Caverns, grottoes, and subterranean passages, partly natural, partly enlarged by excavating the tufa and sandstone beneath and near certain cities, chiefly in the countries bordering on the Medit. Sea, many of them having their origin in quarries. The most noted catacombs are those of Rome. They consist of galleries extending beneath the city and the neighboring country for hundreds of miles in a number of stories of passageways. Along the corridors are horizontal excavations in the walls, which are often widened out into cells or small rooms. Here an estimated 6 million dead were deposited, usually in sarcophagi. After 410, when the invasion of Alaric took place, the catacombs were no longer used as burial places, and a few centuries later even the crypts of the martyrs were abandoned, their bones having meanwhile, in most cases, been removed to the altar crypts of various chs. which bore their names. During the siege of Rome by the Lombards the catacombs were in part destroyed and soon after became entirely inaccessible and were practically forgotten. The first excavations in recent times were made in the 16th c. The catacombs are of particular significance today because of the information they provide about early Christian worship, art, and veneration of martyrs. See also Bosio, Antonio.
E. Bock and R. Goebel, The Catacombs, 2d ed. (London, 1962); M. Gough, The Early Christians (New York, 1961); W. Lowrie, Monuments of the Early Church (New York, 1923).
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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