1600-year-old Christian frescoes in Rome’s catacombs uncovered

Latest laser technology was used to uncover the faded frescoes in the Catacombs of St Domitilla in Rome, which are dated to be 1600 years old and were discovered first in 16th century.

Frescoes in the Catacomb of St Domitilla in Rome (by Andreas Solaro & AFP)

The ceiling frescoes in the Catacombs of St Domitilla were covered in a thick black layer of calcium deposits, algae and smoke from oil lamps. Laser instruments were used to burn away the dirt and deposits, leaving only the rich colours of the frescoes beneath. The crypts, hacked out of soft volcanic rock, were created for the families of the imperial functionaries who grew rich on the grain trade and the production of bread.

Frescoes discovered in 16th cent. by amateur archaeologists Antonio Bosio who marked his name with charcoal (by Andreas Solaro & AFP)

Archaeologists found a series of frescoes which chronicle how grain was transported by ship from around the Mediterranean to the ancient Roman port of Ostia, then transferred to smaller boats which brought it up the Tiber River to warehouses in the centre of the imperial capital. At the centre of the ceiling fresco is an image of Christ, seated on a throne, with two men either side of him. They are thought to be either St Peter and St Paul or St Nerius and St Achilleus, two Roman soldiers who were martyred for preaching the new faith.

Frescoed alcove in catacombs of St Domitilla (by Andreas Solaro & AFP)

There are scenes from the Old and New Testaments, including Noah and his Ark and the miracle of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand with bread and fishes. The fresco is adorned with peacocks, which in pagan belief were symbols of the afterlife. The crypts were painted around 360 AD. There are also depictions of Christ the Shepherd, with a lamb slung over his shoulders and sheep at his feet. Either side of him are figures gathering fruit from trees – a pagan image that represents the seasons.

Corridor of the catacombs (by Andreas Solaro & AFP)

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the catacombs were gradually abandoned and forgotten. They were rediscovered in the 16th century by an amateur archaeologist, Antonio Bosio, who celebrated his find by daubing his name all over the frescoes in thick charcoal writing. The newly-restored tombs are among around 70 elaborately decorated crypts scattered around the Catacombs of St Domitilla, which extend for more than 16 kilometres on four underground levels. Of the 70, only a dozen or so have been restored by a team led by Barbara Mazzei.

(after The Telegraph, Andreas Solaro & AFP)

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