This epitaph was written by St. Abercius.
“The citizen of a chosen city, this [monument] I made [while] living, that there I might have in time a resting-place of my body, [I] being by name Abercius, the disciple of a holy shepherd who feeds flocks of sheep [both] on mountains and on plains, who has great eyes that see everywhere. For this [shepherd] taught me [that the] book [of life] is worthy of belief. And to Rome he sent me to contemplate majesty, and to see a queen golden-robed and golden-sandalled; there also I saw a people bearing a shining mark. And I saw the land of Syria and all [its] cities Nisibis [I saw] when I passed over Euphrates. But everywhere I had brethren. I had Paul. . . . Faith everywhere led me forward, and everywhere provided as my food a fish of exceeding great size, and perfect, which a holy virgin drew with her hands from a fountain and this it [faith] ever gives to its friends to eat, it having wine of great virtue, and giving it mingled with bread. These things I, Abercius, having been a witness [of them] told to be written here. Verily I was passing through my seventy-second year. He that discerneth these things, every fellow-believer [namely], let him pray for Abercius. And no one shall put another grave over my grave; but if he do, then shall he pay to the treasury of [the] Romans two thousand pieces of gold and to my good native city of Hieropolis one thousand pieces of gold.”
The inscription bears witness of no slight value to the importance of the Church of Rome in the second century. A mere glance at the text allows us to note: (1) The evidence of baptism which marks the Christian people with its dazzling seal; (2) The spread of Christianity, whose members Abercius meets with everywhere; (3) The receiving of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and of Mary, in the Eucharist, (4) under the species of Bread and Wine.
The subject of it may be identified with a writer named Abercius Marcellus, author of a work against the Montanists, some fragments of which have been preserved by Eusebius. As the treatise in question was written about the year 193, the epitaph may be assigned to the last years of the second, or to the beginning of the third, century. The writer was bishop of a little town, the name of which is wrongly given in the Life, since he belongs to Hieropolis in Phrygia Salutaris, and not to Hierapolis in Phrygia Pacatiensis. The proof of this fact given by Duchesne is all that could be wished for. The text of the inscription itself is of the greatest possible importance in connection with the symbolism of the early Church. The poem of sixteen verses which forms the epitaph shows plainly that the language used is one not understood by all; Let the brother who shall understand this pray for Abercius. The bishop’s journey to Rome is merely mentioned, but on his way home he gives us the principal stages of his itinerary. He passed along the Syrian coast and, possibly, came to Antioch, thence to Nisibis, after-having traversed the whole of Syria, while his return to Hieropolis may have been by way of Edessa. The allusion to St. Paul the Apostle, which a gap in the text renders indecipherable, may originally have told how the traveller followed on his way back to his country the stages of St. Paul’s third missionary journey, namely: Issus, Tarsus, Derbe, Iconium, Antioch in Pisidia, and Apamea Cibotus, which would bring him into the heart of Phrygia.