Catacombs of San Callisto

Well, I finally have an Italian friend, which is good for a number of reasons, including her invitation to visit her parents’ place in Calabria this summer.

Caterina and I have only hung out a few times, but she’s helped my Italian a lot. Last weekend, she, her brother, my friend Kelly and I visited the Catacombs of San Callisto on the periphery of Rome. About 500,000 people are buried in this multi-layered labyrinth. The oldest graves are on the top level and they get progressively “newer” the deeper you go. There’s still a lot of art at the lower levels, but the barbarians destroyed a lot of what is now accessible to the public.

The catacombs, there were a few dozen, were the sole burying place for Christians until the 300s (A.D.), when Constantine became the first Christian emperor and allowed Christian burials to take place within Rome’s walls (the Roman’s cremated their dead). People continued to be buried in the catacombs until the barbarians invaded them a few hundred years later because they were considered sacred, and the early Christians martyrs. In total, the catacomb tunnels stretch about 375 miles.

There’s a myth that the early Christians hid out in the catacombs to escape persecution, but our guide said there’s no evidence of this. The Romans knew of the catacombs but didn’t go to them because they respected the burial places of other religions (They might’ve killed you if they found out you were Christian, but at least you could rest in peace).

At the Catacombs of San Callisto, I learned where the Jesus fish comes from. The first letters of “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,” spell fish in Greek, the official language of the church until 400, according to my guide (although my teacher disputes this).

After our catacombs visit, I had lunch with Caterina and her brother and sister, who cooked up a meal da Calabria ed era molto buono e divertente a pranzare con loro. Mi mancherano già.

Sarah Mikutel