A Tour of the Ancient Christian Art of the Roman Catacombs

Public Domain, Wikipedia / ChurchPOP

The ancient Romans traditionally cremated their dead. Christians, on the other hand, have traditionally buried their dead unburned as a sign of their belief in the coming resurrection of the body.

But in the 2nd century A.D., the burial of unburnt remains started to become fashionable for Romans. Burial within city limits was illegal, and since land for cemeteries outside the city could be expensive, people started digging elaborate tunnels in layers underground to save space. There are 60 known underground chambers in Rome, some of which go as deep as 62 ft (19 m).

[See also: Haunting: Get Lost in Rome’s Ancient Christian Catacombs With Google StreetView]

[See also: 1,782 Years Old: Inside the Oldest Church in the World]

These underground tombs, or catacombs, were most famously used by early Christians for burying their dead, particularly martyrs, and sometimes for celebrating the divine liturgy.

Here is an example of an underground passageway of the catacombs:

Dnalor 01, Wikipedia
Dnalor 01, Wikipedia

These narrow passageways sometimes open up to large rooms. This one is known as the “Crypt of the Popes,” as 16 popes were buried in it or nearby:

Dnalor 01, Wikipedia
Dnalor 01, Wikipedia

Amazingly, despite their importance in the life of the early Church, the early Christian catacombs were lost and forgotten for many centuries. Some of them were accidentally rediscovered in the 16th century, with more discovered in the mid-20th century.

Some of the greatest treasures of these early Christian burial sites have been the beautiful works of Christian art preserved in them.

Below are 15 examples. You can click on any image to see it full size. Enjoy!

Jesus healing the bleeding woman

Public Domain, Wikipedia
Public Domain, Wikipedia

Jesus with his 12 Apostles

Dnalor 01, Wikipedia
Dnalor 01, Wikipedia

The Good Shepherd

Public Domain, Wikipedia
Public Domain, Wikipedia

Another “Good Shepherd”

Public Domain, Wikipedia
Public Domain, Wikipedia

Celebration of the Eucharist

Public Domain, Wikipedia
Public Domain, Wikipedia

Moses striking the rock in the desert

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Public Domain, Wikipedia

Fish and loaves

Public Domain, Wikipedia
Public Domain, Wikipedia

A bearded Christ (rare in iconography for the time period)

Public Domain, Wikipedia
Public Domain, Wikipedia

A baptism by pouring

Public Domain, Wikipedia
Public Domain, Wikipedia

The three youths in the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel

Public Domain, Wikipedia
Public Domain, Wikipedia

Noah praying in the ark

Public Domain, Wikipedia
Public Domain, Wikipedia

Jonah being thrown overboard

Public Domain, Wikipedia
Public Domain, Wikipedia

Woman and child

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Public Domain, Wikipedia

Adam and Eve

Public Domain, Wikipedia
Public Domain, Wikipedia

St. Paul as a philosopher

Public Domain, Wikipedia
Public Domain, Wikipedia

[See also: 6 of the Oldest Images of Our Lord Jesus Christ]

[See also: 8 of the Oldest Images of the Blessed Virgin Mary]