Ad Catacumbas in Catacumbas


The Catacumbas, or Catacombs, is an area of Rome between the second and the third milestone on the Appian Way, including the church of San Sebastiano. According to tradition, the remains of the Apostles Peter and Paul were transferred here in 258 AD.

ROME - THE CATACOMBS (Rome, Italy) 41° 86' 08.285" N - 12° 50' 65.618" E

The expression Catacumbas was used to name the burial place of the Apostles, as we can see from inscriptions, and from here the word then came to mean any underground cemetery.

This meaning has been documented since sec. IX, but it goes back to a much earlier time. The etymology of the word is unclear, and many possible origins have been proposed. One theory is that it developed from the Greck κύμβη, some others say that came from the Latin kata tumbas, which means “among the tombs”.

Following the teachings of the Church Fathers, Christians associate the idea of ​​death with a long sleep awaiting the resurrection of the body. According to this belief, they would bury the dead rather than cremating them. The place of burial was to be outside the walls of Rome (and cities in general), in accordance with the ancient Roman law.

The Etruscans, the Jews and the Romans often placed their dead in underground cells in different parts of Italy, both in Rome and elsewhere. The large chamber tombs contained the coffins of those who had been buried, as well as columbarium containing cremated remains, as the ancients respected people of all religions and their burial practises. Corridors were dug connecting these burial tombs, resulting in extensive underground passageways. Christians wanted to make sure that the final resting places of their loved ones were secure while still having access to the burial tombs; religious services and memorial services were often conducted in the catacombs.

It is estimated that there are more than 1000 km of catacombs running beneath the ground of Rome, and, since they are constantly discovering new ones, we can be certain that there are many more we don’t know about yet. A small Catacomb as it is St. Agnes alone is approximately 600m long, and includes around 5763 graves. The catacombs are located along the roads outside the ancient city of Rome, most between the first and third mile.

Their extension is limited by deposits of volcanic tuff and areas of swampy ground. As demonstrated recently by excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Hypogeum of Via Latina, pagan and Christian tombs were often located near each other. Pagan burials continued taking place in the area until the fourth century, as demonstrated by pieces of sarcophagi falling into the galleries below. Finally a pagan cemetery would gradually turn into a Christian catacomb.

The Catacombs of Rome are presented as an underground network of corridors of varying width and irregular layout, arranged on one or more floors; some have up to five floors. Along these corridors are niches, or rectangular holes, enclosed by a stone slab. A deceased person was laid to rest in each of these niches. Sometimes the bodies were placed under an arcosolium, a kind of arc carved in the ceiling, which serves to define and enclose the tomb placed under it.

The available space is maximized, as the graves are very close together. In very rare cases, the arrangement of corridors and tombs were lavishly decorated, as in “New Hypogeum” discovered in 1956 at the Via Latina, with its unusual paintings of Pagan and Christian themes. In other cases, ancient stone quarries or natural caves were used as catacombs. Generally, however, it seems that most of the underground tunnels are due to the work of Christians.

ROME - THE CATACOMBS (Rome, Italy) 41° 86' 08.285" N - 12° 50' 65.618" E
ROME - THE CATACOMBS (Rome, Italy) 41° 86' 08.285" N - 12° 50' 65.618" E
Roman law declared that burial sites were inviolable and sacred. The first catacombs were created under the command of the great patrician families who owned many land assets and were faithful to Christianity, and were intended for the private burial of their family members. Soon, however, both in Rome and in the Empire, associations of Christians began to handle the management of cemeteries, and that made it possible to connect catacombs in nearby areas. In the third century, that organization was perfected and formal funeral associations took possession of the catacombs. Pope Callistus is thought to have initiated this reform.

During the first two centuries AD, the Christian cemeteries had enjoyed legal protection and management had taken place in a peaceful way. However, during the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, Christian funeral practices began to be targeted by the authorities. In 257, under the edict of Valerian, any visit to the Christian tombs was forbidden. According to this edict, Pope Sixtus II was arrested and sentenced to death for holding a meeting in the cemetery of Praetextatus.

Some catacombs belonged to very illustrious personages; the cemetery of Domitilla on the way Ardeatina, for example, is named after a member of People Flavia, Flavia Domitilla. Very often a catacomb was developed in connection with and around the tomb of a martyr. Burial places reserved for the illustrious deceased were marked by a building, as is indicated in the Liber Pontificalis (Book of the Popes) and the inscription on the tomb of St. Peter.


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