Catacombe di San Callisto (Rome)

The Catacombs of Rome are ancient catacombs, underground burial places under or near Rome, Italy, of which there are at least forty, some discovered only in recent decades. Though most famous for Christian burials, either in separate catacombs or mixed together, they began in the 2nd century, much as a response to overcrowding and shortage of land. Many scholars have written that catacombs came about to help persecuted Christians to bury their dead secretly. The soft volcanic tuff rock under Rome is highly suitable for tunnelling, as it is softer when first exposed to air, hardening afterwards. Many have kilometres of tunnels, in up to four stories (or layers).

The Christian catacombs are extremely important for the art history of early Christian art, as they contain the great majority of examples from before about 400 AD, in fresco and sculpture. The Jewish catacombs are similarly important for the study of Jewish art at this period.

Catacombs of San Callisto were built after AD 150, with some private Christian hypogea and a funeral area directly dependent on the Catholic Church. It takes its name from the deacon Saint Callixtus, proposed by Pope Zephyrinus in the administration of the same cemetery - on his accession as pope, he enlarged the complex, that quite soon became the official one for the Roman Church. The arcades, where more than fifty martyrs and sixteen pontiffs are buried, form part of a complex graveyard that occupies fifteen hectares and is almost twenty km long.

This catacomb's most ancient 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 are named the region of Saint Gaius and the region of Saint Eusebius, West region and the Liberian region, all showing grandiose underground architecture. A modern staircase, on the site of an ancient one, was built by Pope Damasus I, giving access to the region of the Popes, in which is to be found the crypt of the popes, where nine pontiffs and, perhaps, eight representatives of the ecclesiastical hierarchy had been buried - along its walls are the original Greek inscriptions for the pontiffs Pontian, Anterus, Fabian, Lucius I and Eutychian. In the far wall Pope Sixtus II was also buried, after he was killed during the persecution of Valerian; in front of his tomb Pope Damasus had carved an inscription in poetic metre in characters thought up by the calligrapher Furius Dionisius Filocalus.

 

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Catacombe di San Callisto
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