One of the nice things about being unemployed its that my Monday’s and Tuesday’s are now free to join friends for a walk around town. A close friend seems to have her finger on the pulse of the interesting hidden places here in Roma and has some great connections. Last year she had a small private group tour for 20 of us at the Vatican Museum. Having walked down empty corridors of the great Map Room and stood almost alone in the Sistine Chapel I’ll never be able to go to the Museum during regular hours again.
Yesterday we visited the Basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (St Lawrence outside the Walls) – one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome. It was built on the site of the Catacombs of St Cyriaca where San Lorenzo was buried after his martyrdom. There are five levels of catacombs dug into the volcanic rock below the present building. There is a misconception that Catacombs were used for Christian burials only however they were used by all the many religions that crowded the city of Rome – Jewish, Christian, Pagan etc. Catacombs were simply burial grounds outside the city walls.
The cloister of the Monastery at San Lorenzo is lined with grave markers that once sealed the thousands of niches in the catacombs below. It is easy to identify the Christian ones by not only by the symbols but also the rather crude letter carving. To the early Church it did not matter what the marker look like but what it recorded. It was important that your name and when you died were included. The day you died was consider your “birth date” into the new life of Christ and would normally be shown in Annis (years) Meses (months) and Dies (days).
I found this marker, adorned with grape leaves and a bird figuratively feeding on the Eucharist, particularly touching. The grieving parents included the number of hours (oras) that young Flavia had lived.
05 maggio – San Gottardo di Hildesheim