At one time, this large, antique sarcophagus was owned by the painter Peter Paul Rubens. The inscription on the lower rim was not added until the Renaissance: ‘[Sarcophagus] belonging to the Holy Pope Marcellus, Bishop of the city [Rome]’. Marcellus is supposed to have been pope in the years 308-309, but there are doubts as to his historical existence.
The front has five niches, divided by six small columns. The niches have a shell-shaped arch. In the space between the arches (pendentives) we see pictures of seamonsters (tritons), a bird and three scenes from the story of Jonah. On the side of the coffin two griffins are depicted.
The scenes in the niches are derived from the NewTestament. The first niche shows Christ bringing back to life the son of a widow from the city of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). Next to that we see Christ handing St. Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19). In the central niche Christ is healing a woman suffering from haemorrhaging (Matthew 9:20-22). This scene is combined with Peter’s betrayal, depicted by means of the column featuring a cock (John 13:37-38). Next to that we see the healing of two blindmen (Matthew 20:30-34) and in the last niche a Roman centurion from Capernaum beseeching Christ to heal his servant (Matthew 8:5-13).