The underground catacombs is the oldest manifestation of Early Christian art in the Roman Empire. Those underground rooms that for a long time were the refuge for the first Christians, also over time became their burial place. Various examples of this have come down to us in different cities, and even in Rome several catacombs have been preserved. But of all of them, the oldest are the Catacombs of Saint Callistus, located in the vicinity of the Via Appia and dating from the early 3rd century.
Frescos in the Catacombs of Saint Callistus
It is known that this entire cemetery was already owned by the Church, and Pope Ceferino (199 – 217) entrusted the administration to the chief of his deacons, Calixtus, of there your name.
In those beginnings of Christianity, it can be considered that this was the main burial place of its faithful in the city of Rome. In fact, the most famous martyrs and the first bishops of the church were buried in this place. These burials were the origin of the complex network of galleries that make up the catacombs.
The fact is that it was thought that it was easier to reach paradise and glory if one was buried near those personalities who had died for religion or had held responsibilities in the incipientChurch organization. That is why cubicles and graves began to open up, both next to and behind those saints, and little by little it expanded exponentially. Something that lasted practically until the fourth century, weaving a true underground sepulchral field.
However, within all this network of tombs, there are areas more striking than others. This is the case of the so-called Crypt of the Popes or the Crypt of Santa Cecilia.
Regarding the first, it must be said that originally those buried here were bishops, but later there were Popes who wanted to be buried here, so its appearance was modified a bit and some more noble elements were incorporated, such as marble tombstones.
And as for the crypt of Santa Cecilia, a highly venerated martyr at the time, different remains of fresco mural painting are preserved on its walls, and although they are quite damaged, it has been proven that it was a place of worship and burial for a long time, since they are paintings that scholars date between the 5th and 9th centuries.
However, there is another part of the Catacombs of San Callisto that keeps its painting decoration much better. It is in the area called the Cubicles of the Sacraments. There are six small funerary chambers, which are aligned in a single gallery. There are the oldest early Christian paintings of Christian Rome. They are paintings of extraordinary simplicity, and take scenes from the Old and New Testaments, like the one we show you here, where the figure ofMoses and the Miracle of the spring.