On Monday morning, we headed out early for the
Further down the
Finally, we made it down to the Catacombs of St Sebastian, one of three catacomb complexes in the area open to visitors. It stays a cool 60 degrees down there, so it was a great place to visit! This set of catacombs stretch for several miles and contained 100,000 bodies, with Christians and pagans buried together. During the persecution of the Emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD), the relics of Sts Peter and Paul were hidden here. To commemorate this, St Constantine erected a church on top of the catacombs to the memory of Sts Peter and Paul. It was later rededicated to St Sebastian, who was martyred in 287 (see bottom photo).
Afterwards, we walked on a little while to the Catacombs of St Callixtus, which are the largest and most famous catacombs with 20 km of tunnels. It was originally founded as a specifically Christian burial ground, and ended up housing 500,000 Christians, 100,000 of which were babies. (For more information on the Christians as a funerary association in the eyes of the Romans, check out this fascinating book by Robert Wilken.)
In one of the rooms we walked through, which once housed the tombs of 7 popes, one early pope, Pope St Sixtus II (257-258) was martyred along with four deacons during a service. Contrary to popular belief, we were told, the Romans did know that the Christians were meeting for services in the catacombs. Enforcement, however, was sporadic. On this occasion, Roman soldiers entered the catacombs, found Pope Sixtus II addressing the faithful, and martyred him and his four deacons. The faithful attending the service were allowed to live.
The catacombs were definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside the catacombs.