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The oldest known images of the apostles

CATACOMBE
Courtesy of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology
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Paintings of Peter, Paul, Andrew and John, dating back to the 4th century, were discovered in the Roman catacombs of St. Tecla.

While working in the Roman catacombs of St. Tecla, archaeologists and restorers discovered paintings of the apostles Peter, Paul, Andrew and John on the ceiling. These portraits are now considered to be the oldest known images of Christ’s apostles.

Courtesy of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology
The icon of Saint Peter discovered in the catacombs of Saint Tecla

CNA reports the Catacombs of St. Tecla are owned and maintained by the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology. The catacombs are located about a mile from the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, where St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, is buried.

PAUL
Courtesy of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology
The icon of Saint Paul discovered in the catacombs of Saint Tecla

The site was previously thought to only contain an image of St. Paul, but as the team worked to restore his painting, Peter, Andrew and John came into focus as well. The full-face icons are believed to have been commissioned by a Roman noblewoman.

Courtesy of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology
The icon of Saint Andrew discovered in the catacombs of Saint Tecla

Fabrizio Bisconti, superintendent of archaeology at the catacombs, dated the paintings to around the 4th century. He went on to say:

“The paintings of Andrew and John are undoubtedly the oldest ever,” Bisconti commented. “Some showing Peter have been found that date to the middle of the fourth century although this is the first time that the apostle is not shown in a group but singly, in an icon.”

Courtesy of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology
The icon of Saint John discovered in the catacombs of Saint Tecla

Barbara Mazzei, chief restorer at the site, explained that they were able to uncover the paintings thanks to new, sophisticated laser technology which is capable of peeling off thick calcium carbonate deposits without damaging the colors underneath. She also noted that this is the oldest evidence that the devotion to the apostles began in early Christianity.

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