The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, , at sacred-texts.com
Serapis, in his double character of God of Death and God of Riches, has been the subject of preceding chapters; the present one shall be devoted to the consideration of the most striking method by which human superstition sought to turn to account the two ideas. To propitiate the Manes by placing his most valuable or beloved effects in the sepulchre of the defunct, dates probably from the very institution of interment; but the account now to be cited is the most interesting of any on record, owing to the circumstances of the time, person, and place. It is literally translated from the description of an eye witness, the earliest of Italian antiquaries, M. L. Fauno, given in his 'Antichita de Roma,' p. 154, published 1553.
"In February, 1544, in the Chapel of the King of France, which is now being built in St. Peter's, after the plan of Julius II., the workmen, in excavating, came upon a marble coffin, which, from the things found therein, was clearly known to be the tomb of Maria, wife of the Emperor Honorius. Of the body, indeed, there was nothing left, except the teeth, the hair, and the two leg-bones. From the robes which were interwoven with gold, and from the head-tire, which was cloth of silk and gold, there was extracted by smelting more than forty pounds weight of the purest gold." [Suecius says thirty-six, but makes the total of all the gold found to amount to the above weight when they were melted down by order of Paul III., to be applied to the building fund of the Cathedral.]
"Within the coffin lay a silver box, one and a half foot long by eight inches deep, with many articles inside, the which we shall proceed particularly to describe. There were vases and different things in rock crystal, thirty in all, big and little; amongst which were two cups, as it were, not very large, the one round, the other oval shaped, with most beautiful figures in intaglio of middling depth (mezzo-cavo), and a snail-shell (nautilus), likewise in crystal, fitted up for a lamp in fine gold, with which in the first place the mouth of the shell is overlaid, there being only left a hole for pouring in the oil; by the side
of which hole is fixed a fly of gold upon a pivot, turning backwards and forwards, for the purpose of closing the orifice. In the same way is also made a nozzle with beak (pippio) for holding the wick, drawn out long and sharpened with the greatest elegance, and so fastened to the crystal that it appears all one piece naturally. The cover also is equally well made. The shape of the shell is that of a great sea-shell, encompassed all round with its points, which in this vessel are polished and very smooth, so excellently wrought is the crystal. There were also vases and various articles in agate, with certain little animals, eight in all, and amongst them two very beautiful vases, one like the glass ampullae, made big and squat for holding oil and such like liquids, so worked, so beautiful, and thin that it is a wonder to behold. The other is in the shape of those ladles with long handles used at Rome for baling water out of cisterns, and is supposed to be a vessel used by the ancients in their sacrifices [a lingula for the purpose of ladling the wine out of the great standing crater]. Next came four little vessels in gold of different kinds, and another little vessel of gold with a cover set round with jewels. A little gold heart that had been a pendant with jewels set in it; a buckle of gold with six gems of different kinds set in it, also twenty-four other buckles of gold of various patterns with little gems set in them; furthermore, forty-eight rings and hoops * of gold of different shapes, one of them in red hone, and various gems. A mouse in "chelidonia," a reddish quartz, is also specified by Suecius [which must be the next item], also three little animals in red bone; also two ear-drops in emerald or plasma with two jacinths; four small crosses with red and green stones; a pendant in the form of a bunch of grapes, made of purple stones; eight other little gold pendants of different sorts with gems set in them. The remains of a string of crepundia, the usual decoration of little children. [Maria had died at the age of four, being thus early betrothed to Honorius by his father the all-powerful Stilicho]. Three little gold crosses set with emeralds; a piece of a small fine necklace with certain green
stones strung upon it. Another little gold necklace with twenty-four beads of plasma. Another necklace with twelve heads of sapphire cut almond shape. Another little necklace of gold wire folded up (raccolto), but broken into four pieces. Two small buttons in gold; fourteen little gold-wire rings like those of a coat of mail; three more crosses with some emeralds, and a round gold plate 'like an Agnus Dei, * with these words upon it, STILICHO VIVAT. Two bracelets (maniche) of gold, set with certain red and green stones. Two large pins or stiletti for the hair, one in gold nearly a palm (nine inches) long inscribed with these words, DOMINVS HONORIVS DOMINA MARIA: the other in silver without inscription. There were likewise many fragments of enamels and other stones. Also silver nails [their heads] partly flat, partly in relief, which had fastened down a cover of silver upon a little coffer. Also a small plate of gold with these words written or rather scratched in Greek, MICHAEL • GABRIEL • RAPHAEL • VRIEL •" [Laurentius Surius makes out forty gold rings set with precious stones, besides an emerald set in gold, engraved with a head supposed to be that of Honorius, which was valued at five hundred gold ducats]. We have particularly described all the above-named objects because Claudian, a poet of those times, declares that to the Empress Maria were sent similar rare presents from her betrothed; which perhaps may have formed the greatest part of these things. The words of the poet are--
This account enables us to form some notion of the treasures deposited to a greater or less degree in all the tombs of important personages, but more especially in those sumptuous structures raised to the memory of the dead throughout Asia Minor. The same fact sufficiently accounts for the furious onslaught made upon the tombs all over the Roman world, so soon as the change of religion had extinguished the old veneration for the Manes and the things consecrated to them--a profanation, and a
destruction of works of art, which Gregorius Theologus, inspired by a taste and good feeling very surprising in a Byzantine saint, has attacked in one hundred and eighty-two very interesting and often poetical epigrams.
The same custom was kept up (although we can hardly suppose with any lingering belief in its ancient efficiency) by the Merovingian and Carlovingian successors to the wealth of the Western Empire. The learned Canon Chiflet has left in his interesting book, 'Anastasis Childerici Regis,' a complete history of tomb-treasures, serving to illustrate his account of that of Childeric the Frank, accidentally found in the precincts of Tournay Cathedral, May 1654. The deposit, as far it could be recovered from the first finders, consisted of the arms of the king, the trappings of his horse (buried with him), all of gold encrusted with garnets, his gold tablets and writing-stylus, abundance of golden-bees originally stretched over his mantle (which gave that curious idea to Napoleon I.), a bull's head for a pendant (the primitive Frankish badge of sovereignty), and lastly, a viaticum in the shape of one hundred Byzantine solidi of contemporary emperors, and as many denarii of several and much earlier Cæsars. The canon, by zealous perquisitions, succeeded in recovering all these articles, including the most important of all, the royal signet ring of massy gold, engraved with the image and superscription of Childeric, for his patron the Archduke Leopold, then governor of the Low Countries. At some subsequent period the most important of these relics passed into the collection of the Bibliothèque Impériale, where they continued in all due honour until the disastrous robbery of 1808, when it is supposed, with too much probability, that they were melted down along with the rest of the booty!
192:* Verghe: "verga," like the French verge, signifies a plain gold wire forming a ring having no head.
193:* A disk of stamped wax about three inches in diameter.