VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Early Christian burial sites are now easier to see, both in person and via the Internet, thanks to 21st-century technology and collaboration between Google and the Vatican.
“This is perhaps the sign of the joining of two extremes, remote antiquity and modernity,” said Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi Nov. 19, at a news conference at the Catacombs of Priscilla in northeast Rome.
The cardinal, president of both the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, lauded recent restoration work by the archaeological commission inside the complex of early Christian tombs.
Using advanced laser techniques, restorers have uncovered vivid late fourth-century frescoes depicting Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and SS. Peter and Paul accompanying Christians into the afterlife. Jesus’ face resembles portraits of the Emperor Constantine, who legalized Christian worship in 313.
Cardinal Ravasi also heralded the Nov. 19 debut of the catacombs on Google’s Street View feature, a project he said had grown out of a conversation he had with the Internet giant’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt.
Users of Google Maps can now click the “see-inside” option for the catacombs, which allows them to move virtually through the narrow corridors tunneled out of soft tufa stone, and to see high-resolution images of the interiors from practically every angle. The brilliantly lit views are in startling contrast to the shadowy reality of an in-person visit.
Google’s Giorgia Abeltino told reporters that almost the entire eight-mile complex of catacombs is now accessible online. However, there is no underground map to let users know exactly what they are seeing.
Also Nov. 19, Google launched a Street View of the catacombs of the Ipogeo di via Dino Compagni, located in southeast Rome. The catacombs are privately owned and not open to the public, so the virtual mode is the only way to visit them.
The news conference at the Catacombs of Priscilla was held above ground in the reconstructed fourth-century Basilica of St. Sylvester, where a new museum displays hundred of fragments of ancient marble sarcophagi, also recently restored. A glass floor offers illuminated views of the sites of ancient tombs below.
Msgr. Giovanni Carru, secretary of the Vatican’s archaeological commission, said the restorations had made the Catacombs of Priscilla a “privileged course” for pilgrims to Rome, helping them to appreciate these “dark places that were lit up by the emblematic and paradigmatic stories of salvation” painted on their walls.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
PREVIOUS: Egyptian university hoping to restart stalled talks with Vatican
NEXT: In Central African Republic, thousands turn to bishop for protection
Share this story