Saint NameNovatianus, presbyter, schismatic, and martyr of Rome, ob. 258 : S02022
Saint Name in SourceNovatianus
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Funerary inscriptions
Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Archaeological and architectural - Internal cult fixtures (crypts, ciboria, etc.)
Evidence not before258
Evidence not after400
Activity not before258
Activity not after400
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 - PlacesBurial site of a saint - crypt/ crypt with relics
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsBequests, donations, gifts and offerings
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - lesser clergy
SourceThe inscription is executed in red letters on the white plaster of the front face of a tomb in an arcosolium, that is set in a crypt fitted with a skylight, which apparently served as a chapel in area N5 of the so-called cemetery/catacombs of Novatianus. The name of the cemetery was coined after the martyr mentioned in our text. The complex is sited on the via Tiburtina near the church of San Lorenzo, but is not mentioned in any of the late antique or medieval pilgrim itineraries.
The cemetery was discovered in the early 20th c. and excavations, directed by Francesco Fornari on behalf of the Pontificia Commissione di Archeologia Sacra, began in 1926. Further research on the site was conducted by Enrico Jossi (before 1933), and Antonio Ferrua (an epigraphic survey in 1952 and 1953).
Based on the dated inscriptions from the site, and no mention of the cemetery in the literary sources, it is supposed that the burial complex was in use between the mid-3rd and the 5th c., after which it was abandoned.
Our inscription was first published by Josef Wilpert in 1933. Since then it has had many proper editions in epigraphical series, and has been discussed a lot in general works on the history of the Christian Church in the city of Rome. The current reference edition is that by Antonio Ferrua in the Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae (1980).
A good photograph is offered in the Epigraphic Database Bari.
DiscussionThe inscription may be the original epitaph for a martyr, commemorating the preparation of his tomb by a deacon; however Antonio Ferrua considered it to be a later commemorative text documenting an act of embellishment or monumentalisation of the tomb, which is a more plausible solution.
Even more puzzling is the identity of this martyr Novatianus. The most straightforward answer is that we have here the 2nd c. presbyter of Rome who opposed pope Cornelius concerning the re-admittance into the Church of lapsi (Christians who had renounced their faith during the persecutions under the emperor Decius), was elected a schismatic bishop of Rome, and eventually himself died a martyr's death in exile under the emperor Valerian, probably in 258. In the text of the inscription, there is, however, no particular designation of our Novatianus's identity (he is not, as we'd expect, described as bishop), and hence other possibilities have also been considered: for example that this Novatianus was a martyr of Rome mentioned in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum on 29 June (E04866), or even yet another obscure martyr Novatianus, otherwise lost to our sources.
Doubts about the identity of Novatianus were also caused by the fact that this sector of the catacombs (on their second level), was initially dated to a period much later than the late 250s, when the death of Novatianus the schismatic occurred (the earliest dated tomb on the earlier, first level is from 266). However, newer interpretations of the archaeological evidence and analysis of the literary sources have altered the picture, and the currently prevailing view is that this may indeed have been the famous Novatianus.
From the literary sources we know that the followers of Novatianus did well in Rome, Constantinople, and the provinces of the Empire, until at least the 5th c. In 412 Honorius outlawed the Novatianists in the city of Rome, which corresponds to the presumed time of the abandonment of these catacombs. Interestingly, the catacombs also lay close to the cemetery of Hippolytus, probably the 3rd c. writer and martyr *Hippolytus of Rome, anachronically named as a Novatianist in a poem by Damaus (EXXXX). It is, therefore, possible either that the two nearby complexes were frequented by Novatianist Christians, and that Damasus gave a faithful account of this fact, or that he connected two unrelated martyrs, namesakes of the famous 3rd c. Christian thinkers, and only based on the similarity of their names presented them as Novatianus and his supporter. The second possibility is, however, refuted by Brent 1995, 373ff.
As for the absence of the title episcopus and the dating of the archaeological evidence, Antonio Ferrua argued that the title featured in the original epitaph, carved on a different marble plaque and displayed above the tomb, and that the earliest dated epitaph in the cemetery (266) does not represent the earliest stage of its existence, as some of its parts may go back to the 250s. Furthermore, the body of Novatianus would not have been brought to Rome immediately after his death, but only after the edict of toleration issued by the emperor Gallienus.
Anyway, whatever the actual identity of this Novatianus, our inscription and the archaeological context of the crypt, in spite of the silence of the itineraries, strongly suggest that this figure did receive cult in an organised form.
Dating: If this is the original epitaph for the 3rd c. martyr and schismatic Novatianus, the inscription must date to 258, and it is in fact often presented as a genuine 3rd c. inscription (also by Anita Rocco in EDB). However, as mentioned above, Antonio Ferrua considered the inscription a later dedication to the martyr, and dated it to the 4th c.
Epigraphic Database Bari, nos. EDB11692, see http://www.edb.uniba.it/epigraph/11692
de Rossi, G.B., Ferrua, A. (eds.), Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae Septimo Saeculo Antiquiores, n.s., vol. 7: Coemeteria via Tiburtinae (Vatican: Pont. Institutum Archaeologiae Christianae, 1980), no. 20334.
Cecchelli, C., Monumenti cristiano-eretici di Roma (Roma: Fratelli Palombi, 1944), 158 (drawing).
Josi, E., "Cimitero alla sinistra della via Tiburtina al viale Regina Margherita", Rivista di archeologia cristiana 10 (1933), 217, no. 43, fig. 23.
Styger, P., Die römischen Katakomben. Archäologische Forschungen über den Ursprung und die Bedeutung der altchristlichen Grabstätten (Berlin: Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft, 1933), 192, Tab. 35.
Wilpert, J., I sarcofagi cristiani antichi, vol. 2/1 (Rome: Pontificio Istit. di Archeologia Cristiana, 1932), 2*.
Brent, A., Hippolytus and the Roman Church in the Third Century. Communities in tension before the Emergence of a Monarch-Bishop (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 373ff.
De Santis, L., Biamonte, G., Le catacombe di Roma (Rome: Editore Newton & Compton, 1997), 229.
Diefenbach, S., Römische Erinnerungsräume : Heiligenmemoria und Kollektive Identitäten im Rom des 3. bis 5. Jahrhunderts n. Chr. (Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 2007), 254.
Fasola, P., "I cimiteri cristiani. Introduzione alla discussione", in: Atti del IX congresso internazionale di archeologia cristiana, Roma, 21-27 settembre 1975 (Rome: Pontificio Istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1978), 191-194.
Ferrua, A., "Novatiano beatissimo martyri", La Civiltà Cattolica 95 (1944), 232-239.
Fornari, F., Scrinari, S.-M., Le catacombe di Novaziano e la necropoli romana (Rome: , 1973).
Giordani, R., "Novatiano beatissimo martyri Gaudentius diaconus fecit - contributo all'identificazione del martire Novaziano della catacomba anonima sulla via Tiburtina”, Rivista di archeologia cristiana 67 (1992), 233-258.
Mattei, P., "Un tombeau pour Novatien ? Retour sur une quaestio vexata : elenchus bibliographique, état des lieux, essai de mise au point", Collection de l'Institut des Sciences et Techniques de l'Antiquité (2003), 123-138.
PCBE Gaudentius 5.
Rocco, A., "La tomba del martire Novaziano", Vetera Christianorum 45 (2008), 149-167.