Sacred Catacombs Excursion

Duration: 3 hours


Many of the greatest sanctuaries of Christian Rome today owe their existence to the ancient underground cemeteries, originally modest graves and the burial places of the earliest popes, martyrs and confessors of the primitive Church over which these sanctuaries were built. For centuries these sites have been the destinations of Christian pilgrims throughout the world and remain today one of the most numinous and evocative places for the visitor to Rome to experience.


Several excellent specimens of cemeterial complexes connected with these sacred graves are open to the public today. One such complex is the catacombs of Saint Callixtus on the Via Appia Antica to where our excursion takes us.  These catacombs are named after the deacon Callixtus who became Pope Saint Callixtus I (217-222 AD). As authentic archives of the primitive Church, these catacombs are undoubtedly one of the most revered Christian sanctuaries in the entire world. On account of their historical importance Pope John XXIII defined them as “the most august and celebrated of Rome.”


The catacombs of Saint Callixtus comprise part of a cemeterial complex that occupies an area of over ninety acres with a network of underground corridors in the form of a labyrinth, about twelve miles long, on four levels, and more than twenty meters deep. Here we see the graves of sixteen popes, over fifty Christian martyrs and many others of the early Roman Church whose legacies continue to draw pilgrims from all around the world. We visit the most ancient parts (2nd century) of the catacombs which include the crypt of the popes, the crypts of Saint Cecilia and Lucina, and the crypt of the Sacraments. These spaces are the area where some of the most sacred memories of Christianity are preserved.


Discovered in the middle of the second century AD, these catacombs display an inestimable patrimony of western culture. Frescoes, sculptures and inscriptions barely damaged, corridor with numerous symbols and intact loculi, bring to life the past and offer a clear image of the role of these extraordinary structures in early Christianity. They reveal a tremendous message of Christian faith and testimony. Here we learn not only of how the early Christians were buried, but also of how they became real shrines of the martyrs, centers of devotion and of pilgrimage for Christians from every part of the empire. Here the early Christians gathered to celebrate their funeral rites and the anniversaries of the martyr. We also learn about the history of how this cemetery became the official burial ground for the entire Roman Church.


Here we also experience the quiet and mystical atmosphere of the ancient Appian Way, an area that remains today untarnished by tourism.


In the end, our visit to these catacombs cannot be reduced to a mere sightseeing tour or to a cultural archaeological excursion. Following the example of the innumerable pilgrims of bygone centuries, whether pilgrim or visitor to Rome today, the opportunity to visit these catacombs will afford an authentic journey of faith and love to one of the most important historical monuments that expresses the life and death of the saints of the first centuries of the Roman Church. Your own experience on this occasion will, most surely, afford a similar journey.


Sign up today for this educational itinerary by contacting SACRA SORGENTE: email: sacra.sorgente@gmail.com

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