The Catacombs of Rome
About the Catacombs:
The Christian belief in the Resurrection is evident in the language that the early Christians used: the Roman pagans used the term “necropolis” (city of the dead), whereas the Christians used the term “cemetery”, meaning dormitory or place of sleep.
There are more than sixty catacombs in Rome, with hundreds of miles of galleries and tens of thousands of tombs. Here the Christians gathered to celebrate their funeral rites, the anniversaries of the martyrs and of the dead. In exceptional cases, the catacombs were used as places of momentary refuge for the celebration of the Eucharist. However, they were not used as permanent hiding places as some may believe. The early Christians lived out in the open but practiced their faith in secret.
The book shown on the left will give you an excellent overview of the Catacombs of Rome.
Every gallery you pass through, every symbol or painting you see, every inscription you read brings the past to life and gives a message of faith, of Christian testimony, and expresses the life and martyrdom of the Roman Church of the first centuries. Christian symbols are depicted on the walls of the catacombs, and more often, carved on the marble slabs, which sealed the tombs.
The main symbols in the catacombs are:
The Good Shepherd: with a lamb around his shoulders represents Christ and the soul, which He has saved.
The “Orante”: this praying figure with open arms symbolizes the soul, which lives in divine peace.
The Chi Ro: the monogram of Christ formed by interlacing two letters of the Greek alphabet, X (chi) and P (ro) that are the first two letters of the Greek word “Christos”. When this monogram was placed on a tombstone, it meant a Christian was buried there.
The Fish: in Greek, IXTHYS (ichtus): It’s an acronym for the phrase Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. The symbol was created due to the threat of death when the Church was under intense persecution. A believer would draw half of the fish in the dirt and another would complete the drawing in order to communicate their shared faith.
There are five catacombs in Rome that are open to the public. Here are their websites: