|The ancient underground cemeteries were used by the Christian and the Jewish communities, above all at Rome. The most numerous, Christian catacombs began in the second century and the excavating continued until the first half of the fifth.|
Firstly, they were only burial places. The Christians gathered to celebrate their funeral rites, the anniversaries of the martyrs and of the dead.
In the times of persecutions, in exceptional cases, the catacombs were used as places of momentary refuge for the celebration of the Eucharist. But they were not used as secret hiding places of the early Christians, it is only a fiction taken from novels or movies.
In the time of Pope Saint Damascus (366 - 384) they became real shrines of the martyrs, center’s of devotion and of pilgrimage for Christians from every part of the empire.
In those days there existed cemeteries in the open, but the Christians, because of some reasons, preferred underground cemeteries. Initially, the Christians rejected the pagan custom of cremation; they preferred burial, just as Christ was buried, because they felt they had to respect the bodies that one day would rise from the dead.
There were other reasons too for choosing the underground digging. As the Christians felt a lively community sense: they wished to be together even in the "sleep of death". Moreover such out-of-the-way areas, especially during the persecutions, were very apt for reserved community meetings and for the free displaying of the Christian symbols.
All catacombs are located outside the city, along the great consular roads, generally in the immediate suburban area of that age.
There are five catacombs that are open to the public:
1. The catacombs of St. Agnes
2. The catacombs of Priscilla
3. The catacombs of Domitilla
4. The catacombs of St. Sebastian
5. The catacombs of St.Callixtus