Catacombs of San Callisto

The Catacombs of San Callisto . They are a set of cemeteries designated at the beginning of the 3rd century by Pope Ceferino as administrator of the cemetery that are located to the west of the ViaAppiaAntica , after the church of ” Quo Vadis ” and the Basilica of S. Sebastian .


A few hundred meters beyond the modern and highly frequented Via Cristoforo Colombo that leads to the EUR, it is possible to immerse yourself in a place of the Rome of 2000 years ago, the imperial Rome and the Rome of the early Church. It is enough to travel along the Ancient Appian Way , leaving the gate of San Sebastián , and you will find the churches of the Dómine quo vadis , the catacombs of Pretextato , the catacombs of San Sebastián , the ruins of the circus of Maxentius and the tomb of Cecilia Metella .

Right in the center of these ancient glories, enclosed between the Via Appia Antigua, the Ardeatina and the alley of the Seven Churches, there is a green island, which guards in its entrails a chest of ancient testimonies: the Catacombs of San Calixto, which in the dark and bright years of persecution housed the tombs of the popes and of many Christian martyrs and non-martyrs.

Since 1930 Pope Pius XI has entrusted this treasure to the Sons of Don Bosco , to be jealously guarded and pointed out to the admiration of the faithful.

It is about thirty hectares of land, of which about fifteen are occupied by the catacombs. The galleries of the Calixtian complex, sometimes distributed in four planes, reach a length of approximately twenty kilometers. Very numerous graves, perhaps half a million. The complex is made up of several cemeteries that spread over time: the Crypts of Lucina, the Cemetery of San Calixto, the Cemetery of Santa Sotera , the Cemetery of Saints Mark , Marceliano and Dámaso , also called Basileo, and the Balbina Cemetery .

Among the underground cemeteries of the early Church, that of San Callisto has a place of honor, because it was the first official cemetery of the Christian community of Rome. In the vast area currently covered by that denomination, a multitude of saints and martyrs were buried: 16 popes, of which 9 in the famous Crypt of the Popes, where five original inscriptions in Greek are still preserved together with a splendid poem by Damasus.

Next to the Crypt of the Popes is the no less famous Crypt of Santa Cecilia , where she remained entombed for centuries. Equally important crypts are those of San Cornelio , San Eusebio and San Cayo . It is also known that on the ground surface of this cemetery, in a small basilica, Saint Tarcisius , the young protomartyr of the Eucharist , was venerated .

Historical review

The history of the catacombs of San Callisto goes back to the end of the second century after Christ , when the Church of Rome began the excavation of its own cemeteries, reserved for Christians. Among the more than sixty catacombs that surround Rome, the catacombs of San Callisto are of primary importance for the extent and depth of the excavations, for the large number of tombs, for the variety and richness of the inscriptions and paintings; through the crypt of the popes and other crypts of martyrs.

Although at the beginning of the 5th century the Church returned to burying the dead on the surface, the catacombs, which had become the true sanctuaries of the martyrs, continued to be visited for centuries by the faithful, who came to pray on the tomb of the martyrs and to renew their faith there. The invasion of the Goths in the 6th century and the Longobards in the 8th centurythey seriously damaged the catacombs and forced the popes to transfer the bodies of the martyrs and saints to the churches of the city, for security reasons. And so the catacombs were gradually abandoned. As time passed, the crumbling of the land and the growth of vegetation obstructed and hid the entrance to the catacombs, so that even the vestiges of most of them were lost. In the late Middle Ages it was not even known where they were.

A part of it was discovered only a few centuries later by the great Maltese archaeologist Antonio Gocio 1575 – 1629 , but the catacombs of San Callisto were only discovered, explored and documented in 1852 , thanks to the efforts of Giovanni Battista de Rossi , who is considered the Father and Founder of Christian Archaeology


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