by James W. Petty, AG, CGRS
“To the Spirits of the Departed,
Gaius Calpurnius Receptus, priest to the goddess Sulis lived 75 years.
Calpurnia Trifosa, his freedwoman (and) wife had this set up.”
This epitaph was carved on an ancient tombstone in Bath, England, about 1800 years ago. I’ll never forget the day I first read this, and pondered, “Isn’t it interesting how important the Spirit World was to these people, and the relationships they would have there.” I wondered, “How do these people receive the gospel and blessings of the temple?” With that thought, a whole new experience began to unfold that has influenced how I view temple work and the Spirit World.
I met Gaius Calpurnius Receptus, or rather, I first saw his gravestone in the summer of 1988, when my wife, Mary, and I were touring England and Wales with my parents, who were serving a mission at the London Temple. This was a genealogy business trip, to search for information about the families of some of my clients, and at the same time, visit sites where our own ancestors lived, and gather information on our family history. One of the high points of our itinerary was a visit to Bath, England, where my Mother(s people came from. It was there that my great-great Grandfather Thomas William Winter joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1844.
We spent the day in Bath visiting the ancestral home, and looking for churches and graves. We joined the tourist throngs visiting the Roman Baths for which the City of Bath was named. These outdoor pools originated from ancient springs bubbling up from under the ground, and now include a number of eighteenth century buildings built around the springs and pools. The buildings consist of shops, restaurants, and a museum that descends for a level or two below the street. The city and owners of the Baths began excavating the site and pools in 1971 to learn more about the archaeology of the springs and the area around it. By 1988, the museum consisted of a very nice walking tour through a number of rooms, with displays of artifacts, and signs informing people about the origins and history surrounding the baths.
We entered the museum and began the self-guided tour. We read the informative placards, examining the ancient carvings, coins, and other objects of antiquity. The exhibits were not based on a general theme, other than their connection to the Roman Baths. In one of the rooms we found eight or ten tombstones that had been discovered around the Bath valley area that dated back to Roman times. I was intrigued by the concept that these markers served as a genealogical record for people and families, but there was no way to tie them to a modern lineage, whereby temple work could be done. This troubled me; and as Mary and my parents proceeded through the room, I fell behind as I studied these grave stones. To me, these weren’t simply interesting objects in a museum, they were personal references to real people who had lived, and loved, and worshiped, and prayed. One of the markers read: “To the Spirits of the Departed, Gaius Calpurnius Receptus, priest to the goddess Sulis lived 75 years. Calpurnia Trifosa, his freedwoman (and) wife had this set up.” As I read this inscription, I suddenly felt overwhelmed. The only way to describe it was that a spirit enveloped me, or perhaps touched my spirit. It wasn(t a negative experience; rather I felt a pleading, a prayer, a request, a longing, a need communicated to me that this individual, Gaius Calpurnius Receptus desired to receive baptism and temple ordinances. It was a heartfelt, but powerful impression of love that I can feel to this day. In that communication was the idea that he needed these ordinances to be able to teach the gospel to the people of his time and community.
Immediately upon walking away from this tombstone, I began to have doubts. I read every marker in the room, trying to reach out with my spirit to see if I felt the same prompting from any of these other stones, and tried to determine if I was making up this experience. I felt nothing in particular with any of them. But when I returned to the gravestone for Gaius Calpurnius Receptus I felt a calm reassurance that a request had truly been made.
I left the display, and quickened my pace to catch up with the rest of my family. I wanted tell everyone about what had happened to me, but at the same time, I was concerned, for after all, they had seen the same stones with no impact on them. In addition I had a great deal on my mind to think about. Why me? Surely many other members of the Church had been to the Roman Baths Museum and walked past this ancient memorial. Was it because I was focused on how these names and people would ever be able to have their temple work done? I wondered, “Did I have any connection to Gaius Calpurnius Receptus? Could he have been my ancestor? He lived eighteen hundred years before me. If he’d had children, and they had children, and so on, over that time period he might have had over ten thousand descendants by today. From my study of genealogical records, I knew my family had lived in Somerset for over four hundred years. Might I be descended from him? Was he coming to me because I was the first descendant to pass by who held the authority of the priesthood, and could do his work for him?” Many questions and thoughts flooded my mind.
As I pondered on all of this, I became quiet, and I guess I pulled back, emotionally, from my companions. As we visited the Bath Abbey Cathedral Church, and saw the monuments and gravestones for people buried there, and in other cemeteries that we visited during the day, I found myself reaching out to see if there might be a similar spiritual connection. No other place or site presented the feeling that I’d had in the Roman Bath Museum with Gaius Calpurnius Receptus..
When we arrived at our lodgings that night, and separated to our rooms, Mary questioned me. She had been bothered by my quiet and reserved demeanor during the day. Had I been offended with something she, or my parents, had said or done? She told me that my Father had expressed the same concern and was worried about me. I had been so absorbed in my own thoughts that I hadn(t even been aware of how I was interacting with others in my party.
I immediately reassured her that I had not, and was not, upset or angry, or even unhappy about anything; and asked her if I could describe what had happened to me that day. We sat down around the bed, and I described my experience in that room at the museum; the emotions I’d felt; and the thoughts I’d had. When I finished she suggested that I needed to go tell my parents about the event, which I did. They were both relieved about my well-being and moved by what had happened to me.
During the remaining days of our trip, we enjoyed many wonderful experiences, but I continued to reflect on what had happened to me in Bath, why it had happened, and what I would do when we arrived home in Salt Lake City. One of my thoughts, was on the impression that Gaius Calpurnius Receptus needed to receive priesthood authority through temple ordinances, in order to be able to teach the gospel to his people, or rather the people of his time and community. I asked myself, “Could only people of a given dispensation be the teachers of other people in their time?” That didn’t seem quite right. I wondered who had taught the gospel to him? Perhaps as a priest of the temple of Sulis – Minerva, within his own experience as a religious person, he had sought to learn about God in the Spirit World, and in so doing was able to elicit the Lord to send missionaries to teach him the Gospel? Perhaps he needed to teach the people of his time and community because he was someone they respected. What was my responsibility to him and his people?
When we returned home to Salt Lake City, Utah, my first action was to go to the Family History Library, and study historical and archaeology writings about Bath, and the Roman ruins discovered there. I learned that the grave of Gaius Calpurnius Receptus was discovered in an ancient cemetery just east of Bath, across the river in 1795. No exact dates could be placed upon the marker, except that it was believed that Gaius had lived during the period of 100 – 200 A.D., when the site of Bath was evolving from a Celtic native community under the religious leadership of the Temple of Sulis, to a Roman community where religious devotion was directed to the Roman Goddess Minerva.
I compiled the information I found, and composed a letter requesting permission to submit and perform temple ordinances for Gaius Calpurnius Receptus and his wife, Calpurnia Trifosa. Unusual temple submissions such as this were discouraged, and still are, because they can draw the researcher away from the priority of searching for their own family lines. But this case was different. It had been thrust upon me. I didn’t go looking for it. I believed the request had been real, and I felt responsible to him. The names were submitted, approval was given, and the ordinances were quietly completed.
During the succeeding years, I’ve had the opportunity to share this experience privately with many other people, especially family members. I continued to think about the situation, and wonder about the work that Gaius Calpurnius Receptus was doing on his side of the veil.
* * * * * *
Back to Bath-Unexpectedly
In June 2002, fourteen years after our initial experience in Bath, Mary and I had the opportunity of visiting England again. This time we went with her twin sister, Barbara, and her husband, Eric Roberts. We made plans to visit Bath, and to do research in Somerset County. These key priorities were scheduled for the last few days of our trip. However, a couple of changes occurred after we arrived in England. At the beginning of our last week, our rental car developed engine problems and we wasted an entire day just getting the car traded in for a new vehicle. Consequently we had to cancel some of our research activities.
The next day we tried again to visit Bath and the County Record Office in Somerset, but to no avail. Since these were important goals, we rescheduled and made plans to visit Somerset and Bath on the next to the last day of our trip. Mary and I were very intent on going to the C.R.O. at Taunton, to accomplish some specific research in records not available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. But, circumstances beyond our control again delayed our travel during the morning of that final day. We decided our research had the highest priority, so we cancelled our visit to Bath. After all, we had been there before, and didn’t have any research that needed to be done in that city. But it was a disappointment for Mary’s sister, and her husband, as they had heard so much about the Roman Baths from us over the years.
As we drove west toward Somerset we found ourselves stuck in traffic that was backed up for miles. The nature of the roads in England is that the roads may go on for ten or more miles without an exit or a junction. That appeared to be the problem with our road. We crept forward for almost an hour, only covering less than half a mile. At that point we discovered an exit to a very small one lane country road. We didn(t know for sure where it would take us, as it was too small to appear on our road map, but we took it anyway. We traveled on it, away from the road, hedged in for about 20 minutes; not knowing where we were, until we came to a “round about” (traffic circle).
At that junction was a road sign indicating that Taunton, the county seat for Somerset, where we were going to do the research, was 67 miles away. It also indicated that Bath, was 25 miles in the opposite direction. Travel to Taunton would take at least one and a half to two hours on the small country roads; but we could be in Bath in about a half hour. We realized at that point that by the time we got to the research library in Taunton, we probably would not have sufficient time to do all the research that needed to be done, and our final day in England would be another loss. With that in mind, we cancelled the remaining research portion of our day trip, and went on to Bath to see the sights.
When we arrived, we were able to find parking, with relative ease, only a couple of blocks from the Roman Bath Museum. As we prepared to enter the museum, I thought, fancifully, that maybe I would be able to “stand and report” when I found the tombstone of Gaius Calpurnius Receptus, and tell him that I had done his work. I fully expected that there would be no further premonition or spiritual experience. I was wrong.
A Self-Guided Tour
When we entered the museum the first thing we noticed was that the Baths had been designated as a World Heritage Site, one of an elite group of antiquity and wonderment that were being preserved for mankind all over the world. The format of the self guided tour had dramatically changed as well. The walking tour was designated by numbered stops, with an audio description at each display. Every tourist carried a hand held unit similar to a telephone receiver, and with the push of a button the hearer could indicate the number of the exhibit they wanted to listen to. The audio consisted of narrative, dramatization, and music, making the experience very interesting and enjoyable. As we proceeded through the tour we noticed the presentations had been arranged in more of a story format, so the hearer experienced the scene through the eyes someone in Roman times. Preliminary information was given about Celtic Ruins and archaeology, and at the end some additional description referred to the Pre-Christian and Christian buildings.
One concept that stood out in the presentation, was that the site of the Roman Baths had always been considered holy land. The Celtic people had regarded the hot springs with awe and wonder, and built what might be regarded as a rudimentary temple around the springs, dedicating it to the goddess Sulis.
When the Romans entered the scene during the first two centuries A.D., they built their own temples, and bath houses, dedicating the temples to Sulis – Minerva, a combination of the Celtic and Roman gods. Later, after the Roman society had dwindled, and early Christian groups were introduced into the area, the Baths collapsed until only the continuing presence of the springs remained evident. This group built their church on the site, and the later Christian society also built their Abbey and Cathedral on top of these ancient religious structures . Thus, this piece of land had been continually regarded as holy for three thousand years or longer. .
At the beginning of the tour a wax figure diorama portrayed a Roman temple priest receiving alms from one of the women of his community. Throughout subsequent scenes the role of the priest was a focal point of the storyline, and other aspects of the displays revolved around the temple in this community.
I looked for the room where the various tombstones were located, and discovered that the gravestone for Gaius Calpurnius Receptus had been singled out near the beginning of the tour, with its own separate stop. The audio presentation gave a dramatization with a woman speaking as his wife, Calpurnia Trifosa, reading the inscription on the grave. I realized then that Gaius Calpurnius Receptus was that first figure of the temple priest; that the museum theme focused on him.
As we proceeded, we found that the temple priest was described as playing a very central and valuable role in his community. The temple was a place where ordinances and sacrifices were made; where prayers and requests of the gods were given, and also where curses were placed upon enemies. The priest received the oblations and saw to the needs and education of the people of his community.
We came at last to the room where the other tombstones of the community were displayed in a group. Presentations were made for each marker, with an audio-tape reading of their individual epitaphs. On the wall above the gravestones was a banner listing all of the inscriptions, beginning with:
“To the Spirits of the Departed, Gaius Calpurnius Receptus, priest to the goddess Sulis lived 75 years. Calpurnia Trifosa, his freedwoman wife had this set up.”
“Julius Vitalis, Armorer of the Twentieth Legion.”
“Valeria Vitrix , of Nine Years Service, Age 29. A Belgr Tribesman with funeral at the Cost of the Guild of Armorers.”
“Lucius Vitellius Tancinus, Son of Mantaius a Tribesman of Carium in Spain, Trooper of the Cavalry Regiment of Veitones, Roman Citizen Aged 46, of 26 years Service.”
“To the Spirits of the Departed, Mercatilla, Freedwoman and Foster Daughter of Manius, lived 1 year, 6 months, 12 days.”
“To the Spirits of the Departed, To Successa Petronia, lived 3 years, 4 months, 9 days. Veitius Romulus and Victoria Sabina set this up to their Dear Daughter.”
As we gazed upon this list of inscriptions, the same thought came to both of us. Mary pointed to the first declaration on the banner, of Gaius Calpurnius Receptus, and said: “He’s the branch president.” I reminded her of his request to me and his need to receive the priesthood and temple ordinances, that he might teach the gospel to the people of his time and community. As we completed the tour of the museum, and reviewed previous displays, we were both in awe, and humbled by the message we had received. I’d thought I was coming to “stand and report” to a Roman priest, for whom I had answered a request to provide holy ordinances in the temple of the Lord. Instead, he and his community stood and reported to me. His message was that he had indeed received the priesthood, and had fulfilled his commitment to teach the gospel to his people, and was continuing to do so.
I also realized that Gaius and his people had prompted the men and women of the museum staff, on my side of the veil, to tell their story, not merely as a pagan people with strange gods and peculiar practices. They were presented as a religious society, that believed in God, a Heavenly Father. On the face of their temple, they displayed the face of a Man, shown in the image of the Sun, with hair and beard consisting of fire, wind, lightening, plants, snakes and all manner of life. All of this signified that he was the creator of all. They believed in an afterlife, and addressed the “Spirits of the Departed” when sending their loved ones to the Spirit World. They believed in the importance of family, as noted in their epitaphs, that individuals were sons and daughters of loved and loving parents. Their religion was something that filled their lives on a daily basis.
As I thought about these things I realized three important concepts. First, while I am going about my life in mortality, on my side of the veil, a whole society of real people were conducting the affairs of their lives, on their side of the veil, and interacting with people on my side. The Spirit World is an active, alive place, and people continue to grow and progress there.
Second, I thought of the promise of Malachi, and also of the statement of Moroni, as given in the 2nd Section of the Doctrine and Covenants: “…I will reveal the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the Prophet, and he will plant in the hearts of the children, the promises made to their fathers, and the hearts of the children will turn to their fathers…” Suddenly, it dawned on me that Gaius and his people, in their own concept of God and heaven, had received promises of eternal life, of family; and regarding my personal experience with Gaius, he had received promises that he would receive the Priesthood, and the ordinances of the temple. Their promises had been planted in my heart, and my heart had turned to them.
Lastly, I realized that Gaius Calpurnius Receptus, and others of “his people” were bearing testimony to the people on my side of the veil. In return for my turning my heart to them, my fathers, they, in gratitude, were turning their hearts to us, the children. Through the displays of the museum, and the testimony of their voices, and their hearts, they were expressing their witness of the gospel to every person who went through that tour. It might not translate immediately in the minds of the people who heard it, but someday that witness would be added to the witness of mortal missionaries, and the promptings of their testimonies would strengthen the testimonies of others.
I may never meet these people again, in this life, but I will meet them again. As President Gordon B. Hinckley described in his closing remarks at the Nauvoo Temple Dedication, he looked forward to meeting his grandfather, and father on the other side of the veil, and reporting to them. I, too, believe that when that day comes, and I am able to cross over to that side of the veil, I will meet Gaius Calpurnius Receptus, and learn what my relationship is to him, and share my love for him and his people.
2003Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.