Friday, October 11, 2013


Catacomba di S. Sebastiano

Surface of about 11,000 m² (2.7 acres)
The site was originally called ad catacumbas, i.e., according to the most plausible explanation, “at the trough” for the presence of quarries
The name catacumbas was eventually used, from the ninth century (when the word was used for the first time to define an underground burial place in Naples), by extension, to indicate all underground Christian cemeteries, known therefore as catacombs
This cemetery dug around the tomb of St. Sebastian was in fact well known throughout the middle ages and was one of the few to remain always accessible
The word that was actually used to describe the underground cemeteries that we call now catacombs was either cymiteria or cryptae
“Only four or five catacombs (of the more than 60 that archeology found) remained always accessible during the centuries of the Middle ages. It was some suburban areas connected with those churches in which the bodies of the main saints never were never removed and taken within the city: St. Sebastian, St. Lawrence, St. Pancras, St. Agnes, St. Valentine. Of these catacombs, however, only a very small part remained viable” (Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai)
Since the first century AD the site of the Catacomb of St. Sebastian was intensively exploited and built on, with different uses. The valleys and sandstone tunnels were used for keeping burial tomb, both pagan, since the end of the Republican age, and Christian
In the years 297/305 with the deposition of the body of St. Sebastian victim of the persecution of Diocletian (284/305) the Christian cemetery developed
The use of the catacombs as places of refuge from persecution never happened and it is a myth fed by Hollywood
Even the Catholic Church now officially states that the catacombs were exclusively cemeteries
Different columbaria (a room or building with niches for funeral urns to be stored) were built and at least two residential buildings, notable for their wall decorations:
The VILLA GRANDE with wall paintings of the late fourth style (late first, early second century) including a “Landscape of Villa Marina”
The VILLA PICCOLA with a small courtyard paved in white and black mosaic
“In the decorations that develop between the late Antonine and the Severan mature period (...) there has been a progressive impoverishment of the supporting structures of the system architecture, which are reduced to thin air and pavilions that recall the Fourth Pompeian style. Precisely the Severan period see the definition of the wall as a unit of color, understood not as a space open to an elusive depth, but as a solid and consistent surface to be divided in panels. So the conventional wall organized as in sceneries of a stage, while individual panels dilate to accommodate larger frames and uniform solid color, painted with genre 'pinakes' or with figures seen as from doors or windows” (Fabrizio Bisconti)
Around the middle of the second century a small square was created filling an area of sandstone and three mausoleums were erected (of Clodius Hermes with “Gorgon” on the vault, of the Innocentiores and of the Ax), in which Christians as well were buried in the first half of the third century
This area was once again buried, and a porch was built surrounded by a wall known as triclia meaning square open on one side
On one wall hundreds of graffiti with invocations to Sts. Peter and Paul were found. This demonstrates a particular and intense devotion to the two saints, probably because their remains were buried here for a while, at the time of the persecution of Valerian (253/260) in 258
This is probably the reason why the complex was identified with the name of Memoria Apostolorum
Constantine (306/337) built the magnificent circus shaped basilica in this place and named it after the two Apostles
Meanwhile, since the third century, the Catacombs had developed, where the martyrs Sebastian and Eutichius were buried
Over time, the growing reputation of St. Sebastian led to the renaming of the complex

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