4th Century Images of Apostles Found in Catacomb

Oldest Known Depictions of Andrew and John

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By Carmen Elena Villa
 
ROME, JUNE 22, 2010 (Zenit.org).- In what is thought to be the tomb of a Roman noblewoman in the Catacombs of St. Tecla, the oldest known images of the Apostles Andrew and John have been discovered.

The find was presented today a a press conference led by the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi.

The images are part of a set of four apostles — Peter, Paul, Andrew and John — surrounding Christ the Good Shepherd. The discovery of Paul, also thought to be the oldest known image of him, was announced last year. There are known images of Peter thought to be older.

The restoration of the images was possible because of laser technology, which eliminated layers of white carbon calcium collected on the images over the centuries. The project was particularly delicate due to the humid, dark environment of the catacombs.

Barbara Mizzei, director of the project, explained how the restoration took place without haste and how the laser was able to vaporize the layers of grime.

The noblewoman is thought to have been of the Roman aristocracy of the late fourth century. Pious women and virgins of the Roman aristocracy promised a devotion to the martyrs and the apostles, at the time of Pope Damasus I (366-384).
 
According to Archbishop Ravasi, the presence of the apostles in this sepulcher «evokes a kind of devotion and protectorate alternate to that of the Roman martyrs.»
 
Monsignor Giovanni Carru, secretary of the Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology, pointed out that these works «have brought back, both to experts and visitors, a very important iconographic patrimony to reconstruct the history of the Christian community of Rome, that, with the paintings that decorate its cemeteries, expresses its culture, its civilization and its faith.»

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