FOOTPRINTS IN ROME

In the fork where a cross-road called the Via Ardeatina branches off from the Appian Way, is a little homely church with the strange name of "Domine quo Vadis." It is associated with one of the most beautiful legends of the early Christian Church touchingly told by St. Ambrose. The Apostle Peter, fleeing from the persecution under Nero that arose after the burning of Rome, came to this spot; and there he saw a vision of the Saviour bearing His cross with His face steadfastly set to go to the city. Filled with wonder and awe, the Apostle exclaimed, "Domine quo Vadis," Lord, whither goest thou? To which the Saviour replied, turning upon Peter the old look of mournful pity when he denied Him in the High Priest's palace at Jerusalem, "Venio Roman iterum crucifigi," I go to Rome to be crucified a second time—and then disappeared. Peter regarding this vision as an indication of his Lord's mind, that he ought not to separate himself from the fortunes of his fellow-Christians, immediately turned back to the city, and met with unflinching courage the martyr's death on the yellow sands of Montorio; being crucified with his head downwards, for he said he was not worthy to die in the same way as his Master. This legend has been made the subject of artistic treatment by Michael Angelo, whose famous statue of our Lord as He appeared in the incident to St. Peter is in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and was for many years a favourite object of worship, until superseded by the predominant worship of Mary. A cast of this statue stands on the floor in front of the altar in the church of Domine quo Vadis. It represents our Lord in the character of a pilgrim, with a long cross in His hand, and an eager onward look in His face and attitude. It is very simple and impressive, and tells the story very effectually. Besides this plaster statue of the Saviour, a circular stone is placed about the centre of the building, surrounded by a low wooden railing, containing the prints of two feet side by side, impressed upon its surface, as if a person had stopped short on a journey. These are said to be the miraculous prints of the Saviour's feet on the pavement of the road when He appeared to Peter; but like the copy of Michael Angelo's statue, this slab is a facsimile, the original stone being preserved among the relics of the neighbouring basilica of St. Sebastian. Unwilling as one is to disturb a legend so beautiful, and with so touching a moral, there can be no doubt that it was an after-thought to account for the footprints; for the material on which they are impressed being white marble, proves conclusively that the slab could never have formed part of the pavement of the Appian Way, which it is well known was composed of an unusually hard lava, found in a quarry near the tomb of Cæcilia Metella; and the distinct marks of the chisel which the impressions bear—for I examined the original footprints very carefully some years ago—indicate a very earthly origin indeed. The traditional relic in all probability belonged to the early subterranean cemetery—leading by a door out of the left aisle of the church of St. Sebastian, to which the name of Catacomb was originally applied.