Home
Hours
Directions
Tickets
Reservations
Guidelines

The Catacombs of Saint Callixtus

They are on the right of the Appian Way, after the church of "Quo Vadis?".

The catacombs of St. Callixtus are among the greatest and most important of Rome. They originated about the middle of the second century and are part of a cemeterial complex which occupies an area of 90 acres, with a network of galleries about 12 miles long, in four levels, more than twenty meters deep. In it were buried tens of martyrs, 16 popes and very many Christians.

They are named after the deacon Callixtus who, at the beginning of the third century, was appointed by pope Zephyrinus as the administrator of the cemetery and so the catacombs of St. Callixtus became the official cemetery of the Church of Rome.

In the open area are two small basilicas with three apses, known as the "Trichorae". In the Easter one were perhaps laid to rest pope Zephyrinus and the young martyr of the Eucharist, St. Tarcisius.

The underground cemetery includes several areas. The area of the Popes is the most important and venerated crypt of the cemetery, called "the little Vatican" as it was the official burial place of nine popes and, probably, of eight dignitaries of Rome's 3rd century Church. In the walls you can still see the original inscriptions, in Greek, of five popes. On four tombstones, near the name of the pope, there is the title of "bishop", since the Pope was regarded as the head of the Church of Rome, and on two of them there is the Greek abbreviation of MPT for "Martyr".

The Crypt of St. Cecilia: the popular patron saint of music. Of a noble Roman family, she was martyred in the 3rd c. and entombed where the statue now lies.
She was venerated in this crypt for at least five centuries. In 821 her relics were transferred to Trastevere, in the basilica dedicated to her.
The statue of St. Cecilia is a copy of the celebrated work sculptured by Stefano Maderno in 1599.
The crypt was all covered with mosaics and paintings (beginning of the IX Century). On the wall, near the statue, we see an ancient painting of St. Cecilia in an attitude of prayer; lower down, in a small niche, is a fresco representing Christ holding a Gospel. On the right side is the figure of St.Urban. On the wall of the shaft is the painting of three martyrs: Polycamus, Sebastian and Quirinus.

Passing through imposing galleries full of loculi, we reach five small chambers, truly family tombs, commonly known as the cubicles of the Sacraments, and particularly important for their frescoes. The frescoes can be dated to the beginning of the III century and represent symbolically the sacraments of Baptism and of the Eucharist. We find depicted also the prophet Jona, a symbol of the resurrection.

The origins of Catacombs


In the first century Rome's Christians did not have their own cemeteries.If they owned land, they buried their relatives there, otherwise they resorted to common cemeteries, where pagans too were buried. That is how Saint Peter came to be buried in the great public "necropolis" ("city of the dead") on Vatican Hill, available to everybody. Likewise Saint Paul was buried in a necropolis along the Via Ostiense.

In the first half of the second century, as a result of various grants and donations, the Christians started burying their dead underground. That is how the catacombs were founded. Many of them began and developed around family tombs, whose owners, newly converted Christians, did not reserve them to the members of the family, but opened them to their brethren in the faith. With the passage of time, these burial areas grew larger by gifts or by the purchase of new properties, sometimes on the initiative of the Church itself. Typical is the case of Saint Callixtus: the Church took up directly the organization and administration of the cemetery, assuming a community character.

With the edict of Milan, promulgated by the emperors Constantine and Licinius in February 313, the Christians were no longer persecuted. They were free to profess their faith, to have places of worship and to build churches both inside and outside the city, and to buy plots of land, without fear of confiscation. Nevertheless, the catacombs continued to function as regular cemeteries until the beginning of the fifth century, when the Church returned to bury exclusively above ground or in the basilicas dedicated to important martyrs.

When the barbarians (Goths and Longobards) invaded Italy and came down to Rome,they systematically destroyed a lot of monuments and sacked many places, including the catacombs. Powerless in the face of such repeated pillages, towards the end of the eighth century and the beginning of the ninth, the Popes ordered to remove the relics of the martyrs and of the saints to the city churches, for security reasons.

When the transfer of the relics was completed, the catacombs were no longer visited; on the contrary, they were totally abandoned, with the exception of Saint Sebastian, Saint Lawrence and of Saint Pancratius. In the course of time, landslides and vegetation obstructed and hide the entrances to the other catacombs, so that the very traces of their existence were lost. During the late Middle Ages they didn't even know where they were.

The exploration and scientific study of the catacombs started, centuries later, with Antonio Bosio (1575-1629), nicknamed the "Columbus of subterranean Rome". In the last century the systematic exploration of the catacombs, and in particular of those of Saint Callixtus, was carried out by Giovanni Battista de Rossi (1822-1894), who is considered the father and founder of Christian Archaeology.

In 1930 the Holy See, as the owner of the Catacombs, entrusted the catacombs of St. Callixtus to the care of the religious Congregation of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

Booking reservation / Holy mass reservation

Booking in advance for the Catacombs are only taken for school groups or groups of a minimum of 15 persons.
Individual visitors to the Catacombs do not need to book in advance.
Reservation is required for the celebration of Holy Mass.


To book a visit you have to fill the form on line and wait the reservation confirmation
booking form