Saint NamePeter the Apostle : S00036
Saint Name in SourcePetrus
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Graffiti
Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)
Archaeological and architectural - Internal cult fixtures (crypts, ciboria, etc.)
Evidence not before380
Evidence not after1500
Activity not before380
Activity not after1500
Place of Evidence - RegionRome and region
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcSuburban catacombs and cemeteries
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Suburban catacombs and cemeteries
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)
Cult activities - Places Named after Saint
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsPilgrimage
SourceThe graffito is carved in distinctive, clearly legible letters on the plaster of the east wall of Mausoleum VIII, the western of twin, probably 4th c., apsed chapels/mausolea annexed to the south wall of the church San Sebastiano at the Cemetery ‘ad Catacumbas’ (originally called the Basilica Apostolorum). Letter height c. 2 cm (Ferrua); 1.7-2.2 cm (Nieddu). The graffito is c. 1.45 m above the floor.
The graffito was first published in 1909 by Mariano Colagrossi. Quickly it became the object of a heated discussion. The reference publication is now the one in the fifth volume of the ICVR series, by Antonio Ferrua, also listing earlier editions. For newer comments, see the works of De Santis 2010, 216, no. 70, and Nieddu 2009, 203-204. A high-quality digital photograph is published in the Epigraphic Database Bari.
DiscussionIn contrast to the simplicity of the inscription, which now preserves just two words, there is no consensus on its dating and actual meaning. The first editor, Mariano Colagrossi, presented it as a source 'confirming' the claim allegedly made in the Damasan epigram (ED 20 = EXXXXX) with a eulogy of Peter and Paul, that the place where it was erected, and the Basilica Apostolorum was constructed, was once the 'house' of the two Apostles: hic habitasse prius sanctos cognoscere debes / nomina quisq(ue) Petri pariter Pauliq(ue) requiris. 'You should know that holy men once dwelt here / whoever you are who seek at the same time the names of Peter and Paul.' (trans. D. Trout) As the site was clearly associated with the cult of Peter and Paul already from the mid-3rd c. through supplicants' graffiti (E05087), and in the records of the Chronography of 354 (E01052) and the Martyrologium Hieronymianum (E04866), Colagrossi's supposition seemed very attractive. Colagrossi wondered whether the inscription (and the chapel) might date from the second half of the 3rd c. (sic!), when the site was eagerly frequented by Christians holding commemorative banquets, and thus shares a common tradition echoed in the Damasan inscription, or whether it is later than the Damasan poem, and directly inspired by its phrasing. Orazio Marucchi, in oral comments to Colagrossi's presentation of the graffito argued for a later date, at the end of the 4th or in the 5th c. He added that pope Damasus probably meant that the Apostles were temporarily buried at the site, not actually lived there, and the graffito was authored by an unfortunate visitor who understood the poem literally. Other scholars (see a list in the comments by Ferrua in ICVR, and our bibliography) attempted to associate the inscription with graffiti of other visitors, from the same chapel (ICVR, n.s. V, no. 13281, dated by Carletti in the EDB to the late 7th - early 8th c.), or even supposed that the graffito was authored by a monk who settled in the chapel in the medieval period.
Margherita Guarducci offered a complex interpretation of the phrase, which she understood as a pun hiding a longer exclamation: Domus Petri, Domus Domini, Domus Patris/'House of Peter, House of the Lord, House of the Father!' She argued that the letter E in the word Petri was fitted with an oblique stroke making it also similar to A (hence Petri transforms into Patris in her restoration). She also interpreted a small stroke above the letters RI as I connected to two letters from line 2, which allowed her to transform the word domus into domini. In her opinion the graffito was a symbolic equation of the house of Peter with the house of Christ (the Church), and the house of the Father (Paradise). Guarducci also offered a lengthy excursus comparing our inscription with the 13th-15th c. epitaphs of the Bogomils from the Balkans, reportedly making use of the same 'alphabetical transfiguration.'
Ferrua decisively rejected Guarducci's interpretation. He also doubted that the inscription could be confidently connected with the cult of Peter, and the tradition about his temporary burial at the site. As for the date, he suggests that the graffito was scratched in already dry plaster. Its must be, therefore, much later than the construction of the mausoleum. Based on the shape of the letters, he doubted that the inscription was earlier than the 5th c.
In 2009, in her monograph on the Basilica of the Apostles, Anna Maria Nieddu suggested that the graffito was certainly not a funerary one, it does not name an ordinary person buried in the chapel. In that case the word domus would have been described by an epithet, for example domus aeterna, domus sempiterna, etc. Nieddu supposes that the graffito has a religious character, and was authored by a visitor to the church and the chapel. She discusses both possibilities presented above (a misreading of the poem of Damasus, and a reference to the tomb of the Apostles), and adds that the graffito could have also been inspired by a wall painting showing Peter, for example, in the scene of receiving the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.
We can add that Ferrua's notes on the word following the name Peter may suggest that it was an abbreviated form of the term presbyter/priest. Perhaps the graffito says that this was the house of a certain Petrus the presbyter. Two other graffiti found in this chapel name a presbyter Octavianus.
In the Epigraphic Database Bari Carlo Carletti places the inscription in the 5th c.
BibliographyThe inscription has been many times edited and reprinted by different scholars. Here we give just a selection of the literature. For works up to 1971, see the lemma in ICVR, n.s., V, no. 13282.
Epigraphic Database Bari, no. EDB4865, see http://www.edb.uniba.it/epigraph/4865
De Santis, P., Sanctorum Monumenta: "Aree sacre" del suburbio di Roma nella documentazione epigrafica (IV-VII secolo) (Bari: Edipuglia, 2010), 216, no. 70.
Nieddu, A.M., La Basilica Apostolorum sulla via Appia e l'area cimiteriale circostante (Città del Vaticano: Pontificio istituto di archeologia cristiana, 2009), 203-204, 206.
De Rossi, G.B., Ferrua, A. (eds.) Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae Septimo Saeculo Antiquiores, n.s., vol. 5: Coemeteria reliqua Viae Appiae (Vatican: Pont. Institutum Archaeologiae Christianae, 1971), no. 13282.
Guarducci, M., I graffiti sotto la Confessione di San Pietro in Vaticano, vol. 1 (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1958), 381-384 and fig. 195a-b.
Carcopino, J., Études d'histoire chrétienne: Le christianisme secret du carré magique. Les fouilles de Saint-Pierre et la tradition (Paris: A. Michel, 1953), 109 ff.
Styger, P., Römische Märtyrergrüfte (Berlin: Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft, 1935), 31.
Wilpert, J., "Domus Petri", Römische Quartalschrift für christliche Altertumskunde und Kirchengeschichte 26 (1912), 117-122.
Colagrossi, M., "", Romana Tellus. Rivista mensile d'archeologia, storia, arte e bibliografia (1912), 81 (an image).
Record of oral notes by Colagrossi, presented in Marucchi, O., "Resoconto delle adunanze tenute dalla Società per le conferenze di Archeologia cristiana (Anno XXV, 1910)", Nuovo Bulletino di Archeologia Cristiana 16 (1910), 131-132.
Colagrossi, M., "Notizie. Roma. Scavi nelle Catacombe", Nuovo Bulletino di Archeologia Cristiana 15 (1909), 218.