The Faces of the Apostles

Did the title grab your attention? Good! ;) This is hot off the presses! Two days ago, the Associated press released a news article on the earliest paintings of Paul, Andrew, John and Peter! The press reports that these were found in the catacombs in Rome by laser technology!
ROME (AP) -- Twenty-first century laser technology has opened a window into the early days of the Catholic Church, guiding researchers through the dank, musty catacombs beneath Rome to a startling find: the first known icons of the apostles Peter and Paul. Vatican officials unveiled the paintings Tuesday, discovered along with the earliest known images of the apostles John and Andrew in an underground burial chamber beneath an office building on a busy street in a working-class Rome neighborhood. The images, which date from the second half of the 4th century, were uncovered using a new laser technique that allows restorers to burn off centuries of thick white calcium carbonate deposits without damaging the brilliant dark colors of the paintings underneath.
This is a pretty amazing find! The articles goes on:
The icons were discovered on the ceiling of a tomb of an aristocratic Roman woman at the Santa Tecla catacomb, near where the remains of the apostle Paul are said to be buried.... Early Christians dug the catacombs outside Rome's walls as underground cemeteries, since burial was forbidden inside the city walls and pagan Romans were usually cremated.
Okay, I want to pause for a moment to clarify something that was overlooked. While it is true that the early Christians buried their dead in the catacombs, that was not the only reason that they used it; the catacombs served as refuge for thousands of Christians during the Roman persecution of Christians which started under Nero in A.D. 60. This is evidenced by the numerous safety precautions they took in constructing the catacombs. In addition, the catacombs served as a place of worship for the Christians. But to continue with this fascinating find:
The art that decorated Rome's catacombs was often simplistic and symbolic in nature. The Santa Tecla catacombs, however, represent some of the earliest evidence of devotion to the apostles in early Christianity, Vatican officials said. "The Christian catacombs, while giving us value with a religious and cultural patrimony, represent an eloquent and significant testimony of Christianity at its origin," said Monsignor Giovanni Carru, the No. 2 in the Vatican's Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology, which maintains the catacombs. Last June, the Vatican announced the discovery of the icon of Paul at Santa Tecla, timing the news to coincide with the end of the Vatican's year of St. Paul. Pope Benedict XVI also said tests on bone fragments long attributed to Paul "seemed to confirm" that they did indeed belong to the Roman Catholic saint. On Tuesday, Vatican archaeologists announced the image of Paul was not found in isolation, but was part of a square ceiling painting that also included icons of three other apostles - Peter, John and Andrew - surrounding an image of Christ as the Good Shepherd. "They are the first icons. These are absolutely the first representations of the apostles," said Fabrizio Bisconti, the superintendent of archaeology for the catacombs..... Chief restorer Barbara Mazzei noted there were earlier known images of Peter and Paul, but these were depicted in narratives. The images in the catacomb - with their faces in isolation, encircled with gold and affixed to the four corners of the ceiling painting - are devotional in nature and as such represent the first known icons. "The fact of isolating them in a corner tells us it's a form of devotion," she said. "In this case, saints Peter and Paul, and John and Andrew are the most antique testimonies we have." In addition, the images of Andrew and John show much younger faces than are normally depicted in the Byzantine-inspired imagery most often associated with the apostles, she said. The Vatican's Sacred Archaeology office oversaw the two-year $73,650 euro60,000) project, which for the first time used lasers to restore frescoes in catacombs, where the damp air makes the procedure particularly difficult.
I wish they would show more of the paintings... you can read the full article here. Thanks to Renee for tipping me off to this! ;) If you have a blog tip that you'd like to share, contact me by using the information on my sidebar. Thanks.


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