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Visiting the Roman Catacombs

The ancient Romans often built underground areas beneath their homes. The soft tufa stone of Rome made it easy to create spaces and vaults that were often quite cool in the warm Roman summers. Often in hot weather, Romans would live in these areas beneath the ground. The early Christians strongly disapproved of the Roman practice of cremation, largely because the process of burning a loved one on top of old household furniture seemed disrespectful and there was not a great regard for gathering up the ashes.

Christians preferred to bury the whole body as did the Jewish community in Rome. The Romans did not allow the burial of bodies or ashes within the walls of the city, so Christians and Jews began the practice of using underground vaults or tufa stone caves on property outside the city walls to bury their dead. These were often situated on property donated by the wealthier members of their communities, and continue to bear their names.

The present catacombs are a series of underground galleries and vaults of various sizes. These were holy sites where Christians buried their dead and came to pray and celebrate liturgy. After Constantine, the bodies of many of the famous martyrs and saints were moved to churches within the city. Being outside the old city wall, the catacombs were often pillaged and seriously damaged by the invading Goths and Lombards in the 6th and 7th centuries. In time, the catacombs were lost to visiting Christian pilgrims. In the 19th century, the first attempts were made to restore the catacombs by excavating and cataloguing them. By the late 19th century, they had once again become an important and romantic place for visitors to learn about their early Christian past.

Image of St. Paul
From the Roman Catacombs

The Catacombs of Saint Callistus

  • These were named for the Deacon Callistus who was responsible for this site. He became Pope in 217 AD and later expanded the catacombs. These are some of the most extensive and important in Rome, and includie the tombs of many martyrs. For early Christians, this was the traditional site for the burial of popes and the Crypt of the Popes is very much work visiting. Located on the Via Appia Antica, 110.
  • Admission: 4,00 Euro
  • HOURS: (Winter) 8:30 AM to 12 Noon and 2:30 PM to 5 PM
    (Summer) 8:30 AM to 12 Noon and 2:30 PM to 5:30 PM

The Catacombs of Saint Sebastian

  • Located beneath one of the seven great pilgrimage basilicas, they were named for Saint Sebastian who was martyred under Diocletian in 288 AD and was buried here. It is believed that during the first barbarian invasions that the bodies of the Apostles Peter and Paul were secretly buried here to protect them. The word catacomb or "kata kimbus" meaning "near the caves" comes from this site. Because of the ancient basilica above, these are the only Christian catacombs not to be lost during the Middle Ages, and they have been continually visited through time by Christians. Located on the Via Appia Antica, 136.
  • Admission 4,00 Euro
  • HOURS: (Winter) 8:30 AM to 12 Noon and 2:30 PM to 5 PM
    (Summer) 8:30 AM to 12 Noon and 2:30 PM to 5:30 PM

The Catacombs of Saint Domitilla

  • These catacombs are made all the more delightful by the entertaining brothers that you will meet in the gardens above the vaults. This site, also called the Catacombs of Saints Nereus and Archilleus, was donated by the wealthy Flavian family of which Domitilla was a member and were, in the 4th century, the most popular catacombs in Rome. Here you can visit the traditional site of the Saint Petrinella who is called the daughter of Saint Peter and see the fresco of the Good Shepherd. Located near the Via Appia Antica, on Via delle Sette Chiese, 282.
  • Admission 4,00 Euro
  • HOURS: (Winter) 8:30 AM to 12 Noon and 2:30 PM to 5 PM (Summer) 8:30 AM to 12 Noon and 2:30 PM to 5:30 PM

The Catacombs of Saint Agnes

  • Located beneath the Basilica of San Agnese Fuori la Mura, this was a large underground cemetery probably built by Saint Constanza, the sister of the Emperor Constantine. Near the basilica is the lovely chapel which originally contained the tombs of Constanza and her mother, Saint Helen. The original porphry tombs are now on exhibit in the Vatican Museum. This was the site of the burial of Saint Agnes who was martyred in the Circus of Domitian (now the Piazza Navona). Located at Via Nomentana, 349, just beyond the Porta Pia.
  • Admission 4,00 Euro
  • HOURS: 9 AM to 12 Noon and 4 to 6 PM

The Catacombs of Saint Priscilla

  • One of the most interesting of the smaller catacombs and one of the best tours in Rome. You are taken in small groups by one of the English-speaking nuns who are in residence here. And ask to see the vestments they make as they are quite beautiful. These are situated under a villa owned by the ancient Roman family of Arcili of which Saint Priscilla was a member. A number of popes were buried here between 300 and 500 AD because the catacombs of Saint Callistus were full. The Greek Chapel is one of the great sites contained within these catacombs. Located on the Via Salaria, 430.
  • Admission 4,000 Euro
  • HOURS: (Winter) 8:30 AM to 12 Noon and 2:30 PM to 5 PM (Summer) 8:30 AM to 12 Noon and 2:30 PM to 5:30 PM