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The catacombs of San Callisto: a journey through early christian Rome

The catacombs of San Callisto: a journey through early christian Rome
About Rome


Located on the Appian Way, the Cemetery of Callixtus, commonly known as the Catacombs of Callixtus, used to be the official burial ground for the Church of Rome in the III century AD. Its name comes from its administrator, the deacon St. Callixtus, who had been given this task by Pope Zephyrinus. Nowadays, the Catacombs of San Callisto are one of the main destinations of pilgrims and are open to the public with guided tours.



The Catacombs of San Callisto were apparently created in the middle of the II century by Pope Callixtus I and then enlarged under the commission of Pope Zephyrinus. They are considered to be one of the greatest burial grounds in Rome, expanding for almost 20 kilometers in length and over 20 meters in depth, with over four levels, covering circa 37 hectares.

As mentioned before, this cemetery became the official burial ground for the Christian Church of Rome. Many martyrs and Christians are, in fact, buried here, along with 16 popes.



The reason behind the building of underground cemeteries for Christians is that at the beginning of the I century, Christians in Rome did not have proper burial grounds and would either have to bury other Christians in Pagan cemeteries, just like St. Peter was buried in the Necropolis on the Vatican Hill, or in their own land if they had one. 

After the gathering of volunteers and many generous donations, Rome’s Christians began building their first underground cemetery, creating the catacombs. As previously said, the catacombs expanded gradually.



Walking through the Catacombs of San Callisto, you will probably notice some particular symbols engraved in the stone. There’s a big reason behind the usage of symbols that goes all the way back to the persecution of Christians. When they were badly seen by society and unfairly blamed for many different crimes, Christians had to find a way to profess their religion without being seen. Because of this, they used symbols and engraved them on the catacombs’ walls. 


Here are some of the most important Christian symbols that you will find in the catacombs:

  • THE MONOGRAM OF CHRIST: this symbol meant that a Christian was buried there;
  • THE GOOD SHEPHERD: this symbol means that Christ has saved the soul resting there;
  • THE ORANTE: this symbol means that the soul resting there is forever living in divine peace;



If you want to fully immerse yourself in a piece of Roman Christian history, visiting the Catacombs of San Callisto is definitely a must. To get to know more about the city of Rome, check out our other blogs and book a private tour with us!

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