Daily Archives: July 17, 2012

A Scholarly Look at the Christian Catacombs of Rome

The Christian Catacombs of Rome: History, Decoration, InscriptionsThe Christian Catacombs of Rome: History, Decoration, Inscriptions by Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this one up in a gift shop in Rome after visiting the Catacombs of St. Sebastian on the Appian Way. Now, after reading it, I want to go back to Rome and explore other underground cemeteries. Apparently, St. Sebastian’s was one of the earlier ones and others have beautiful mosaics or other decorations still in place. One even still has a saint’s bones in their original location. Sebastian’s catacombs have been thoroughly emptied over the years. Its namesake saint’s bones now lie in the basilica upstairs.

Rather than the tourist-friendly text I was hoping for, The Christian Catacombs of Rome is a scholarly work, full of terms like cubicula and arcosolia and phrases like “richly decorated with wall revetment in opus sectile.” (None of which my spell-check is liking.) Rather than the extensive bibliography of works in Italian, I would have prefered a glossary and a timeline. The book does include a removable map of 121 Early Christian Monuments in Rome and its Suburbs. Who knew there were so many?

I’m glad for the book’s extensive photo illustrations, capturing the murals, mosaics, and architectural details of the many Christian catacombs. The full-color pictures are much crisper than any tourist could capture. I wish, however, that the book was divided up so that it examined each of the more than 60 catacombs in order. I would like to be able to compare one to the next and know which are still open to visit.

A newer paperback edition is available from Amazon: The Christian Catacombs of Rome: History, Decoration, Inscriptions

Cemetery of the Week #67: the Catacomb of St. Sebastian
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