Discover the meaning behind the drawings that adorn these ancient underground burial places.
Click here to launch the slideshow
The English word “catacomb” comes from the Latin catacumba. There is some debate about the etymology of the Latin word itself; it is generally believed to come from a combination of Latin and Greek roots meaning “among the tombs.”
At first, the name of “catacomb” was given to the cemetery of St. Sebastian, where St. Peter and St. Paul had been buried. Then, with the invasion of the barbarians, who destroyed and plundered everything in their path, including the catacombs (which used to be found on the outskirts of the city), the popes decided to transfer many relics of the martyrs and the saints to churches inside the city. Little by little, over the centuries, the catacombs stopped being visited and were hidden and forgotten, until in 1578 they were rediscovered by local workers.
These secluded and hidden underground places were a perfect refuge in which Christians could bury their loved ones, and communicate freely through symbols engraved on the walls of the catacombs. It was a way of expressing their faith visibly, and some of these paintings are true works of art.
View the slideshow for the most important symbols in the Catacombs:
Since you are here…
…we’d like to have one more word with you. We are excited to report that Aleteia’s readership is growing at a rapid rate, world-wide! Our team proves its mission every day by providing high-quality content that informs and inspires a Christian life. But quality journalism has a cost and it’s more than ads can cover. We want our articles to be accessible to everyone, free of charge, but we need your help. To continue our efforts to nourish and inspire our Catholic family, your support is invaluable. Become an Aleteia Patron today for as little as $3 a month. May we count on you?