The best part of our visit to Rome was the seeing Catacombs (St. Sebastian) with my own eyes. From my childhood I had read about this and always wondered how it would look like. To me it was a fairy tale but when I was walking in these dark alleys and passages I was beyond myself. I was walking around and picturing how the early persecuted Christians lived and prayed here underground as if they never existed.
For early Christians, these underground places were havens of safety. They were admirably suited to their needs as they had to hide themselves for long intervals. They had built schools, chapels, kitchens and also buried dead bodies of their saints and holy men here. They celebrated masses here also hidden from the view of persecuting pagans. At one place I saw a kitchen with swastika symbol.
The word catacomb, means “next to the quarry”, comes from the fact that the first excavations to be used as a place of burial were carried out in the outskirts of Rome, next to the site of a quarry. These underground tombs were constructed by Jewish communities later by Christian. As a rule catacombs had more than one entrance, and frequently communicated with a sand quarry, so that while one entrance was watched the pursued might escape from a different direction. These dark and narrow galleries span many kilometers. Within half a mile is the catacomb of Domitilla, situated 16 meters underground & is 15km in distance.
From the inscriptions (al-raqim) on the tomb stones it appears that early Christians were monotheists. There is not a single thing which states they believed in Jesus as God or the Son of God. Jesus has been represented as a shepherd or a Prophet of God. Mary, his mother has been mentioned as a pious women.
It also appears Christians who took refuge here kept dogs at the entrance which would alarm them by barking of a stranger approaching. Reference to a dog is made in the Quran Chapter 18 verse 18. “Their dog stretching out his forelegs on the threshold”.
There are catacombs in other countries also (Spain, France, Jordan), but the location in Rome is the exact place where St Peter and St Paul preached, where both of them crucified head down because their master Jesus head was upward when crucified. As to the exact location of the cave the Quran says that it faced North-West, for the sun passes a place which has its face to the north from right to left. (18:17). Catacombs admitted very little light. For me it was having seen one of the ancient wonders of the world.
Zakaria Virk, Editor