“The Need for a Hebraist”: Cesare Colafemmina in Boston (20 December 1978 – 9 January 1980)

Jessica Dello Russo

“The Need for a Hebraist”
Cesare Colafemmina in Boston (1)

1. “A complicated cultural history”(2)

“Not easily can one see relics of Roman, Hebrew, and Norman life crushed into so small a space,” wrote Norman Douglas around a century ago about the weighty ruins of a fourteenth-century Benedictine Abbey by the Trinita’ in Venosa, adding that the site was “interpenetrated” with “cynical indifference, for although this is a ‘national monument’, nothing whatever is done in the way of repairs… (for) where shall the money be found?”(3) The “Incompiuta”, for it was never completed, had been constructed for the most part out of antique spoilage, including tombstones from a cemetery on the site of a Roman amphitheater of the Imperial era.(4) Along with Latin and Greek inscriptions, a number of stones were inscribed in Hebrew. On his own part, Douglas found the abandoned church grounds “covered with vegetation”, so that the writing on these stone blocks was nearly impossible to make out.(5) At least Douglas took note of the detail. Another English traveler to Venosa over a century before in the late 1770’s, the poet Henry Swinburne, had paid little attention to the “many Jewish epitaphs”, wanting evocative ruins, not just “pieces of marble containing parts of inscriptions”.(6)

Fig. 1. Ruins of the Trinita’ Abbey in Venosa. Woodcut in K. Stieler and W. Kaden, Italien, Stuttgart, 1876.

Douglas was the rare solo traveler to Italy’s Deep South. He joined a handful of other foreign scholars, whom he describes for the most part as Germans, in seeking out scattered remnants of different civilizations, among them Greek, Hebrew, Byzantine, Saracen, Norman, and Arabic, whose peoples at one time or another had, as he put it, “swarmed” the regions of Calabria, Lucania, Apulia, and Sicily. In Douglas’ own time, circa 1900, it seems as if the journey was the destination. The guide books gave advice that seemed to be lifted from some lost ancient itinerary (with modern perspectives on hotel hygiene). In the case of Venosa, Douglas surmised that one might even detect old Roman features and ancient cognomina in the present-day population.(7)

Yet these descents of the rational mind and spirit into the land of the “Mid-Day Sun” or Mezzogiorno, while leading to new insights into the Byzantine, Arab, and Norman occupation of these territories, made little effort to systematically collect and document the artifacts of a minority Jewish presence that nearly escaped all manner of recollection.(8) Inscriptions were the sometime exception once they came to the attention of scholars familiar with Hebrew, including Ascoli, Lenormant, Fabiani, Chowolsen, Graetz, Krauss, Castiglioni, and Muller, to name those most active in the field around Douglas’ own time.(9) It seems like a lengthy list, yet the majority of these men had explored the texts in transcription, not in context. The “semi-barbaric” texts had much to say to a philologist or historian taking a comparative approach to the corpus’ many linguistic concerns, but it was hard to contextualize the information in light of a lack of historical awareness of Venosa’s vanished Jews.(10) As a result, all too vividly described in Giancarlo Lacerenza’s recent analysis of the before-and-after condition of the Venosa Jewish inscriptions between 1900 and the early 21st century, many Jewish artifacts recorded with varying degrees of precision in the 19th century are now in a more damaged state or have once more disappeared.(11)

In Old Calabria, Douglas had ascribed the neglect of physical monuments of Italy’s past to misguided government priorities of the “Savoy”, the post-Risorgimento Italian monarchy scheming to build upon the present at the expense of the past: some might see this still trending in Italian current affairs.(12) To be fair, as of this writing in 2018, Douglas’ wild South is much tamed and loudly invested in the cultural patrimony of its territories, with spurts of money from Rome for rapid consumption – be it in the form of exhibits, conferences, and general housekeeping – although all too often in an emergency response to “requalify” a historic site. No doubt well intentioned in principle, not all the activity, unfortunately, takes on an essential, published form.(13)

Projects involving Jewish heritage and culture now claim a piece of the action, as local agencies hope it will inspire “heritage” tourism like that flooding Eastern Europe after Communism’s fall.(14) On the part of Italy’s secular authorities, the recovery of Jewish monuments is perceived as a virtuous act, given that many of the sites in question, like the Venosa catacombs, have lain "in absolute shambles" for so long.(15) A noted confluence of these aims occurred in 2017, when bits and pieces of Italy’s Jewish story were brought together for the inaugural show at the new Museo dell’Ebraismo Italiano e della Shoah (MEIS), titled “The Jews in Italy – The First Thousand Years,” a cultural event which finally closed the gap between Italian Jews of Antiquity and of the Later Middle Ages on by means of a rich assemblage of artifacts from places like Naples, Bova Marina, Taranto, Oria, Venosa, and Bari.(16) Reconfiguring the historical landscape of Jews in Italy gives rise to a whole new set of challenges, but will ultimately shed more light upon these Italian Jews, if not their Judaism, including the long-vanished Jews of Venosa, for whom Douglas and his scholarly contemporaries came a thousand years too late to fully understand.

The scholar who took the lead in this awakened interest in Southern Italian Jewry of Antiquity and the middle ages down to the mass expulsion of Jews from the region in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries was Cesare Colafemmina (1933-2012). A very short overview of his career would include the following: sometime Roman Catholic priest, professor of Hebrew Scripture at the Seminary of Molfetta, and research fellow in Hebrew and Hebraic Literature at the Center for Christian Origins at the University of Bari.(17) It is worth pointing out these diverse professional roles because none assigned him specifically to do the tremendous work he was able to carry out on the history of the Jews of Southern Italy. His efforts were for the most part self-directed, and carried out with much autonomy, though he developed strong connections to Italian Jewish organizations and was their staunch ally in the cultural playing field. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to see Colafemmina as an institution unto himself, whose singular sense of mission and many accomplishments provided a unique foundation for research in the field of Italian Judaism; as one scholar has recently put it, he was a “pioneer in uncovering new sources for our understanding of Jewish culture in Italy”.(18)

Had Colafemmina not died in 2012, just at the moment that the culmination of decades of research, a massive study of The Jews in Calabria, was being published under the auspices of the University of Tel Aviv, he no doubt would have promoted even more forcefully his expert take on Italian Jewry’s “vital role” in Italy’s politics, commerce, and the broader community over two millennia.(19) Yet his memory and scholarly legacy live on, and have inspired the present study of Colafemmina’s personal crusade to create an extensive program of Jewish heritage in South Italy. By juxtaposing personal testimonies of Colafemmina the man with accounts of Colafemmina the scholar, it seeks to better illustrate the critical state of a site Colafemmina held dearly – namely the Jewish catacombs in the Maddalena Hill just outside of Venosa in Basilicata, a rare survival of an ancient communal cemetery for Jews. It was indeed open to visitors in Douglas’s time and in the succeeding decades, but few have known it or will ever know it in the way that Colafemmina did.
Documents in various Italian archives that relate to Colafemmina’s work in Venosa have been discussed in recent articles by Giancarlo Lacerenza, Mariapina Mascolo, Ezio Lavorano, and Giacomo Saban.(20) Many of the same names reappear in source material for the most part unpublished but still extant in the archives of the International Catacomb Society in Boston, Massachusetts.(21) Hopefully, the archival material quoted here previews an extensive collection of Colafemmina’s correspondence and other personal papers at the Centro di Ricerche e Documentazione sull'Ebraismo nel Mediterraneo (CeRDEM) in course of being catalogued by Mariapina Mascolo.(22) The Catacomb Society papers relate to personal contacts and encounters taking place during a formative time of Colafemmina’s identity as a man and as a scholar. This is one reason for their relevance in a discussion of early attempts by Colafemmina to reach a global audience with his work. The other is to emphasize a marked shift in policy on the part of Italy’s Jews toward ancient Jewish cemetery preservation. This is because only recently has the drive to document the history of Jews in Italy been complicated – from a certain viewpoint compromised – by the desire to bring the present condition of the cemeteries into conformity with the modern observance of Jewish purity laws. The structural modifications created out of respect to Orthodox Jewish teachings are particularly evident in the Venosa site.(23)

2. “Condemned to an Abandoned State”: Catacomb Control before Colafemmina (24)

At the time of Douglas’ visit to the Venosa catacombs in the early 1900s, they had recently been analyzed and photographed for the first time with magnesium flash by the German scholar Nikolaus Muller, a professor of Christian Archaeology at Berlin, whose fascination with the unsolved mystery of Judaism at Venosa had begun two decades before, in 1884.(25) Muller died in 1912, however, before his study on Jewish catacombs in Italy was complete.(26) What was then visible of the catacomb seems to have been what was already accessible in the mid-19th century.(27) Public works in the 1850’s, in the wake of an earthquake in 1851, including roadwork and quarrying in the Maddalena locality, had originally brought the “unique” Jewish site to the attention of authorities in September of 1853.(28) From that time, it has remained more or less continually exposed. One of the earliest published notices of the catacomb in 1858, in an English-language guidebook no less, describes it thus:

“The entrance to the Jewish Catacombs, discovered in 1853, is ¾ of a mile from the town on the road that descends to the Fiumara. They are excavated in the soft limestone at a little depth under the Piano della Maddalena, and have several corridors, the largest of which, the central one, is nearly 7 ft. high, and as many wide; it has cells of various sizes on the sides; and as far as it has been cleared, is nearly 400 ft. long. In the walls of these sepulchral chambers, as well as in those and the pavement of the corridors, are numerous loculi or niches of different sizes. The niches are closed with large flat bricks, or tiles, joined with cement, upon some of which are either roughly painted or scratched inscriptions in Hebrew, Latin, or Greek. Twenty-four of these inscriptions are in Hebrew; they have the seven-branched candlestick and a pigeon with an olive branch to show that the buried were Jews, whilst four Hebrew inscriptions in the Cathedral at Venosa having a cross are supposed to indicate that the dead had become Christians. The Latin and Greek inscriptions are misspelt, but the Hebrew ones arc more correct; they generally consist of a prayer for the repose of the dead. The arrangement of these catacombs proves that they were excavated for a necropolis.”(29)

Of note in this passage is that the catacomb galleries were known for their inscriptions rather than for their appearance, although, outside of Rome, the Venosa site was the only ancient communal burial grounds for Jews then known to exist in Italy (the earliest-known catacomb plan, dated to 1853, numbers the locations of forty-three inscriptions, generally in concentrated areas of the site).(30) Despite being mentioned in the principal guidebooks of the day, like the Murray’s, quoted above, the touristic appeal of these burial caves in “utterly ruinous conditions” seems implausible until one considers their visibility from the road connecting Venosa to the train station, together with their broad galleries and apparently unrestricted access to both man and beast, to judge from contemporary woodcut illustrations and testimony of one unhappy historian.(31) To allow Victorian-era visitors these subterranean thrills by candlelight with a local guide, many floor tombs were cleaned out and then covered by dirt fill, although periodically rock crashed down from the grounds above. There is no better means to illustrate the catacomb’s devastated state at this time than the observation that little, if anything, is recorded by way of artifacts from the Maddalena locality, despite its pockmarked appearance from rain cisterns, other types of storage containers, occasional quarrying, and stalls for livestock, in part adapted from pre-existing caves.(32) As picturesque as it all seemed, with exotic Jewish origins to boot, little was being done to conserve the site and, in the words of a Jewish scholar, Leo Levy, “in terms of (scientific) exploration, virtually nothing!”(33)

Catacomb Illustrations in Popular Literature, ca. 1876-1880: Catacombe juive in J. Gourdault, Naples et la Sicile (Paris, Libraire Hachette, 1889), p. 195; Edmund Kanoldt woodcut in Italy in From the Alps to Mount Etna (London: Chapmen and Hall, 1878).

The burials that became known after Douglas’ time provided few new inscriptions.(34) A local clergyman, Rocco Briscese, took note in the 1920’s of additional tombs uncovered at different quota on the hillside.(35) In the mid-1930’s, the flow of traffic to the Jewish site had a brief upswing as tourists poured into Venosa to pay homage to its most famous son, Quintus Horatius Flaccus, on what was being touted as the poet’s “2,000 birthday”.(36) In the same period, a historian of the Jews in Italy, Federico Luzzatto, inspected a new catacomb site positioned about 200 meters from the Jewish cemetery, the “Lauridia Hypogeum” (named for the property owners), which, in his view, was not Jewish. Luzzatto also made new copies of the Jewish inscriptions for the Italian historian and rabbi Umberto Cassuto, along with some photographs that, like Muller, he took by magnesium flash.(37) Access to the catacombs during the immediate post war period through the 1960’s was by personal application to the Lauridia family, the site’s unpaid “Honorary Inspectors”.(38) Yet reports of more landslides and other territorial changes inspired musicologist Leon Levi pay a new visit to the catacomb in 1961, around the time of the excavation of an ancient synagogue in Italy at Ostia Antica.(39) In his report to the Unione delle Communita’ Ebraiche Italiane (UCEI), Levi described an “urgent” need for the study and conservation of Jewish artifacts in Venosa.(40) What he believed to be an entirely new area of the catacomb uncovered at a short distance from the “official” Jewish site turned out to be the Lauridia Hypogeum already seen by Luzzatto, but the documentation was scarce enough to create such a confusion.(41) Since the Jewish catacombs were the jurisdiction of the Archaeological Superintendence of Potenza, rather than that of the Holy See, as was the case for catacombs used by the Jews in Rome, Levi and other UCEI colleagues turned to Italian parliamentarians to lobby on their behalf for funds to restore and safeguard the site.(42) Time and time again, however, the regional authorities at Potenza replied that since the catacombs were on private property, they could not be a recipient of public funds.(43) The Jewish cemetery thus remained, as before, a roadside attraction, continually broken into and vandalized for macabre “lucky charms” and sheer “acrobatics”. Even to some of Levi’s own colleagues, it was a “lost cause”.(44)

3. Colafemmina’s Venosa Explorations: The “Spectacle of Judaism” in Italy’s South (45)

Cesare Colafemmina was born in North Italy near Trent in 1933. Upon completing studies in Hebrew at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1964, he was assigned to teach Scripture at Pontifical Regional Seminary at Molfetta near Bari. About a decade after his assignment to Apulia, he began to publish on Hebrew inscriptions, Hebrew texts, and other sources on Jews in various localities of Apulia. His first brush with fame, however, came with his identification of Christian tombs in the Maddalena locality of Venosa.(46) Moving a few meters southwest to the Jewish cemetery, “condemned to abandonment”, Colafemmina found a silver lining in the study of its crumbling rock. Unlike many earlier visitors, he was strongly interested in the structure as well as the epitaphs, and did not dismiss galleries without any inscription or other signs of Jewish occupation.(47) Such meticulous study soon would soon reap many rewards.

In 1973, while making a new site plan with Franco dell’Aquila, a speleologist who had been exploring the cemetery on his own for about a decade, Colafemmina squeezed though a series of interconnecting galleries nearly blocked with debris at the intersection of galleries L and P to reach a remote area of the catacomb (Q) that presented itself in a typically devastated state.(48) Yet in one dead-end passage was a cemetery features that only Dell’Aquila seems to have been aware of to that point.(49) The Venosa cemetery had long been the poorer cousin of Rome’s Jewish catacombs, with their paintings and sarcophaguses and extensive corpus of epitaphs on marble. In contrast, nearly all of the ancient Jewish epitaphs at Venosa had been painted or incised on the catacomb’s walls or thinly scratched onto tomb closures of dusty mortar. The few decorations that had escaped the destruction of centuries were one or more menorahs and other simple motifs (perhaps influence by more the Roman example than actual reality, the 1850’s explorers record depictions of the menorah, palm branch, vase, and dove with olive branch in mouth, the last no longer visible).(50) Now, at the northern end of gallery Q, which otherwise had polysomic niches on its southwestern side and individual loculi at northeast, Colafemmina beheld a monumental bisome tomb of the arcosolium type that was completely plastered and painted, inside and out, missing only the marble elements, including, in all likelihood, an epitaph once covering the now-open shafts. The decoration was colorful and unmistakably Jewish in theme. In the lunette of the niche on prominent display were painted representations of the menorah, lulab, ethrog, shofar, and a vase, while the curved vault over the burial cavity had an intricate pattern of vines and possibly lanterns.(51) The explorers were able to photograph the tomb paintings and later colorize the print. Yet nothing of these decorative walls has been seen since that time. According to very recent explorations, the gallery with the arcosolium has since collapsed (it had only been preserved to the early 1970’s because a previous landslide had isolated it), but pieces of rubble with traces of the painted plaster would still go a long way toward confirming the accuracy of Colafemmina’s description and other information about the find.(52)

4. The Catacombs of Venosa as “Imprisoned Witnesses” of Italian Jews (53)

The spectacular find of the lavish tomb decoration, plus that of a dated inscription from the same area with reference to Jewish communities in Albania and Lecce, attracted international media attention. The timing of the discovery also coincided with a new campaign of the UCEI in the mid 1970’s for the preservation of Jewish catacombs and other historic Jewish sites in Italy.(54) In this case, however, the appeal was not local, but global.(55) As UCEI spokesperson Federico Steinhaus put it before the General Council of the World Jewish Congress on 20 September 1977, investment in the Jewish catacombs was needed “so that Italian Jews could exercise their rights as citizens to honor and protect their heritage”.(56) These sites had acquired a value beyond that of being extensive and early remains of Judaism on Italian soil. Following much deliberation since the late 1960’s, Italy had announced the opening of the process to re-negotiate a 1929 Church-State treaty known as the “Lateran Pacts” (“grandfathered” into Italy’s new Republican Constitution in 1946). According to the terms of the original Fascist-era treaty (normalizing, in fact, what had been in place since 1870), Roman Catholic officials oversaw the exploration and documentation of ancient subterranean cemeteries for Jews as part of the Vatican’s program to maintain similar burial grounds for Christians.(57)

It had been a cozy, convenient solution for obvious reasons during the 1940s and post-war periods. Both Fasola and Elio Toaff, Chief Rabbi of Rome, defended the Vatican’s half-century of Jewish catacomb stewardship by arguing that the sites were off-limits to most because of very real and immediate concerns about their safety and preservation.(58) But a number of forceful ideological currents unleased at the time of the new Concordat negotiations pushed Italy’s Jewish leaders to make a very public and global appeal of “restitution” of these ancient burial sites. Not least among the considerations was the desire to reclaim a place for Jews in many cultural settings through archaeology, and not just for the sake of “Biblical Studies”.(59) The State of Israel, in its few decades of existence, had revealed Jewish monumental remains in every corner of its expanding terrain. Zionist groups and sympathizers now hoped for a similar awakening for the historic Jewish Diaspora, perhaps even under the direct supervision of Israel.(60) Describing the Jewish catacombs as “sentenced to death if ignored”, was also meant to remind all Jews of the unthinkable that had occurred not long before.(61) To the more secularly inclined, the removal of the Jewish catacombs from the Vatican’s control was a small but deeply symbolic move toward Italy’s “de-Vaticanification”. As a matter of principle, it was hoped to be far less problematic than demanding (as some did) that the Vatican hand back to the Jews its rich collections of Hebrew manuscripts and other Jewish goods, including 160 Jewish epitaphs from the dismantled Vatican Lapidary newly installed in the “Christian” collection of the Vatican Museums.(62)

Vatican custodianship of Jewish catacombs had always been limited to Rome, but the proposed Jewish commission set its sights from the start on preserving catacombs in other parts of Italy. (63) Venosa could no longer languish as a “lost cause”. Now Rabbi Toaff, in close contact with the Venosa archaeological authorities, spoke of Venosa’s “literary, historic, artistic, and archaeological importance not only to Jews but also to the world” for its evolution in an area “still comparatively shrouded in mystery”.(64) The plan and 1977 budget for Venosa in the list of “possible projects” in Italy, drafted under the auspices of the WJC in 1979, is as follows:

1. The purchase of the Maddalena hill from a private owner.
2. Planned excavation in order to further excavate the highly decorated Jewish chambers that we now know exist here (as long as this is not yet public knowledge, we are at an advantage and are more likely to receive (Italian) government permission to protect and develop it.” (In a note, the initial expenditure for the project was a technical assessment to determine “1. Safety needs – 2. Restoration possibilities”).
3. Scholarly research and publication.
4. Film and photographic survey.
5. Availability for tourism, signs and educational material. The site, “being privately owned, is not under Vatican custody. It is in very serious condition and is being vandalized. There is some belief that it may become available for purchase. The guessed price is $40,000 to $50,000."(65)

Colafemmina on his part, frustrated by repeated rejections for government funds for his research on the Jews of Southern Italy because he was an “independent” scholar and Catholic priest to boot, apparently jumped at the chance of international sponsorship. He became aware of the WJC’s “firm intentions” by 1978, the year it put together the “(Ancient) Jewish Heritage Commission,” (JHC).(66) He lost little time to stake his claim by writing to Basilicata’s Archaeological Superintendent Elena Lattanzi to inquire about the possibility to excavate.(67) The director of the JHC, Doris Brickner, accompanied by Rabbi Elio Toaff and other UCEI officials, with Colafemmina as their guide, visited Venosa in early 1979. It took little convincing of the urgency of an intervention after they discovered a modern swastika on one cavern wall.(68) In a subsequent JHC press release, Italy matched the WJC’s grant for work on the catacombs at Venosa and issued an excavation permit to the JHC in partnership with the University of Bari. Colafemmina, in all this, was a key player – indeed, the key, not revealing all the details about the painted arcosolium until the catacomb was restored and “protection was guaranteed”.(69)

In a follow up latter, Brickner wrote to Colafemmina via Fritz Becker, Rome Representative of the WJC, of her pleasure in hearing of his planned trip to Boston later that year to present at the 100th Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA).(70) She enclosed with her letter a check for $6,000.00 as a sign “we do value your work”.(71) This last gesture confirms that the Venosa catacomb was the “pilot program” of the new heritage commission, which could not act on its plans for the catacombs in Rome until the new Concordat was signed.(72) For once, Venosa was first on the list.

There is no additional contact with Brickner documented to date in the archives at the CeRDEM, but there is more to the story in the archives of the International Catacomb Society in Boston. Its foundation only dates to 1980, but its creator, Estelle Shohet Brettman (1925-1991) had started to visit catacombs in Rome four years before, in 1976, including the newly excavated Jewish tombs in the Villa Torlonia. A jewelry dealer and self-described “Jewess from Boston”, Brettman, upon hearing of the WJC catacomb talks, hoped that her familiarity with these archaeological sites and personal connections to Vatican officials would earn her a leading role in the “catacomb committee”. To make her case, Brettman returned to Italy three times in 1978 and 1979 to photograph paintings and other artifacts in the catacombs of Rome, hoping to reveal an “ecumenism through archaeology” that could influence the future management of these sites.(73) But she also treated these study tours as “diplomatic, fact-finding missions”, to the great annoyance of Brickner, who lets Brettman know that she has already been in touch with “all the principal Italians who are concerned with catacombs… both the Pope and the Prime Minister have also been approached”.(74)

Before the rivalry between the two women turned vengeful, there was some talk of cooperation in light of WJC’s difficulty in “getting (the catacomb) project off the ground”. (75) The JHC had other projects in the pipeline across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East: Italy’s Jews, on the other hand, urged an immediate focus on the catacombs. (76) When Brettman let drop in conversation the possibility of American corporate sponsorship, Tullia Zevi, then Vice President of the UCEI, became amenable to the idea that Brettman be the WJC “liaison” in Rome for a Jewish catacomb project: Brettman, however, was determined to head up her own committee that could pay for office expenses and business trips.(77)

5. “Context and Immediacy”: Planning Colafemmina’s Boston Tour

On all sides, tempers were rising and the press was aroused, not just to news of Colafemmina’s discovery, but also to the “catacomb clause” in negotiations for the Concordat. (78) To make her position “of good will” clear, and declaring herself averse to “seeing any Jewish institution thrown into a bad light”, Brettman agreed to help sponsor and facilitate a colloquium in Boston during the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) Centennial Meeting on the subject of “Diaspora Judaism under the Roman Empire: Recent Archaeological Evidence” that would feature academic advisors to Brickner’s committee. (79) Her special role in the affair was as facilitator of Cesare Colafemmina’s trip for the opening talk for this colloquium. Colafemmina’s presence at what came to be called unofficially the “Colafemmina symposium” was critical, according to Brettman, to show the WJC was making inroads in its project. (80) Securing the “young priest archaeologist with an exciting new find in a 1500-year old Jewish necropolis abutting on a Christian cemetery” also suggested the possibility to Brettman of institutional recognition of her own work, a gateway to funding.(81) As AIA colloquium coordinator, Brettman bundled her photography and lectures with Colafemmina’s presentations as an “international forum... focusing much attention on the Jewish catacombs”.(82) Unable to participate directly as a speaker in the colloquium, she instead lectured on the catacombs to different Boston-area Jewish groups and museums.(83)

Colafemmina received a personal invitation from Brettman with assurances of an all-paid trip to the Boston affair while she was in Rome in July of 1979 to attend Caprio’s appointment to the Cardinalate, at which time she also had a private audience with Pope John Paul II. With the blessing of Toaff, Fornari, and his other Jewish contacts in Rome, Colafemmina agreed to the plan. Soon, however, he felt caught in a tangle of American intrigue: the grant from Brickner’s association had also arrived, with the matching funds promised to Toaff from the Italian state. Somehow, with all this good news, he received the impression that going along with Brettman’s plans would compromise his own project for Venosa.(84) Only the reassurances of colloquium organizer Prof. Tom Kraabel, a member of Brickner’s committee could convinced the priest to “honor his commitment to the three-hour symposium … scheduled around him”.(85) The campaign for Venosa was now active on many fronts. A draft of a letter by Brettman to Potenza Archaeological Superintendent Elena Lattanzi dated 9 April 1979 outlines some of the plans afoot:

Dear Dott.ssa Lattanzi:
I imagine that Father Colafemmina has discussed with you the fact the Archaeological Institute of America has invited him to participate in its December meeting. To fit in with the focus of the meeting they wanted someone who has made new finds in Jewish iconography in the (Venosa) catacomb.
In addition, this will probably be most opportune for your very worthy proposal of stimulating tourism in the poorer regions of Southern Italy. This is such an important and valuable project that I should be happy to be of any assistance to you in any way that I can.
I have traveled and studied in Italy for over 25 years and will soon have an apartment in Rome. If I could be of some service to you through my connections with the Museum of Fine Arts and the Boston Society of the Archaeological Society of America, I should be delighted.
Therefore, if you are planning to come to America and will be in or around Boston, I hope that you will give me enough time and advance notice so that we may try to arrange several lectures that would fit with your plans.
My Italian archaeologist friends have told me of your great expertise in Magna Grecia and Lucania and it would be a pleasure to have you here. Do hope to meet you on my next trip to Italy.

Lattanzi responded on October 28, 1979, apparently confusing Brettman with Brickner:

I am glad that we begin to work together with the University of Bari (Father Colafemmina) and in collaboration with Professor Toaff of Rome (I already know him well) for the catacombs of ancient Venusia. We asked funds (to the administration of the Region Basilicata) in order to restore and consolidate (this is very urgent) the important complex, before beginning any excavations. I heard that the University of Bari, in cooperation with you (if I understand well) is preparing a regular request of exploration and study of the Jewish catacombs. Best wishes, etc.

Colafemmina, on his part, was also busy with plans. On 30 August 1979, he wrote to Brettman:

Gentilissima Signora Brettman,
La posta estiva mi ha portato con enorme ritardo la vostra lettera. Vogliate percio’ scusarmi per il ritardo con cui vengo a rispondere.
In questi giorni mi e’ arrivata anche una lettera da parte del prof. Kraabel, dell’ Universita’ di Minnesota, che mi invitava a tenere “the opening address” sul tema “The Jewish Catacombs of Venosa”. L’invito mi ha fatto riflettere parecchio, e alla fine ho deciso di confidare in Dio e accettare. Vogliate quindi, per favore, assicurare subito il prof. Kraabel delle mie accettazione. Io gli scrivo in questi giorni.
Sono allora d’accordo per Boston. Per Harvard il tema potrebbe essere “Communita’ ebraiche nel tratto finale dell’Appia Antica (Taranto, Oria, Brindisi, Otranto)”. Per il Circolo Italiano ho gia’ preparato una conversazione sugli “Ebrei a Reggio Calabria”. La documentazione sulla vita di questa communita (sec. IV-XVI) e’ assai ricca ed interesante sotto vari aspetti.
Posso essere in America gia’ il 24 dicembre. Fatemi sapere se va bene. Mi piacerebbe servirmi della collaborazione delle Suore preso le quali saro’ ospita per addestrami nella letteratura inglese della mia relazione.
Appena ho un’ attimo libero provvedo a mandarvi le altre notizie che mi avete richiesto.

This note seems to have not reached Brettman before she sent the following in early September:

6 September 1979
Dear Father Colafemmina:
Since a friend of mine is returning to Rome, I am taking this opportunity to send a letter, which I hope will arrive quickly. By the way, did you receive my last letter that was written about a month ago? If so, I hope you have sent me the vitae that I requested. I shall also need a picture of you. This is all for the invitations which the Hebrew College will send out announcing your lecture sometime in the first week of January, probably the third. Your lecture to them could be a fairly general one on the early Jewish communities of southern Italy, their origins, community life and history there, and the routes of their migrations, plus other pertinent work in that region. This lecture will also be in English like your presentation for the Archaeological Society of America. Please let me know if you will need help with English. You must have your lecture pretty well formulated by that point. In addition, you will be speaking before the Circolo Italiano the next evening, and you could deliver a similar generalized lecture for them. This will be in Italian. The small honorarium for these last two lectures will be used to defray the expenses that the AIA will incur in bringing you over.
I do hope you have received an invitation from Tom Kraabel of the University of Minnesota. Prof. Yerushalmi hopes to meet you after the Harvard intercession is finished (around the last week of January). He is a renowned scholar in the field of Medieval Jewry at Harvard University.
Do hope to hear from you very soon, etc.

In a follow up, Brettman wrote:

October 1979
Dear Father Colafemmina,
All is progressing well here, but I am much pressured with only four hours of sleep most of the time since I seem to be the chief coordinator of plans for our end of the Colloquium in addition to preparing my own lectures, delivering them, and preparing for an important photographic exhibit with my lecture in December. I only hope that this will bring the results that we are all striving for.
I have now arranged with the AIA that most of your lecture fees will go to you so that you can purchase books here or whatever you may want to do. I had been working on this for a long time and thought I would surprise you with it. Therefore, the ticket will be paid for by the AIA, as your honorarium, and the outside lectures that I have scheduled for you will bring you the money for books or whatever. It certainly is not a vast sum but if you add it to the cost of the fare, it is not too bad. I have finally reached the Rabbi at Harvard and he will have you on the seventh or eighth of January after the vacation intercession ends (that was our problem all along…). The honorarium that I managed to extract from him for you is less than the others (Harvard Jewish Center does not have too much in the way of funds right now – but I felt that it was very important for you to speak at Harvard and so I persisted. That means three lectures for you outside of the Colloquium. If you feel that you cannot handle that many, I had told the Rabbi that it all depends on you. It really does not mean too much extra work since your lectures for the Circolo and Hebrew College can be alike, since one will be in Italian. Then you can emphasize one of the areas like Apulia for the Circolo and do what you had already planned to do for Harvard. You can bring in a great deal of your material on Venosa for all. The new fresco and inscriptions will be of utmost interest to all. Nevertheless, since these audiences will not be composed of professional archaeologists, I should dwell only on inscriptions that have the most bearing on the history and life of the Jewish communities. Of course, I do not have to tell you that excellent slides are extremely important and understandable English most important of all. I hope that you are working on your English and if you need help please let me know immediately, for this reason it may be wise for you to come to America (Boston) on 21 December and spend 3 weeks in the area so that we can work on your English if it needs it before your first lecture. But even that might not be enough time of you have not been working on it already. I had hoped to help you with it when I was in Italy in July.
In addition, I must have the titles of all your lectures (we should vary them a little) and your vitae (I will have copies made for the different institutions) and your picture. Con cordiali saluti, etc.

In a letter of 24 October 1979, Colafemmina acquiesced to all of Brettman’s proposals:

Gentile Signora Brettman,
Non sto a dirle la mia gratitudine per tutto quello che sta facendo per me. Thank you very much!
Per me va bene la data del 20 dicembre per il mio arrivo in America. Sono stato in questi giorni a Roma per il visto di passaporto: tra una settiman vado a ritirarlo. Aspetto direttive per quanto riguarda il biglietto dell’aereo e l’indirizzo dei Padri Italiani presso i quali saro’ ospite. Anche i Padri vanno bene.
Circa i titoli delle conferenze, Il primo, per il Colloquium AIA e’ “Le catacombe ebraiche di Venosa”. 2. “Gli ebrei nell’Italia meridionale” (questo vale anche per il Circolo Italiano, ma con accentuazione diversa) 4. “Gli ebrei nell’Italia meridionale (sec. III-XI)”.
La mia preoccupazione e’ preparare una buona versione inglese della prima relazione; se ho tempo provvedo anche alle altre; diversamente lavorero’ in America e lei potrebbe darmi una mano. Cerchero’ comunque di fare il piu’ possibile fin dall’Italia.
Accludo alla presente una mia foto. Per la mia Vita, ecco i dati: Cesare Colafemmina, nato a Teglio, Veneto (Venezia) il 23-4-1933. Laureato in Filosofia presso l’Universita’ di Bari, licenziato (graduated) in Teologia presso la Pontificia Universita’ Lateranense; licenziato in Sacra Scrittura presso il Pontificio Istituto Biblico di Roma; docente di Sacra Scrittura nel Seminario Regionale Pugliese e presso l’Istituto di Letteratura Cristiana Antica dell’Universita’ di Bari.
Ho compiuto studi e ricerche sulla storia dell’ebraismo e delle origini cristiane nell’Italia meridionale. Tra i miei studi: Apulia Cristiana. Venosa. Bari, 1973; Iscrizioni paleocristiane di Venosa in Vetere Christianorum, 13 (1976), pp. 149-165; Nuove scoperte nella catacomba ebraica di Venosa, ib. 15 (1978), pp. 369-381; Gli ebrei a Taranto nella documentazione epigrafica (sec. IV-X) in La Chiesa di Taranto, I, Galantina, 1977, pp. 109-127 + tavv. I-XVIII; L’iscrizione brindisina di Baruch ben Yonah e Amittai da Oria, in Brundisii Res 7 (1975), pp. 295-300; Un’iscrizione venosina inedita dell’ 822, in La Rassegna Mensile d’Israel, 1977, pp. 261-263.
Spero che cio’ sia sufficente. Resto comunque in attesa di ulteriori indicazione.
La prego di scrivere a macchina; la sua grafia e’ altrettanto incomprehensibile della mia. Grazie.

Brettman obligingly responded in typewritten messages:

1. November 6, 1979
Dear Father Colafemmina,
This is written in great haste from the Museum of Fine Arts where I must spend a great deal of time preparing for many lectures both on the catacombs and my regularly scheduled talks for the Museum, also I must organize the important photography exhibit for the catacombs from my own slides…
Anyhow, I was pleased to finally receive your letter, since time is growing so short that even now it was impossible to purchase a ticket for December 20 and we had to get you on one leaving December 19 returning to Rome on January 9. I hope that is satisfactory…
We are very excited about your coming and are planning a reception for you before you leave.
I received a letter from Dr. Lattanzi and she seemed to be quite happy – I do hope that she has not confused me with the lady from the World Jewish Congress (but we will discuss that later).
Saluti to Signor Fornari and Rabbi Toaff.

2. November 22, 1979
Dear Father Colafemmina,
Just a short note to confirm everything. Did you receive your ticket which was sent out about 2 weeks ago registered mail? If you did not, you must inform me immediately. I am looking forward to meeting you at the airport and with my friends and colleagues at the Classics Department and other educational institutions am planning interesting events for you. Therefore, your time should be quite taken up between my reviewing your lectures with you and your giving these lectures plus you meeting with the scholars you might find important to you. I am setting aside the whole period that you will be with us so that we can make your trip to America as meaningful as possible for you and your work. The pressures for my big photographic show from my slides of the Jewish and Christian catacombs of Rome will be relieved since it will all have been set up by that time. Only the lecture I shall deliver will be left to do, and I have done so much of that lately that I shall be prepared.
Again, I look forward to meeting you at the airport on December 19. Tanti vivi auguri.

Before her second message even reached Colafemmina, he sent out a short note:

20 November 1979
Gentilissima Signora Brettman,
Ho ricevuto il biglietto per la mia venuta a Boston. Grazie di cuore per il vostro interessamento. Per me va benissimo la stanza presso il Sacred Heart Italian Church. Arrivero’ quindi il 19 dicembre e penso di non trovare difficolta’ per raggiungere la dimora che mi ospita.
Sono disperatamente alla ricerca delle diapositive sperdute nella mia stanza. God help us!
Domenica prossima vado a Roma, dove affidero’ la relazione di Boston ad una signora inglese che me la tradurrera’.
Non mi dilungo oltre preche’ il tempo scorre con una rapidita’ eccezionale.

In the months between her discussions with Colafemmina in Italy and the AIA Centennial events, Brettman received word through her Vatican contacts that Brickner’s committee was now actively lobbying government and religious institutions in Italy, and that in order to be a part of the campaign, she was to take a subordinate role, not even as that of an advisor, but rather that of a fundraiser among Boston-area Jews.(86) Having already been in contact for some time with many members of the WJC committee including Prof. Krister Stendhal and Rabbi Elio Toaff, Brettman now became convinced that they were “stealing” her ideas, particularly the focus on ecumenism (the slogans for both Brickner and Brettman’s committees involved this term: for the former, “Religious Heritage, Ecumenical Scholarship” and the latter, “A Project in Education and Ecumenism”).(87) Colafemmina, it is to be imagined, had little interest in this rivalry, and simply wanted institutional support and funding. In the words of an Italian Jewish acquaintance, by way of endorsement: “Colafemmina… will never embark on a project, unless he is sure he can make a good show”.(88)

In a change of tactics, Brettman conceived of a “Centennial Event” for the AIA that featured an exhibit of about eighty of her photographs of the catacombs of Rome.(89) Titled “Judaism and Christianity in the Catacombs of Rome,” it aimed to highlight her special connections to “Vatican authorities and the Italian Antiquities Service” and knowledge of Greco-Roman antiquity thanks to “many years of study, research, and deep interest”.(90) As a past fund-raiser for the AIA in Boston, where the Centennial meeting would be held, she had little trouble obtaining institutional support (though the society did not contribute funding, and, in her opinion, downplayed her role as colloquium co-sponsor and organizer). The exhibit venue was the Boston Public Library, where she, the Zonghis, and Cornelius Vermeule and Florence Wolsky of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, set up dozens of panels of enlarged photos of figurative decoration from various Jewish and Christian catacombs. Not to be outdone, the JHC organized a separate showing at the AIA conference venue of Italian artist Letizia Pitigliani’s images of the Jewish catacombs.(91) Brettman’s show was on display for nearly two months and included a public lecture and many media appearances.(92)

Fresh from the attention paid to the show at its opening night on December 14, 1979, Brettman and other “concerned scholars and laymen” met at her Beacon Street townhouse to continue a catacomb project on their own, independently of the JHC, though not excluding an eventual collaboration. As the “International Committee for the Preservation of Catacombs in Italy” (ICCI), the group sought to distinguish itself from the WJC commission of Brickner by being open to future collaboration with the Vatican on catacomb study.(93) While Colafemmina was not at all involved in these deliberations, he was the guest of honor at a reception in Brettman’s home and named in the initial announcement of the ICCI’s formation. He was still at this time a Catholic priest in one of the United States’ most Catholic cities, and under close watch on all fronts. Brettman later remembered: “Rabbi Toaff would not permit (Colafemmina)” to help (her) raise funds for the project during his stay in Boston, “and he, poor soul, was intimidated by them.” (94) On her part, she did not hesitate to report, as requested, to Cardinal Caprio and Monsignor Mejia on the public reception to her exhibit and to Colafemmina’s talks.(95)

Colafemmina’s Boston itinerary included an AIA lecture on December 28, 1979 in a colloquium on Diaspora Judaism, followed by another talk in English at Hebrew College on January 2, 1980, a lecture in Italian for the Circolo Italiano di Boston at Harvard on January 3, and another talk at the Harvard Hillel on January 7. Brettman was also present as interpreter during a meeting between Colafemmina and Meyers.(96)

Colafemmina, by all accounts, enjoyed his “adventure” in the U.S.A: one testimony says he was “beaming” upon his return to Rome. He writes to Brettman not long thereafter:

Molfetta 24-1-1980
Dear Estelle,
Avrei dovuto scrivere immediatemente al mio arrive, ma ho voluto attendere che ricordi ed emozioni si acquitassero nell’anima. Appena ora mi sto risvegliando da quello che ho vissuto come in un sogno.
Grazie di tutto. Mi avete donato la possibilita’ di una esperienza meravigliosa. Se tutto e’ andato bene, e’ merito Vostro, ed avrete per questo la mia imperitura gratitudine.
Il viaggio in aereo e’ stato piacevole, anche se verso Parigi qualche sbuffo di vento ogni tanto mi faceva venire il cuore in gola. A Roma era ad attendermi mia sorella suora, ansiosa di sapere dalla viva voce il racconto delle mie avventure. A Roma ho trovato la sorpresa del mio Seminario venuto per essere ricevuto dal Papa. Il 13 mattina, alle ore 7, il Papa ha celebrato la Messa per noi e con noi; poi gli siamo stati presentati uno per uno. Giunto presso di me, il mio Rettore gli ha detto: “Il professore di Antico Testamento”. Lui ha detto: “Ah! Un’ebreo!” Immaginate la reazione giocosa dei miei colleghi e studenti.
Appena tornado ho ripreso le lezioni in Seminario e il lavoro all’Universita’. Non ho piu’ un attimo di serenita’.
Ho provveduto a spedire la vostra corrispondenza; solo di un paio di persone non sono riuscito a trovare l’indirizzo per far loro giungere la cronica della vostra Esposizione. A proposito della quale, rinnovo i miei complimenti per il lavoro svolto, con l’augurio di vederlo pubblicato a piu’ presto.
Mi sono arrivati tutti i libri che avevo spedito da Boston: solo una grossa busta con i manoscritti della conferenza non mi e’ ancora giunta. Forse dipende dalle nostre poste.
Ho ricevuto la vostra lettera con alcune compie degli invite per l’Agape. Grazie infinite.
Sono contento per le belle notizie che mi date, sopratutto che progettate di venire prossimamente in Italia.
Saluti carissimi a Richard e alla gentile e bravissima Nonna. Spero di farvi sapere al piu’ presto buone notizie sulle possibilita’ di scavi in Puglia.
Con ogni cordalita’,

Colafemmina would receive more good news not many months after his return. In May of 1980, Italy’s Culture Ministry gave the green light to excavations in the Venosa catacombs, as a joint project between the WJCHC and the University of Bari.(97) In this same period, seeking to promote her catacomb work independently of Bricker’s commission, with the new title of “executive director” of the ICCI, Brettman also arrived at Rome, to further plans to exhibit her catacomb photography at a “Festa dell’ebraismo” in Rome’s Ghetto in 1982.(98) The project, however, was delayed for some years, and was not realized under the auspices of local Jewish organizations, whose leaders, especially Rabbi Elio Toaff and Tullia and Fausto Zevi, were repeatedly disparaged by Brettman for their collaboration with Brickner out of “personal ambition”, their “insufferable pride and unrealistic attitude”, and “propagandistic handling” of the Concordat in collusion with “Communists” and other Vatican critics like Spadolini.(99) Colafemmina, however, renewed contact to propose something new:

Molfetta, 3 April 1980
Gentilissima Signora Brettman,
Ho gioito immensamente quando il mio amico e collega Carlo Carletti mi ha detto che siete a Roma, dove resterete sino alla fine di Maggio. Io avevo cercato piu’ volte di mettermi in contatto con voi apena il comm. Fornari mi aveva detto del vostro arrivo, ma sono stato sempre sfortunato. L’ultima volta mi hanno risposto che eravate partita. Ho quindi ricevuto la vostra lettera, che mi confermava la notizia, e cio’ mi ha provocato un sincero dispiacere perche’ ci tenevo a incontrarvi in Italia. Ora so che siete a Roma. Pensate che sono stato a Roma una settimana fa, per alcune ricerche alla Vaticana!
Come va la vostra dimora in Italia? Vanno bene i lavori? Io sono preso da mille e mille impegni attinenti all’insegnamento in Seminario e all’Universita’. Non sono riuscito a buttar giu’ un rigo di nuovo. Tutto cio’ mi fa impazzire. Si aggiunga che sono stato una decina di giorni all’ospedale per delle coliche renali che mi hanno fatto soffrire moltissimo. E’ stata la mia prima esperienza, ed e’ stata tremenda.
L’amico Carletti mi ha detto della vostra disponibilita’ a lavorare con noi a Venosa. Il problema, come vi dissi, e’ un po’ complesso, ma credo che si puo’ risolvere. E io credo che con voi, conoscendo la vostra passione, dinamicita’ e spirito di iniziativa, si potra’ concretizzare qualcosa di veramente interessante. E’ pero’ necessario che venite in Puglia, a Venosa, per vedere con i vostri occhi la situazione e programmare le richerche. L’area e’ vasta e dovrebbe esserci posto per tutti. Ma e’ necessario, ripeto, che venite a Venosa. Io sono a disposizione dal 12 al 24 maggio; se si tratta di qualcosa di urgente, fatemelo sapere in tempo in modo che mi possa organizzare anche in aprile, tra il 28 ed il 30, per esempio.
Non mi dilungo oltre perche’ vorrei approfitare di queste ore per sbrigarmi un po’ di corrispondenza. Io non ho la fortuna di avere una segretaria come Nora!
Un fraterno e sincero salute a Richard, a voi, agli amici tutti.
Nella gioia di Pesache e di Pasqua.

Brettman did, indeed, make it to Venosa, in the company of Richard and Roberta Zonghi, employees at the Boston Public Library who had helped her to set up the Catacombs exhibit in the library in 1979.(100) The three Americans rented a car and drove down to the Venosa, picking up Colafemmina on the way. Rick Zonghi still recalls how his driving spooked Colafemmina, who cried out: “slow down! I don’t want to die!’ “I looked back at him,” Zonghi continues: “and said, ‘Why Father, don’t you believe in the life to come?’ He said: ‘I do, but I don’t want to go there just yet!’ Upon reaching Maddalena Hill, Colafemmina showed the group the Jewish catacombs, then the isolated gallery nearby, the Christian site, where the Zonghis recall many bats flittering around them, even into the pockets of their clothing, for there was no gate or barrier or any kind barring entry. It is surprising that so little photography was taken of the trip, although Brettman by her own account lived to take photographs of anything old and Jewish. Here, however, she was on Colafemmina territory, and it is possible he asked her not to take any photos of “his” site. Colafemmina, as with Brickner, wanted Brettman to appreciate not just the critical state of the cemetery, but also the new discoveries to which he felt only he held the key. Brettman, as was her fashion, was sympathetic to Colafemmina’s ideas and what she saw as his open mind to the shared cultural experiences of Christians and Jews in the Roman era.

On June 1, 1980, while in transit back to the United States, Brettman shared with Colafemmina in Italian via a translator some thoughts about the Venosa trip:

Gentile Don Cesare,
Grazie ancora per la sua visita molto piacevole a Venosa e per tutte le cose che ha fatto per noi.
Il pranzo era squsito ed e’ piaciuto molto a noi. Ringrazio anche per il regalo di Venosa e del vino che Lei gentilmente ha dato a me per portarlo al mio amico a Roma al quale e’ piaciuto molto.
Anche Rich e Bobbie (Zonghi) avevano una gita molto interessante a casa sua.
Rich ha guidato e siamo arrivati a Roma in 4 ore e 15 minuti.
Spero che il bollo (laterizio) che lei ha trovato sia interessante per il suo lavoro. Sarei ben felice se Lei volese scrivermi per farmi sapere l’epoca di questo.
Vorrei una descrizione anche del progetto del quale Lei e il professore Carletti avete parlato per la nostra commissione. Era della Maddalena, vero?
Dovrei avere una proposta precisa riguardo il suo lavoro e anche qualcosa che sara’ interessante per le fondazioni. In seguito, preparero’ di manifestare per farle vedere altre persone riguardo alle fondazioni. Mi piacerebbe ancora sapere un po’ delle epigrafie incasinata nel muro della casa. Dove li metterra’ dopo averli tolti? Spero avra’ un museo per mostrarli al pubblico.
Quanto le costera’ tutto il lavoro?
Se Lei fara’ scavi nella suddetta Maddalena, sara’ possibile ancora sistemare la conferenza? In particolare modo a Boston?
Le sue pubblicazione sono molto interesanti e le sto leggendo adesso in volo per l’America.
Le auguro un buon lavoro e le porgo tanti saluti.

Colafemmina stayed in contact with both Brickner and Brettman’s groups, working with the former on the Venosa catacombs and attempting to obtain financial support from the latter for other projects.(101) His delicate balancing act is especially apparent in early 1981, when Colafemmina was already feeling somewhat disillusioned by the nature of his collaboration with the WJCHC, which he thought was being to “stingy” with Italian collaborators.(102) As part of the project to excavate in Venosa, he had had to accept a university co-director, Prof. Eric Meyers from Duke University in the USA, a member of the WJCHC academic committee and expert on Jewish burials in Eratz-Israel. Colafemmina and Meyers, and their collaborators conducted an initial site survey in October of 1980.(103) The “one important new piece” of this campaign, in Meyer’s words, was the discovery of a stone block, likely from a building, reused as a base for a lion statue, with traces of “a long Hebrew inscription”.(104)

The following spring, Meyers, an experienced field archaeologist, directed a two-week survey of the area from May 18-29, 1981 with a budget of about $15,000 and logistical support from the AAR and ASOR. As a professional excavator, and only Jew on the team, he attracted what might have seemed to Colafemmina like a disproportionate share of the media attention, with Colafemmina in an “assisting” role.(105) In the process of breaking through the modern debris to reach some burial galleries at the very end of the season, the excavators had inadvertently reopened the “Grotta di Santa Rufina” mentioned in older sources on the site.(106) Even so, the excavation was not resumed another season, as originally planned, and the two lead investigators presented separate “preliminary” reports: Meyers mostly focusing on methodology and topography, and Colafemmina on the new graffito and pottery from the ancient through modern periods.(107) Brettman was convinced that the stalling of a second season was yet another sign that the WJCHC was being mismanaged and alienating potential donors.(108)

During preparations for the dig, Brettman receives what she thinks is a “long, very interesting letter” from Colafemmina suggesting how to proceed:(109)

Molfetta, 21-1-1981
Dear Estelle,
Come sempre devo scusarmi per il mio silenzio. Dipende dalle mille e mille cose che devo fare ma anche dalla ripugnanza che provo per scrivere. E’ piu’ forte di me.
Ti ringrazio per la tua preoccupazione a motivo del terremoto, che mi ha sorpreso proprio sulla via di ritorno e nell’ambito della zona sismica. Grazie al cielo, non ho avvertito nulla perche’ in quel preciso moment oil treno stave entrando nella stazione di Caserta. Qui giunsero le prime notize del disastro e l’annuncio che la linea ferroviaria era stata interrotta da alcuni crolli in galleria. In breve, invece di arrivare a Molfetta a mezzanotte, come era previsto, arrivai il giorno dopo alla sei del pomeriggio.
Sono corso a Venosa, che si trova vicinissima alla zona colpita. Le catacombe sono ancora in piedi anche se ho notato delle profonde spaccature nei pilastri rocciosi che attribuirei al terremoto. Cio’ che ero’ mi ha piu’ turbato e’ scoprire che c’erano stati dei tombaroli che avevano aperto e distrutto alcune tombe. Sono dei pazzi incoscienti, contro I quali, purtroppo, non c’e’ niente da fare. Pensi che la Soprintendenza di Potenza si ridotta ad una roulette.
A proposito di Venosa, siamo sempre in trattative con Meyers. Il mio istituto trova esorse le richieste per la direzione dello scavo. Vedremo come andra’ a finire.
Mi dispiace, comunque, che nel frattempo le catacombe rischiano di polverizzarsi per sempre.
Per quanto concerne I progetti che le esposi a Roma, essi potrebbero concretizzarsi in questi modi:
1. Rimozione e sistemazione di un gruppo di iscrizioni ebraiche (IX secolo), inedited, esistenti a Lavello (Potenza). Il costo dipende dal numero delle iscrizioni che bisogna rimuovere dalla parete esterna di una abitazione. Si puo’ andare dai 1000 ai 3000 dollari.
2. Pubblicazione di tutti I testi manoscritti relative alla catacomba di Venosa e alla sua scoperta nel 1853. La documentazione dell’epoca, comprese le copie allora fatte delle iscrizioni, verrebbe confrontata con quello che rimane, in modo da scrivere una storia completa degli ipogei ebraici dall’inizio al 1973, quando scoprii un’iscrizione con la data consolare.
3. Finanziare uno scavo sistematico nell’area sepolcrale (VII-IX secolo) della communita’ ebraica di Oria. Si potrebbe partire da un fondo di 5000 dollari, cifra che non si dovrebbe superare di molto se si riesce ad avere la collaborazione delle autorita’ locali.
4. Individuazione di tutti i monumenti ebraici esistenti nell’Italia meridionale: epigrafi, giudecche, ecc. Il risultato, provincia per provincia, verrebbe pubblicato su un volume (con piante topografiche, fotografie, descrizioni) accompagnato sempre da un altro volume contenente la documentazione scritta. I volume potrebbero benissimo essere editi in inglese. Si tenga poi conto che in Italia la stampa costa assai meno che in U.S.A.
Chiudo perche’ ho esagerato nella scrivere e mi sono stancato… Con l’augurio di risentirci presto, e con buone notizie.
P.S. E’ evidente che ogni pubblicazione fara’ esplicito riferimento alla istituzione dalla quale e’ stata finanziata e sotto i cui auspice il lavoro e’ stato svolto.

Something of Colafemmina’s issues with the authorities in charge of the site is already apparent in a letter he wrote to Brettman written shortly before Meyers’ arrival:

Molfetta, Pesach 5741 (1981)
Cara Estelle,
Ho ricevuto con grande gioia la vostra lettera, che, come al solito, ho dovuto faticare a interpretare, a motive della vostra scrittura. Qui le cose, sul piano scientifico, vanno bene, male invece sul piano mio privato personale, dove ho subito una delusione cosi’ tremenda sul piano dei sentimenti che mi sono sentito sull’orlo della pazzia. Speriamo che passi e possa riprendermi del tutto. Dal 18 al 25 maggio abbiamo a Bari un congresso internazionale su “Italia Judaica”. Io dovro’ tenere una relazione su “Archeologia ed epigrafia nell’Italia meridionale”.(110) Negli stessi giorni arrivera’ anche Meyers con due voluntari per lo scavo a Venosa. Qui si sta gia’ lavorando a cura della Soprintendenza per rafforzare le strutture dell’antico ipogeo. Sono cosi’ stupidi che non mi hanno per nulla interesato. Da questo potete vedere la gelosia che mi circonda.
Con la missione Americana faremo un primo saggio di scavo autonomo. E’ stato molto difficile avviare il discoro e solo all’ultimo minute siamo riusciti ad arrivare ad un accordo. Se va bene, si potra’ continuare l’anno prossimo.
Spero che non abbiate dimenticato i nostri progetti di ricerca e intorno ai quali parlammo a Roma. Per quello che concerne Venosa, e’ possibile solo pensare, per la nostra iniziativa, all’edizione di tutte le fonti concernenti le catacombe ebraiche, in modo da fornire un punto di partenza per tutti gli studi futuri.
Vengo ora a chiederle un grande favore. Mi serve urgentemente la fotocopia delle pagine dedicate al Codice Nikolsburg V = Boston Medical Library 10 e contenute nel libro di James F. Ballard, Catalogue of the Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts and Incunabula in the Boston Medical Libray, Boston, 1944. (Brettman turned to a friend, Dr. Mark D. Altschule, MD, head of the Francis A. Countway Libray of Medicine at Harvard Medical School to obtain the required pages, but Dr. Altschule, in a letter of May 15, 1981, reports that Colafemmina’s citation was not correct).
Questo favore si aggiunge ai tanti che ho ricevuto e per i quali vi sono assia grato.
I piu’ cordiali auguri per Pesach e voi e a Dick.

A handwritten draft of Brettman’s reply to Colafemmina is preserved:

Dear Don Cesare,
Hope all is well with you and il Papa and also that your conferences went well. And you feel good about it – so that I will be able to read this material since unfortunately I couldn’t be there.
Strange that your request for material from Harvard Medical Library, since one of the directors on my committee is the curator of that library. He finally located the --- you had requested – it was on loan to another library, but he claims that your information is not correct. When you send me the corrected information, he will be happy to locate it again (see enclosed letter).
If I can finish my book, I plan to be in Rome in mid or late June, I shall have some information for you on your proposed work. Buon lavoro!

Direct contact between Brettman and Colafemmina does not seem to go beyond 1981, although both continued with their respective projects on Jews in Italy. The obstacles to further collaboration were money and its sources. Donations to Brettman’s committee, the ICCI, were not sufficient to cover projects in both Venosa and Rome, and her absolute priority was the latter.(111) She did make attempts on Colafemmina’s behalf for grant money from other American foundations, citing her “strong endorsement” and her connections to other “influential groups who can command funding”. In the same breath, however, she also pitched her own book project on the catacombs of Rome, leading some to suspect her of “cross-purposes” with Colafemmina’s collaboration with Meyers at Venosa.(112) Colafemmina himself was becoming more and more evasive, not answering Brettman’s letters or the telephone calls made by Italians on her behalf.(113) It did not take long for Brettman to get the message. In a letter to archeologist Giuseppina Cerulli Irelli, Brettman observed “I guess (Colafemnina) is only interested in new excavations (at Venosa) to enhance his reputation, instead of preserving the old, which Father Fasola felt were in imminent danger. The reason I had tried to organize something so that all could work together there… too bad everything has to be so political so that important projects are obstructed by strong personal ambitions and power plays”.(114) The mention of Fasola is one of many signs that Brettman remained loyal to Vatican interests and continued to publicly defend the Holy See’s track record on Jewish catacomb preservation.(115) It might have been a valid point, but Brettman desperately needed Vatican approval to obtain materials for her show, and her reliance as always on “personal contacts” would cost her others.(116)

6. “Our Jews”: Aftermath of the American Mission

The stalled plans for a collaboration in 1981 could have been what ended all contact between Brettman and Colafemmina, but the former rarely missed an opportunity to reach out to Italian connections. In reviewing Brettman’s correspondence with other Italian contacts in the years leading up to her Rome exhibit in 1985, it is apparent that her criticisms of Toaff and Zevi and disparaging remarks about the work of the WJC had made her few friends among the Italian Jews, and those already in contact with her felt the need to disassociate themselves from her projects.(117) Even ICS board member Baldassare Conticello, reminiscing about Brettman in 1999, recalled her “many problems and misunderstandings with some of the most important members of the Roman Community as well as Mrs. Tullia Zevi”.(118) In the early stages of planning a Rome exhibit, Brettman included Colafemmina in a provisional “honorary committee”, but in the final program, his name does not appear and nor does she return to Italy after the Rome showing of her “Vaults”.(119)

Colafemmina, on the other hand, having emerged from “years of obscure research”, developed a precarious but highly visible academic profile. He kept alive for a time his “dream” of new excavations, perhaps with new partners from Tel Aviv, but finally left behind active exploration of the Venosa catacombs for autonomous work in archives (as restoration after the 1980 earthquake was slow in coming): nonetheless, he was the essential site guide for many, retaining the excitement and sense of mission that had guided him from the start.(120)

After celebrating the Venosa project as “an important reality for Jewish scholarship and Jewry world-wide”, Brickner seems to have faded from the scene by the mid-1980s, around the time the revised Concordat was signed. The logistics of archaeological site preservation came with demands of time and money that could not reach a speedy resolution; consequently, the movement was renewed with new committees working under new names.(121) Brickner reappears once more on the masthead of the Jewish Heritage Council of the World Monuments Fund, along with other members of her WJC committee, which was working with Rome’s Archaeological Superintendence and the Jewish Community of Rome to preserve the Jewish Catacombs of Villa Torlonia.(122) With the signing of the Concordat in 1984, the UCEI’s attention shifted to the Jewish catacombs at Rome, the stewardship would be formally turned over to Italy in 1986 (Vigna Randanini) and 1988 (Villa Torlonia). Tullia Zevi, who became the UCEI’s first female president in 1983, continued to campaign for Jewish catacomb restoration and a museum in Rome for Jewish artifacts recovered from these sites, as “regular monuments the tourists will want to see”.(123) Many would, in 1989, at the Jewish Museum's groundbreaking show “Gardens and Ghettos”, curated by Vivian B. Mann.(124)

The Maddalena hill was expropriated as a “public utility” in 1984 (complete with utility poles) but a revolving door of initiative and personnel continues to complicate long-term upkeep of the site. (125) Major site transformation beginning around the year 2000 to create a clean, climate-controlled environment in conformity with both preservationist principles and halakha has been published in very minimal form.(126) The best-known fact is that on October 27, 2007, then-Superintendent Maria Luisa Nava arranged for a ceremony to symbolically consign the catacombs of Venosa to the care of the UCEI.(127) Consequently, the “older” catacomb, the one known since the 1850’s, is open by request, but the Santa Ruffina area, also shored up with new sustaining walls and a reinforced bunker-style entrance, cannot yet be seen.(128) Such is the “bureaucratic spider web” in which the Venosa catacombs are bound. Douglas, no doubt, would put it today as he did a century ago: “here, to our certain knowledge, many miracles of antique art and literature lie within a few feet of our reach, yet nothing is done. These hidden monuments, which are the heritage of all humanity, are withheld from our eyes.”(129)

(1.) Title quote adapted from a Bourbon-era government report in 1853 for “Grecisti ed ebraisti” to come to the catacombs at Venosa, recorded in G. Lacerenza, Le antichita’ giudaiche di Venosa: storia e documenti, in Archivio Storico per le Province Napoletane 116 (1998), p. 337. Conversations or correspondence with the following scholars has lent greatly to the composition of this piece (in chronological order): G. Lacerenza, G. Saban, M. Savarese, E. M. Meyers, N. Kershaw, M. Mascolo, F. Dell’Aquila, J. Levi.
(2.) Section heading quote adapted from G. Lacerenza during the Corso di Formazione in Antichita’ Giudaiche at the Universita’ degli Studi di Tor Vergata in Rome on 9 May 2018.
(3.) N. Douglas, Old Calabria, Marlboro, VT: Marlboro Press, 1993, p. 37.
(4.) C. Colafemmina, a leading scholar on the Venosa catacombs, theorized at one point that the ninth-century Hebrew inscriptions immured in the Incompiuta came from a Medieval cemetery in the area of the catacombs: F. Zevi, Recenti studi e scoperte di archeologia ebraica, in La cultura ebraica nell’editoria italiana (1955-1990) (Quaderni di libri e riviste d’Italia), ed. A. Bice Migliau, Rome: Ministero per i beni culturali ed ambientali, divisione editoria, 1992, p. 27. The amphitheater was built in the Julio-Claudian era, then refashioned in the Trajanic-Hadrianic age: for description and dating see V. Discepolo, L’Anfiteatro di Venosa, in Basilicata Cultura, 117 (2010), pp. 92-95. Presentation of three-dimensional laser imaging of the Hebrew inscriptions in the “Incompiuta” in L. V. Rutgers et al, 3D Pilot Project in Venosa: https://diaspora.sites.uu.nl/projects/3d-pilot-project-in-venosa/ (accessed July 2018).
(5.) The Trinita’s neglected condition also noted by painter and poet E. Lear, Journals of a Landscape Painter in Southern Calabria, London: Richard Bentley, p. 260 and in Murray’s Handbook for Travelers in Southern Italy, third edition, London: John Murray, 1858, p. 397. Squeezes of some of the Hebrew epitaphs in the Trinita’ were made by S. d’Aloe in 1853: G. Lacerenza, Le antichita’ giudaiche,1998, p. 299.
(6.) H. Swinburne Travels in the Two Sicilies, vol. 1, Dublin: Price, Sleater et al, 1783, pp. 413-415.
(7.) Douglas, Old Calabria, pp. 30-31, who even searched the modern cemetery for names dating back to the Greco-Roman era.
(8.) The “scarce interest” in the history of Jews in Southern Italy is discussed in larger context by G. Lacerenza in Umberto Cassuto studioso dell’epigrafia ebraica di Venosa, Rassegna Mensile d’Israele, 82.2-3 (2016), pp. 296-297.
(9.) For discovery and subsequent history of exploration of the Venosa catacombs, clarifying many points of its exploration since the early Modern period, see G. Lacerenza, Le antichita giudaiche,1998, pp. 294-295. Venosa at the time was home to a seminary, and priests were among the earliest visitors at the time of the catacomb’s official discovery in 1853, and likely the first to have recognized the writing on the wall, so to speak, as Hebrew rather than in “unknown characters” as described in a government report quoted in E. Lavorano, Il sepocreto ebraico di Venosa tra storia e documenti (1853-1984), in Sefer Yuhasin, n.s. 3 (2015), p. 199. “Hebraica epitaphia” previously noted at Venosa during the late Renaissance and Early Modern periods: Lacerenza, Le antichita giudaiche, 1998, pp. 310-313.
(10.) Douglas, Old Calabria, p. 36, puts it in colloquial fashion, but the fact remains that to most, all that was known was that “a colony of Jews was established (in Venosa) between the years 400 and 800, poor folks, for the most part, no one knew whence they came or whither they went”: point reiterated on pp. 132-133 about “little mention” of certain cultures in historical studies.
(11.) G. Lacerenza, Nikolaus Müller e le prime fotografie delle catacombe ebraiche di Venosa, in Sefer Yuḥasin 6 (2018), pp. 7-27; In a previous index of the inscriptions published by Lacerenza in 2005, he counted 75 ancient inscriptions at Venosa: classified as follows: 71 in situ in the Jewish catacombs, 4 in the “Lauridia Hypogeum (possibly not Jewish), and 1 in the offices of the local Archaeological Superintendent: G. Lacerenza, Le iscrizioni giudaiche in Italia dal 1 al VI secolo; tipologie, origine, distribuzione, in I beni culturali ebraici in Italia: Situazione attuale, problemi, prospettive e progetti per il future, ed. M. Perani, Ravenna: Longo editore, 2003, p. 89; this inventory could not take into account the finds in the Santa Ruffina site being excavated at the time.
(12.) Lavorano, Il sepocreto ebraico, 2015, p. 190, points out, in fact, that in the mid-19th century, when the area was still under Bourbon rule, there was “elevated” interest in the Jewish catacombs, though all the time, they were open and despoiled for materials, “especially any coins”. At the same time that Naples was deliberating on the situation at Venosa (1853-1854), report came of Jewish epitaphs at nearby Oria.
(13.) This concern was expressed by the author in a report on the state of the Venosa catacombs submitted to the Fondazione dei Beni Culturali Ebraici in August, 2016, and also defined as a “missed opportunity” by G. Lacerenza, verbal communication at the Corso di formazione, 8 May 2018.
(14.) Recent analysis of the growth and orientation of Jewish “heritage” tourism by F. Lelli, Prospects and Problems of Jewish Tourism in Apulia: siba-ese.unisalento.it/index.php/tourismandtourist/article/download/13601/12019 (accessed July 2018).
(15.) S. Waagenaar, Letter to the Editor, in Commentary, 65 (1 January 1978).
(16.) Organization and components of the show in Foa, A., G. Lacerenza, and D. Jalla, eds. Ebrei, una storia italiana. I primi mille anni. Milan: Mondadori, 2018.
(17.) A starting point for information about Colafemmina’s career is on the website of CeRDEM: http://www.cerdem.com/cesare-colafemmina/biografia (accessed July 2018): extensive bibliographic information is also available online at: http://www.humnet.unipi.it/medievistica/aisg/AISG_Colafemmina/Colafemmina.html and http://www7.tau.ac.il/omeka/italjuda/ (accessed July 2018), and in print in G. Lacerenza, Bibliografia di Cesare Colafemmina, in Hebraica hereditas: studi in onore di Cesare Colafemmina, ed. G. Lacerenza (Series minor. Istituto universitario orientale, Dipartimento di studi asiatici, 70), Naples: pp. xii-xxv.
(18.) Dedication of the article by P. Lenhardt, Ha-Sur Tamim be-khol Po'al: On some Italian roots of the Poetic Sidduq Ha-Din in the Early Ashkenazi rite, in Death in Jewish life: burial and mourning customs among Jews of Europe and nearby communities, Stefan C. Reif, ed, Berlin, p. 99.
(19.) Adapted from interview of Colafemmina with A. Brooks of the New York Times in the article: In the Italian Dust, Signs of a Past Jewish Life, The New York Times, May 15, 2003, p. B1. The Tel Aviv collaboration, “A Documentary History of the Jews in Italy” (Italia Judaica), a program of the Diaspora Research Institute, was begun in 1960 by Prof. Shlomo Simonsohn, and began to closely involve Colafemmina in its activities toward the end of the time period covered in this article (mid to late 1970’s and early 1980’s).
(20.) M. Mascolo, Le indagini archeologiche di Cesare Colafemmina: le catacombe di Venosa nel carteggio con la Soprintendenza (1972-1980); E. Lavorano, Il sepolcreto ebraico, 2015; G. Saban, le catacombe ebraiche del Sud-Italia.
(21.) Founded in 1980, the International Catacomb Society promotes the study and conservation of catacombs and other “rare vestiges of history”: www.catacombsociety.org (accessed July 2018).
(22.) Communicated to the author by CeDERM director M. Mascolo in May of 2018 (in English, the Cesare Colafemmina Center for the Research and Documentation of Judaism in the Mediterranean Regions).
(23.) It is important to note, however, that while features like the artificial pavement over the original dirt gallery is meant to cover the graves below, it also facilitates access through the site for the disabled (communication of M. Savarese).
(24.) The quote is from a work of A. La Visita, ca. 1868, in Lavorano, Il sepocreto ebraico, 2015, p. 197.
(25.) Lacerenza, Nikolaus Müller, 2018, pp. 2-3, and Lavorano, Il sepolcreto giudaico, 2015, pp. 198-199; Nicolaus Müller refers to Venosa, with emphasis on similarities of their layout with those on Melos, in Koimeterien, Realencyklopädie für Protestantische Theologie und Kirche 10, ed. A. Hauck, Leipzig, A. T. Hinrichs, 1901, pp. 807, 844, 856-858. Before 1904, Muller, like many of his contemporaries, had relied on squeezes or transcriptions of epitaphs in the site.
(26.) Douglas, Old Calabria, 1993, p. 33.
(27.) F. Lenormant was “pleasantly surprised” to find this the case in the 1880’s: À travers l'Apulie et la Lucanie: notes de voyage, Volume 1, Paris: A. Levy, 1883, p. 215. The 1853 map suggests that some entrances were backfilled after exploration, leaving open one access point from the hillside, in a quarry pit: F. Dell’Aquila, “Struttura e planimetria della catacomba ebraica di Venosa”, in Lucania Archeologica 4 (1979) p. 11.
(28.) Lavorano, Il sepolcreto giudaico, 2015, p. 188, quotes a source on a “strada nuova delle inforchie (sic), but the street name is generally given as “via dei Mulini” though sometimes called (or confused with) the “strada (or salita) di Terranera”: for references in archival sources, see Lacerenza, Le antichita’ giudaiche, 1998, p. 326. A local veteran, Francesco Saverio Ghiura di Oronzio, reports some years later that he was already aware of the Jewish site in 1852: his account transcribed in Lacerenza, La antichita’ giudaiche,1998, p. 351. Work on the road over time at a level below the catacomb site and closer to the river bed also revealed Paleolithic artifacts and fossils: M. Lacava, Topografia e storia di Metaponto, Naples: Antonio Morano editore, 1891, pp. 133-134, and H. J. Leon notes that in 1949, another burial hypogeum was found in a quarry on the “Salita di Terranera”: Leon, The Jews of Venusia, Jewish Quarterly Review 44 (1954), p. 284.
(29.) Murray, Handbook, 1858, p. 397, also including mention of the Jewish inscriptions at Lavello and Oria, becoming known at about the same time.
(30.) Lacerenza, Le antichita’ giudaiche, 1998, p. 296, cites M. Ruggiero’s publication in 1888 of some of the documentation resulting from a Bourbon government inspection of the site in the 1850’s. An excavation in the “Costa della Fiumara” locality near the ruins of the abbey and modern cemetery brought to light tomb lids and other structural elements in marble dating to “the later Empire”: Lacerenza, Le antichita’ giudaiche, 1998, p. 358, 365. This second necropolis, attracting public notice not long after the Jewish catacomb and in the wake of yet another earthquake in 1857, was subject to much interest on the part of a German museum curator, H. W. Schulz, who attempted to procure artifacts from its excavation for the Dresden Museum. In fact, given the presence of Jewish artifact in both sites, the “marble sarcophagi” in the storerooms of Venosa’s castle, recorded by O. Hirschfeld in 1866 as coming from the catacomb, may originate from the Costa della Fiumara: no other source of the time mentions marble being found in actual catacombs, with the exception of some fragments in the area of the painted arcosolium, recorded much later: documentation in Lacerenza, Le antichita’ giudaiche, 1998, pp. 358, 363-364, and Lavorano, Il sepolcreto ebraico, 2015, pp. 191-195. The 1853 map commissioned by P. de Angelis and local cleric and historian R. Smith, titled “Pianta del Sepolcreto lungo la via dei Mulini a Venosa” – subsequently reproduced with slight alterations in the studies of generations – discussed at length by Lacrerenza, Le antichita’ giudaiche, 1998, p. 296; 298-299; 305; 307; 336. A different plan made about the same time by A. Garnier for S. d’Aloe is not published: idem, 1998, pp. 331, 333-334.
(31.) Douglas, Old Calabria, 1993, p. 29, describes the city nonetheless as “off the beaten track” with few daily trains. In fact, even in earlier centuries, the Venosa catacombs were a local attraction, as noted in a description by G. Cenna of the late sixteenth-early seventeenth centuries, quoted in Lacerenza, Le antichita’ giudaiche, 1998, pp. 311-312: “Questa grotte (sic) pare che sia un labirinto, et in essa molti gentilomini e populani sono andati con torcie, fune e lantern e viderla.” Catacombs were not commonly known as Jewish at time, although the crosses scratched into the wall of an area of the Jewish cemetery reopened by Colafemmina and collaborators in 1981, the “Grotta of Santa Rufina”, could have been intended to “Christianize” the site, as suggested by E. M. Meyers and F. Zevi, Recenti studi, 1992, p. 27. Even in the 19th century, a government functionary, S. D’Aloe, had put a low value on its existence as a tomb of Medieval “Saracens”, though another official requested urgently from Naples “Grecisti ed ebraisti” to study the site: Lacerenza, Le antichita’ giudaiche, 1998, pp. 314, 337.“: Lacerenza, Le antichita’ giudaiche, 1998, pp. 312-313.
(32.) The site inspections in the 1850’s note masonry piers to support the vault already present in the catacomb, and dated to the Roman era: Lacerenza, Le antichita’ giudaiche, 1998, p. 327. In the Santa Ruffina site, some tomb niches have holes in the side walls where gates were inserted to use the area as pens for livestock. In 1853, S. d’Aloe even suggested drilling airshafts: Lacerenza, Le antichita’ giudaiche, 1998, p. 332.
(33.) L. Levi, Ricerca di epigrafia ebraica nell’Italia meridionale, in La Rassegna Mensile di Israel, 3.28 (1962), p. 137.
(34.) J-B. Frey, Corpus Inscriptionum Judaicarum 1, Vatican City: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 1935, pp. 420-433, nn. 569-619: Leon, in Jews of Venusia, 1954, p. 284, reports that in 1949, another hypogeum was discovered at Salita di Terranera, Lauridia hypogeum, perhaps for familial burial, even Jews and non-Jews, inscriptions on marble, in Greek.
(35.) Lavorano, Il sepolcreto giudaico, 2015, p. 200 and p. 187, n. 1 for bibliography. An “unpublished study of the city’s catacombs” is noted in the inventory of the Archivio privato di Rocco Briscese, Archivio di Deposito Comune di Venosa.
(36.) Lavorano, Il sepolcreto giudaico, 2015, pp. 200-202. Venosa sites bearing the poet’s name – by tradition – included a statue near the Castle and a “House of Horace”: Douglas, Old Calabria, 1993, p. 29. Yet Leo Levi notes that the city guide of 1935, written by a member of the Lauridia family, barely mentions the Jewish site: L. Levi, Ricerca di epigrafia ebraica, 1962, p. 133, n. 4.
(37.) Lacerenza, Umberto Cassuto, 2016, pp. 295-308, and Saban, 2016, p. 1, who notes as well a study of G. P. Bognetti, Les inscriptions juives de Venosa et le probleme des rapports entre le Lombard et l'Orient, in Comptes Rendus des Séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres (1954), pp. 193-202; also commenting on the inscriptions is B. Lifshitz, Les Juifs à Venosa, in Rivista di Filologia e di Istruzione Classica, n. s. 40 (1962), pp. 367-371.
(38.) Not long after the end of the Second World War, the new Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, Fr. Antonio Ferrua, SJ, inspected the Venosa catacombs on 10 April 1952, as a proposal was circulating for a site restoration: PCAS Archivio Storico, Catacomba ebraica di Venosa (luglio 1948 - agosto 1982), and Lavorano, Il sepolcreto giudaico, 2015, p. 202. Leon, The Jews of Venusia, 1954, pp. 267-284, visited Venosa in 1951, and D. Colombo published an account of another visit in 1960: Le catacombe ebraiche di Venosa, in Rivista Mensile d’Israele 26 (1960), pp. 446-447.
(39.) According to chief restorer of the site in recent years, M. Savarese, the geological situation of these man-made caverns was problematic: they had been excavated at various quota and in some places overlapped. The wall texture could be sandy or pebbly, depending on whether it was volcanic or fluvial in deposit, with landslides from higher quota falling into crevices below: stability of features inside the site also depended heavily on the upper strata left undisturbed.
(40.) L. Levi, Sopralluogo complete alle catacombe ebraiche di Venosa, dated April 17, 1962, made in the company of honorary inspector of antiquities Emanuele Lauridia. Also in the UCEI archives is Levy’s catalogue of Jewish Tomb inscriptions in Italy, 1969-1970, quoted in Saban manuscript, 2016, p. 1 and a geological report by S. Lazzari (in copy in the PCAS Archivio Storico).
(41.) Levi, 1962, pp. 146-151. The Lauridia Hypogeum would soon be covered up again and is not presently accessible.
(42.) Lavorano, Il sepolcreto giudaico, 2015, pp. 204-207: and article Landslides Peril Jewish Catacombs in Southern Italy, in the Jewish Post, Indianapolis, Marion County, 1 June 1962. The Vatican’s catacomb commission had been informed of the condition of these catacombs at various points, but beyond site visits took no active role in the site, though a letter of PCAS secretary Fr. U. M. Fasola to UCEI President Pietro Blayer of 19 December 1976 evidences that the PCAS had recently attempted to intervene in the situation at Venosa, but had been unable to reach an unspecified agreement with local authorities. Saban notes that in 1970, Italian Parliamentarian Giorgina Arian Levi made inquiries into funding supposedly allocated to work in the catacombs, which was never in fact carried out: Saban, Le catacombe ebraiche del sud-Italia, 2016, p. 1.
(43.) Lavorano, Il sepolcreto ebraico, 2015, pp. 202-204, and Saban, 2016, p. 1, citing a letter of inquiry by Parliamentarian Giorgina Arian Levi in 1968 to Italy’s Education Ministry asking for evidence of government involvement in the preservation of artifacts in the catacombs of Venosa.
(44.) C. Carletti, Nuove importanti scoperte nella catacomba ebraica di Venosa, in L’Osservatore Romano, 5-6 May1979, p. 3.
(45.) Quote from G. Lacerenza lecture in Rome, 8 May 2018.
(46.) Explored by Colafemmina in 1972 and published in Un nuovo ipogeo cristiano a Venosa, in Rivista de Teologia Ecumenico Patristica 3 (1975), pp. 159–68: see also M. G. Mascolo, Le indagini archeologiche, 2013, pp. 201-228.
(47.) Together with Dell’Aquila, Colafemmina entered areas at the far southwestern area of the catacomb that had been marked on the plans of the 1850’s as blocked by rubble (areas L-M-N). They were on a slightly lower level of the site, and most likely accessed through a separate entrance.
(48.) Colafemmina seems to have been in touch with the kids doing this, as they were small enough to get to places inaccessible to an adult: Lacerenza, Le antichita’ giudaiche, 1998, p. 373. According to Mascolo, Le indagini archeologiche, pp. 216-217, Colafemmina was at the limits of legality in conducting these explorations, with results communicated after the fact to the archaeological superintendent at Potenza; see also F. Dell’Aquila’s personal account of the explorations in Struttura e pianemetria delle catacombe ebraiche di Venosa, in Lucania archeologica 1.4 (1974), pp. 10-14. Lavorano, Il sepolcreto giudaico, 2015, p. 2015, notes that the Lauridia factory was going out of business at this time, and the future of the site was uncertain: it was not, in fact, officially expropriated until 1984.
(49.) Mascolo, Le indagini archeologiche, 2013, pp. 215-216, with curious note of photos taken previously by Dell’Aquila, which he himself has confirmed.
(50.) Lacerenza, Le antichita’ giudaiche, 1998, p. 316.
(51.) In the author’s opinion, unlikely to be the Jewish motif of the aron, or Torah shrine, as theorized by Colafemmina in his description of the decorative program: Colafemmina, Nuove scoperte nella catcomba ebraica di Venosa, in Vetera Christianorum 15 (1978) pp. 378-381.
(52.) Preliminary analysis of the geological conditions of area Q in Dell’Aquila, Struttura e pianemetria, 1979, p. 16.
(53.) Quote from H. Gellar, Letters from Readers, Commentary, October 1978.
(54.) Colafemmina had announced these finds at the 13th Convegno di ricercatori sulle origini del cristianesimo in Puglia in 1975: Lacerenza, Le antichita’ ebraiche, 1998, p. 269, n. 1. In this same period, Fr. Umberto Fasola in Rome was also announcing new discoveries of structural features and inscriptions in the Villa Torlonia cemetery of Jews in Rome which he had surveyed and restored in 1973-1974: U. M. Fasola, Le due catacombe di Villa Torlonia, in Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana 52.1-2 (1976), pp. 7-62.
(55.) An Italian committee had been formed to make a case for the change to catacomb policies in the Concordat revision and create a proposal to put before the World Jewish Congress (WJC) in late 1977 that would ask for the creation of an “international committee to survey and make plans for further research and excavations… and also raise funds to keep the catacombs open to the public”: A. Schuster, Rome's Jews Expected to Get Their Ancestors' Catacombs, in The New York Times, 13 March 1977.
(56.) Federico Steinhaus, UCEI Culture Director, in an appeal to the WJC. S. Waagenaar, author of The Pope’s Jews (1974), writes in a letter to D. Brickner of July 24, 1978 that he drafted the catacombs project but “Steinhaus has been charged by the UCEI to keep an eye on the catacomb business”. In a letter to the editors of Commentary Magazine dated 1 January 1978 in response to a 1977 article by M. Ledeen, Waagenaar writes that Italian leftist politician and historian, G. Spadolini, also spearheaded the formation of the Italian committee, over which he was asked to preside.
(57.) In “An Open Letter on the Jewish Catacombs in Italy, released by the UCEI in August of 1985, T. Zevi: “the PCAS has restored various Christian catacombs and made them readily accessible to visitors. Vatican-appointed guides are on the spot to take the tourists under their wings. But the Jewish catacombs remain untouched. Their condition worsened … they were barred to visitors and even scholars could access them only after clearing through elaborate Vatican formalities”.
(58.) Fasola, in response to an article of T. Zevi and S. Waagenaar in Hadassah, 1979, explicitly states that the PCAS had not removed any bones or inscriptions from the Jewish catacombs (exceptions was made for some of the smaller finds, for purpose of study). Further comments of Fasola on the Vatican’s policies on Jewish catacombs in Rome in L. Palmieri-Billig, Letter from Rome: Future of Jewish Catacombs Poses Some Tough Questions, in Jerusalem Post. 2 March 1977, p. 3. A number of Jewish leaders, including Toaff and then-UCEI President Pietro Blayer, understood Fasola’s point that the Jewish catacombs would, in a manner of speaking, get lost in the shuffle of Italian archaeological monuments in the care of the state, but voicing support for his position led them to be criticized by some members of the press as “Vatican apologizers”: for documentation, see G. Saban, Le catacombe ebraiche del Sud-Italia, p. 1, and copy of letter of Fasola to Blayer of 19 December 1976 in the PCAS archives.
(59.) D. Brickner letter to the editor in Commentary of 1 February 1979: Kraabel, an academic member of Brickner’s committee, also advocates for new methodologies for “Post-biblical Judaism” in The Roman Diaspora: Six Questionable Assumptions, in Diaspora Jews and Judaism. Essays in Honor of, and in Dialogue with, A. Thomas Kraabel, A. Overman and R. S. MacLennan, eds, Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1982, p. 3.
(60.) In his letter to the editor at Commentary in October 1978, H. Gellar quotes Israel archaeologist Y. Yadin as calling the catacombs “the most important remains of Jewish antiquity in the Diaspora”. The UCEI, in fact, had made its appeal to an organization, the World Jewish Congress (WJC), an advocate for Zionism and the creation of the modern Jewish state. The World Zionist Organization, American Section, immediately carried the new in its Israel Digest 20 (1977) that “arrangements were being made for the ancient Jewish catacombs in Rome to be transferred to Jewish supervision”. Pomerance, in a letter to Brettman of 1 June 1983, reminds her of the WJC’s “Zionist connection” (ICS archives).
(61.) H. Z. Gellar, The Jewish Catacombs of Italy, UCEI pamphlet, 1977, p. 3 (manuscript, ICS archives).
(62.) The number of Jewish inscriptions (of which about 160 from the Jewish Catacombs of Monteverde in Rome) in Lacerenza, 2005, p. 89. T. Zevi and S. Waagenaar, The Jewish Catacombs of Rome: A Neglected Treasure of Our Past, Hadassah (December 1979), throw doubt upon the “legitimacy” of the Vatican to remove Jewish tombstones from a cemetery for “safekeeping”. In a caption for a picture that accompanies the article, it is stated that “under a new agreement, (these inscriptions) may be returned to Rome’s Jewish community”.
(63.) S. Waagenaar in letter to D. Brickner, July 24, 1979, according to wishes of Steinhaus and Tullia Zevi. Henryk Z. Gellar, another “original author”, of the catacomb proposal, was awarded a Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture grant in 1978-1979 to research the “History of the Jewish Catacombs in Italy”.
(64.) L. Palmieri-Billig, Italy Hopes to Save Archaeological Treasures, in The Jewish Times, May 31, 1979, p. 21. Saban, Le catacombe ebraiche di Sud-Italia, p. 1, notes Toaff’s extensive communication with archaeological inspector E. Lattanzi about Venosa at this time.
(65.) World Jewish Congress proposal (copy in ICS archives).
(66.) Colafemmina’s report of the painted arcosolium came out the same year of his lecture on the Venosa catacombs to the Jewish community of Rome on 1 October 1978. On that date, possibly for that very occasion, the Heritage Commission of the WJC was announced, with Doris Brickner as director: see D. Brickner, Letter to the Editor, in Commentary, 1 February 1979.
(67.) Mascolo, Le indagini archeologiche, 2018, p. 222.
(68.) L. Palmieri-Billig, The Catacombs of Rome, in The Jewish Times, May 31, 1979, p. 21 and Saban, Le catacomb ebraiche del Sud-Italia, 2016, p. 1, who names T. Zevi, A. Bice Migliau, E. Ascarelli and F. Becker as the other tour participants. Colafemmina also emphasized to these visitors the deteriorating state of the painted inscriptions.
(69.) Palmieri Billig, Catacombs of Rome, p. 21.
(70.) Mascolo, Le indagini archeologiche, 2018, pp. 222-223.
(71.) Mascolo, Le indagini archeologiche, 2018, p. 223.
(72.) L. Palmieri Billig, Italy Hopes to Save Archaeological Treasures, JTA, 6 April 1979; a number of American scholars and potential financial backers, however, were also hesitant to get involved in these plans before knowing “with certainty of those with the authority to authorize foreign participation in this project”: Letter of L. Pomerance to D. Brickner, 30 July, 1979 (ICS archives).
(73.) In a letter of Brettman to Rabbi R. B. Sobel of Temple Emnau-El in NYC of 15 December 1978, Brettman alludes to plans for a “travelling exhibit” of photography of the Jewish catacombs- her own - for publicity and fund-raising purposes under the auspices of an “International Committee to Document and Preserve Early Judeo-Christian Art in the Catacombs”, which she believed would eventually find a “permanent museum setting” somewhere at the Vatican with her friend, Cardinal G. Caprio’s support. She alludes to this idea as well in a letter to Pomerance of 26 July 1979: “Cardinal Caprio (suggests) that we use a Vatican palazzo for a type of joint museum (for early religions of Rome). This came about when I mentioned the International Commission (of the WJC) to him last November (1978)… and seems like a good way to bring some of the Jewish artifacts in the Vatican into prominence in a more meaningful exhibit”. In her communication about this project, she repeatedly asks that the WJC not be notified of these plans.
(74.) Letter of Brickner to Brettman of 29 November 1978. In an undated 1979 letter to Pomerance, Brettman reveals she had been able to discuss her “committee” with “top Vatican administrators”, such as Cardinal Caprio and Mons. Jorge Mejia, Secretary of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. Through the intervention of Italian archaeologists sympathetic to Vatican concerns about the catacombs, she also met with the cultural attaché of the American Embassy to Italy. Brettman tried to keep the names of the pro-Vatican Italian archaeologists secret, but they likely include Anna Maria Bisi and Giuseppina Cerulli Irelli, the latter described as ready to act as a “mediator” to Fausto Zevi “to explain (Brettman’s) problems in the catacombs”: Letter of A. M. Bisi to Brettman of 26 September 1978 (ICS archives).
(75.) Pomerance to Brettman, 17 May1978 (ICS Archives).
(76.) Waagenaar to Brickner, 24 July 1978 (ICS Archives).
(77.) According to Brettman, in letters to Pomerance and A. Sachar, Zevi and Toaff “were very anxious to work with me, and since they did not wish to exclude the WJC, they pressured me to contact Mr. Philip Klutznick (President of the WJC) upon my return so that the WJC could be represented as a part of (my) international committee”; in another undated draft of a letter to Pomerance, she adds, “Gerhart Riegner (Secretary-General of the WJC) asked that (we have) some sort of conversation with Klutznick…Riegner asked that we do this, as well as Mons. Mejia - I’ve mentioned the support and advice he’s given me all along!) and most of all, Tullia (Zevi) insisted on it, so that Klutznick feels he’s part of the effort and I haven’t gone over his head to Riegner… (so that) the possibility of our International Committee could be clarified and WJC’s relationship to it as a cooperative part of the committee”: Brettman to Pomerance (draft, undated) 1979 (ICS Archives). In a letter to Brettman of 20 September 1979, Mons. Mejia indicated that these talks with Riegner had “borne fruit”, but the situation was far from clear, as was the resolution of the new Concordat. In a separate letter to Pomerance, Brettman reveals that Rabbi Toaff was “very anxious” to learn of Brettman’s plans (and of her suspected financial backers, based on knowledge of her meetings with corporate and educational foundations in New York) in order to present them to the UCEI, although she had been warned not to name any names: Brettman to Pomerance, 21 July 1979 and 16 August 1979, when she denies that she had in fact named Pomerance as a potential sponsor of the work. On Brettman’s testimony, Toaff had requested more details about the “project” to make the case to the Italian government of international interest in Italian Jewish sites.
(78.) G. Armstrong, The Pope May Let the Jews Have Keys to Rome’s Catacombs, Sunday New York Times, April 16, 1978.
(79.) This colloquium also featured Eric M. Meyers, “Galilean Synagogues and the Eastern Diaspora,” A. Thomas Kraabel, “The Jewish Communities of Western Asia Minor,” and Dean L. Moe, “The Synagogues of Stobi, Yugoslavia”, with response by Jacob Neusner.
(80.) On Brettman’s word, “All (this) was done to stop (Doris Brickner) from making a fool of herself for her husband’s sake… I felt that I had to save the larger cause”: Letter to Pomerance (draft, undated) 1979 (ICS Archives).
(81.) Brettman to Pomerance, 16 August 1979 (ICS Archives).
(82.) Brettman to Sachar (Brandeis University Chancellor), 3 August 1979 (ICS Archives).
(83.) Brettman delivered talks on “Judaism and Christianity in the Catacombs of Rome” that autumn to the New England Women’s Association at Hebrew College; the Combined Adult Education Program of Conservative Newton synagogues; the Friends of the Harvard Semitic Museum; and Alumni at Radcliffe College.
(84.) Brettman lamented to Leon Pomerance that “an insensitive, vindictive person (she meant Brickner) can thwart the communication of important information and hamper the career of a scholar”: undated letter of 1979 (ICS Archives).
(85.) Brettman to Eugene L. Sterud, AIA Executive Director, 3 October 1979, and to Prof. A. Thomas Kraabel, 11 October 1979 (ICS Archives).
(86.) There was antipathy between the two women: Brettman repeatedly calls out Brickner’s lack of archaeological experience, describing her in a letter as “a lady who has little contact with art and archaeology (except for amassing artifacts) and no knowledge whatsoever of the catacombs, but hopes to she has wheedled and office and expenses from the World Jewish Congress. She feels she will excavate and preserve the Torlonia catacombs (she does not know of all the others that exist yet) and then she will go on to restore all the decaying synagogues in middle Europe and everywhere else. This all aimed only at enhancing her own prestige. She has no conception of the broader implications of the project.
(87.) Brettman letter to Lee Pomerance of 1979: “I never had any intention of competing with D.B. When we first met, I trusted her to the extent of exposing all of my ideas to her, i.e., photography exhibit, documentation, tours, important names, etc., which I understand she has adopted as her own. She cancelled or requested that I cancel every appointment that I had made with scholars for the benefit of an International Committee… She stripped me of any possible effectiveness I might have had. When I timidly put forward … my influence at the Vatican, which could be effective in resolving the Roman Jewish catacomb situation, I was told that two Jews could not go to the Vatican at once… I mistakenly deferred to her” (ICS archives).
(88.) Letter of S. Fornari to Brettman of 18 October 1979 (ICS archives).
(89.) Previously, Brettman had projected this exhibit for 1981 or 1982, once grant money could be obtained: in a letter to AIA Boston Chapter President, Jane Ayers Scott, April 10, 1979, she suggested that AIA might sponsor a symposium for the event with “an Israeli expert on similar iconographies, and new finds in Alexandria” (ICS archives).
(90.) Brettman letter to Prof. A. Thomas Kraabel, October 11, 1979 (ICS archives).
(91.) L. Pitigliani, A Rare Look at the Jewish Catacombs of Rome, Biblical Archaeology Review 6.3 (May/June 1980), pp. 32-43. Fasola’s reply, edited by Brettman, would emphatically refute Pitigliani’s claim that the Vatican was obstructing entrance to Jewish sites (draft with Brettman corrections in ICS archives).
(92.) YouTube recording of a televised media appearance on the show Open House (13 January 1980); see also ICS Media Coverage for printed media.
(93.) Even before forming the ICCI, Brettman had stressed her Vatican connections to Jewish leaders open to working with the Vatican on Jewish-Christian relations.
(94.) Brettman to Conticello, undated draft (ICS archives).
(95.) Letter of Mons. Mejia to Brettman of 12 January 1980, that “any information regarding either the exhibit or Father Colafemmina’s lecture tour will be welcome” for he was “interested in the catacombs affair and should be” (ICS archives).
(96.) Brettman in draft of letter to National Geographic secretary E. Snider, (undated, 1981): “When I brought Don Cesare Colafemmina to Boston for the AIA Centennial Meeting and other lectures I worked as interpreter for Dr. Meyers and Colafemmina” (ICS archives).
(97.) A. M. Bisi, La Riscoperta di Venosa, un’ interessante itineraio archeologico nell’ Italia del Sud, Mondo Archeologico 56 (1980), pp. 24-41. The University of Bari granted Colafemmina a research scholarship for the project: Mascolo, 204, n. 8.
(98.) Salvatore Fornari, Director of the Jewish Museum of Rome, had proposed an exhibit of Brettman’s photographs: in letter to Brettman of January 18, 1980, which Brettman hoped to develop into a colloquium in 1982 involving Colafemmina and other specialists: Brettman letter to General J. M. Gavin, 30 April 1981.
(99.) Brettman emphatically told Fornari in a July 27, 1980 letter that she would never be “exploited by anyone, either Tullia Zevi, the Vatican, or the World Jewish Congress”, but she seemed more sympathetic to the Holy See, labeling Mons. Jorge Mejia as “almost overly favorably disposed toward Jewish organizations to the point of blindness” (notes in Brettman’s hand on copy of M. Ledeen article, The Unknown Catacombs” in Commentary, 1979). She updated Vatican officials about her meetings with Rome’s Jews on the catacombs (see letter to Mons. Jorge Mejia, January 8, 1979), with the justification that “I am a Jewess and therefore would like to see the WJC problem solved before it reaches higher levels and perhaps throws a cloud over Vatican Jewish relations, as Dean (Krister) Stendhal put it”.
(100.) Brettman remained in Rome from March-May, 1980, during which time, at Mejia’s request, she led the Joint Peace Commission of the American Jewish Committee on a tour of storerooms in the Vatican Museums that held Jewish epitaphs shortly thereafter to be put on display in a new section of the Museum (Pio-Cristiano collection).
(10.) According to archaeologist A. M. Bisi in a letter to Brettman of July 8, 1980, Elena Lattanzi was favorable to the unspecified “project”: Lattanzi, however, would soon be transferred to the Archaeology Superintendence at Reggio Calabria, where she would soon make the happy announcement of the discovery of a synagogue at Bova Marina (ICS archives).
(102.) The UCEI had sent its project manager for Venosa, the architect Lello Anav, along with Silvestro Lazzari, to assess damage to the future excavation site following the Irpinia earthquake of November 23, 1980: Saban, Le catacombe ebraiche del Sud-Italia, 2016, p. 2. Meyers has said that he and Colafemmina had a good relationship with no personal issues over the organization of the dig (personal communication).
(103.) E. M. Meyers and A. T. Kraabel, Archaeology, Iconography, and Nonliterary Written Remains, in Early Judaism and its Roman Interpreters, R. A. Kraft and G. W. E. Nickelsburg, eds.: Philadephia: Fortress Press, 1986, p. 188.
(104.) Meyers and Kraabel, Archaeology, 1986, p. 188, tentatively date the piece to the fourth-fifth centuries. Photo in Meyers, E. Meyers, “Reports on the Excavations at the Venosa Catacombs”, Vetera Christianorum 20 (1983) p. fig. Douglas had called Venosa a “veritable infirmary for mutilated antiquities of this species”: Old Calabria, 1993, p. 30.
(105.) JHC report: “Due (to Christian discoveries in the same area) it is fitting that Father Colafemmina assist Dr. Meyers in the exploration of the hill”.
(106.) The trench was opened from above, near to where Colafemmina had located the arcosolium, and where surveying had detected a possible backfilled entryway (in fact, the entrance to the Ruffina grottos had been accessible at least to the eighteenth century: Lacerenza, 1998, p. 312, n. 37. P.L. Montgomery, “Italian Catacomb Reveals Ancient Jewish Site. Catacomb Found in Italy Called Jews’ Burial Place”, New York Times 26 luglio 1981, p. 1, 12.
(107.) E. M. Meyers, Report on the Excavations at the Venosa Catacombs, 1981, pp. 31-36, and C. Colafemmina, “Saggio di scavo in localita’ ‘Collina della Maddalena’ a Venosa – Relazione preliminare, Vetera Christianorum 18 (1981), pp. 443-451. The “Grotto” had been filled in in the 18th century: at the time of Colafemmina and Meyers’ study, Jewish markers were not apparent, though some have been found since then). The Santa Rufina catacomb was restored from 2009-2011, but as of 2018, has yet to be formally inaugurated to the public.
(108.) Brettman to Pomerance, 9 March 1984: “Eric Meyers… was only permitted to begin the dig at Venosa, which was then suspended. According to Scheuer, the Vatican was to blame.” Meyers, it should be noted, had also been excavating at Nabratein, near Safed in the Galilee, and at the beginning of August of 1981 announced the discovery of a fragment of a marble aron from an ancient synagogue he was excavating with professors Carol Meyers and James F. Strange: J. Noble Wilford, Archaeologists Report Finding Sacred Arc from 3d Century at Site in Israel, in the New York Times, 2 August 1981.
(109.) As described by Brettman in letter to Fornari of 14 February 1981 (ICS archives).
(110.) Italia Judaica. - Jewish Archaeology and Epigraphy in Southern Italy, opening talk in session gli ebrei d'Italia attraverso la documentazione epigrafica, archivistica, e libraria.
(111.) In the early 1980’s, Brettman continues to declare that her goal is to excavate the Jewish catacombs of Rome in cooperation with Vatican authorities, as stated in letters to Rome contacts, including Prof. Richard Krautheimer and Cardinal Caprio (ICS archives).
(112.) Letter of E. W. Snider of National Geographic to Brettman, 11 March 1981 (ICS archives). Lattanzi seems to have become uncooperative, because of “an official settlement already taken with the Jewish community”: Brettman was therefore advised because of these “very bad circumstances” to “postpone (her) project for some time”: Letter of Cerulli Irelli to Brettman, 1 February 1981 (ICS archives).
(113.) Fornari writes to Brettman on 21 January 1981 that he had had “no news” of Venosa, and “is unable to speak to Colafemmina, though he is alive!” (ICS archives).
(114.) Brettman to Cerulli Irelli, letter of 14 February 1981 (ICS archives).
(115.) Letter of Brettman to Ecardi of 20 January 1986 (ICS archives), in reference to Zevi’s article, An Open Letter on the Jewish Catacombs in Italy, circulated by the UCEI in August of 1985, the content of which, according to Brettman, was proof Zevi was ineffective in raising sufficient funds from Jews.
(116.) Brettman requested that “all information about the exhibit be kept away from Tullia Zevi, her group, and Rabbi Toaff”: Letter of Brettman to Conticello of 15 September 1984, and to her death in 1991 continued to call Zevi her “nemesis” and “competition”.
(117.) One of the ICCI’s founding directors, Nora Rossi, wife of MIT professor Bruno Rossi, communicates to Brettman at this time that Fornari “finds himself in a very embarrassing situation being as he is between you and the Jewish community. He does not want to antagonize the rabbi and his collaborators (Tullia Zevi among others)” (ICS archives).
(118.) Letter of Conticello to Florence Wolsky of 9 November 1999 (ICS archives).
(119.) Archaeologist G. Cerulli Irelli advises Brettman to list on her honorary committee academics “really specialized in the field, as Colafemmina is”: letter of 10 December 1980 (ICS archives).
(120.) Mascolo, pp. 202-203. In a conference in Rome on 9 May 2018, G. Lacerenza recalls Colafemmina leading visitors through the Venosa catacombs and “always turning around to make sure they could get out”. Besides a mention in his 2012 monograph, Colafemmina’s last general assessment of the Venosa cemetery was Le catacombe ebraiche nell'Italia meridionale e nell'area sicula: Venosa, Siracusa, Noto, Lipari, Malta, in I beni culturali ebraici in Italia. Situazione attuale, problemi, prospettive e progetti per il futuro, a cura di Mauro Perani, Ravenna: Longo, 2003, pp. 119-146.
(121.) R. H. Shepherd, “Italy’s Jews Excavate their Ancient History,” New York Times, 1985, reports on the “first meeting of the Italian-Jewish Heritage Foundation of America” at the Jewish Museum, with T. Zevi attending.
(122.) Letter of Jewish Heritage Council Director S. Gruber to Brettman of October 8, 1990 (ICS archives), also E. Neuman, “Funds Sought to Open Jewish Catacombs”, The Jewish Week, Inc., November 10, 1989, p. 67.
(123.) Neuman, Funds, 1989, p. 67.
(124.) Brettman had been informed of plans for an exhibit at the Jewish Museum of New York and in other cities in the USA by contacts at the Vatican and Italy’s interior ministry. The Italian edition of this exhibit went on display in Ferrara in 1990.
(125.) An example, noted by Lacerenza in Hebraica Hereditas, p. 74, n. 12, is a catalogue of Jewish artifacts “mysteriously extinct”: this is the program of “Giacimenti culturali” documented by M. Vitale, Recenti Progressi dell'Archeologia ebraica in Italia, in Espacio, Tiempo y Forma 6 (1993), pp. 264-265.
(126.) A. Brooks’s article, “In Italian Dust, Signs of a Past Jewish Life, New York Times, 15 May 2003, records that, at Venosa, “hundreds of niches have already been cleared, the bones either looted or reburied according to ritual law”.
(127.) Described by Saban, who was present as a UCEI representative, in Le catacombe ebraiche del Sud-Italia, 2016, pp. 2-3.
(128.) The work in the Santa Rufina region, was carried out under the direction of M. Savarese between 2009-2011.
(129.) Douglas, Old Calabria, 1993, p. 113.