Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Roman Catacombs

From Catholic Exchange:
First published in 1877 and republished this year by Sophia Institute Press, Fr Northcote’s book reminds us of the lives and often heroic deaths of our Christian forefathers in Rome many centuries ago. He mentions that there at least 40 or 50 catacombs in the hills around Rome. Originally built by designated Christian “fossors” (diggers) to bury their dead, their use lasted for 300 years, until the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion. By AD 410, burials had ceased for good.
It seems that the Roman government did not interfere with the catacombs before the middle of the third century and not even then as places of burial: only when they came to be used as places of worship and assembly for their outlawed religion did they attract the severity of the pagan administration. For instance, the Emperor Numerian, learning that Christian families were secretly assembling for Mass in a catacomb on the Via Salara, deliberately had the entrance blocked off by a huge mound of rubble, thus burying the worshippers alive. The sacred vessels for Mass and the skeletons of men, women and children were only rediscovered during the pontificate of Pope Damasus in AD 370.

Fr Northcote’s book includes illustrations and descriptions of the famous symbols found in the catacombs, such as the Good Shepherd, the anchor, the dove and the fish. The fish symbol in particular was “in universal use throughout the Church during its first 300 years…it became as it were a part of the very catechism – every baptised Christian seems to have been familiar with it.” (Read more.)


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