Postscript to PCAS Website Review: Rome Catacomb List Updated

Miraculously (for servers work in mysterious ways), just hours after posting a review of the PCAS's new website "Catacombe d'Italia", the missing page on Rome's catacombs reappeared with an enhanced list of catacombs in the city in the care of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology (previous versions seen did not include many of the sites now listed). Very exciting is the confirmation that the Catacombs of San Lorenzo (or Cyriaca) in the Campo Verano are expected to reopen after repairs. This catacomb, with a winding, uneven route through the hillside surrounding the Basilica of San Lorenzo, has an intriguing layout, some real curiosities, like a perfectly-preserved columbarium, and the prestige of being one of Rome's great Medieval martyrial shrines, very easy to access from the city's central transportation hub at Termini Station. The public route will likely explore a few galleries around the lower church and cloister, but the busloads of tourists and faithful already visiting St. Lawrence's tomb will keep guides busy, and the parish priest is a noted enthusiast of his church's long history and characterization as a "cemetery church". Aside from an irregular distribution of floor levels, the catacomb, sacked in centuries past, can probably endure groups of visitors without more damage to its structure than what already has been done. 

The other regularly-open catacombs are: Callisto, Sebastiano; Domitilla; Sts. Marcellino and Peter; Priscilla; Agnes; and Pancrazio. 

The list of "Catacombs open by Request" happily includes remarkable sites that the public should know better, such as the Catacombs of Vigna Chiaraviglio and Catacombs of Vibia on the via Appia; the Catacombs of Commodilla on the via delle Sette Chiese; the Catacombs of Generosa on the via Magliana; that known as "Cimitero Maggiore" on the via Nomentana; and, in the neighborhood of the via Salaria, the catacombs of Pamfilo, Giordani, Felicita, and and Ermete. Note that the two lists of catacombs in this category on the website currently do not correspond, but the more extensive one is found on the menu of catacombs by region ("Per regione").

A third category has now been added: "Special Visits (for Patrons)". Here we find the Catacomb of via Dino Compagni (or via Latina); the Catacomb of Via Anapo; the Hypogeum of the Aurelii; the Catacombs of Pretestato and Sarcophagi Museum; the Crypts of Lucina and Torretta Museum; the newly-restored "Crypt of the Bakers" in the Domitilla Cemetery and Museum; and the Catacomb of St. Tecla near Saint Paul's Outside the Walls. Many of these cemeteries have been subject to restoration in recent years, and, until now, could be visited only by request. According to this website, they are now "reserved for (those)... who are interested in sponsoring (the PCAS's) activity of tutelage, conservation, and valorization of the Christian catacombs of Italy". Likely scholars and university programs will continue to have access to these sites as before, with fees for the custodian and a guide. There is no indication as to the minimum "donation" for an exclusive tour and prospective sponsors are invited to contact the PCAS directly at: pcas@arcsacra.va. It is a good idea and an old one to arrange special visits for patrons of a pet project - PCAS officers of the past, including de Rossi and Marucchi, cultivated wealthy donors of many nationalities, promising - and delivering - notable results.

As for the "Closed Catacombs" at the very bottom of the list - the good news is that it is a short one, with three named: San Valentino, the Cimitero Minore, and the "Anonymous Hypogeum of via Paisiello (though in all honesty, parts of San Valentino are in fact accessible). 

Still, even with such an appetizing menu to chose from, glaring omissions remain. Why are the hugely historic catacombs of Hippolytus, Novaziano, Marco and Marcelliano, Calepodio, and Ponziano not included in any of the lists? They exist, and almost certainly remain in PCAS hands as Christian sites with martyrs' shrines. There are also small cemeteries like that of "Nunziatella", the catacomb in proximity to the Villa dei Gordiani, the "Catacomb of Villa Celere", and the anonymous (but Christian-occupied) Hypogeum at the Circus of Maxentius: these, too, fortunately survive, unlike the vestiges that are virtually impossible to visit of the Castulo catacombs next to railroad tracks and poor, scattered pieces of cemeteries along the via Latina, which might not yet go in the "Lost" category but are certainly "closed". Perhaps what we're really asking is for the PCAS to list all of the catacombs it supervises - whether or not they can be seen. As important as this would be to scholarship, it would mean even more to today's Christians as a confirmation that someone is looking out for the very precious material traces of early Christians Rome. For that endeavor alone, credit is due. (Jessica Dello Russo, 7 June 2018)