|Saxon Church with|
© Godric Godricson
The most ancient parts of the cemeteries of Priscilla and DomitilIa and the crypt of Lucina, which date from Apostolic times, were family vaults constructed beneath the property of the person after whose name they are called, and granted by that person, as a ‘locus sacer’ placed under the protection of the Roman Law (lex monumenti). Henceforward the tomb was held inviolable, whatever might be the religion of those interred in it. The plot of ground (area) was often enclosed by walls, or its dimensions were engraved on boundary stones. Sometimes the inscription is found ‘Sibi suisque, libertis libertabusque posterisque eorum,’ sometimes the letters H.M.H.N.S.—‘hoc monumentum haeredem non sequitur.’ The administration of the leges monumentorum lay within the jurisdiction of the pontifices, who were thus the legal guardians of the inviolability of the burial-places thus granted, and their leave was required for the deposition of the bodies in the tombs or their translation, or indeed for the holding of anniversary festivals or rites or for any changes in the construction or character of the monuments. These powers do not seem to have been arbitrarily or vexatiously used, but it must always be remembered that they did exist and that the catacombs were in no sense secret and unknown hiding-places of the early Christians, but, with the exception perhaps of a few small subterranean crypts carefully concealed, like the Platonic chamber in which the bodies of the Apostles for awhile were laid, were registered and thus known to the magistrates.