Tour of Roman Catacombs
The catacombs are the ancient underground cemeteries, used by the
Christian and the Jewish communities, above all at Rome. The Christian
catacombs, which are the most numerous, began in the second century
and the excavating continued until the first half of the fifth.
In the beginning they were only burial places. Here the Christians
gathered to celebrate their funeral rites, the anniversaries of the
martyrs and of the dead.
During the persecutions, in exceptional cases, the catacombs were used
as places of momentary refuge for the celebration of the Eucharist.
They were not used as secret hiding places of the early Christians.
This is only a fiction taken from novels or movies.
After the persecutions, especially in the time of pope Saint Damascus
(366 - 384) they became real shrines of the martyrs, centre's of devotion
and of pilgrimage for Christians from every part of the empire.
In those days in Rome too there existed cemeteries in the open, but
the Christians, for several reasons, preferred underground cemeteries.
First of all, the Christians rejected the pagan custom of cremation;
they preferred burial, just as Christ was buried, because they felt
they had to respect the bodies that one day would rise from the dead.
This genuine belief of the Christians created a problem of space, which
exerted a great influence upon the development of the catacombs. The
areas owned by the Christians above ground were very limited in extent.
Had they used only open-air cemeteries, since they as a rule did not
reuse the tombs, the space available for burial would have quickly been
exhausted. The catacombs came as the solution of the problem; and it
proved to be economical, safe and practical. In fact it was cheaper
to dig underground corridors and galleries than to buy large pieces
of land in the open. As the early Christians were predominantly poor,
this way of burying the dead was decisive.
But there were other reasons too for choosing the underground digging.
The Christians felt a lively community sense: they wished to be together
even in the "sleep of death". Furthermore such out-of-the-way
areas, especially during the persecutions, were very apt for reserved
community meetings and for the free displaying of the Christian symbols.
In compliance with the Roman law, which forbade the burial of the dead
within the city walls, all catacombs are located outside the city, along
the great consular roads, generally in the immediate suburban area of
Information on the Catacombs
There are five catacombs that are open to the public:
- The catacombs of St. Agnes, 00162 -Via Nomentana, 349 - tel. 06
861 08 40 ( closed on Sunday mornings and on Monday afternoons)
- The catacombs of Priscilla, 00199 - via Salaria, 430 - tel. &
fax 06 86 20 62 72 (closed on Mondays)
- The catacombs of Domitilla, 00147 - via delle Sette Chiese, 282/0
- tel. 06 511 03 42 / 06 513 39 56 fax 06 513 54 61 (closed on Tuesdays)
- The catacombs of St. Sebastian, 00179 - via Appia Antica, 136 -
tel. 06 788 70 35 / fax 06 784 37 45 (closed on Sundays)
- The catacombs of St.Callixtus,00179 - Via Appia Antica, 126 - (closed
on Wednesdays) tel. 06 513 01 51 / 06 513 01 580 - fax 06 513 01 567
VISITING HOURS are the same for all catacombs, except for the catacombs
of St. Agnes:
8:30 - 12:00 * 14:30 - 17.00 / 17:30 (in summer)
9.00 - 12.00 * 16.00 - 18.00 (only for St. Agnes )