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CATACOMBS OF ROME
CATACOMBS OF LATIUM
CATACOMBS OF CAMPANIA
CATACOMBS OF SICILY
CATACOMBS OF TUSCANY
CATACOMBS OF UMBRIA
CATACOMBS OF ABRUZZI
CATACOMBS OF SARDINIA
Catacombs of Rome open to the public
INFORMATION FOR THE VISIT*
*Valid for the catacombs of St. Callixtus, St. Sebastian, Domitilla, Priscilla and St. Agnes. The latter has slightly different visiting hours than the others (See below).
The St. Callixtus complex, between the second and third mile of the ancient Appian Way, is made up by above ground cemetery areas with annexed hypogea that can be dated to the end of the second century A.D. These were originally independent from one another and were later connected to form one vast network of community catacombs. The complex owes its name to the pope and martyr St. Callixtus (217-222) who before his papacy, was entrusted by Pope Zephyrn (199-217) with the administration of the cemetery which was considered the pre-eminent cemetery of the Roman Church, the burial place of many pontiffs and martyrs. Of the many structures that occupied the part above ground only two apsed funeral edifices are still visible: the eastern and the western trichorae. The latter probably housed the tombs of Pope Zephyrn and the martyr Tarsisius.
Over the course of time, St. Sebastian, one of the martyrs buried here, ended up giving his name to the cemetery that was originally called ad catacumbas, that is, “near the depression”, because of the pozzolana quarries that existed at the site. The toponym “catacomb” expanded later to indicate directly the Christian underground cemeteries. The complex was also known as memoria Apostolorum because the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul were venerated there. Starting from the first century A.D., the site was used and built up intensely. The galleries for extracting pozzolana were utilized again in order to put both pagan and Christian tombs there in the form of loculi. Several columbaria and at least two residential buildings were built (the “big villa” and the “small villa”), with notable pictorial wall decorations. Around the middle of the second century, the area of the quarries was covered over in order to erect three mausoleums above it (of Clodius Hermes, of the Innocentiores and of the Axe) in which Christians were buried in the first half of the third century. After the area was covered over again it created the surface on which to make the “trichlia”: a pergola or trellis surrounded by a wall on which hundreds of graffiti have been deciphered with invocations to Peter and Paul who were venerated here around the year 250 since it was impossible to go to their tombs in the Vatican and on the Ostiense. On this spot, Emperor Constantine (306-337) later had a grandiose basilica built in a circular form. In the meantime, starting from the third century, the catacomb had already developed underground which housed the tombs of the martyrs Sebastian and Eutichius. Throughout the Middle Ages, the complex continued to be lively and visited. In the seventeenth century, Cardinal Scipione Borghese had the current baroque basilica of St. Sebastian built which is located in the central nave of the Constantine building.
These catacombs extend along the ancient Via Ardeatina on the site of the properties of the noblewoman Flavia Domitilla, the niece of Flavio Clemente, a consul from 95 A.D., who married a niece of Emperor Domitian (81-96) who was also called Flavia Domitilla. This part of the gens Flavia apparently had Christian sympathies because we know from the historians of the time that Domitian had Flavio Clemente condemned to death for religious reasons, and that his wife and niece were exiled to the Pontine Islands. Before their exile, the consul’s niece put her possessions on the Ardeatina at the disposal of the Christian community where the largest Christian underground cemetery of Rome would later originate.
The noblewoman Priscilla was probably the one who founded the cemetery or donated the area on which it arose. As an inscription of the catacomb attests, Priscilla was related to the noble gens Acilia. We know from the historians of the time that Acilio Glabrione, a consul from 91 A.D., was condemned to death by Domitian, probably for being a follower of Christ. The martyrs buried at Priscilla include the brothers Felix and Philip, who were probably martyred under Diocletian, together with their mother, St. Felicitas, and five other brothers: Alexander, Martial, Vitale, Silano and Gennarus. Many popes were also buried at Priscilla: Marcellinus (296-304), Marcellus (308-309), Sylvester (314-335), Liberius (352-366), Siricius (384-399), Celestine (422-434) and Vigilius (537-555).
The famous and very young Roman martyr Agnes was buried in this catacomb on the left side of Via Nomentana where a hypogeum that belonged to her family probably already existed. We know that Agnes died at just twelve years of age and underwent tremendous torments: fire, according to Pope Damasus; decapitation, according to St. Ambrose and Prudentius, while according to others, the veins in her neck were severed. As a matter of fact, devotion to Agnes boomed right after her martyrdom. Roman and foreign pilgrims visited her tomb. She was also venerated very much by Emperor Constantine’s family. The Emperor’s daughter, Constantina (transformed by pious legends into St. Costanza) had a grandiose circular basilica built near the cemetery, of which only some masonry work remains today, and she wanted to be buried near the saint. For this purpose she had a splendid cylindrical mausoleum built, with a dome decorated inside by brightly colored mosaics with cupids gathering grapes. Constantina was buried in a porphyry sarcophagus (which is in the Vatican Museums today. A copy was put in the mausoleum).
The catacombs, dedicated to Saints Marcellinus and Peter, retain the tombs of the two martyrs. You have to return to the times of the Emperor Diocletian to know the history of life of the two martyrs. St. Marcellinus and St. Peter's were slain in the persecution of 304 AD. They were beheaded in Rome where, before being killed, were forced to dig their tomb with their own hands. The site of the terrible martyrdom of the two saints was known as “Selva Nera” (Black Forest), and after their death it was renamed Selva Candida (White Forest) on the Via Cornelia. It was about a roman matron, known as Lucilla, that the bodies of the two martyrs were brought on Via Casilina, at the location named ad Duas Lauros. With the translation of the bodies of the saints, the Christian cemetery, already existing, was dedicated to the memory of the two martyrs. The catacombs are extended over an area of 18,000 square meters. It is assumed that only in the third century in this area were buried about 15,000 people. In the catacombs you can see historical artifacts such as tombstones covering the niches. On the marble tombstones are still recognizable signs used by early Christians to indicate their beliefs.
Catacombs of Latium open to the public
Catacomb of the fourth-fifth century, attached to the medieval basilica of the martyr, with frescoes, epigraphs (painted and marble) and an antique collection of objects from the nineteenth century excavations of the monument.
ST. EUTIZIO AT SORIANO NEL CIMINO (VT)
Fourth century catacomb attached to the martyr’s basilica, with pictorial remains and personal items. The presence of a niched tomb with frescoes depicting the Apostles Peter and Paul is noteworthy.
Catacomb from the fourth-fifth century attached to the eighteenth century church named after Saints Tolomeus and Romanus who, according to tradition, are buried in the underground cemetery. The monument preserves painted inscriptions and graffiti, and frescoes from late antiquity and the Middle Ages. Of note is the architectonic system of the catacomb characterized by extremely wide, imposing galleries.
Catacomb from the fourth-fifth century, remarkably wide, with many graffiti inscriptions on the tomb closings. It is located in the area of Rignano’s modern cemetery on the 39th kilometer of the Via Flaminia. It can be accessed from the eighteenth century cathedral dedicated to St. Theodora and the martyrs of the catacomb (Abbondius, Abbondantius, Marcianus and John).
Discovery in the 60s of last century, the catacomb is accessed from the east side of the hill Monte Stallone. The Hypogeum has five short tunnels and a cubicle mainly occupied by graves at burial niche; also the walk floor was used for burials. The tombs were sealed by tiles or bricks and mortar and the wall surfaces were coated with a layer of simple white or colored plaster. The general characteristics of the monument refer to the fourth century, with a continuity of life that reaches up to the fifth century.
Fourth century catacomb attached to the Romanesque church dedicated to the martyr. The cemetery was made in pre-existing hydraulic and sandstone cavities excavated in the calcareous rock. The catacomb is especially important for the particular funeral architecture characterized by large masonry niches and series of tombs built one over the other on several parallel planes.
Catacomb from the late third to the fifth century, which continued to be visited until the high Middle Ages as a shrine of the martyr with the same name. Located at the Convent of the Carmelite Fathers of S. Maria della Stella on the route of the ancient Appian Way, the monument preserves an important series of Paleo-Christian and medieval frescoes. The “historical crypt”, the center of devotion to the martyr Senatore, has a remarkable monumental impact like the remaining part of the cemetery entirely dug out in the areas of an ancient sandstone quarry which had already housed a pagan funeral hypogeum in the first half of the third century.
This catacomb, which is located at the 16th kilometer of the Via Anagnina at Villa Senni (Grottaferrata), dates back to the end of the third century and functioned until the early decades of the fifth century. It appears to be quite extensive and particularly important for the almost perfect state of preservation of some of its sectors, as well as for the many frescoes and funeral inscriptions preserved in it.
The catacomb is found in a rural location (called “St. Hilary”) at the 30th mile of the ancient Via Latina not far from the present-day centers of Colleferro and Valmontone. The cemetery is made up of a good number of galleries and cubicula that have given back epigraphic and ceramic materials (found today at the City Antiquarium of Colleferro). In front of the catacomb an important open-pit cemetery lies that is delimited by a fence which preserves many tombs in masonry or excavated in the rock (fourth-fifth century). On this funeral area, at the end of the eighth century, a small church stood (precisely the church of St. Hilary), which represents one of the best preserved examples of high medieval buildings for worship in Latium.
Catacombs of Campania open to the public
The catacomb of St. Gennaro or Januarius at Capodimonte is composed of two, non overlapping levels to which the toponyms “upper catacomb” and “lower catacomb” have been attributed. The original nucleus should be identified in the utilization and expansion that took place, between the end of the second and the beginning of the third century, of a room called the “lower vestibule”. From this, in periods subsequent to the third century, the ambulacra of the lower catacomb developed following a horizontal and not a vertical pattern of excavation. The upper catacomb had various stages of development and it also originated from an ancient tomb which we call today the “upper vestibule” known essentially for late second century frescoes of the vault with exclusively Christian themes. The topographic elements that characterize the upper catacomb the most are the small “basilica of the bishops” and the majestic “basilica maior”. The former, which is located exactly above the sepulchral hypogeum that housed the relics of St. Gennaro, is dedicated to the memory of the first fourteen Neapolitan bishops. At the end of the fifth century, an extensive transformation of the nearby areas gave rise to the great “basilica adiecta” which has three naves and preserves many frescoes that can be dated from the fourth to the sixth centuries.
The cemetery complex, which stands at the foot of the Aminei Hills and was once outside the city walls, is tied to the memory of the African bishop Settimius Celius Gaudiosus who reached Naples in 439 A.D. to escape from Genseric’s vandalic invasion. The present appearance of the catacomb is greatly conditioned by the transformations the place has undergone over the ages, first of all, those related to the settlement of the Dominican Fathers in 1616. In a mixture of interventions from different eras, it is still possible to appreciate the numerous painted or mosaic arcosolia and the many frescoed cubicula which characterize this area as one of the most important testimonies of ancient Parthenopean Christianity.
The catacomb is linked to the memory of the bishop Severo who promoted the construction of an extra-urban basilica where he ordered the remains of the Neapolitan bishop Maximus to be laid to rest. The basilica soon became flanked by a tight network of burial hypogea, which apparently included the first burial place of the saint and bishop Severo. This is how what we know as the catacomb of St. Severo originated. In reality, nothing remains of this catacomb today except for a small cubiculum and a suggestion of a mysterious continuation that can barely be made out among the foundations because of the unregulated, irrational urbanization that has affected the entire area of the Sanità. There are three arcosolia that take up the surviving sides of the cubiculum: two of them, the central one and the one on the left, are still partially intact and preserve the pictorial decorative pattern that is legible in part; on the other hand, the third one on the right has been almost entirely destroyed. The central arcosolium depicts five personages. From the characteristics of the central personage’s clothing and the absence of a halo around the head, it can be hypothesized that it was a patrician or another high level dignitary of the State. The personages to the left are identified with St. Peter and St. Gennaro, and those to the right with Saints Paul and Severo. In the ninth century, the saint’s relics were moved to an oratory of the urban basilica where a congregation of priests called “of the sixth feria” was put in charge of them.
Catacombs of Sicily open to the public
St. John’s is the largest community cemetery in Siracusa after the Peace of the Church. With its enormous epigraphic documentation, it is also the privileged area of investigation for providing a general picture of Christianity in the city. From the monument’s plan and lay-out it appears obvious that the catacomb of St. John originated after 313 and continued its life over the fourth and fifth centuries, whereas in the first decades of the sixth century inscriptions related to Goths are noted (491-535). In the beginning, the community cemetery appears to have been planned according to an almost exclusive kind of burial: the arcosolium with multiple depositions. In the catacomb’s topographic and architectonic development, the creation of several rotundas breaks up the series of standardized tombs in order to obtain adequate spaces for the representatives of the Church and imperial hierarchies.
The funeral area under the present-day Saint Lucy Square is made up by a community cemetery and some private hypogea that can be dated to the third, fourth and fifth centuries. The complex is generally subdivided into four regions (A-D), connected by galleries, some of which were shut off and altered by the National Antiaircraft Protection Union during the last World War. In this case more than in others, the cemetery’s genesis and development seem to echo the Roman prototypes. The topography of the two genetic nuclei (identifiable in regions A and B) seems to refer back to the Roman models, as well as the transformation of some sectors of the catacomb reserved for privileged tombs, into areas for worship in the period subsequent to its funeral use especially in the Byzantine era.
The cemetery of Vigna Cassia is divided into three regions: Santa Maria di Gesù, Maggiore and Marcia. The first two originated around the third century, while the latter only began in the fourth century. The methods for re-utilizing the pre-existing hydraulics are in line with the early dating of the first two regions, and the genetic nucleus of the Maggiore cemetery was confirmed by the find inside one loculum of a hoard of coins issued under Gallienus and Claudius II the Goth. The paintings in one of the hypogea are noteworthy which constellate the vast concrete bed above the community cemetery. The M2 hypogeum has given back images that are still clear of an entirely Christian figurative subject in which two moments in particular can be distinguished from the trilogy of Jonah, Daniel in the lions’ den, and the resurrection of Lazarus.
This is the largest Paleo-Christian community cemetery of the city of Palermo. Different from the other cemetery complexes known in Sicily, it has an organic distribution of the spaces, large ambulacra, arcosolia and cubicula with monumental dimensions. In one of the cubicula near the entrance a structure remains that was used for the funeral banquets just as in the most renowned complexes on the Island of Malta. Since it has been stripped of all archaeological finds, the dating of the catacomb is established on the basis of the architectonic and topographic characteristics, which assign it a period of life between the fourth and fifth century, a testimony to the presence of a well organized and developed Christian community in Palermo prior to the Gothic domination.
Catacombs of Tuscany open to the public
The real cemetery of the Christian community of Clusium is represented by the catacombs of St. Mustiola where the martyr with the same name was buried in an undetermined era, and where a shrine grew up that was located above ground and distinguished in 1784. This catacomb, which came to light by chance in 1663, is fairly well developed and organized around two main galleries that are very rich in epigraph material including an interesting epitaph of a bishop, Lucius Petronius Dexter, which his five children dedicated to him in December 322.
The catacomb of Saint Catherine presents the interesting characteristic of a “mixed cemetery” in the sense that some epigraphs reveal all the characteristics of a profession of “pagan” faith, while other texts denote a surely Christian extraction. The catacomb, constituted by two cemetery nuclei, appears to have already originated in the third century and proposes a sepulchral typology very similar to the one found in the Roman catacombs with multiple arcosolia, loculi and floor formae.
The catacombs are the only evidence of the Christianization of the island, which took place during the fourth century. The underground cemetery is full of simple tombs and one rather complex topographical development. The Christian community on the island had to be very organized and extended if in the fifth century welcomed the exiles who came from Africa because of the invasion of the Goths.
Catacombs of Umbria open to the public
This is a small catacomb located along the route of the ancient Via Flaminia which developed between the fourth and fifth centuries. The simplicity of the tombs, predominantly loculi with no decorations, and the absence of epigraphic material confirm a kind of use linked exclusively to the rural people that resided in the area. Recently, outside the catacomb, traces of a modest building of worship with only one nave have come to light. Its floor level appears to have been occupied by many tombs that are extremely differentiated in their typology. Among these, some more sophisticated solutions can be recognized that can be attributed to users from a higher class.
Catacombs of the Abruzzi open to the public
The shrine of St. Vittorino is set on a hill overlooking the Roman city of Amiterno to the East. The martyr’s deposition in a Roman burial context brought about the development of a vast cemetery with a sizeable retro sanctos, over which a basilica was made with a longitudinal lay-out, one nave, a protruding transept and confessional. Around the room that housed the venerated tomb, the tombs ad martyrem found their place. Vittorino, who was martyred ad aquas cotilias on the Via Salaria, was laid to rest, as St. Jerome’s Martyrology recalls, 83 miles from Rome again on an area of the Via Salaria. The first placement of the venerated tomb may have already taken place in the fourth century. The pictorial ornamentation, with fake marble decoration, was from the same period. In the fifth century, the bishop Quodvul(t)dues had some changes made in order to put his own tomb there decorated with marble reliefs. An area to the west of St. Vittorino’s cubiculum connects the spaces more closely linked to the venerated tomb with the wide western gallery and the cubicula connected to it. The work which Bishop Dodone of Rieti had done at the end of the twelfth century produced a real articulated crypt that connected the venerated area with the other burial spaces.
This catacomb, which is located in the southeast suburb of the Roman city of Superaequum (present-day Castelvecchio Subequo, AQ), is anonymous. The small Christian hypogeum was discovered by chance in 1943 and became the object of archaeological investigations in 1949. It is made up by two galleries placed approximately at a right angle, excavated in a very friable calcareous rock. On the walls of the gallery, simple loculi and multiple tombs with a more or less arched form developed and, in some cases, spared a sector of limestone in order to create a parapet which closes the tombs on the lower levels. At the foot of the loculi closing, there are some graffiti inscriptions in a very simple form that can be dated around the fourth century. The catacomb and the above ground funeral space connected to it were in use until the beginning of the seventh century.
Catacombs of Sardinia open to the public
On the little island of Sant’Antioco located to the southwest of Sardinia in front of the coasts of the Sulcis and connected to the larger island, perhaps before Romanization, by a narrow isthmus, one of the most important Sardinian martyria is preserved. The Christian grave-diggers re-utilized a group of Punic funeral chambers adapted to the needs of the Sulcis community starting from the fourth century. The privileged deposition of the martyr Antioco gave rise to the formation of an articulated funeral complex. The cross-shaped martyrium above, which is recognizable as the initial nucleus of the edifice that expanded in the Middle Ages, cannot be put before the Byzantine era. One area that was connected with the southern side of the western arm of the cross-shaped martyrium, with a domed central body, was used for burials and four sarcophaguses are preserved inside it, but the presence of a small tub with hydraulic plaster in this same area has been put in relation to the area’s possible baptismal use.