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Catacombs: Wikis


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A procession in the San Callistus catacombs in Rome.

Catacombs are ancient, human-made underground passageways or subterranean cemeteries composed thereof.[1] Many are under cities and have served during historic times as a refuge for safety during wars or as a meeting place for cults.[2][3] The first burial galleries to be referred to as catacombs lie beneath San Sebastiano fuori le mura, in Rome. The derivation of the word itself is disputed and it remains unclear if it ultimately derives from the cemetery itself or from the locality in which it is found. There is no doubt however that the San Sebastiano catacombs are the first to be referred to as such.

The word now refers to any network of caves, castles, grottos, or subterranean galleries that were used in medieval times as refuges during wars, as worship places, or for burial of the dead.


Catacombs around the world

Catacombs of Saint Sebastian - Rome
Rome Catacombs - entrance (detail).
Paris Catacombs.

Famous examples include:

There are also catacomb-like burial chambers in Anatolia, Turkey; in Sousse, North Africa; in Naples, Italy; in Syracuse, Italy; Trier, Germany; Kiev. Capuchin catacombs of Palermo, Sicily were used as late as 1920s. Catacombs were popular in England in the 19th Century, and can be seen in many of the grand cemeteries of the time, such as Sheffield General Cemetery. There are catacombs in Bulgaria near Aladzha Monastery and in Romania as medieval underground galleries in Bucharest.[5]

In Ukraine and Russia, catacomb (used in the local languages' plural katakomby) also refers to the network of abandoned caves and tunnels earlier used to mine stone, especially limestone. Such catacombs are situated in Crimea and the Black Sea coast of these two countries. The most famous are Odessa Catacombs and Ajimushkay, Crimea, Ukraine. In the early days of Christianity, believers conducted secret worship services in these burial caves for safety and reverence for the dead. Later, they served as bases for Soviet World War II guerrillas (see also Great Patriotic War). Ajimushkay catacombs hosted about 10,000 fighters and refugees. Many of them died and were buried there, and memorials and museums were later established (it is now a territory of Kerch city).

Catacomb decorations

Catacombs although most notable for the underground passage ways and cemeteries are also the home of many decorations. There are thousands of decorations in the centuries old catacombs of Rome, catacombs of Paris, and other known and unknown catacombs, some of which include inscriptions, paintings and statues among other things such as ornaments which were placed in the graves over the years. Most of these decorations were used to identify, immortalize, and to show respect to the dead.


Although thousands of inscriptions were lost as time past, they still serve as an indication of the social rank or the job title of its inhabitants; most of the inscriptions simply indicate how loving a couple was, or the love of parents and such.


Paintings can also be seen throughout the burial chambers on the walls and ceilings. The paintings conveyed the same ideas as the inscriptions found throughout the catacombs.

See also


  1. ^ Catacombs definition in Webster dictionary
  2. ^ Éamonn Ó Carragáin, Carol L. Neuman de Vegvar Roma felix: formation and reflections of medieval Rome Ashgate (14 Mar 2008) ISBN: 978-0754660965 p.33[1]
  3. ^ Nicholson, Paul Thomas (2005) "The sacred animal necropolis at North Saqqara: the cults and their catacombs" In Salima Ikram (ed) Divine creatures: animal mummies in Ancient Egypt. American University in Cairo Press, 2005 pp. 44-71. ISBN:978-9774248580
  4. ^ "Maltese Catacomb Complexes". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2008-04-17.  
  5. ^ "Romania Libera:Network of tunnels under the capital city". Retrieved 2008-10-23.  

External links

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

Underground galleries with excavations in their sides for tombs or in which human bones are stacked. The term is derived from "catacomba," a compound of the Greek κατά and the Latin "comba" ("cumba"), and means "near the sepulchers." Originally it designated a definite place on the Via Appia near Rome, but since the ninth century it has been applied to all subterranean burial-places in Italy as well as in other countries. In the Middle Ages only Christian catacombs were known; in modern times, however, Jewish burial-places have been discovered resembling the Christian ones, and hence are also called catacombs.

In point of fact, the mode of burial followed in catacombs is undoubtedly of Jewish origin. Subterranean tombs were used in Palestine even in early times. While in the East corpses were usually put into the earth, in the West they were cremated. The earliest example of a subterranean tomb is the double cave of Machpelah, still preserved under the mosque built over it. Around Jerusalem there are so-called tombs of the Prophets—tombs of priests according to Sepp—that, in their labyrinthine arrangement, resemble the catacombs. Tombs of the judges—i.e., tombs of the sanhedrists—are also to be found throughout Palestine. The architect Schick found at Jerusalem a catacomb begun by Jews and continued by Christians. These tombs, which are hewn out of the rock, differ from the Roman catacombs only in that they are difficult of access, while the latter are arranged with a view to the frequent visits of the living (Swoboda, "Die Altpalästinischen Felsengräber und die Catacomben," in "Römische Quartalschrift für Christl. Altertumskunde," p. 321, Rome, 1890; compare also the word λατόμιον = "quarry," used in the sense of "cemetery," which recalls these rock-tombs).

Wherever the Jews went in the course of their wanderings, they endeavored to preserve this custom of their fathers as far as the nature of the ground permitted; and they did so at Rome, in lower Italy, Carthage, Cyrene, etc. The Talmud gives a detailed description of this kind of tomb, the chief characteristic of which is that the bodies were placed in niches (Talmud, (missing hebrew text) ; Latin, "loculi") in the subterranean vaults. The Christian catacombs doubtless originated in imitation of this Jewish custom, although it would appear from the catacombs so far discovered at Rome that the Christian ones are older than the Jewish. Among Christians, moreover, Jesus' tomb in the rock must have been the model from the beginning.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.

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