See Josef Wilpert, Die Malereien der Katakomben Roms (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1903), p. 289f; See also Fractio Panis: Die alteste der eucharistischen opfers in den “Capella greca” (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1895); and commentary in Franz Joseph Dölger, Ichthys: Der Heilige Fisch in den antiken Religionen und im Christentum, 5 vols (Münster: Aschendorffsche, 1922–1943), vol. 5, pp. 527–533.
Some scholars have suggested that this rather inconclusive image is evidence that women were permitted to act as celebrants at early Christian Eucharists. See, for example, D. Irvin, “The Ministry of Women in the Early Church,” Duke Divinity School Review 45:2 (1980), pp. 76–86, esp. 81–84.
Wilpert, Fractio Panis, and La fede della chiesa nascente (Vatican City: Pontificio Instituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 1938), pp. 97–99. Other scholars who consider these images to be representations of agape meals or actual Eucharists include C.R. Morey (“The Origin of the Fish Symbol,” Princeton Theological Review 8 , p. 432), Robert Eisler (Orpheus—The Fisher [London: Watkins, 1921], pp. 217–219), Walter Elliger (Zur Entstehung und frühen Entwicklung der altchristlichen Bildkunst [Leipzig: Dietrich, 1934]), Jack Finegan (Light from the Ancient Past [Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1946], p. 386), R. Hiers and C. Kennedy (“The Bread and Fish Eucharist,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 3 , pp. 21–48) and, more recently, John Dominic Crossan (The Historical Jesus [San Francisco: Harper, 1991], pp. 398–399), who refers to the earliest of these images as evidence of an alternative bread and fish Eucharist in the “early tradition.”
See the eucharistic services described in Justin Martyr, 1 Apol. 65, 67; Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition 4; Cyril of Jerusalem, Cathecheses 3, and Apostolic Constitutions 8.6–15, for fairly detailed descriptions of the rite at different times and places.
Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem 1.14.
Throughout the Middle Ages, some of these elements came to be incorporated in Last Supper images: A mosaic in the church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, for example, shows Jesus reclining at the head of a sigma-shaped table with the apostles (see last supper mosaic). On the table are seven small loaves of bread and a platter bearing two fish.
These paintings are similar to other fish and loaves images, including a famous late-fourth- or early-fifth-century mosaic found in the Church of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha, where tradition locates the multiplication miracle. The mosaic depicts two fish flanking a basket of bread and is similar in design to the small symbolic paintings found in the catacombs (which date to about 200 C.E.) and to the fish and chalice mosaic in what is thought to have been a house church in Ostia Antica.
For the image as it appears in an earlier era, see Jean-Marie Dentzer, Le motif du banquet couché dans le Proche-Orient et le monde grec du VIIe au Ive siècle avant J,-C (Paris: Bibliothèque des Ecoles français d’Athènes et Rome, 1982). Late Roman examples of this kind seem to have Greek prototypes. See examples in Guntram Koch, Roman Funerary Sculpture: Catalogue of the Collections (Malibu, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1988), entries 9, 33 and 34. A full catalogue with analysis was produced by Nikolaus Himmelmann, Typologische Untersuchungen an römischen Sarkophagreliefs des 3. and 4. Jahrhunderts nach Christus (Mainz: Zabern, 1973), pp. 24–28 and 47–66. Elzbieta Jastrzebowska has written the most important recent article on the subject, “Les scènes de banquet dans les peintures et sculptures chrétienennes des IIIe et Ive siècles,” Recherches Augustiennes 14 (1979), pp. 3–90, with catalogue and full bibliography.
It seems that these images first appeared in imperial Roman times. See examples in Tran Tam Tinh, Catalogue des peintures romaines (Latium et Campanie) du musée du Louvre (Paris: Editions des musées nationaux, 1974), pp. 50–51, fig. 57; and Doro Levi, Antioch Mosaic Pavements (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1947), vol. 1, pl. 294–304, 66b. For a discussion of the Roman dining arrangement known as the stibadium, see Katherine Dunbabin, “Triclinium and Stibadium,” in Dining in a Classical Context, ed. William J. Slater (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1991), pp. 121–148.
Dölger identified some Christian funeral images of the former (kline) (in Dölger, Ichthys, vol. 4, pl. 246 and 252, for example).
Whether the pagan images can be interpreted with reference to a particular expectation of the afterlife is a somewhat open question, although it appears more plausible that the Roman images (as distinct from the earlier Greek ones) did project a paradisiacal image rather than an earthly one. A Roman epitaph in Avignon presents one explanation of the meaning of such images: “But what good is it to the dead to be shown feasting: They would have done better to have lived that way” (cited in A History of Private Life, vol. 1, From Pagan Rome to Byzantium, ed. Paul Veyne [Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, Belknap Press, 1987], p. 180). See further discussion in J.M.C. Toynbee, Death and Burial in the Roman World (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1971), pp. 37, 50–51, 137.
Passio of Ss. Perpetua and Felicitas 11, from the Vision of Saturus, trans. Herbert R. Musurillo, in Medieval Women’s Visionary Literature, ed. Elizabeth A. Petroff (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1986), p. 74.
Tertullian (De Corona) refers to the tradition of Christians making offerings for the dead as birthday honors.
The literature on this subject is vast. See, however, Richard Krautheimer, “Mensa-Coemeterium-Martyium,” in Studies in Early Christian, Medieval and Renaissance Art (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1969), pp. 35–58.
There are very helpful illustrations of these items, along with a fairly complete biography, in Graydon Snyder, Ante Pacem (Macon, GA: Mercer Univ. Press, 1985), pp. 82–92.
See Victor Saxer, Morts, martyrs, reliques en afrique chrétienne aux premiers siècles (Paris: Beauchesne, 1980).
For instance, see Augustine, Ser. 252, 310, 311, and Ep. 22 and 29.9. In the latter he explains the origins of feasts dedicated to the martyrs as an antidote to other, less decorous feasts. Also see Augustine, Confessions 6.2, where he describes Monica’s practice of bringing cakes, wine and bread to oratories built in memory of the martyrs. In Cont. Faust. 20.21, Augustine refutes Faustus’s claim that Christians worshiped their saints like idols, offering them gifts of food and wine. Other sources include Tertullian, De resurrectione carnis 1; Ambrose, De Elia et Jejunio 17; and Paulinus of Nola, Ep. 13, 11–13, and Poema 27.
See Toynbee, Death and Burial, chap. 3, esp. pp. 50–64, for a very good introduction to the subject; also on the question of Roman and Christian understandings of the refrigerium interim, see A. Stuiber, Refrigerium Interim, and a helpful review of the above by Toynbee, Journal of Theological Studies, n.s. 9 (1958), pp. 141–149. The term refrigerium interim seems to have been coined by Tertullian in his treatise De monogamia 100.10. The epitaphs containing these terms are mostly found in the triclia of San Sebastiano. For a full listing of these, see A. Silvagni and Antonio Ferrua, eds., Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres, 2nd ed., ed. J. Moreau, 3 vols. (Berlin: Weidmann, 1961).
See Snyder’s summary, including his identification of the scene with both the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and a funeral meal, in Ante Pacem, pp. 64–65.
There is no obvious Jesus figure in the catacomb paintings, perhaps because in Roman custom funeral meals were celebrated by the friends of the deceased; the deceased was thought to be present at these meals but invisible. Later images of the Last Supper are quite similar to the catacomb images, however, although they show 13 diners, including an obvious Jesus in the center. See, for example, the late-fifth-century Last Supper mosaic from the church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (see last supper mosaic).
Augustine, Tractate in Johannine 123.21.2, trans. and discussed in Morey, “Origin of the Fish Symbol,” part 3, pp. 417–420. Morey follows with two parallels to this text, from Eucherius and Chrysologus, which refer to the roasted fish of the Lukan post-resurrectional meal.