Footprints, Monumental

Footprints, Monumental

Sepulchral slabs have been found in the catacombs and elsewhere incised with footprints. The two feet as a rule point the same way, though sometimes, but rarely, they are turned in opposite directions. A slab in the Kircherian Museum bears two pairs of footprints pointed contrary ways, as of a person going and returning (fig. 1). Some of these slabs are certainly Christian, though the fact in other cases is uncertain. A slab given by Boldetti, inscribed with JANUARIA IN DEO at one end, bears the sole of a foot, with IN DEO incised upon it, at the other. Perret gives a slab erected by a Christian husband to his wife, with a pair of footprints incised on it, not bare, as is customary, but shod in shoes or sandals. Sometimes, but more rarely, we find a single foot seen in profile.

The signification of this mark is much controverted. Some regard the footprint as the symbol of possession, denoting that the burial-place had been purchased by the individual as his own. This view is based on a false etymology. The idea that a sense of their loss and a deep regret and affection for the departed was thus indicated is a mere romantic fancy. More may be said for the view, that as such emblems were sometimes dedicated as votive offerings by travellers on their return from a journey, they were intended on a Christian slab to indicate a holy thankfulness for the safe completion of the earthly pilgrimage of the departed. Another, more prosaic, but by no means, improbable, interpretation, especially of a single foot, is that it was a thank-offering for recovery from gout or other disease affecting the foot.

The same emblem is frequently found on seal rings. The sole of the foot bears sometimes the name of the owner, e.g. FORTVNIVS (Boldetti, page 506 ; Perret, volume 4, pl. 11, No. 4); JVSTVS (Aringhi, 2:698; Agincourt, Sculpt. pl. 8, No. 23), from the catacomb of St. Agnes; sometimes a Christian motto or device, e.g. SPES IN DEO (fig. 2) (Perret, n.s. No. 5), and the monogram of Christ (ib. No. 6). In an example given by' Perret (volume 4, pl. 23, No. 21), we see the stamp of such a seal bearing the sole of a foot, with PAVLI incised on it, five times repeated on the mortar in which a gilt glass had been imbedded, in the catacomb of St. Sixtus.

 
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