Estelle Brettman: In Her Own Words

"I have devoted many years to the exploration and interpretation of the Jewish catacombs in Italy.  What began as an intensely personal interest in the historical and cultural bonds uniting Christians and Jews, has grown beyond personal bounds.   My research into the origins and sharing of common funerary symbols has culminated in a unique exhibit (Vaults of Memory), that will begin touring in 1981.

To update briefly the last account of my activities... life is just as frenetic as ever with my continuing to perform the role of the executive director of the society which I was instrumental in founding after my first exhibit of Vaults of Memory at the Boston Public Library in 1979-1980.  Actually, my functions are those of curator/register of the exhibit, organizer of lectures, trainer of docents, director of public relations and fund-raising, author of publications (at the moment, I am pushing deadlines to complete the book which has necessitated 14 years of research and photography), lecturer, administrator, planner and conductor of archaeological tours, etc.

After my last writing, the exhibit traveled to the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome, the Pacific School of Religion in California, in reprise to the Boston Public Library (where I organized a symposium to accompany the showing), and in the fall/winter of 1989-1990 to the Spertus Museum of Judaica in Chicago.  I was requested to give an opening lecture at most of these exhibits, and I organized and led a tour of various archaeological sites and museums in and aroudn Rome and to Pompeii to raise money at the time for the Rome exhibit.  The exhibit may travel to Israel after the book is completed.

... In spite of the absence in my life four 14 years of such erstwhile diversions as theater, cinema, and concerts, my amateurish music-making, or even the perusal of a favorite magazine or newspaper, I have been fortunate in leading such a stimulating and challenging existence.

Goals of the ICCI

  1. To preserve and document these historically important and socially significant vestiges of the common roots of Jews and Early Christians;
  2. To emphasize the common symbols and shared motifs of Judaism and Early Christianity at the time of the Roman Empire which had antecedents in the more ancient past;
  3. To make people aware of the existence of these artifacts, which illustrate the history of these people;
  4. To present a touring exhibit to be used as an educational tool;
  5. To further excavate and retrieve artifacts and inscriptions;
  6. To organize a permanent exhibition to display and explain these

I was delighted that Judith Antonelli's excellent May 3 Advocate coverage of the International Catacomb Society's Inaugural Lecture for its Commemorative Founders' Lecture Series, given at Hebrew College by Dott.ssa Marisa de' Spagnolis Conticello (Director of the Office of Excavations of Norcera Sarno), sparked the interest of an indomitable Ellen Feingold to visit Norcera Superiore in the region of Campania, Southern Italy - the site of Dott.ssa de' Spagnolis Conticello's significant find.  Indeed, such persistence in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges is often rewarded in Italy by unexpected bonuses, and the enthusiastic cooperation and response of the Italians who are so pleased when stranieri or foreigners manifest interest in and knowledge of their historical and cultural treasures. Going to extreme lengths to resolve any language barriers, they will assist in any way possible.  Their precipitous mountain roads are so well-constructed that the adventurous, off-the-beaten-path traveller is usually rewarded with insights into comparatively tranquil paese or small-town life and nostalgic pastoral, harvesting, and fishing scenes, as of yore, far from the frenetic pace of heavily-freqented tourist haunts.  I have been fortunate in experiencing this serendipity for many years, either during th course of my own investigations or in conducting tours.

... As Ms. Feingold concludes, we can only hope that such valuable sites which illuminate our past will continue to be explored and preserved.  The mission of our Society is to assist in this by creating an awareness of their existence and their importance.