Catacomba dei Santi Processo e Martiniano is a set of catacombs on the ancient Via Aurelia known to exist, but the location and identity of which are subject to debate. There are two competing locations.
The dedication was to SS Processus and Martinian.
The martyrs Edit
The revised Roman martyrology 2001 has the following entry for 2 July:
"Rome, in the cemetery of Damasus located at the second milestone on the Via Aurelia, SS Processus and Martinian, martyrs. Date uncertain."
The "Damasus" mentioned was not the famous pope, but probably the original proprietor of the catacombs concerned.
The 6th century legend, criticised as fictional for centuries and now rejected by the martyrology, describes the martyrs as two jailers working at the Mamertine Prison who were converted by St Peter while he was incarcerated there and hence executed as well. However, the prison was reserved for very important captives of the Roman government such as defeated foreign enemy leaders. The idea that St Peter would have been put there is a fiction based on later Christian appreciation of his importance -at the time in Rome, he was merely a very obscure Jewish religious zealot and troublemaker of no social status (he was not a Roman citizen).
The true story behind the two martyrs is lost, but what is certain is the reality of their early veneration. The only slight clue to their identity is the name of Martinian. He was named after Mars, the god of war, and so at least his family had military interests if he wasn't brought up as a soldier himself.
A basilical church was built over their shrine probably in the later 4th century, the shrine being underground. In this church an extant homily was preached by Pope St Gregory the Great.
There have been recent scholarly warnings not to undervalue the legendary narratives of martyrdoms at Rome. Even if these documents are dominated by fictional details, they are still contemporary witnesses to the Church at the times they were actually written. In the case of the two martyrs here, it has been stated as a puzzle as to why their legend associated them with the martyrdoms of SS Peter and Paul. The simple answer might have been that the story was composed as a pious fiction for visitors to the shrine by a monk attached to a monastery serving it in the 6th century. (That no such monastery is mentioned in the records is not evidence of absence, because the surviving records of early Roman monasticism are extremely poor.)
The shrine was on the suburban pilgrimage circuit established by the early 7th century. For example, the so-called Notitia ecclesiarum urbis Romae (the "Salzburg Itinerary") of the mid century has this, after describing the shrines on the Via Cornelia departing from St Peter's:
Inde haud procul in sinistra manu iuxta viam Aureliam, sanctus Processus, sanctus Martinianus, sanctus Pancratius...
One manuscript of the Martyrologium Hieronymianum locates the catacombs at the second milestone on the Via Aurelia, in which case they were very close to those of St Pancras which is given the same location.
These two texts begins the problem of the location of the shrine, for which see below.
The catacombs featured a third venerated martyr, called St Lucina -probably not the same lady as the one associated with the Catacombe di San Callisto. She features in the legend of the first two, and had a shrine above ground.
Sant'Agata in Fundum Lardarium Edit
There was another basilica very close by, also at the second milestone (according to a 11th century papal bull), and that was of Sanctae Agathae in fundum lardarium. The Latin word lardarium seems to do with lard.
This church dedicated to St Agatha was erected with a baptistery by Pope Symmachus (498-514), and so seemed to have a parochial function. It was mentioned in a bull issued by Pope Leo IV as being at the Casa Lardaria and Fundus Adtalianus. Pope Leo IX referred to it as in Colle Pino.
This church was not on the pilgrimage circuit.
It was possibly still standing at the end of the 12th century, because the Liber Censuum of 1192 mentions Coemeterium B. Agathae ad girulum. This has been taken as evidence that the church had yet another set of catacombs, or that the original ones of SS Processus and Martinian had been renamed since they are not listed in the Liber. Any certainty is impossible.
Girulum is an odd word, "roundabout" or "gyratory", and seemed to have meant a horse-racing track or gallop (such as the one now at the Villa Borghese).
Antonio Bosio went looking for this church at the end of the 16th century, and claimed to have found remains of it with visible traces of frescoes somewhere on the conveniently named Casale di Sant'Agata. This farm seems to have been located around the present Casa del Sole north of the Via Aurelia.
The relics of the two martyrs were transferred to St Peter's by Pope Paschal I (817-24), and are now enshrined under their altar in the right hand transept. This event is taken to mark the abandonment of the catacombs and any associated edifices.
The adjacent church of Sant'Agata seems to have gone on functioning for much longer, and a working cemetery is on record here at the end of the 12th century (as already mentioned).
The Villa Doria Pamphilj contains extensive ancient burials discovered since the early 19th century. Most famous are two repositories for cremation ashes called the Columbarium major and the Columbarium minor. A third columbarium was discovered in 1984.
When Kirsch wrote his Catacombs of Rome in 1949, catacomb galleries had been discovered in four different localities in the park but not properly investigated. Nevertheless, the Doria Pamphilj family had provided one of these with a proper staircase and door in the late 19th century and this is near the Arco dei Quattro Venti. The location was apparently ideal for identifying them with the lost catacombs of SS Processus and Martinian, since it is just north of San Pancrazio and next to the Via Aurelia.
However, another set of catacombs was discovered near Sant'Onofrio al Gianicolo in 1898. Margherita Cecchelli raised the speculation in 1980 that this set of catacombs could be identified with those of SS Processus and Martinian. This hypothesis has found some scholarly support, although there are problems with it. As a result of the uncertainty, the Villa Doria Pamphilj set is now referred to officially by the Pontificia Commissione di Archeologia Sacra as the Catacomba Anonima di Villa Pamphili.
This complex was investigated archaeologically by Aldo Nestori, who published his findings in 1959. Since then, the location of the entrance stairs has not been publicised at all and is apparently in a part of the park closed to visitors.
It might seem odd that two rival locations for the catacombs of SS Processus and Martinian exist so far apart, in the Via Doria Pamphilj and the northern flank of the Janiculum Hill near the Vatican. After all, the catacombs are described in the old sources as being at the second milestone of the Via Aurelia.
The problem with that road is that it had two exits from Rome in ancient times.
The original route ran from the Forum Boarium (Bocca della Verità) across the Pons Aemilius (Ponte Rotto) then followed the present Via della Lungaretta through Trastevere and out through the city gate now called Porta San Pancrazio (was Porta Aurelia). The milestones were apparently measured from the Forum, with the first one by the gate and the second by the bend in the road on the north side of the Villa Doria Pamphilj (it may be noted here that San Pancrazio is not actually on the Via Aurelia, but a little to the south on the Via Vitellia which is thought also to be an ancient road).
However, when the Pons Aelius (now the Ponte Sant'Angelo) was built in AD 134 a link road was built round the north end of the Janiculum hill which closely paralleled a length of the older Via Cornelia now under the Vatican. This new road was called the Via Aurelia Nova.
The hypothesis as regards the catacombs being under the Janiculum depends on assuming that the first three milestones on the Via Aurelia as a whole were moved to this new road. This is a speculation. Further, it seems difficult to place the second milestone on the Via Aurelia Nova at the north end of the Janiculum without an arbitrary choice of location of the starting point well within the city walls in order to make the distance fit. Also, one would have to explain why the old milestone measurement was then kept for San Pancrazio.
In support of the new hypothesis are the construction of some of the source texts, an example being the Notitia ecclesiarum urbis Romae which lists the shrines on the Via Cornelia departing from St Peter's, and then goes on: Inde haud procul in sinistra manu iuxta viam Aureliam, sanctus Processus, sanctus Martinianus, sanctus Pancratius...
In this, haud procul ('not very far") could be construed as referring to St Peter's. However, it could refer to the Via Cornelia instead.
In contrast, this Itinerary text quoted by Armellini 1891 hints that the catacombs were close to those of San Pancrazio:
Et ascendis sursum [that is, from the basilica di San Pancrazio] et pervenies ad ecclesiam; ibi quiescunt SS Processus et Martinianus sub terra et S. Lucina virgo in superiori.
The present writer's opinion is that the argument for locating the "second milestone on the Via Aurelia" near St Peter's, for the purposes of identifying this set of catacombs, is a poor one.
Unfortunately, it seems that the only way now that the identity of the catacombs of SS Processus and Martinian will be established is if somebody discovers the bapistery of Sant'Agata in one or other of the rival locations. Baptisteries are fairly easily to identify when discovered.
Nothing has apparently been found in the way of surface buildings associated with the catacombs. Further, there is no sign of any martyr's shrine in the galleries explored.
The mid 20th century exploration traced a few galleries, in poor condition, and an original set of entrance stairs. Little of interest was found, and no identifying frescoes or epigraphs. A total of four of the latter were found, two Christian and two pagan.
The sole dating evidence was graffiti scratched into the cement sealing of a loculus, referring to Maxentius as a consul: 308-10, or 312.