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The Catacombs of Callixtus: The first official underground burial site of early Christians

David Goran

The Catacombs of Callixtus (also known as the Cemetery of Callixtus) are among the greatest and biggest underground burial site in Rome (located just outside Rome on the Appian Way), most notable for containing the Crypt of the Popes (Italian: Cappella dei Papi), which once contained the tombs of several popes from the 2nd to 4th century.

They originated around the middle of the second century and are part of a cemeterial complex which occupies an area of 90 acres, with a network of galleries about 12 miles long, set on four levels, more than twenty meters deep. In the first century, Rome’s Christians did not have their own cemeteries.

Entrance to the areal of the Catacomb of Callixtus. Photo Credit

Entrance to the Catacomb of Callixtus. Photo Credit

 

Grave niches in the Catacomb of Callixtus. Photo Credit

Grave niches in the Catacomb of Callixtus. Photo Credit

 

The tunnels have been dug out on four different levels involving an area of over 12,000 square metres. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

The tunnels have been dug out on four different levels involving an area of over 12,000 square meters. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

 

It is formed of several separate areas joined together by tunnels on four different levels, over a distance of 16 km. Photo Credit

The complex owes its name to the pope and martyr St. Callixtus (217-222). Photo Credit

From the second century AD onwards, as a result of various grants and donations, the Church introduced its own necropolises, where the bodies of the faithful rested, awaiting the resurrection of the dead.

Named after Pope Alexander Callixtus I, who was appointed as the administrator of the cemetery by pope Zephyrinus, they were opened in 150 CE as one of the official cemeteries of the Roman Catholic Church.

In it were buried tens of martyrs, 16 popes and many Christians. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

Inside were buried dozens of martyrs, 16 popes, and many Christians. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

 

These were originally independent from one another and were later connected to form one vast network of community catacombs. Photo Credit

These were originally independent of one another and  later connected,  forming one vast network of community catacombs. Photo Credit

 

Тhe most important and venerated crypt of the cemetery is the area of the official burial place of nine popes, called “the little Vatican“. Photo Credit

Тhe most important and venerated crypt of the cemetery is the area of the official burial place of nine popes, called “the little Vatican“. Photo Credit

 

The Crypt of the Popes. Photo Credit

The Crypt of the Popes. Photo Credit

The Catacombs of San Callisto are the most important and first official underground burial site for early Christians that housed many tombs of popes and many second and third-century martyrs. Among the faithful, martyrdom was considered a privilege and a grace from God – an opportunity of being fully identified with Christ at the moment of death.

The catacomb’s most ancient parts are the region of the Popes, the region of Saint Cecilia, and the crypt of Lucina, where some of the most sacred memories of the place are preserved (including the Crypt of the Popes, the Crypt of Saint Cecilia (the popular patron saint of music), and the Crypt of the Sacraments).

The Catacomb and Crypt were rediscovered in 1854 by the pioneering Italian archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi. Photo Credit

The Catacomb and Crypt were rediscovered in 1854 by the pioneering Italian archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi. Photo Credit

 

Christians celebrating Mass in the catacombs. Photo Credit

Christians celebrating Mass in the catacombs. Photo Credit

 

With the passage of time, these burial areas grew larger by gifts or by the purchase of new properties, sometimes on the initiative of the Church itself.

Here is another  story from us: One of the creepiest cemeteries in London, the Highgate Cemetery

The site is still used as a religious place, and Christians can actually take communion in the oldest parts of the catacombs.