Catacombs of San Callisto

Roman catacombs present a group of tombs dating from the 2nd to the 5th century AD. The catacombs were maintained until the 9th century when church removed the relics. Catacombs are underground tombs used for burying Christians. Catacombs of San Callisto are among the biggest and the most magnificent ones in Rome. They have been made at some point during the 2nd century and are part of the cemetery which occupies an area of 15 hectares of land. With a network of 20 kilometers long underground corridors, in four levels, reaching deeper than 20 meters. Dozens of martyrs, 16 popes and many Christians were buried in it.

About Catacombs of San Callisto

The catacombs were created mid 2nd century, and were built by Christians while their religion was prohibited in Rome. They were hiding in order to preach their faith and bury the dead ones. During the prayers they were also meeting in the catacombs cause that was the only place they were safe, because according to Roman laws cemeteries were holy. During the emperor Constantine rule, Romans stopped persecuting Christians and catacombs became places interesting for pilgrims. In the 8th century they stopped using them and so they were forgotten until the 16th century.

People with claustrophobia probably shouldn’t enter the catacombs. The air itself is okay, it doesn’t smell bad and it’s not stifling, it can be a bit wet, which is normal, but nothing too much. However, while in there it is important to stick with the group, as you may get lost. The corridors resemble a labyrinth. Corridors are quite long but very narrow - they are wide just enough so two morticians carrying a bear could pass each other. The walls of corridors are full of cavities in which they placed the remains and closed them up with bricks or stones. Due to the fact that in one part of the catacombs sixteen popes and high church officials were buried, they are also known the "Little Vatican".

However, the most interesting figure is certainly Holy Cecilia, protector of the church music.

According to the legend, Cecilia was a girl from a rich, noble Roman family. Although her parents were worshipping Roman gods, Cecilia learned about Christianity early in her life, while it was still prohibited in Rome. She was completely devoted to her faith with body and soul, and vowed her virginity to God. However, when her parents arranged a marriage between her and Valerian (who wasn’t a Christian) she decided to marry him. Immediately after the wedding, Cecilia told Valerian about her vow and shared with him a rather strange fact - she always had an angel standing by her. She told him the angel was sent to protect her virginity. Valerian wasn’t angry with her, but he was actually very interested in everything Cecilia told him. At first he started learning more about it and later on even practising it, he also got baptised.

When authorities found out Valerian was helping in burying people in catacombs they arrested and killed both - him and his brother. Soon afterwards, they arrested Cecilia too. They were trying to make her change her beliefs and behaviors and since she was from a prominent family, at least she could hide her faith. She didn’t accept their offer so she was sentenced to death by beheading. Beheading was actually an honorable death in those times, reserved only for true Romans. Legend has it that in spite of the blows of the executioner, her head didn’t separate from the body. The sculpture that was carved out along the lines of her remains (Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia) has a visible line on the neck where the head was severed. Cecilia’s body was in Catacombs of San Callisto until 821 when the Pope Paschal I moved it to the church of St. Cecilia in Roman quarter Trastevere (here you can see her sculpture as well).

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