Catacomba di Calepodio (the Italian seems to prefer the singular) is a set of catacombs on the Via del Casale di San Pio V in the Aurelio quarter, with entrances at numbers 15 and 48. An English Wikipedia page is here.

Over the catacombs was a 4th century basilica dedicated to Pope St Callixtus I, remains of which allegedly survived until the last century.

See Catacombs of Rome for an overview.

History Edit

St Callixtus Edit

In the early Middle Ages, before the end of the 8th century, this set of catacombs was the pilgrimage destination for those venerating the tomb of Pope St Callixtus. His sepulchre was the focal point of the catacombs from the beginning, according to archaeological investigations.

Pope St Callixtus is venerated as a martyr, but his extant martyrdom legend is now regarded as a work of pious fiction. It involves his being thrown down a well (still to be found next to his church of San Callisto in Trastevere), but the major problem with it is that there was no official campaign of persecution under the emperor at the time, Severus Alexander. A tenable but unprovable hypothesis is that the pope met his fate in an illegal riot by enemies of Christianity.

His tomb at the catacombs was being venerated from the 4th century at least, and this is persuasive evidence that he suffered some sort of martyrdom. The Chronography of 354 (chapter 12, the so-called Depositio martyrum) has him buried on 14 October, and this has been his feast-day ever since.

As is well known, before Callixtus became pope himself he was in charge of the enormous multi-nodal set of catacombs on the Appian Way named after him since the later Middle Ages -Catacombe di San Callisto. However, in the early pilgrim itineraries and other sources his name is attached to the Catacombe di Calepodio and this obviously causes confusion.

The further puzzle as to why he wasn't himself buried in the Catacombe di San Callisto is easily explained -the custom of burying deceased popes in the so-called Crypt of the Popes there only came later.

"St Calepodius" Edit

The old Roman Martyrology had an entry for 10 May for a putative martyr identified with the Calepodius of the catacombs. The entry depended on a fictional legend, describing how a priest of the name was killed in a pogrom by a pagan mob in about 232-that is, about a decade later than Pope Callixtus. Also mentioned were Palmatius, an ex-consul killed with his entire household of forty-two. He features in the martyrdom legend of the pope, but not in the Roman lists of consuls and this is a major witness against the historicity of both legends. The Calepodius legend also mentions the death of a senator called Simplicius with his household of sixty-five and a married couple, Felix and Blanda.

Calepodius certainly did exist, because the archaeologists found a smashed and fragmentary epigraph tablet mentioning him. However, the strong suspicion is that he was the entrepreneur who developed the catacombs in the first place -and it is not entirely certain that he was a Christian himself.

Owing to the historical uncertainty, the revisers of the Roman Martyrology deleted the entry in 2001.

Origins Edit

Understanding of the origins of the catacombs depend on the interpretation of the set of excavations carried out in the Sixties by Aldo Nestori and published fully up to 1985. These make it clear that the catacombs began very soon before the pope's funeral, probably in his lifetime. The location was the third milestone on the Via Aurelia.

The original entrance, at number 15, ran down as a staircase to a wide corridor running west, off which ran passages with loculi in a herringbone pattern. The tomb of Pope Callixtus was at the bottom of the stairs, obviously in a place of honour. It was noted that this was the only cubiculum tomb in this first restricted layout, albeit in a wide corridor rather than forming a separate chamber. Calepodius himself must have been in a loculus.

In the plot of land above the catacomb was a ground-level cemetery covering about 660 square metres -in ancient terminology, sub divo ("under the heavens").

So, the original underground excavation was more along the lines of a private household's hypogeum rather than a communal catacomb, with a single high-status personage being interred with his household and clients. Since the catacomb could not have been dug after the pope's death, it seems that Calepodius granted the pope a favoured burial place in his new burial complex out of piety, or out of commercial enterprise, or both. The suggestion is hated by present-day catacomb guides, but it is plausible that Calepodius was a pagan who was friends with Callixtus, and so offered (or sold) him a tomb out of friendship and in order to boost his funerary business.

Speculations aside, pagan epigraphs were found by the excavators, so this was not a purely Christian burial place originally.

Development Edit

There was an extension of the complex to the north, with the digging of further passages towards the end of the 3rd century.

When Christianity became the state cult of the Roman Empire after 313, the catacombs here as elsewhere underwent major expansion including another entrance at number 48.

Pope Julius I (337-52) is on record as building a funerary basilica for himself here, dedicated to Pope Callixtus which is thought to have been the earliest church actually dedicated to a Roman martyr (apart from SS Peter and Paul, of course).

The tomb of Pope Callixtus was embellished by having the corridor blocked off by a wall in the form of an apse, leaving it as a shrine-chamber.

The catacombs were on the established pilgrim circuit until the end of the 8th century.

Abandonment Edit

The catacombs and the basilica are thought to have been abandoned then. The latest date is within the reign of Pope Gregory IV (827-44) who created a crypt (a fake catacomb, in other words) under the high altar at Santa Maria in Trastevere and transferred the relics of Popes Callixtus and Julian as well as those of Calepodius to it.

Unlike catacombs at some other locations, where the existence was never actually forgotten even though no one was interested for centuries, here the catacombs genuinely fell into oblivion. So, when Antonio Bosio set out at the end of the 16th century to re-discover as many sets of catacombs as he could using manuscript evidence of pilgrimage itineraries, he failed with this one. As a result, he gave his opinion that the Catacombs of Calepodius were identical to those of San Pancrazio -an error still to be met with, even though the latter were at the SECOND milestone of the Via Aurelia, not the third.

Rediscovery Edit

The catacombs were actually rediscovered by Marcantonio Boldetti in the early 18th century, and he published his discovery in 1720. Unfortunately that was all that he did do, and there was no proper investigation for over three centuries.

Even more tragically, no protection was given to the catacombs, which were thoroughly robbed for anything saleable and also for relics of spurious "martyrs". The latter procedure started very early, since a local landowner was already touting an arm-bone from a "St Honoratus" (Sant'Onorato) in 1716. This example is interesting because the bone concerned ended up at Molise and the owner (whoever he or she was) is now a patron of the town.

Up to the mid 20th century, the locality was rural although a country villa had been built nearby for Pope St Pius V in 1567 (the Casale di San Pio V) and this became the Ospizio Margherita di Savoia at the end of the 19th century -the secondary entrance to the catacombs at number 38 is here. The original entrance at the present number 15 was noted as being next to a farmhouse in a vineyard called Vigna Lamperini, and historians of the time noted that this house incorporated what looked like the remnants of a church apse in brick. This was speculatively identified with the basilica of Pope St Julius.

Excavation Edit

In advance of development, Aldo Nestori supervised an archaeological excavation which was the first that the catacombs had. The seasons lasted from 1960, when he cleared and surveyed the tomb of Pope Callixtus, to 1969 and also involved the ground-level cemetery.

He traced the edifice of which the visible brick apse was a part, and found that it was a large affair in the shape of a Greek cross. The floor level was below the original ground level. He identified it as the funerary basilica of Pope Julius, which might have seemed obvious. However, a doubt was expressed in response to the write-up and it was suggested that the remains were of a structure associated with the building of the Casale di San Pio V in 1567. It seems very odd that such a point could not have been settled, and this is especially unfortunate since it seems that the remains were buried in the development that followed.

Nothing seems to have happened since. If the catacombs had been excavated a century earlier, they would have got onto the modern pilgrimage circuit but no religious interest seems to have been given them in recent times.

Appearance Edit

Above ground Edit

There is nothing to see. Number 15, the entrance in use for anyone going down there, is apparently in a private car park next to an apartment block at this address.

Layout Edit

The catacombs are in three levels. Apparently the condition of most of the passages is very poor.

The access stairs at number 15 are not the original ones, remains of which are on view at the east end of the shrine-chamber of Pope Callixtus. As it finally was, before the end of the 8th century, this was a barrel-vaulted chamber with an apse (actually a wall blocking off the corridor in which the tomb once was). The floor was paved with marble slabs, and the walls embellished with opus sectile work. Fragments of a fresco cycle depicting the legendary martyrdom of the saint were found, including one showing him being thrown into his well in Trastevere. The columnar base of a circular offering table is in situ, but all other architectural decorations were robbed -apart from a small marble column capital in the form of a lily, found loose.

The alleged basilica built by Pope Julius is to the south-east of the shrine. The semi-circular brick apse wall was well preserved, with the bricks neatly laid. On top of this was a further wall in random rubble, with niches including one at the far end of the curve. The Commissione photo archive has a gallery of pictures (see link below).

Access Edit

There is no public access.

The Commissione has a discretionary scheme which allows visits to accessible closed catacombs by groups of not more than fifteen, "for a real and exclusive cultural purpose". The minimum fee in 2015 is 220 euros, increasing after 75 minutes. See the PDF file Rules Regarding Visits to the Catacombs Closed to the Public.

The Commissione does not publish a list of those catacombs that it regards as accessible, possibly because safety factors may change suddenly (roof collapses, floods and so on). The word "discretionary" means just that -there is absolutely no guarantee that you would be allowed to visit these catacombs, even if you had the money, numbers and reasonable motivation.

External links Edit

Italian Wikipedia page

"Commissione" photo archive

Info.roma web-page

"Romapedia" blog page

Roma SPQR web-page

"Cittamese" web-page

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