general returned home to find his wife in apparently continual mourning. The ostensible cause of this mourning was the untimely death of her friend Julia (the daughter of Drusus) who, in 43, had fallen victim to the jealousy of Messalina, the Emperor’s wife. Pomponia’s ‘mourning’ however continued until (the historian Tacitus tells us) 57 when she was tried for her strange behaviour by a court composed, according to ancient patrician tradition, of her husband and family. Pomponia was acquitted by her family but her ‘mourning’ continued until her death in 83, some forty years after it had begun. She is probably the Roman matron who, under the Christian name of Perpetua, especially devoted herself to the burial of the martyrs and is today commemorated on 4 August. (Certainly Pomponius Graecinus, Pomponia’s grand nephew, was a Christian. His second century tombstone was found in the crypts of Lucina, the oldest parts of the catacomb of St. Callixtus.)* 10
Through Prisca and Aquila St. Peter was also introduced to the noble family of Cornelius Pudens. The early conversion of certain wealthy citizens like these helped to shelter the Church from popular curiosity. For example, as it was customary every morning for hundreds of ‘clients’ to gather outside the often vast residences of leading Roman citizens to salute their lords, if hundreds of Christians coming for Mass gathered in like manner, no none would have noticed. Even more available for use as churches were the burial parks which noble families possessed around the outskirts of the city. Besides the tombs, these burial parks enclosed many buildings – lodges for the keepers, large halls for festivals and sacrifices, cellars, wells and long galleries; further away were gardens and shady avenues, with orchards and vineyards. If not only on the feast days of the dead but also on oft-recurring anniversaries, these places had hundreds of visitors, no one would have needed notice anything unusual. Thus from almost the outset certain wealthy citizens were receiving their poorer fellow Christians in their private funeral parks. North east of the city, not far from the Praetorian Barracks, between the Via Salaria and the Via Nomentana, lay the ‘Great Cemetery’, the earliest of the Christian burial parks. Belonging to an unknown rich benefactor and later called the Ostrian Cemetery, it was also known as ‘the cemetery of the waters wherein Peter baptised’. In the Ostrian cemetery later was venerated the ‘First Chair occupied by Peter’. The fashion of travelling in chairs carried by bearers was introduced during Claudius’ reign. Short distance travel by such means would have assisted St. Peter in his need to preserve secrecy. Soon, by the Via Salaria and within property belonging to the Senator Pudens were begun the ‘catacombs of Priscilla’. Meanwhile, beside the Via Appia, the ‘crypt of Lucina’ was set apart from the burial ground of the Pomponia family. Later in the first century, on the Via Ardeatina, a daughter of the Flavians named Domitilla was soon to dedicate the funeral park over the catacombs that bear her name.* 11
This period – 41 to 44 – of the persecution by King Herod Agrippa I was one of vital importance in the history of the Apostolic Church. It saw not
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...