Worship from the Catacombs
INTRODUCTION What mysteries and more importantly what insights emanate from the catacombs of Rome; where the bones of saints, and yes, even sinners rest in silent repose. Weil (1992:275) notes that “… Rome boasts the first catacombs to house the remains of persecuted Christians.” However, Weil (1998:381) also notes that “Even older Jewish burial areas came to light in Rome in the 1970s, when a pair of two-thousand-year-old Jewish catacombs were restored.” Thus the catacombs are not just a burial city of persecuted Christians, as “pagan, Jewish, and Christian tombs may occur almost side by side, and may indicate that … relations (between these social groups, added by author) were not as bad as literary sources suggest … (Stevenson 1978:14).” The commonly held belief of early Christians hiding from imperial persecution, while conducting ecclesiastical rites within these subterranean passages and mazes has generally been rejected. The persistence of this thought continues because the romance of the Roman catacombs easily evoke mystical visions of a martyred Roman sub-culture, visions that are not just a recent phenomena.
Early writings from the past served to bolster a belief of a Roman sub-culture that escaped into these cities of the dead and that through their magnificent sacrifice; the survival of early Christianity was obtained. The veneration of these tombs has been noted by such luminaries as Jerome (c. 413) who: recalled his Sunday visits with friends and fellow-students to the catacombs while a young man studying liberal arts in Rome. He carried a lifelong memory of the ‘horror of the black darkness’ of the passages that housed the bodies of countless Christians, including martyrs and Apostles (Frend 1996:11).” It was the desire to somehow participate in the early sufferings of the Christian church that led many pilgrims to seek out and participate in trips to the catacombs following guides or Itinararies which...