Thursday, June 24, 2010

Earliest known images of apostles discovered under Rome streets

Scientists used advanced laser technology to remove a hardened crust of dirt and calcium deposits in order to bring to light the brightly coloured 4th century paintings of Saints John, Paul, Andrew and Peter.

The images adorn the ceiling of a vault, carved out of volcanic rock, which provided the last resting place of a rich Roman noblewoman.

The archeologists believe the images may have set the standard for all later depictions of the saints in Christian iconography.

They were discovered during routine restoration work in the damp, earthen-floor catacombs of Santa Tecla, a labyrinth of tunnels, galleries and burial chambers which lies hidden beneath a five-storey office in Ostiense, a grubby residential area of Rome.

The discovery is testimony to the introduction and spread of a devotion to the apostles in the early years of Christianity. A hi-tech laser was used to burn off the centuries of white calcium deposits that had smothered the exquisite images, without damaging any of the colors beneath – the first time such a technique has been used in a catacomb.

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