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Lasers reveal spectacular frescos from ancient Roman catacomb

2016-03-26

It is a fresco depicting the Adoration of the Magi. This is the Virgin Mary, her Son, and two of the Wise Men. But don't worry, the third wasn't forgotten. Experts say that the artist who painted the catacomb of Sts. Marcellinus and Peter did so for reasons of symmetry.

A year of meticulous laser restoration has unveiled what was hidden behind a thick layer of black lime and dirt. They are paintings that speak of the transition from the Roman pagan world to Christianity.

CARD. GIANFRANCO RAVASI
President, Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology
"Firstly, they speak to us about the importance of dialogue between the classical Roman world and the Christian world that was born. In fact, Christ is represented in the catacombs by the image of Orpheus attracting souls as a way to establish a bridge of dialogue between different cultures, very important in our time.”

Frescos like these are proof of this transition. A woman, Sabina, offers wine to her guests who are reclining on a triclinium. There's no type of religious reference; it's just a scene of everyday ancient Roman life.

A few meters down is Orpheus, a pagan symbol who converted to Christianity and who represents Christ himself.

The catacomb is an authentic, early Christian art gallery. It has regained all of its splendor, oddly enough, thanks to the contribution of Azerbaijan, a country primarily consisting of Shiite Muslims.

CARD. GIANFRANCO RAVASI
President, Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology
"It's a big deal today when you see Islam and Christianity at odds due to fundamentalism. And what we see here is a great example of collaboration.”

Saint Marcellinus and Peter is one of the oldest catacombs of Rome, and also, one of the most unknown. It dates back from the 1st century AD and was in use until the ninth century. Therefore, it covers an area of about two hundred acres and several floors. Its paintings, labyrinthine corridors, and galleries, are some of the best testimonies of the rich, ancient presence of Christianity in the Eternal City.

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