David A. Loggie

The Marble Sarcophagus of Julia Latronilla

Scenes of redemption from the Old and New Testaments comment a massive, early Christian, carved marble sarcophagus, 6.5 feet long and 3.5 feet high. Dated to only 15 years or so after Christianity became the official religion of Rome in 313 A.D., the sarcophagus held the remains of Julia Latronilla, who died when she was 46 years, nine months old, according to an incised Latin inscription flanked by two winged angels on the lid.

On the far left of the lid, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey (Luke 19:28–39) is depicted. To the right of this scene, Jesus is shown with the woman whom he healed of a hemorrhage (Matthew 9:20–22). He places his hand on her head. Immediately to the right of the inscription, after the winged angel, another miracle is depicted— Jesus’ healing of the man born blind (John 9:1–39). The man supports himself on a crutch. This is followed by Jesus telling Peter that he will betray Jesus before the cock crows (Matthew 26:30–34); on the far right Abraham raises his hand to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:1–14).

On the sarcophagus, on the upper left, God is depicted with Adam and Eve; the figures’ heads are broken off. Below, we see the miracle at Cana (John 2:1–11), when at a wedding feast, Jesus turns water into wine. On the upper right of the sarcophagus the miracle of the loaves and fishes appears (Mark 6:41). Below, Jesus is flanked by an apostle, and probably by the veiled mother from Nain whose son was raised from the dead (Luke 7:11–15). In the center panel of the sarcophagus (see detail), a circular frame encloses a portrait of Julia Latronilla. Below this is the ancient symbol of Jesus’ resurrection, the so-called triumph cross. The cross consists of a wreath encircling a chi rho monogram. (The Greek letters chi (X) and rho (P)—are the first two letters of Christos, the Greek word for Christ.) The monogram is incorporated in the Roman victory standard that Emperor Constantine carried in battle. Two eagles perch on the horizontal bar of the victory standard’s cross, while the two soldiers who guarded Jesus’ tomb crouch below it.