The revised Roman Martyrology (2001) (RM) list three pairs of martyrs in this cemetery, the first two on 10 May:
- SS Gordian and Epimachus: "St Gordian, martyr, who was buried in a crypt in which, for some time already, the relics of St Epimachus the martyr were being venerated". c. AD 300. A St Epimachus is listed separately on 12 December as a martyr of Alexandria in Egypt, who suffered with several others in c. AD 250. The old RM alleged that St Gordian had been flogged and beheaded in the reign of Julian, but this has been deleted as unhistorical. That emperor had decreed that the martyrdom of Christians was to be avoided, as it encouraged them.
- SS Quartus and Quintus, with no further details. Early 4th century.
- SS Sulpicius and Servitianus, 20 April, uncertain date. They had been co-opted into the confused and mostly fictional legend concerning the 1st century St Flavia Domitilla (see Santa Domitilla), but the resultant reference in the old RM has been deleted.
In the pilgrimage itineraries of the 7th century, other martyrs were mentioned:
- St Trophimus. The old RM had an entry on the 23 July for SS Trophimus and Theophilus, martyred at Rome in the reign of DIocletian. This has been deleted, as there is serious confusion with a pair of martyrs of the same name who suffered in Lycia (now Turkey).
- St Sophia. No details.
The assumption is that these catacombs began in the later 3rd century, but this is debated. The major problem is the identity of St Epimachus. The carefully worded entry in the revised RM refrains from identifying him with the Alexandrian martyr, as claimed by some scholars, because there is a serious historical issue with such an early transfer of a martyr's relics over a long distance. The practice in the early centuries was to leave such relics in their original tombs, only moving them in response to some emergency which threatened their integrity.
For this reason, a rival viewpoint regards St Epimachus as a Roman martyr whose story was lost but who was buried in a hypogeum in the late 3rd century. The catacombs then developed around this. The dateable extant remains of the latter are 4th century, mostly of the latter part.
The old RM entry for SS Quartus and Quintus seems to preserve the ancient topographical name for the locality, which was Centum Aulae.
Working catacombs Edit
The catacombs developed in this latter part of the 4th century, around two foci and with two levels which incorporated an abandoned underground quarry.
It is noticeable that the extant remains are of a low standard -the complex is dominated by simple passages with loculi, having very few epigraphs. Only one decorated cubiculum has been found, cubiculum D (see below). This indicates that the clientele consisted of lower-class people with a little money to set aside for their funerary arrangements (the class distinctions between various catacombs are obvious from inspecting them, but not well described in the literature).
It is known that a large surface cemetery (sub divos) also existed, and that this had a church. If the Itinerarium Salisburgensis description is accurate, this was dedicated to St Epimachus only. Nothing survives of it, so a foundation date in the 4th century also has to be a guess.
Pilgrimage destination Edit
These are some of the nearest catacombs to the city walls, as they are only 300 metres from the Porta Latina and so must have been busy when they were a pilgrimage destination. However, no martyrs' shrines have been identified.
The Itinerarium Salisburgensis states that St Gordinaus was enshrined under the high altar of the church of St Epimachus, but the Epitome has them enshrined together (and also mistakenly describes them as brothers). SS Quartus and Quintus were in a cubiculum, and St Trophimus was "further down" (longe in antro) which seems to indicate that the former pair were in the first level, and the latter in the second.
Pope Adrian I (772-95) restored the complex, and the others on the road.
The date of abandonment is unknown, but the 9th century is a good guess. The old RM has a note that SS Quartus and Quintus ended up in Capua.
Rediscovery and suppression Edit
Antonio Bosio looked for catacombs down the Via Latina at the end of the 17th century, and reported finding these ones. He also located the Catacomba di Tertullino and the Catacomba di Aproniano further on down the road. He was followed by Marcantonio Boldetti in 1720, who wrote this (reproduced in the "Roma Sotterranea" website):
[L’ingresso a cimitero avveniva] dalla vigna oggi dei Signori Eustachi, un miglio distante dalla Porta Latina, passando per il “Cellaio, sotto la casa, ed è molto profondo. Il suo giro, per quanto abbiamo veduto, è vastissimo e ai nostri tempi si sono estratte molte reliquie dei Santi Martiri trovate co i loro contrassegni.
What we have here is a witness to a set of catacombs being looted for spurious relics of martyrs.
The local landowners must have become hostile to the existence of the Via Latina catacombs after the Holy See intervened to suppress any commercial trade in relics. The entrances were sealed off, and the knowledge of their locations suppressed as inimical to the welfare of the vineyards that occupied the area. This was surprisingly effective -the Catacomba di Tertulliano has not yet been rediscovered.
These Via Latina catacombs were unknown through the 19th century, and the great Roman archaeologists at the end of that century were not allowed to investigate.
The location of Santi Gordiano ed Epimaco was only finally revealed in 1933, when building work exposed some passages. The discovery was initially referred to as the Catacomba dell'Acqua Mariana after a street (now lost in redevelopment) called the Vicolo dell'Acqua Mariana. This was because the identity was uncertain -note that Boldetti mistakenly referred to their being a mile away from the Porta Latina, instead of 300 metres as is the case.
The identity was finally settled by Enrico Josi, who wrote up an investigation that he undertook for the Pontificia Commissione di Archeologia Sacra during the season 1940-1.
This first investigation revealed very little of interest -only a few epigraphs and no frescoes. Perhaps this is why the catacombs were then neglected, until it was noticed in 1952 that illegal destruction was taking place during development of the surface area. Excavations for the foundations of a new building had broken into a painted cubiculum, and its vault had been destroyed.
Antonio Ferrua then arranged an intervention, and supervised further explorations. The damaged cubilcum, which Ferrua labelled Cubiculum D, proved to be the only ones so far found in the catacombs. These investigations were written up in 1955.
Rome's catacombs, including undiscovered ones, are the property of the Vatican under the terms of the Lateran Treaty of 1929, so legal action could be effective immediately it was found that building work was causing damage (if the catacombs had belonged to the Italian state, they would almost certainly have been destroyed despite any legal protection).
The entrance is on the north side of the Via Latina, just before the Piazza Galeria. There is nothing to see -the actual doorway is down a gated vehicle ramp, and apparently a proper covering for the damaged painted cubiculum was only provided in 1988.
These are quite extensive catacombs, on two levels. As mentioned, they mostly consist of passages with loculi. There are several painted epigraphs, and trinkets pressed into the sealing cement such as pottery lamps. However, carved epitaph tablets are very scarce.
Cubiculum D is important for its frescoes, and is the only one in these catacombs to be painted. Perhaps it belonged to the family of the original patrons.
It has three arcosolia. The main one, at the back, has a fresco of Christ in Majesty flanked by two young men carrying crowns, who are interpreted as SS Gordianus and Epimachus. Other frescoes illustrate Moses with the Tablets of the Law, The Resurrection of Lazarus, Susanna in Her Bath and The Original Sin (Adam and Eve).