Monday, July 18, 2016

The Roman Jewish catacombs

NOW WITH OPEN DAYS: Inside the catacombs, buried history ties Jews to ancient Rome. Rich with symbolism, the mysterious underground chambers tell an unfinished tale of communal Jewish life 1,800 years ago (ROSSELLA TERCATIN, Times of Israel).
But the Catacombe di Vigna Randanini is unique compared to the dozens of Christian catacombs in the city: only a few meters into the site, in a cramped, painted chamber, a large brick-red menorah is silhouetted against the upper part of the wall in stark contrast to the stone and earth surroundings.

To reach the menorah’s chamber, visitors must descend into the ground. With flashlights as the only source of illumination, the small staircase that separates the bright summer day from the dark, cold gallery is like a time machine to Ancient Rome.

Over the centuries, robbers and explorers have stripped this catacomb of most its content — the bones of those who were buried here, the decorations, the objects left by the mourners. But the hundreds of loculi (burial niches) excavated in the walls are still in situ, together with dozens of inscriptions, fragments of artifacts, and evocative frescoes which bear witness to how Roman Jews lived and died 1,800 years ago.

“The chamber with the painted menorah was the private chapel of a prominent family. There used to be a sarcophagus for the head of the family,” caretaker Alberto Marcocci tells The Times of Israel.

Not a new story, but this article has lots of interesting discussion of the site and some good photos. Past PaleoJudaica posts on the Jewish catacombs in Rome are here, here, and here.