who knew nothing but the hopeless creed of paganism, and poured out her heart's anguish in these bitter words ‑

Caius Julius Maximus

Aged 11 Years and 5 Months

O Relentless Fortune

Who Delightest in Cruel Death

Why is Maximus So Suddenly

Snatched From Me?

He Who Used to Lie Joyfully

On My Bosom

This Stone Now Marks His Tomb

Behold His Mother


How different is the affectionate remembrance and calm submission of these parents, believers in Christ, who inscribed ‑


In Peace

A Sweet Soul,

Who Lived 16 Years and 5 Months

A Soul As Sweet As Honey

This Epitaph Was Made by Her Parents.


Peace, peace: that is the constant refrain of these rejoicing believers as they laid their loved ones to rest. This last example is perhaps the record of a Christian matron, well spoken of for good works and labours of love in the service of the brethren.


Buried in Peace

On The Lord's Day the Sixth

Before The Kalends of July

In the Fifth Consulate of

Honorius Augustus

To the Well-Deserving

In Peace.


How well these brethren of ours must have learned the truth of Paul's triumphant words: "So then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written "O death where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory?" Truly we who follow in their steps are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, men and women, who, in their lives and deaths, manifested the reality of that faith which was in them.



Bible Study Monthly Menu

Return BSM Menu

November & December

Return to this Month's Menu

Back to Home page