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Roman Christian religion and the burial of the dead in Syndale Park, Faversham.


ON SUNDAY, August 5, 2012, I was working with students in Syndale Park on the outskirts of the Roman town of Durolevum just to the west of Faversham in Kent. It was hot, and I sat in the shade of a Roman mausoleum we had just discovered.
I closed my eyes and as I drifted off I smelt the pungent aroma of spices. I woke startled to find the scene transformed.
Looking down at me was a man dressed in a toga. He smiled and introduced himself as Calminius and told me it was his tomb I was leaning on. "I'm the only Christian buried here," he said. "And as a Christian I have an afterlife."
I stared at him, and he went on. "We used to worship the supreme Roman god Jupiter whose temple is located in Canterbury. The temple was dedicated to the sacred triad of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva.
"At the other end of the spectrum, such as here in Durolevum are small shrines found in every house dedicated to a variety of gods.
"The choice of gods in the laravium, the household shrine, included Bacchus, the god of wine and good living, Venus, the towns' official goddess to bring good luck and prosperity and Fortuna, mistress of the world holding the cornucopia, the horn of plenty.
We Romans believed that all the important events in life were divinely activated and that different gods were in charge of particular functions and activities. Other early gods included Ceves, Mercury and Apollo.
But the most important was Jupiter.
"Death to us Romans used to be a final state. Departed souls lived in the underground Hades and Elysium or in the paradise across the ocean the Isles of the Blessed unless of course you were the Emperor who would on death, subject to certain criteria and procedures, become a god!
Some of our Roman tombs are inscribed 'We are mortal, not immortal'.
"We used to be cremated until the advent of Christianity, with the burial of the ashes in a tomb to shield the dead from the view of the gods of whom the deceased had no further need.
"The deceased was laid to rest, wearing a toga, on a litter or couch and if he were a magistrate, bearing his badges of office. The funeral procession would pass through the town to the place of cremation where he was burnt on a pyre and his ashes gathered and placed in a glass or pottery urn.
"If glass it was usually put inside a lead container. The container was then deposited in the sacred enclosure of the tomb and a bust erected to mark the spot."
"However, when we Romans conquered the Celts we came into contact with a belief that offered life after death. Our Caesar wrote: 'The cardinal doctrine which they [the Celts] seek to teach is that souls do not die but after death pass from one to another' (Caesar de Bello Gallico VI 14).
"Oriental cults of which Christianity is one offered some of us a purer life and life after death. Mithras offered life after death to its exclusively male devotees. Isis, on the other hand, welcomed both sexes, as long as they were rich, while Christianity offered immortality, subject to certain criteria to all its devotees.
"Most of the Oriental cult's ritual for immortality was performed on initiation or baptism rather than at the moment of death.
Now, with the expectation of an afterlife, there was a move away from cremation to inhumation.
"Christianity from its earliest days was very much concerned with death, burial and resurrection. Cemeteries, where we are now are the dormitories of those awaiting the second coming, and are important places that followed a ritual established by some of the earliest Christians.
"The origins of the Christian burial rite are made quite clear by my friend Athanasius and follow the Jewish custom based on the burial of Christ.
"Equally important to us is the grave not being disturbed and therefore preserving the body intact for a physical resurrection.
"It is our custom of orienting Christian burials with the head to the west, a custom originating in the Christian practice of facing east in prayer, which in turn, arises from the various allusions to the sun as a metaphor for God and the belief that at the resurrection Christ would appear from the East.
'I was buried in a silk shroud which shows a mixture of pagan and Christian allegories. The two peacocks are eating the fruit from the Tree of Life, a Christian symbol of one of the trees given by God to the Garden of Eden whose fruit would have given Adam and Eve immortality.
"The peacocks were to the pagans a symbol of immortality, and sacred to the pagan goddess Hera. It also symbolised birth, resurrection, immortality, and not only was its flesh incorruptible, its feathers if plucked returned in even greater splendour.
"Now please don't dig me up – I have no wish to miss my opportunity of resurrection when Christ returns."
I told Calminius that his remains were safe and wished him well in his second life. I looked around and the modern world had returned. Was Calminius a dream?
I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and gave instructions to team not to excavate.
Calminius' monumental tomb is still there yards away from the A2, with its busy drivers' not knowing in the field adjacent Calminius, a Roman Christian from the third century AD, lay quietly waiting for his second life.


Read more: http://www.canterburytimes.co.uk/Roman-Christian-religion-burial-dead-Syndale-Park/story-20772125-detail/story.html#ixzz2vpnkSID6