`
Warning: include_once(analyticstracking.php) [function.include-once]: failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /srv/disk12/1464146/www/rome-honours-groningen.co.nf/2017/Symbols.php on line 17

Warning: include_once() [function.include]: Failed opening 'analyticstracking.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/usr/local/php-5.3.29/share/pear') in /srv/disk12/1464146/www/rome-honours-groningen.co.nf/2017/Symbols.php on line 17

Iconography of the Catacombs

The early Christian Art and Symbol Development

Catacombs of Domitilla History of Burial Practices in Rome Domitilla, Achilleus and Nereus

Contents
1. Logotypes
2. Early Frescoes (2nd-3rd century)
3. Late Frescoes (3rd-4th century)

Logotypes


Notable symbols found in the catacombs include the ΙΧΘΥΣ (''Ichthys''), meaning fish. With it being an anagram for Jesus Christ God Son Saviour in the greek language. The presence of both God and Son are related to the Christian view of the Holy Trinity and the notion of Christ being the Messiah and not merely a prophet. Note, Christ is the Greek translation for Messiah. The important aspect is the presence of Saviour, directly linked to belief that Christ triumph over death.

Another one is the Chi-Rho, a pictogram compromising the letters Chi and Rho which constitute the first letters of ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (''Christ''). This image was often transposed with the Α&Ω, the first and last letters of the greek alphabet representing the beginning and the end which in Christian scripture constituted God.

Ichthys-Fish Symbol Chi-Rho symbol

An example, that lacks the word play of the previous ones, is that of the anchor with fish. A symbol of hope and the afterlife. These symbols in their time served a similar role as the Ying-Yang or the star and crescent symbol serve to represent their respective spiritual groups.

Anchor with fish symbol

In fact, today's Christian cross, the most identified symbol of the religion was not used until later centuries, hence the use of the aforementioned symbols. Nevertheless, such logotypes are not particularly unique to the Catacombs of Domitilla or other Roman catacombs for that matter.

Early Frescoes (2nd-3rd Century)


Found in the catacombs of Domitilla are frescoes portraying Hermes and Orpheus, two mythological heroes from Hellenistic tradition. Hermes was known as the good shepherd during this time and was relatively popular[1]. The comparison between Jesus Christ as the shepherd to him is quite evident and not too surprising, as to this day there are many portrayals of Jesus Christ being the shepherd of his flock of sheep. In the book of Matthew (18:12-14) and Luke (15:3-7), have parables about the good shepherd who will care for his sheep. In the catacombs of Domitilla there are frescoes depicting Hermes as the shepherd on pagan sarcophagi, as well as on a ceiling frescoes.

3rd century fresco;
The Good Shepherd with his Flock
Early 3rd century fresco; Orpheus and the Beasts

Although, Orpheus shared in the popularity of Hermes, his Christ-like depictions of the time period have faded away. Found in the catacombs is the fresco portraying Orpheus playing the lira to tame a great many beasts, in accordance with the myth. Nevertheless, such portrayal of a young man performing a miracle and superseding control over the natural world constitute as depictions of a Christ-like resemblance[2]. A quite distinct similarity between Orpheus and Christ is the fact that both came back from the world of the dead to that of the living. In the case of Orpheus it was the Greco-Roman underworld; he attempted to save his deceased love, only to return to the world of the living without success. While, Jesus descended to the realm of the dead after his crucifixion, and then returned to life to spread the good news of his victory over death. In fact, the Greco-Roman cult of Orpheus centred around the immortality of the soul and life after death[3]. Therefore, it is not a surprise that the early Christian movement adopted his imagery to fit their own beliefs in the life after death, i.e. in the resurrection of the body. Moreover, these frescoes can be seen as a personal projection in the belief of the deceased body resurrecting during Christ's second coming[4].

Later Frescoes (3rd-4th Century)


Later frescoes inside the catacombs depict Christian imagery that is more relatable to today's. This is due to the fact that in and around the 4th century, Christianity became more structured with a codified scripture and canon[5]. Frescoes depicting Jesus Christ with his twelve apostles are found inside the catacombs. Moreover, there is one such fresco which also features the Madonna with St. Peter and St. Paul to her sides, as well as a mosaic of Christ with St. Peter and St. Paul. Of great importance are the two saints as they were the first missionaries of Christ to come to Rome and spread the gospel. This has led to their great reverence by the early Christians of Rome. However, such images did not appear in the earlier century, thus hinting at the structuralization of the Christian belief. Moreover, the appearance of St. Mary is also absent in the previous centuries. Such a change in the artistic style shows the change that underwent in Christianity, now the emphasis transitioned into that of Jesus Christ and his power via the church and the saints[6].

mid-to-late 4th century mosaic;
Jesus Christ with St. Peter and St. Paul
4th century fresco; ABOVE-Jesus with the Twelve Apostles;
BELOW-St. Mary, St. Peter, and St. Paul;

Scenes of Christ with apostles are often mistaken for the Last Supper. However, in early Christian Frescoes, there is rarely any food involved. In fact, Christ is presented as a teacher with authority. In conjunction with the Greco-Roman esteem for philosophy[7]. Portrayal of Christ as the philosopher creates a link to the other esteemed philosophers of classical antiquity. This importance arises from the fact that the belief in the immortal soul, i.e. the life after death was strong in the philosophical circles of antiquity[8]. As the early Christians identified with the resurrection of the body and lifer afterwards, it is not a surprise that such imagery is found in the catacombs for the resurrected to see. Nevertheless, it seems that the belief in the immortal soul became the norm over time, as the belief of the physical resurrection of the body in Christianity faded away with passing centuries.

Sources


  1. "The Portrayal of Christ." The Open Court, December 1913. Accessed November 19, 2017. http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5219&context=ocj
  2. Testini, Pasquale. Pasquale Testini. Scritti di archeologia cristiana. Le immagini, i luoghi, i contesti (Collana Sussidi allo studio delle antichità cristiane 21). PIAC - Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana - Roma, 2009.
  3. "The Portrayal of Christ." The Open Court, December 1913. Accessed November 19, 2017. http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5219&context=ocj
  4. "Early Christian Art and Architecture." Accessed November 13, 2017. http://employees.oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/smarthistory/early_christianity_smarthistory.html
  5. "Early Christian Art and Architecture." Accessed November 13, 2017. http://employees.oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/smarthistory/early_christianity_smarthistory.html
  6. "Early Christian Art and Architecture." Accessed November 13, 2017. http://employees.oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/smarthistory/early_christianity_smarthistory.html
  7. Tabor, James. "Why People Are Confused About the Earliest Christian View of Resurrection of the Dead." TaborBlog. February 18, 2017. Accessed November 19, 2017. https://jamestabor.com/why-people-are-confused-about-the-earliest-christian-view-of-resurrection-of-the-dead/
  8. Tabor, James. "Why People Are Confused About the Earliest Christian View of Resurrection of the Dead." TaborBlog. February 18, 2017. Accessed November 19, 2017. https://jamestabor.com/why-people-are-confused-about-the-earliest-christian-view-of-resurrection-of-the-dead/



Warning: include(categories.php) [
function.include]: failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /srv/disk12/1464146/www/rome-honours-groningen.co.nf/2017/Symbols.php on line 316

Warning: include() [function.include]: Failed opening 'categories.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/usr/local/php-5.3.29/share/pear') in /srv/disk12/1464146/www/rome-honours-groningen.co.nf/2017/Symbols.php on line 316