From memory, this is my fourth time in Rome. Each time, I’ve vowed to check out the catacombs but have never done so. Last weekend, I finally made it. There are around 60 catacombs in Rome and I headed to the Queen of the Catacombs – Le Catacombe di Priscilla or the catacombs of Priscilla.

I think I did it the hard way. I took the metro (Line B) to Bologna, which is the third stop beyond Termini, towards Rebibbia. I then walked all the way to Via Salaria 430 where the catacombs are located in front of the Villa Ada. That walk took around 30-40 minutes. I liked Bologna, so decided to look around along the way rather than getting a taxi. You can make it easier on yourself and catch bus 86, 92 or 310 from Termini Station. But don’t go on Monday as the catacombs are closed.

The catacombs of Priscilla is the best preserved Early Christian cemetery in Rome. Benedictine nuns are in charge of these catacombs where seven popes are buried. The catacombs date back to the 2nd Century AD and are on two levels. Entry is Euro 8.00.

Should you be wanting to visit catacombs, I’d say that the catacombs of Priscilla are outstanding. But…you need to not be afraid of confined spaces, cemeteries or being in a subterranean chamber. The catacombs are beneath a convent and you enter by descending a winding marble staircase. What you immediately notice is the cool air and darkness. Hubs decided he couldn’t do it. He doesn’t like confined spaces, so he stayed upstairs in the waiting room whilst I went with the tour guide.

I have to pause at this point and do a rant. The guide was a youngish girl and I was the only person on her English-speaking 30 minute tour. We were just starting when down the entrance corridor came a party of loudly speaking older people. When I say older, I mean in their late 50s and 60s. I’m pretty sure they were Danish. My rant is about two things – firstly, there were about 30 of them and this many people crammed together in the narrow, winding corridors of the catacombs is just too much. IMHO the tour guide should have taken only about 5 or 6 people.

Secondly, there is a sign at the entrance to the catacombs – it says two important words, Silence and Respect. These older people should have known better. They were talking loudly and, at one point, laughing and singing. Hello? You are in a cemetery. I think that calls for reflecting on lives that have gone before you and demonstrating respect. Perhaps I’m just an old goat despite being younger than these old goats. At one point, I told them all to pipe down as I couldn’t hear what the tour guide was saying (and her English wasn’t very good).

As we proceeded up and down the corridors, the lights flickered on and off several times. I did have images of being stuck in the catacombs for hours in the darkness and had a slight panic attack. Not because I’d be in the company of ghosts and bones but because I’d be stuck with those talkative old Danish people!

One of the most amazing features of these catacombs is the earliest visual representation of the Virgin Mary and Child, painted on the ceiling of a passageway. Although the painting is faint you can make out the figures. I found it very humbling to see that painting. The Danes just quickly crowded around and proceeded to ask where were the bodies.

In fact, there aren’t any bodies. The tour guide explained that nasty Barbarians had invaded the catacombs looking for gold and jewellery. I didn’t quite understand if the bodies just crumbled once the burial chamber was opened or if they spirited off with the bodies. The Danes were too busy talking. I did hear though that a body was wrapped in a simple shroud and placed in a narrow, rectangular tomb carved out of the wall and that the catacombs are made from soft volcanic rock.

The catacombs are named after the noble lady Priscilla who donated the land and who was probably the wife of the Consul Acilius. Both rich and poor people are buried there but you can identify the wealthier people and families because they were usually buried in a larger cubicle often decorated with beautiful frescoes.

At one point, we went down a very narrow corridor. So narrow that the burial chambers carved into the walls were nearly touching my shoulders on both sides. A few of the Danes had a panic attack and we had to stop and revive one of them.The tour guide told us about a few of the inscriptions but one was very touching. A father carved an inscription for his son, which said “You were a sweet son”.

I found the catacombs a beautiful, peaceful place despite the Danes. I’m not one of those people who says they can sense spirits or talk to those who have “crossed over”.  But a couple of times, I did get a strong feeling that the Danes and I weren’t alone. Probably just my imagination or too much talking from the Danes leading me to think the space was full of other spirits.

We were not allowed to take photos in the catacombs – something the Danes did respect – so I can’t show you any of my own photos from inside the catacombs. But below are a couple from this site.

These next photos I took outside the catacombs, in the courtyard area, the reception area and outside the convent.

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