« Amphilochius, Saint Ampullae Amraphel »


AMPULLÆ, am-pul´lî or -lê: [Flasks or vials for holding liquids. In ecclesiastical usage they have been employed for the water and wine of the mass and for the consecrated oil used in baptism, confirmation, and extreme unction. Such vessels were sometimes of considerable size and were made of gold, silver, crystal, onyx, or glass. Specimens are preserved at Paris, Cologne, Venice, and elsewhere; and there is one at Reims said to have been miraculously provided for the baptism of Clovis in 496.] Deserving of most notice are the so-called ampullæ sanguinolentæ, phiolæ cruentæ or rubricatæ (“blood-ampullæ”), glass flasks which contain a reddish sediment and are alleged to have once held the blood of martyrs. They have been found almost exclusively in the graves of the catacombs, near the slab with which the grave was sealed or fastened to it by mortar. They are first mentioned by Antonio Bosio, the explorer of the Roman catacombs, who relates that in certain graves as well as in glass or clay vessels, he found blood congealed and dried, which, when moistened with water, assumed its natural color (Roma sotterranea, Rome, 1632, p. 197). Soon afterward a certain Landucci discovered such vessels with a watery or milky fluid which, when shaken, assumed the color of blood (De Rossi, 619). The discovery of a phiola rubricata came to be regarded as certain proof of a martyr’s grave, and the Congregation of the Sacred Rites decided accordingly in 1668 when doubts were raised concerning the indicia martyrii at the removal of relics from the catacombs. Doubts continued, however, and a Jesuit, Victor de Buck, made the strongest presentation of the case of the skeptics, arguing on scientific grounds (De phiolis rubricatis, Brussels, 1855). After a new find in the cemetery of S. Saturnino in 1872 a papal commission undertook an exact microscopical investigation, which was believed to establish the presence of blood. Roman Catholic archeologists and theologians had generally conceded a possibility that the claims might be well founded, while opposing the unsystematic and unscientific assumption that all red sediment was blood, and demanding an adequate investigation in each case.

The following weighty and conclusive objections, however, are made even to the possibility: (1) There 159 is no literary testimony that the blood of martyrs was preserved as is presupposed, and no satisfactory reason has been given why it should have been thus saved. (2) A large percentage of these ampullæ come from the graves of children under seven years of age, who can hardly have suffered in the persecutions of the Christians; furthermore, more than one-half of them are of the time of Constantine or later. (3) Non-Christian graves furnish similar vessels with red sediment. (4) In no case has the sediment been proved to be blood by chemical and microscopic examination. The attempt made in 1872 is untrustworthy, and its results are rejected by competent judges. (5) The specimens with inscriptions (such as sang., sa., and the like) and the monogram of Christ or the cross are forgeries. The red sediment is probably oxid of iron produced by the decomposition of the glass. It has been suggested that it is the remains of communion wine, and the sixth canon of the Synod of Carthage of 397 lends support to the view, but the chemical analysis is against it (cf., however, Berthelot in Revue archéologique, new series, xxxiii., 1877, p. 396). Certain heathen burial customs in which wine (cf. Schultze, Katakomben, pp. 52, 54, and note 15) or oil was used offer analogies. The original purpose and significance of these ampullæ was probably not uniform.

(Victor Schultze).

Bibliography: F. X. Kraus, Die Blutampullen der römischen Katakomben, Frankfort, 1868; idem, Ueber den gegenwärtigen Stand der Frage nach dem Inhalte und der Bedeutung der römischen Blutampullen, Freiburg, 1872; idem, Roma sotterranea, pp. 507 sqq., ib. 1879: “Paulinus,” Die Märtyrer der Katakomben und die römische Praxis, Leipsic, 1871; G. B. de Rossi, Roma sotterranea, iii. 602 sqq., Rome, 1877; Victor Schultze, Die sogenannten Blutgläser der römischen Katakomben, in ZKW, i. (1880) 515 sqq.; idem, Die Katakomben, pp. 225 sqq., Leipsic, 1882.

« Amphilochius, Saint Ampullae Amraphel »
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