Wednesday, January 5, 2011

On Cemeteries

I do not usually deal much with the Christian period in Antioch but a piece recently came to my attention that deals with the evolution of the Christian cemeteries and the martyrions that were located at Antioch or thereabouts. The texts in question are Eric Rebillard's piece "Tombe, Tombe Sainte, Necropole" in MEFRA 1993 (2).

Rebillard discusses the presence, or not, within the city of a "cemetery" in which the Martyrs were interred. The focus of the piece is a reference to a place called το κοιμητηριον which he refers to as a "cemetery par excellence". The main argument relates to John Chrysostom's sermon for a Good Friday. This speech was given in a place where the Church celebrated the Resurrection. Rebillard feels that this place was probably a special cemetery outside the city walls where their existed Martyrions, or shrines to the local martyrs. Prominent amongst these were Saint Babylas and Saint Ignatius but also some other saints who have lasted the distance in hagiographies.

The Romans and Greeks were not inclined to having burials within the city walls. In Rome we can see the Via Appia lined with tombs and the only interments within the walls, of note, being the Mausoleums of Hadrian and Augustus. Quite a number of the grave goods found in Antioch have been outside the walls along the roads approaching the city. It has long been felt that there was an extensive necropolis outside the Daphne Gate.

In light though of the discovery of the Martyrion of Saint Babylas opposite the Island (and Palace) on the north bank of the Orontes, we might presume that the zone for "saints" was in this direction. Rebillard analyses Chrysostom's words and going back through his history of sermonising comes to the conclusion that his use of the word το κοιμητηριον is unique and represents not merely a necropolis but rather a very special location for saints and martyrs.

One might also presume that if the Martyrion found in the 1930s was a centerpiece of this complex then further excavations in this zone might throw up the tombs of lesser lights in the religious sphere.

He makes mention also of the fact that a migration of relics from this site outside the city began when the Christian tide started to overwhelm the old ways. Specifically he refers to the remains of Saint Ignatius being brought into the city and placed in what had been the Temple of Fortune. This sounds rather like the site of the famous statue of Tyche. Presumably the statue was displaced (and need we mention that Antioch's fortunes were never so healthy again). Rather intriguingly, Ignatius was said to have been martyred by being thrown the lions in the Coloseum in Rome. How he had any remains from this experience to be transferred back to Antioch is truly a miracle!

In other places there are accounts of the peregrinations of the remains of Saint Babylas that at one time had the Temple of Apollo in Daphne as their shrine, until Julian ousted them to be reburied at the original gravesite. It was after this that the substantial Martyrion was constructed for him.

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