DAILY CATHOLIC   Monday, December 15, 1997   volume 8, no. 52



Combing the catacombs through cyberspace

      Since we are still in the early days of the Church Liturgical year, it is only appropriate to think of the early days of the Church - the Age of the Martyrs during the first three centuries when, in the words of Tertullian "the blood of the martyrs became the seeds of Christianity." We have discovered an excellent site that covers this and provides the browser with everything you ever wanted to know about the early martyrs and the labyrinth of underground tunnels, crypts, nooks and crannies known as the catacombs. This virtual site, called "The Christian Catacombs of Rome" can be found at www.catacombe.roma.it. It provides information, history, symbols, spirituality, words from Pope John Paul II, maps, descriptions and even locations, times, prices and tips on when and what to see from the famous Saint Callixtus Catacombs and the catacomb of popes, better known as "little Vatican," to the lesser known ones. The background on the catacombs is quite interesting, dispelling many myths such as the fallacy that the catacombs were hiding places. They were not, but rather burial places first and foremost for the Christians as well as a meeting place to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and share the faith in study, discussion and prayer. There are fascinating facts of why Saint Peter and Saint Paul were buried where they were and how Vatican Hill, a former pagan cemetery, became the seat of Christianity; or why the catacombs are all outside the walls of Rome; or the fact that there are also catacombs in other parts of Italy as well as Carthage and portions of North Africa. The answers to these and numerous other questions can all be found here. There are so many facets we never realized that are explained here, including the fact the catacombs were also shared with the Jews.

      This informative site, operated by the Salesians has assigned Father John Del Col to produce the English version. They also provide full sites in seven other languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Dutch, and Portuguese making it truly international. The whole purpose is to foster a deeper knowledge of the Christian catacombs and the early history of Holy Mother Church. If one has been to Rome, one will appreciate all the more the nuances and details illustrated and explained in each major catacomb and shrine - especially the Catacombs of St. Callixtus and St. Cecilia. The origins and history of the catacombs show how the True Faith was fostered, why Christians were drawn here, why families were "dying to get in," and why and how these catacombs became shrines. The spirituality of these granite vaults are emphasized along with prayers and a list of the marytred saints and popes buried in over 60 catacombs winding their way through the subterranean regions of outer Rome. The illustrations and symbols truly show how the faith was perpetuated in a summary of Christian faith, a "miniature Gospel" for all to imbibe in their soul and sustain during those terrible times of persecution and passed on for posterity. Their legacy outlasted the catastrophic times of the pagan hordes who invaded Rome, intent on destroying the catacombs. This site also explains how they were excavated in later centuries by such unsung heroes as Antonio Basio, known as the "Columbus of subterranean Rome." Finally, a very important fact is that they were not referred to as "catacombs" until the ninth century.

     All this and more is contained within this fascinating site which downloads very fast, reads quite easily, is very succinct in wording and offers just the right graphics to go with the copy. The symbols themselves are worth a visit to this site. Though it is departmentalized in content, it is not intended to be anything more than a virtual tribute to the shrines of the martyrs and in that it succeeds admirably. For that we gladly present this week's Golden Chalice Award to THE CHRISTIAN CATACOMBS OF ROME, conferring FIVE Hail Mary's. as we ask all the martyred saints to pray for those of us in the Church Militant that we all may have the perseverance to stand up for Christ and our faith no matter what the obstacles may be.

December 1997