St Eugenia Edit
The revised Roman Martyrology (2001) (RM) has an entry for 25 December:
- "In the cemetery of Apronian on the Via Latina, St Eugenia the martyr. About AD 300".
This replaces an entry in the RM:
- "The daughter of blessed Philip the Martyr. She, in the time of Gallienus the emperor (260-8), after manifesting many signs and virtues and adding holy choirs of virgins to Christ, suffered for a long time under Nicetius, the prefect of the city, and was at last cut up by the sword".
The old RM avoided making use of her weird legend, popular in the Eastern churches and based in Egypt. This describes how she disguised herself as a man to avoid persecution and ended up as the abbot of a monastery, before being ridiculously accused of male sexual activity and fleeing to Rome when exposed. She is not the only early female saint to have this sort of story told about her.
Rather, this entry alludes to the existence of a nunnery at her shrine in the pilgrimage period, the 7th century.
Other saints Edit
The pilgrimage itineraries of the 7th century mention other martyrs here, but the evidence is very confused.
The Epitome has this:
- Ibi s. Stefano papa cum toto clero suo numero XXVIII martyres: Ibi s. Nemeseus, s. Olimphius, s. Simpronius, s. Theodolus, s. Superius, s. Obloteris, s. Tiburticanus martyres sunt sepulti. ("There is St Stephen the pope with all his clergy, twenty-eight martyrs. There are buried SS Nemesius, Olympius, Symphronius, Theodolus, Exuperia [mistakenly made into a male], Obloteris and Tiburticanus.")
The Notitia Portarum has this:
- Ecclesia beatae Eugeniae, in qua iacet et Claudia mater eius, et Stephanus papa cum clero suo numero XIX, et Nemesius diaconus. ("The church of blessed Eugenia, in which also lies Claudia her mother, and Stephen the pope with his clergy numbering nineteen, and Nemesius the deacon.")
These link up to the following entries in the old RM:
- "Pope St Stephen I (254-7), in the cemetery of Callistus who, in the persecution of Valerian, while he was celebrating Mass, when soldiers came to arrest him, continued to the end before the altar the mysteries which he had begun, intrepid an unmovable, and was beheaded where he stood." 2 August.
- "SS Symphronius, Olympius, Theodolus and Exuperia who, as we read in the Acts of Pope St Stephen, were burned to death and so obtained the martyr's reward". 26 July.
- "SS Nemesius the Deacon and Lucilla the Virgin who was his daughter. They were beheaded on the orders of the emperor Valerian, because they could not be persuaded to abandon their faith in Christ. Their bodies were buried by blessed Pope Stephen, and later interred more honourably by Pope Xystus II (257-8) on the Appian Way. Pope Gregory V moved them to the diaconal title of Santa Maria Nova, together with SS Symphronius, Olympius the Tribune, Exuperia his wife, and his son Theodolus who were all converted by Symphronius, baptised by Pope Stephen and then martyred." 25 August.
The legend of the martyrdom of Pope Stephen I is romantic fiction, and the reference to his martyrdom has been deleted from the RM. All the other alleged martyrs mentioned have been deleted also, because of the complete historical confusion concerning them.
Note that St Lucilla is not mentioned in the itineraries. Also, St Claudia the mother of St Eugenia, St Obloteris and St Tiburticanus are not mentioned in the old RM.
Working catacombs Edit
It is a good guess that the original proprietor of these catacombs was called Apronian. A foundation date in the earlier 3rd century has long been claimed on epigraphic evidence, but the extant remains are all 4th century.
The complex became extensive in the later 4th century, having four levels (allegedly). A church was built (or rebuilt) above them by Pope John VII in 705, and the complex was restored by Pope Adrian I (772-95). He is also on record as having founded a nunnery here, which didn't last long.
The abandonment of the complex is marked by the transfer of the relics of SS Eugenia and Claudia to the church of Santi Apostoli by Pope Stephen IV (816-7). They are enshrined in the Bessarion Chapel there.
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 dei Santi Gordiano ed Epimaco nearest the city, and the Catacomba di Tertullino further on down the road in between.
Bosio left an interesting and appalled description, relating how he visited while a gang of workmen were looting the catacombs. He was allowed to help himself to epigraphs left loose after loculi were smashed open. His transcriptions led to a dating for some of them in the earlier 3rd century.
Because of the destruction, his notes are of value. He describes a high-status cubiculum at the end of a passage, with an antechamber and a vault springing from engaged columns at the corners. The antechamber had two frescoes of fossores or catacomb diggers, and the other fresco work showed The Resurrection of Lazarus, Christ Healing the Blind Man and The Good Shepherd. Another cubiculum noted by him had good stucco decoration, with a vault having a central fresco of The Good Shepherd surrounded by stucco vine-scrolls and grapes with putti.
He was followed by Marcantonio Boldetti in 1720, who reported that the accessible complex was "vast" and that it was still being looted for spurious martyrs' relics. Both of these explorers failed to identify the catacombs correctly, with Boldetti thinking that SS Quartus and Quintus (two martyrs with a shrine at Catacomba dei Santi Gordiano ed Epimaco) had a separate set of catacombs here.
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. This was causing scandal in the 18th century. 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 "officially" rediscovered.
There were no investigations here in the 19th century. The complex was only studied scientifically for the first time in 1937, when suburban development was imminent. The major excavation was in the season 1939-40, supervised by Enrico Josi.
Two hundred and fifty metres of passages were mapped, on three levels (the existence of a fourth level seems not to be confirmed). The oldest level is the second, but no dating evidence from the 3rd century was found nor any of the martyrs' shrines. Some arcosolia and cubicula with stucco decoration were described, but the frescoed cubicula mentioned by Bosio were not rediscovered and might have been quarried away already.
The surface remains consisted of a small building with a marble entrance threshold and remains of a mosaic floor. The latter concealed floor-tombs (formae), including a sarcophagus. This edifice was tentatively identified as the church of St Euphemia, a hypothesis supported by the discovery of a marble transenna or pierced screen-slab. This finely carved specimen has two diagonal crosses with rosettes, and is perhaps 8th century. It might have been part of a shrine-screen.
The excavated remains were not preserved when the site was built upon, and there is nothing to see above ground. Apparently the catacombs are not very interesting, either. Passage collapses have been a problem.