Catacomba di San Castulo is a set of catacombs of obscure foundation at the end of the Via di San Castulo in the Tuscolano quarter.
The early mediaeval dedication was to SS Stratonicus and Castulus.
He features in the developed legend of St Sebastian, which the editors of the Martyrology have rejected as fictional. In it, he is a servant in the palace of the emperor Diocletian -this assertion was exploited by the first discoverer of the catacombs (see below).
His alleged relics are now at the church of St Martin at Landshut, Bavaria (Germany).
St Stratonicus is hopelessly obscure, and did not get into the Roman Martyrology in the first place. He was described as a bishop visiting Rome who was martyred, but no legend grew up concerning him.
Catacombs and church Edit
The 7th century Epitome de locis sanctorum martyrum, a digest of other early mediaeval pilgrimage itineraries, has the only reference in this class of document to these catacombs:
Iuxta viam vero Praenestinam, iuxta aquaeductum, ecclesia est s. Stratonici episcopi et martyris, et s. Castoli, quorum corpora longe sub terra sunt sepulta.
("Actually next to the Via Prenestina [the Via Prenestina and Via Labicana are close here], next to the aqueduct, is the church of St Stratonicus bishop and martyr, and of St Castulus, whose bodies are buried a long way below the ground.")
There is an oddity here, which is that the entry was added to the original manuscript in a different hand as a postscript. This couples with the apparent omission of the catacombs from other itineraries, hinting that there might have been an issue with pilgrims visiting. This omission is in the context of the pilgrimage route here passing the catacombs on the way to those at Santi Marcellino e Pietro ad Duas Lauros.
The obscurity of Stratonicus, and his absence from the old Roman Martyrology, is another vague hint. He might have been the original proprietor of the catacombs (many other Roman catacombs have kept the names of their original owners), or he might conceivably have been the leader of an obscure schismatic sect. There are hints elsewhere (see Catacomba di Santa Tecla and Catacomba di Novaziano) of catacombs being run by Christians not in communion with the Pope.
Pope Paschal I (817-24) allegedly removed the relics of St Castulus to his church of Santa Prassede, which might have resulted in the abandonment of the complex -if it actually happened. The name Castulus was mentioned in a list of martyrs thus transferred, and which used to be by the Chapel of St Zeno in the church. However, there is always a risk in treating a coincidence of historical names as evidence of identity.
The present set of catacombs was discovered by Raffaele Fabretti in 1672, in a vineyard owned by the convent of Santi Cosma e Damiano and almost under the Aqua Claudia aqueduct. Back then, there were two levels of passages (the first being twelve metres down) which connected to ancient underground pozzolana quarries.
Fabretti claimed to have found the intact shrine of St Castulus in an arcosolium which was itself in a cubiculum having engaged columns in its four corners. The table-top tomb in the arcosolium was described as having a damaged epitaph transcribed as:
This Fabretti proposed to restore as:
Castulus zetarius, cum pace. The word zetarius was a late form of diaetarius, which means "slave responsible for room service" and so the alleged epigraph seemed to link in with the saint's appearance in the legend of St Sebastian.
In the tympanum of the arcosolium was a fresco showing a young man standing on a flowery meadow, which presumably was a depiction of the occupant of the tomb.
The remains in the tomb were gathered up by Fabretti, and are now in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Vasto. The feast of the saint is kept in this church as a result.
Unfortunately the epigraph has not survived, and doubt has been cast on Fabretti's reliability. This is very unfortunate, since his work is the only evidence available that this set of catacombs was that of St Castulus.
Later explorations Edit
The Rome to Naples railway was built very close to the catacombs in 1864, resulting in the walling off and destruction of several passages. Fortunately the archaeologist Giovanni Battista De Rossi was to hand, although his main interest was in recovering epigraphs (he found and published nine). His exploration amounts to the only modern scholarly one that the catacombs have had. He also noted the existence of a surface cemetery, but was unable to demonstrate conclusively the existence of a church beyond finding an area of pavement that might have been flooring.
The construction of the railway line to Albano exposed two galleries with loculi in 1890. Further railway construction work in 1970 recovered fragments of a sarcophagus carved with reliefs depicting The Life of Jonah the Prophet.
Finally, when the church of Sant'Elena was built just to the north in 1913 some more galleries were broken into when the foundations were dug.
Bombing of the railway in 1943 seriously damaged the catacombs, and apparently one gallery was left exposed to the open air.
The remaining galleries have apparently been sealed off, and are inaccessible.
The end of the Via di San Castulo is marked by a concrete wall, behind which is the railway. Apparently there is some sort of entrance to the catacombs right beside the tracks on the other side of the wall, but there is nothing to see.