Students have read about the development of the early Christian church and how the early Christians were trying to practice their faith in a largely pagan society. In this exercise, students will research the use of the Christian catacombs of Rome as the first burial spaces of the early Christians.
Students will use information from The Christian Catacombs of Rome Web site to research how the early Christians used the underground catacombs to bury their dead. Students will browse the "A General Outline" topic to read about how Roman society treated the early Christians and why the Christians used catacombs. They will also read about the symbols used in Christian burials and why the catacombs have become an important monument of the early Christian church. Students will then answer four questions and apply this information by imagining they are early Christians writing letters to a cousin about an upcoming celebration in the catacombs.
- Students will be able to recognize the reasons why early Christians used catacombs and how the catacombs of today preserve the history of the early Christian church.
- Students will be able to use this knowledge to imagine they are early Christians during the Nero persecutions writing letters about celebrating a religious holiday in the catacombs.
Student Web Activity Answers
- The Christians rejected the pagan custom of cremation, so they had to find adequate space to bury their dead underground. The catacombs provided enough space so that the Christians could be buried together. Additionally, underground was a safer place to display Christian symbols during the times of the persecutions.
- In A.D. 313, Christians were no longer persecuted in Rome, and so they built churches and bought land. In the early 500s, the Church returned to burying exclusively above ground or in the basilicas. Toward the end of the 800s, barbarian invasions and pillaging forced the church to transfer all relics from the catacombs to the safety of the city churches. After that, the catacombs were abandoned, and their entrances became overgrown. They were forgotten until the 16th century.
- The paintings, inscriptions, sculptures, and remaining relics document the early days of the Roman church. It is the history of the people who began to organize into what was to become the church. While early Christians did not spend their lives hiding in the catacombs, they did go there to gather in prayer, celebrate funeral rites, and celebrate the anniversaries of the martyrs and the dead.
- During Nero's persecution, early Christians were unable to worship openly, so the symbols they used were a visible reminder of their faith. The main symbols were the Good Shepherd (which represents Christ and the soul which He has saved), the "Orante" (which represents the soul which lives in divine peace), and the fish (which represents a Greek acrostic for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior).
- Students' letters will vary.
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