Image Caption 1Burials ad sanctos. Photo credit: M. Moliner, Marseille (M Moliner, 'La basilique funéraire', Gallia, 69(2) 134, fig. 65)
Image Caption 2The entry pipe and sarcophagus inside the shrine. Photo credit: M. Moliner, Marseille (M Moliner, 'La basilique funéraire', Gallia, 69(2) 134, fig. 68)
Image Caption 3The plan of the church. Image from M Moliner, 'La basilique funéraire', Gallia, 69(2) 134, fig. 64)
Type of EvidenceArchaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)
Archaeological and architectural - Internal cult fixtures (crypts, ciboria, etc.)
Evidence not before370
Evidence not after530
Activity not before370
Activity not after530
Place of Evidence - RegionGaul and Frankish kingdoms
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcMarseille
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Marseille
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsBurial ad sanctos
Cult Activities - RelicsBodily relic - entire body
Contact relic - oil
Contact relic - water and other liquids
Making contact relics
DiscussionThere can be no doubt that the two men buried in the decorated marble chest of the 'Rue Malaval church' were considered saints when their monument was built. Evidence of this is the elaborate nature of the monument and its location in the apse of a church, the crowding around it of other burials (most readily interpreted as people seeking burial ad sanctos, as close as possible to two saints), and the pipes leading into and out of the marble structure. These latter are surely evidence of the production of contact relics, by pouring oil into the tomb and collecting the resulting discharge.
This practice is documented extensively archaeologically in Syria, though always with much smaller reliquaries, but is less well attested in the Latin West. One of the few other pieces of evidence for this practice can be found in Paulinus of Nola's Natalicia: a series of poems which commemorate the feast day of *Felix (priest and confessor of Nola (southern Italy), S00000). In the sixth and thirteenth poems - written in 400 and 407 respectively - Paulinus describes how perfumed oil was poured into Felix's shrine and the resulting discharge - which was thought to have healing powers - was collected and applied to the body. See E05123.
The Syrian reliquaries always allowed the oil to flow directly over the relics themselves (see, for example, E01658, E01829, E01832), and it is clear from Paulinus' description that this also happened at Nola; here in Marseille, the oil only flowed over the inner sarcophagi, though, since these were sealed by the marble chest, this will not have been apparent to people collecting the resulting effluent.
Another very interesting feature of the Rue Malaval shrine is that the bodies of the saints were left within it when the church was abandoned, sometime before the seventh century, rather than being translated to another church. Presumably they were no longer considered to be important, and had become 'forgotten' saints; in the absence of an inscription and of any textual evidence, we have no idea who they were, or why they were (temporarily) venerated.
Moliner, Manuel, "La basilique funéraire de la rue Malaval à Marseille (Bouches-du-Rhône)", Gallia: Archéologie de la France antique 63 (2006), 131-36.