So I am going to come right out and say, "I'm a Pope Francis junkie." I went again this Sunday in hopes that I could see Pope Francis again. It looks as if all the planets must have aligned last Sunday when we got to here him say mass outside and then ride around in the crowds. I was not as lucky today, however, he still addressed the crowds from his window. I feel lucky to have heard him speak again. This time I was able to understand a bit of what he was saying thanks to the translation skills of one of Xavier's Italian professors who translated for us. I do know that he blessed us all. I feel so grateful that I have been blessed twice by Pope Francis in the past 2 weeks. I think that already makes it a great trip!
One of the things that I asked my professor when we first got here was if there was any way we could go to the catacombs? I got an email late last night after we got home from Sperlonga saying she had reserved spots to go to the Catacombs of Priscilla this afternoon. Thank you Suzanne! So we headed out to the catacombs after the Papal address. These catacombs are not as famous as some, but are far less commercialized and have frescoes that are still preserved from the 2nd century through the 5th century. One of the frescoes that it contains is considered the earliest known depiction of Mary nursing the baby Jesus. I was able to see this fresco. It is mind boggling to me to know that I was looking at a fresco that was painted in the early 200's and it is where it was originally painted AND still in pretty good shape.
There are some 40,000 burial niches that have been carved out of the volcanic tuff stone that lies beneath a convent, which historically was the home of the noblewoman Priscilla. It began as a series of underground burial chambers, of which the most important are the “arenarium” or sand-quarry, the cryptoporticus, (an underground area to get away from the summer heat), and the hypogeum with the tombs of the Acilius Glabrio family of which Priscilla was a member. Priscilla granted the Church use of the property.
This cemetery was lost like all the others after the entrances were blocked to protect it from thievery; however, it was also one of the first to be rediscovered, in the sixteenth-century. A large portion of the funerary inscription, sarcophagi, stone and bodies (presumed to be those of martyrs) were subsequently taken away. It was very sad to know that all the tombs had been ransacked. I couldn't help thinking of all the people who had lived as Christians, but were unable to practice their beliefs in public and had to bury their dead in places that were hidden. I can't imagine the strength of those early Christians. It truly was a humbling experience today. Unfortunately, you are not able to take pictures in the catacombs, so I don't have any to share with you. However, if it is something that interests you, I found a number of websites that have good images of the catacombs if you would like to see what they look like.