Refrigerium is the Latin equivalent of the Greek άνάψυξις (refreshment), used among pagans and early Christians to signify both spiritual solace and the banquet celebrated for the memory or well–being of a deceased person, near his tomb. The word is used in the Old Testament (Ps 65.11; Wis 4.7; Jer 6.16) and in the New Testament story of the rich man requesting of Lazarus that he freshen his tongue (Lk 16.24), as well as by St. Paul, who says that Onesiphorus frequently gave him refreshment (2 Tm 1.16).
A Greek inscription of the 3rd century b.c. speaks of "cold water from the spring of Mnemosyne for the refreshment of the deceased" [Incriptiones graecae (Berlin 1873–) n.638]; while in an epitaph found at Praeneste a certain Syncratius requests that all his friends refresh themselves in cheerful spirit [Corpus inscriptinum latinarum (Berlin 1863–) 14.3323].
In the late 2nd–century Passio of SS. Felicity and perpetua, the martyrs speak of taking refreshment; and tertullian used the word explicitly of a wife praying that her husband's soul might enjoy eternal refreshment: pro anima eius orat et refrigerium interim adpostulat ei (De monog. 10). Among the inscriptions found in the catacombs, many speak of a soul in pace et in refrigerium [in peace and refreshment; E. Diehl, Inscriptiones Christianae latinae veteres, 3 v. (Berlin 1925–31) 2722]; in the catacomb of St. Agnes: spiritus in refrigerium (the soul in refreshment; ibid. 3407); and in that of Praetextatus: Deus Christus omnipotens refrigeret spiritum tuum (ibid. 1102). This meaning is also expressed in the memento of the deceased in the Canon of the Mass: Ipsis Domine et omnibus in Christo, quiescentibus locum refrigerii, lucis et pacis ut indulgeas deprecamur (To them, O Lord, and to all resting in Christ, we beg you to grant a place of refreshment, light and peace).
The custom of holding a banquet after the burial of a relative or friend, as well as the celebration of the anniversary of death near the tomb or mausoleum with a commemorative meal, was common among the Greeks and Romans (Tertullian, Apologeticus, 39). It was observed also among the Jews (Tb 4.18). The same custom was followed by the early Christians, as is attested by the discovery in the catacombs of St. Sebastian of a triclia, or banquet room, on the walls of which were graffiti (inscriptions) signifying that pilgrims had satisfied a vow by celebrating a refrigerium there in honor of SS. Peter and Paul, or near Peter and Paul. Between the late 3rd and early 4th centuries hundreds of such graffiti were scribbled on the wall. There are also pictorial representations of a refrigerium in several tombs. Commodianus advises: si refrigerare cupis animam, ad martyres i (if you wish to refresh your soul, go to the martyrs; Inst. 2; Carm. 17.19).
By the end of the 4th century, however, this custom, which earlier had frequently been accompanied by almsgiving to the poor and other acts of piety, had degenerated into an occasion of scandal; and both Ambrose (De Elia 17) and Augustine felt constrained to take measures against it (Epist. 20.10).
Bibliography: h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 1907–53) 14.2:2179–90. r. audollent, Mélanges offerts à L. Havet (Paris 1909) 595–599. p. de labriolle, Bulletin d'ancienne littérature et d'archéologie chrétiennes 2 (1912) 214–219. f. grossi–gondi, Römische Quartalschrift für christliche Altertumskunde und für Kirchengeschichte 29 (1915) 221–249. a. m. schneider, Refrigerium (Freiburg 1928). t. a. klauser, Die Cathedra im Totenkult der heidnischen und christlichen Antike (Münster 1927).
[f. x. murphy]