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CHRISTIAN ARCHAEOLOGY

(1.5 classes)

I. Introduction

1. Christian Archaeology

For the professor:

One should avoid that the explanation be reduced to an exposition of technical data. It will be
useful, on the other hand, to show and comment on the catacombs, buildings, paintings, sculptures,
symbols and graffiti, explaining how they were done and interpreted by their contemporaries, and as a
consequence, how, through these artistic manifestations they expressed fundamental points of their
faith. For example: the reality of Christ Savior, the regeneration effected by Baptism, the mystery of
the Eucharist, the resurrection of the dead and the eternal life.

Place in Ratio
 Christian Archaeology is one of the disciplines of a historical character, along
with History of the Church, Patrology, and History of Theology, that serves to
complement the theological disciplines. The study of these historical subjects facilitate
understanding of the real objects of study of Theology. For example, Mary is the object
of study in Mariology. Patrology can attest that some Fathers of the Church have
understood that Mary was assumed into heaven, a dogma that has been pronounced only
in the 20th century. Through the History of Theology, we can trace the progress in the
understanding of the Immaculate Conception of Mary; that first it was just believed and
later on theologians were able to find adequate explanation for it. Archaeology, for its
part, can offer us concrete manifestations of this special veneration for the Mother of God
from the very first centuries of Christianity, as attested by the paintings of the Madonna
and Child in the catacombs.
 So the disciplines of a historical character help us in our understanding of our
faith. They provide us with motives of credibility. And in the case of Christian
Archaeology, its objects of study, its monuments: the catacombs, the paintings, the
symbols, graffiti, buildings, and sculptures offer us concrete manifestations of the faith of
the first Christians. They have expressed in these forms of art the fundamental points in
our faith.
 At the same time, it should be of a special interest to us to know how the first
Christians lived since Our Father had often insisted that we imitate the first Christians;
how they lived their faith in spite of the environment they were in, and how they did
apostolate and eventually converted the entire empire. Whatever we can ascertain
therefore of their life then will shed light and hopefully will make us understand why Our
Father has compared us to the first Christians.

Definition and importance

 Christian Archaeology is a historical science that studies the monumental remains of the
first Christians that date back from the 1 st century up to the 7th century. It is a historical
discipline since the study is confined to a certain period and geography. It is a science
because it is a systematic body of knowledge and that it counts on its own method.
 In its study we aim to ascertain everything that can be known with regard to the social,
cultural and religious environment of the first Christians. This is important because:
 With this knowledge, we will be able to appreciate more the tenacity by which
they lived their faith and did apostolate.
 It supports the studies on the History of the Church.
 The different findings from archaeological studies have great apologetical values.
They give us motives of credibility. They testify to the faith.

Historical and geographical scope


 Timeframe: 1st century – 7th century. St. Gregory the Great died at 604.

 Christian Antiquity can be divided into 2 periods:


1st part: 1st – 4th century: Pre-Constantine (intermittent peaceful and violent periods)
2nd part: 4th – 7th century: Post-Constantine (peaceful & favorable situation)

 Geographical reach: Entire Europe including the British Isles, North Africa reaching up
to Egypt, Asia Minor with Mesopotamia as its limit.

History and development of Christian Archaeology

Time plot:
Antiquity Middle Ages Renaissance Modern Contemporary
(I-VII/VIII) (VII/VII-XV) (XV-XVII) (XVII-XIX) (XX-XXI)

Antiquity
1.Veneration of the remains of the Christians of previous generations.
2.Recovery of relics, inscriptions, and other documents of value.

Middle Ages
1. Chronicles were written and itineraries of pilgrimages proliferated. There is a profound
attitude of veneration of the things of the Christian past: tombs, relics, etc.

Renaissance & Sixteenth Century


 With the advent of Humanism, there arose an interest to recover the classical Roman and
Greek culture, relegating to the side the Christian heritage. There was no direct interest for
Christian archaeology.

 But there were those who, in their interest to recover the classics, also took interest to that
which is “classic” of Christianity. There was a certain interest to rediscover that section of
the history of the Imperial Rome, which is the Primitive Church. Among these were St.
Philip Neri and St. Charles Borromeo, Antonio Bosio, known as the Christopher Columbus of
the subterranean Rome, Andres Fulvio and Onofio Panvinio. They took an interest in the
archaeological remains of the Christian antiquity.

 31 May 1578. Some workers, digging out the “puzzolan” part of the terrain of an
orchard, accidentally found the entrance to an underground cemetery. This created a great
stir among the people and the catacomb drew many investigators, among them, Cardinal
Cesare Baronio (+1607), who was working on the Annales ecclesiastici and Antonio Bosio
(+1629), who would dedicate himself to it.
 Many other studies and discoveries would take place in the 17 th and 18th centuries.

19th Century
 However, only in the 19th century would Christian Archaeology develop into a real
science with its systematic work of investigation. It would count on the works done in the
previous centuries.

 Giovanni Battista de Rossi (+1894) would be the leading figure in Archaeology and shall
be considered its Father and Great Master. He studied the topography of the various sites of
the catacombs, cemeteries and wrote Subterranean Christian Rome. Using Bocio’s work as
his lead he would discover and locate 20 catacombs. He would also train a good number of
students who would continue his work after his death.

20th Century
 In the 20th century many of the Popes gave an impulse to Christian Archaeology. Pius XI
in 1925 erected the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology. At present there is the
Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology in the Holy See.

Sources
I. Literary Sources – they are secondary but essential sources in interpreting the primary
objects of study. They are important because:
a. They make reference to the environment and mentality of the period.
b. They make reference to the cult and to the liturgy.

What are these literary sources?

1. Texts of Sacred Scripture and other writings of Judeo–Christian tradition - The


Old and New Testament books, a lot of which are historical, give us many accounts
where we can trace the different hubbubs of the Christian that will help us sketch the
lifestyle, the mentality, and the culture in general of the people.

2. Didaché – possibly written in Syria before the year 150. It was discovered in
1873 in Constantinople by the Metropolitan Bryennos. It contains a description of
the celebration of the Mass and the administration of Baptism.

3. Apostolic Tradition of Hippolitus – Written in 215, it contains a description of


the Consecration and the function of the different ecclesiastical orders, the
celebration of the Mass and the administration of Baptism. Derived from this also is
the Testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ that contains the description of the
Clementine Mass and some indications to the priests and deacons shedding light on
the use of some buildings of cult.

4. The Apostolic Fathers – offer a description of the situation of the Christians in


Rome. They attest to the primacy of Peter and the work of both Sts. Peter and Paul in
Rome. That is why the foundation of the Church of Rome is attributed to the two.
They give us description of the liturgy and the different gatherings of the Christians

5. Ecclesiastical writers - like Tertullian, Minucius Felix, Hippolitus of Rome,


Origen, Clement of Alexandria, etc.
6. Acts and Passions of the Martyrs – The processing of a martyr was a legal and
public act before a magistrate and a functionary who would take notes of the
questions and answers. In the course of investigation, it is common that they resort to
threats and tortures as well as the consequent admission or denial of the accused.
These are the acts of the martyrs that are kept in the archives.

From these acts, the Passions were written to give an account of the life of different
martyrs. These became prevalent in the 6th century.

7. Calendars and Martyrologies – on which they would indicate the anniversary


of martyrs and the celebration of the Mass in his honor, the date of his burial and
where his remains lay. The Martyrology would contain important data about the
martyr.

8. Sacramentaries – a collection of prayers for the celebration of the Holy Mass


and other liturgical acts.

9. Pontifical and episcopal catalogues

10. Itineraries – tourist guides and chronicles of the pilgrimages to Rome and the
Holy Land. There were many in the 6th century. Many feature the catacombs.

11. Syllogy – a collection of inscriptions or praises to the martyrs and to the Church
herself.

** All these offer important leads to archaeology and at the same time they already offer
enough information regarding the life of the first Christians.

II. Monumental Sources – considered the primary sources of the objects of our study. They
are all those unwritten “testimonies” about the activity of men, and in this case, of the Christians.
It is also common to include among the so-called monuments those “testimonies” that are written
but not in literary form, e.g. the tombstones or insciptions done on architectural elements.
Epigraphy therefore is included.

Examples
a. Funereal = sepulchers, cemeteries, catacombs
b. Places of Cult = basilicas, baptistery, private houses
c. Iconography = paintings, mosaics, sculptures
d. Epigraphy = inscription, graffiti
e. Other things of minor use = rings, glass, oil lamps

Method
a. Look for the sources – monuments and written documents
b. Go to the sites
c. Excavate – to the oldest possible site
d. Laboratory study
e. Reconstruction or simulation of the different events

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