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Light and life in the catacombs: questioning the early Christian and early medieval pilgrim experience

conference contribution
posted on 13.05.2020, 13:20 by NJ Christie

The catacombs of Rome –and rock-cut hypogea elsewhere in the Mediterranean world and beyond –are enduring places of fascination for their dark, often confined interiors, evoking a morbid link to death and the past. While we benefit nowadays from (usually informed) walking tours and electric lighting to guide us through these subterranean chambers, we think far too little about what it may have been like for much earlier visitors to the many catacombs –those attending burials in the early Christian centuries, those commemorating ancient martyrs or those on pilgrimage to Rome’s Christian shrines. We think mainly of the dead, the names of hallowed martyrs and saints and bishops, and we look to their tomb covers, and especially to residual artworks. This papers asks a bit more –what else do we need to know about these places and the experiences of the visitors? In particular, what efforts were made to make these places pilgrim/tourist-friendly? Just how busy were these holy spaces and how much was accessible and visible?



Debating Religious Place and Space, Chapter 11

Author affiliation

/Organisation/COLLEGE OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, ARTS AND HUMANITIES/School of Archaeology and Ancient History/Core Staff


Debating Religious Place and Space, Leicester


AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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Debating Religious Place and Space


Sidestone Press



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Bielmann, C;Thomas, BM