It is several feet below the Roman road of today. It’s nestled along the cobblestone road of the Appian Way and located just outside Rome. My anticipation bubbles over as we enter the Christian Catacombs of St. Sebastian.
It’s as if moments twinkling in time could be re-captured and re-experienced. As we embark down the winding stair-case which leads to the musty smelling tunnels, I brush my hands over cold memories carved in limestone from centuries past. Somehow, my imagination picks up where 4th century A.D. left off.
My excitement fizzes over as 10 of us walk in single file line through the candle lit tunnels. Did I mention there are hundreds and hundreds of passageways where Christians buried their dead along the red clay walls? They wrapped their dead, tucked them into carefully carved openings, and placed limestone slabs over them (to cover the smell).
There is something beautiful lying beneath the cracked surface. Something magnificent hidden in imperfections which beg the eye to look harder, deeper into history. Patterns of Jesus as the Good Shepherd carved in colored marble. Designs of the Ichthysetched in time. Greek symbols crying out for Jesus’ return. The distinctness of each hand carved portrait builds my faith as childhood Bible stories flood my mind and saturate my heart.
As we feel our way through dark tunnels and dusty floors, I imagine myself as one of the Christians escaping the Roman law of that time. Joining hands with fellow believers whose desire to flee the city of walls of persecution leads them to this place. It’s a place where God’s girls (and boys) can quench their thirst for worship without being noticed or discovered. It’s a thirst that can only be subdued until the next gathering.
These tunnels provide a portal to archaic moments which bridge the gap between the old and the new. Places once concealed from idol-worshipping law, now revealed under the light of today.
As we remerge from the basement-like tunnels below, it takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the bright sprays of sunlight bursting behind the clouds. Discovering secret Christian meetings squeezed between pillars of persecution and tunnels of family members and friends buried centuries ago will never be forgotten.
Can you tell this was my favorite part of our trip!?