Catacomb of Priscilla
Date: Late second through fourth century
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Italy
Description: The Catacomb of Priscilla occupies over 10 km of excavated stone passageways with roughly 40,000 tombs, primarily horizontal niches (loculi) for single bodies. What was originally the burial place of a senatorial family was donated by Priscilla, a Roman noblewoman and Christian convert. It subsequently became one of the earliest Christian cemeteries. The catacomb decoration features some of the oldest Christian art to have survived, including carved symbols and painted scenes that were popular among early Christians (e.g., Jesus as the good shepherd). One of the paintings may be the earliest representation of Mary and the infant Jesus. Certain large rooms, or cubicula (sing. cubiculum), have paintings of the three Hebrew youths in the fiery furnace, the raising of Lazarus, and Jonah emerging from the whale. These stories of divine intervention and triumph over death are appropriate in a burial context and represent Christians' hopes for salvation after death.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 1, 2
Repository and Online Resources: • For additional images, see the Web Gallery of Art. • Watch a video on the Catacomb of Priscilla posted at Smarthistory (with narration from Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker).
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons; flickr
Tags: Christian, Late Antique, Mediterranean, Western European, Access to the sacred, Status and identity, Animals, Bible, Burial and tombs, Family, Women