The Roman Catacombs

Underground burial was a very common practice among ancient Mediterranean cultures,
such as Egypt, Greece, and many other Mediterranean lands. You were buried according to your
religion, for example in Rome a pagan ipogea was found dating back to the Etruscan period. But
the majority of these tombs are Christian. This is most likely because also at this time
Christianity was being preached in Rome by Peter and Paul. There are also many infants buried
in the Catacombs. The infant mortality rate was very high in ancient times, and that is the main
reason there are so many tombs of Christian children buried in the catacombs. Many of the
Christian catacombs were built on already existing complexes. To find catacombs, Rome is home
to some of the oldest and longest burial underground tunnels in the world. Hundreds of
kilometers of catacombs run underneath it. Some of the networks are well known and open to
visitors, while others are still scarcely explored. There are numerous lost catacombs. They were
all considered sacred and protected by Roman law.

The catacombs continued to be burial places up to the 5th century. The early Christians would
pray in the catacombs and have religious ceremonies for their loved ones that had been buried
there. Prior to the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, which the emperor Constantine enforced in order to
promote the recognition of Christianity, many of the religious ceremonies were held in homes,
and some in the catacombs. Crypts and tombs of martyrs were spread throughout the catacombs.
There was great respect for these tombs as asked for by the Christian community.

In the Roman catacombs there are more than 30,000 Greek and Latin inscriptions found.
The majority of these inscriptions appear on the marble slabs which seal the tombs. The
inscriptions serve as a tombstone of the deceased. On the inscriptions we find the names of the
deceased, their age, their occupation, as well as personal sentiments regarding the deceased and
their faith. The Christian community was made up of many different types of people. We find
people who worked in the baths, and soldiers who were cavalrymen in the imperial army. There
were also slaves as well as nobles.

The Catacombs of Praetextatus were built in the 2nd century. They were originally built
by an aristocratic Roman family, intended for their use but eventually became the burial choice
of many leading aristocratic and pagan Roman figures. The Emperor Balbinus was buried here.
Soon afterward, in the 4th century it was used by the Christians to bury their martyrs, such as St.
Janvier, St. Felicissimus and St. Agapitus. When entering the Catacombs of Preatextatus you will
find a large cemetery with two staircases leading below ground. You will find a wall paintings
which is highly typical of early 3rd century Christian art. The scenes in the paintings are New
Testament stories and events. Sadly, only a few paintings still exist but the ones that still do can
be recognized as the raising of Lazarus, the healing of the woman with an issue of blood, and
Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well.

The catacombs of San Callisto are located in Via Appia and are the Catacombs of San
Callisto, they are about 20km long. During the 2nd century these catacombs became the official

catacombs of the Church of Rome. More than fifty martyrs and sixteen bishops of Rome are
buried here. Also here are the crypts of the Popes, St. Cecilia, and the Crypt of the Sacraments.
The most ancient part of these catacombs are represented by the fresco of the Good Shepherd,
located on the ceiling, and the Fish and Loaves. The fresco’s here were painted according to the
styles in the 2nd to 8th century. The heavy biblical themes were painted between 320 and 350

The Catacomb is believed to have been created by Deacon Callixtus of Rome, under the
direction of Pope Zephyrinus. Callixtus himself was entombed in this catacomb. After Rome was
attacked the relics were taken from the catacomb. The crypt fell into disuse and decay as the
relics it contained were transported from the catacombs and put into the various churches of
Rome; the final relics were taken from the crypt under Pope Sergius II in the 9th century before
the Lombard invasion. The Catacomb and Crypt were rediscovered in 1854 by the Italian
archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi.

This catacomb's most treasured parts are the crypt of Lucina, the region of the Popes and
the region of Saint Cecilia, where some of the most sacred memories of the place are preserved.
The other regions of the Catacomb are named the region of Saint Gaius and the region of Saint
Eusebius, which was built at the end of the 3rd century, The West region was built in the first half
of the 4th century and the Liberian region built in the second half of the 4th century, all showing
underground architecture. A modern staircase, built by Pope Damasus, gives access to the region
of the Popes. Which is where the popes are buried

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