The International Catacomb Society organized a tour of Rome in conjunction with the opening of the exhibit “Vaults of Memory: Jewish and Christian Imagery in the Catacombs of Rome”.
The tour, limited to 30 persons, ran for 11 days in November, 1985. The events were relevant to the subject matter of the exhibition, including many off-the-beaten track sites like the visit to the oldest synagogue as yet discovered in Italy and haunts frequented by members of its congregation as well as by early Christians, Near Eastern emigres, and Romans of every class who lived in the bustling port town of Ostia Antica. There was also a rare trip to the mixed burial ground or necropolis under the Basilica of St. Peter’s – truly a city of the dead; its streets line with ancient Roman brick buildings called mausolea. The visit to the Vatican culminated in a papal audience and then a turn through the Vatican Museums to view artifacts from the catacombs, including the miracle of the on-going restoration of Michelangelo’s original glowing colors on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, plus other Vatican treasures.
Other activities included a walking tour of major Jewish places of interest, a visit to a Jewish catacomb replete with surprising paintings, and a Christian catacomb incorporating finely decorated pagan tombs and two Roman villas.
Influences on and the origins of these funerary practices and symbols were examined in a trip t Etruscan sites where the vibrant lifestyle and afterlife beliefs of that vital, energetic civilization are robustly represented.
Finally, there was a drive along the Latium coastline retracting the wanderings of Odysseus; with a visit to a museum holding splendid sculptural reflections of Homer’s Odyssey, only recently returned from the sea.