The oldest portraits of Sts. Andrew, John and Paul discovered

June 25, 2010. Catacombs are underground tunnels used mainly as cemeteries.  Italy has 120 in total, but the Catacomb of St. Thecla contains a particularly interesting discovery.

The oldest-known representations of Sts. Andrew, John and Paul have been found in this catacomb.  These icons set the pattern for how the apostles were represented in following centuries.

Barbara Mazzei
Restoration director

“Finding these frescoes was thrilling because we're used to paintings in catacombs being very simple, or with very little color on a white background.  But the colors are particularly beautiful in the case of St. Thecla. The more we investigated, the more surprising our discoveries became.”

The discovery was made in the tomb of a fourth-century Roman noble and the apostles were painted as protectors for the tomb.  The discoverers consider this a spectacular depiction of the apostlic college, despite it not being well-preserved.

The images of Sts. Andrew, John, Paul and Peter also appear on the ceiling of the tomb with great clarity.

The high humidity of this catacomb over the centuries has made restoring the frescoes more complicated than usual.  The spectacular frescoes were hidden beneath a layer of lime and a laser was needed to remove the lime without damaging the original colors.  This was the first use of the technology  in the restoration of catacombs.

Barbara Mazzei
Restoration director

“This is a concentrated beam that reacts to colors.  It burns the first color, but stops when it encounters another. It's the perfect technology for this catacomb because the paintings are beneath the lime, which is white, and their backgrounds are black.”

These frescoes date back to the fourth century and continue to speak to Christians and non-Christians alike in the 21st century.


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