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Pope Francis

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Vatican

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The Biblical scenes most represented inside the Roman Catacombs

2011-04-12

Fabrizio Bisconti
Archaeological Director, Catacombs of Rome

“The art of the catacombs is very simple from the technical and formal point of view, but with very significant content. It shows how the first Christians represented the history of the Salvation with scenes from the Old and New Testaments, as well as other scenes and symbols that explain how to get to heaven.”

In Rome there are between 50 and 60 catacombs. It consists of miles and miles of underground excavations, where the early Christians buried their dead. Contrary to popular belief, they were only cemeteries and not used as hiding places. Throughout the catacombs are thousands of paintings with scenes from the Old and New Testaments.

The most repeated scene is that of Moses striking a rock with a stick, symbolizing faith in God. Which is followed by representations from the life of Jonah, meant to represent the Resurrection, and finally the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus.

However, in the tombs of these early Christians, the art is not only representations from religion.

Fabrizio Bisconti
Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology

“Also appearing are images of traders, the professions of the deceased. They were barrel-makers, butchers, gardeners, people with normal jobs, living among the pagans. As Tertullian says, they go to the same butcher and the same ports, but they are Christians and therefore, he says, they have more than others, they are more spiritually sensitive, more inspired.”

The archaeologist Bisconti has published the book “The paintings of the Roman catacombs,” where he ranks all of the underground paintings, and shows how the restoration work returns this art to its former glory. His book provides a detailed look into the life and death of early Christians.

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