Catacombs of Naples

Catacombs Of Naples,

etc. To the north of the city of Naples four subterranean Christian cemeteries are known to exist, in a spur of Capo di Monte, no great distance from one another. They are known by the names of San Vito, San Severo,s Santa .Mairia delta Santita, and San Gennaro dei poveri, There is also a fifth at some distance under the monastic Church of San Efremo. That of San Gennaro is the only one now accessible.

The Neapolitan catacombs differ very widely in their general structure from those of Rome. Instead of the low, narrow galleries of the Roman catacombs, we have at Naples wide, lofty corridors, and extensive cavern- like halls, and subterranean churches. The chief cause of this diversity is the very different character of the material in which they are excavated. Instead of the friable tufa granolare of Rome, the stratum in which the Neapolitan catacombs lie is a hard building-stone of great durability and strength, in which wide vaults might be constructed without any fear of instability, It is probable that these catacombs were originally stone quarries, and that the Christians availed themselves of excavations already existing for the interment of their dead. On this point Marchi (Monum. Primitive, p. 13) speaks without the slightest hesitation.

The Catacomb of St. Januarius derives its name from having been selected as the resting-place of the body of that saint, whose death at Pafteoli is placed A.D. 303, when transferred to Naples by bishop John, who died A.D. 432. Mabillon speaks of three stories. Two only are mentioned by Pelliccia and Bellermann as now accessible. The galleries which form the cemetery proper are reached through a suite of wide and lofty halls, with vaulted ceilings, cut out of the rock, and decorated with, a succession of paintings of different dates, in some instances lying one over the other. The earliest frescos are in a pure classical style, and evidently belong to the 1st century of the Christian era. There is nothing distinctively Christian about these. In many places they have been plastered over, and on the new surface portraits of bishops, and other religious paintings, in a far inferior style and of a much later date, have been executed.

The interments are either in loculi, arcosolia, or cubicetda. At the entrance of the lower piano we find a so-called martyr's church, with a slightly vaulted roof. It was divided, into a nave and sanctuary by two pillars, the bases of which remain, with cancelli between. In the sanctuary stands the altar, built of rough stone, and a rude bishop's seat in an apse behind it. On the south wall are the arcosolia of bishops John, A.D. 432, and Paul, A.D. 764, who, according to Joannes Diaconus, desired to be buried near St. Januarius. In other rooms we find a well and a cistern, recesses for lamps, and the remnants of a Christian mosaic.

Among other Christian catacombs known to exist in different parts of the shores, of the Mediterranean, of which we are still in want of fuller and more scientific descriptions, we may particularize those of Syracuse, known as "the grottos of St. John," and described by D'Agincourt as "of immense size," and believed by him to have passed from pagan to Christian use the Saracen catacomb near Taormina, with ambulacra as much as twelve feet wide; the loculi at right angles to, not parallel with, the direction of the galleries; each, as in the Roman catacombs, hermetically sealed with a slab of stone those of Malta, supposed by Denon (Voyage in Sicile [Par. 1788]) to have served a double purpose, both for the burial of the dead, and as places of refuge for the living; and which, according to the same authority, "evidence a purpose, leisure, and resources far different from the Roman catacombs;" and those of Egypt. Of these last D'Agincourt gives the ground plans of several of pagan origin. The most remarkable is one beyond the canal of Canopus, in the quarter called by Strabo "the Necropolis." Very recently a small Christian catacomb has been discovered at Alexandria, described by De Rossi (Butletino, Nov. 1864, Aug. 1865). It is entered from the side of a hill, and is reached by a staircase, which conducts to a vestibule with a stone bench and an apse.

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