The Catacombs of Rome are one of the most interesting and popular sights in Rome. Forming an underground maze in the outskirts of the city, the catacombs provide a rare glimpse into the earliest centuries of Christianity. In addition to the countless burial chambers that line the tunnels, the catacombs are home to some of the earliest examples of Christian art. The burial custom of most ancient Romans tended to be cremation, with ashes stored in urns. But Christian belief in the bodily resurrection led the early Christians to reject this practice and bury their dead instead. This method requires significantly more space, of course, and the early Christians did not own much land. So the catacombs made a practical, even necessary, solution for burial of the faithful. (“Early Christian...”)
| St Deodatus; “Taken from the catacombs of Rome
in the 17th century, the relics of twelve martyred saints were then attired in
the regalia of the period before being interred in a remote church on the
The catacombs had other advantages as well: they were an ideal way to strengthen the sense of Christian community (both in life and death) and they provided quiet, out-of-the-way places for memorial ceremonies and displaying Christian symbols. The first large-scale Christian catacombs were excavated in the 2nd century AD. They were all located outside the city walls, as Roman law forbade burial within the city limits. In addition to burial, the catacombs were used for memorial services and celebrations of the anniversaries of Christian martyrs. (“Early Christian...”)
In these catacombs, there are different crypts of the most important people in the church. The most significant was the Crypt of the Popes. It is called "The Little Vatican" as it was the official burial place of nine popes and, probably, of eight dignitaries of Rome's 3rd century Church. In the walls you can still see the original inscriptions, in Greek, of five popes. On four tombstones, near the name of the pope, there is the title of "bishop", since the Pope was regarded as the head of the Church of Rome, and on two of them there is the Greek abbreviation of MPT for "Martyr". The names of the five popes were Pontianus, Antherus, Fabian, Lucius and Eutichian. In the front wall was laid to rest Pope Sixtus II, a victim of Emperor Valerian's persecution. (“Following the…”).
|Rome, Catacombs of Priscilla – three children in the furnace
|Rome, Catacombs of St. Sebastian – Funeral inscription with symbols
catacombs came to exist.
This website has information about the Christian symbols and their origin. It also has links to different picture collections and historical studies on each.
The Christian Catacombs
This website provides information on the catacombs such as the origin, art, and characteristics.