Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ancient images of an ancient faith

This is just really neat:

ROME — Twenty-first century laser technology has opened a window into the early days of the Catholic Church, guiding researchers through the dank, musty catacombs beneath Rome to a startling find: the first known icons of the apostles Peter and Paul.

Vatican officials unveiled the paintings Tuesday, discovered along with the earliest known images of the apostles John and Andrew in an underground burial chamber beneath an office building on a busy street in a working-class Rome neighborhood.

The images, which date from the second half of the 4th century, were uncovered using a new laser technique that allows restorers to burn off centuries of thick white calcium carbonate deposits without damaging the brilliant dark colors of the paintings underneath. [...]

Last June, the Vatican announced the discovery of the icon of Paul at Santa Tecla, timing the news to coincide with the end of the Vatican's year of St. Paul. Pope Benedict XVI also said tests on bone fragments long attributed to Paul "seemed to confirm" that they did indeed belong to the Roman Catholic saint.

On Tuesday, Vatican archaeologists announced the image of Paul was not found in isolation, but was part of a square ceiling painting that also included icons of three other apostles — Peter, John and Andrew — surrounding an image of Christ as the Good Shepherd.

"They are the first icons. These are absolutely the first representations of the apostles," said Fabrizio Bisconti, the superintendent of archaeology for the catacombs.

Go here to see the amazing images.

2 comments:

Geoffrey Miller said...

No they aren't the first icons. Finding a tomb that heavily decorated probably hints that paintings such as those had already been common for a long, long time.

Red Cardigan said...

Geoffrey, the article explains that--it says that these are the earliest such icons to be found, but that other, earlier images of the apostles are known.

In any case, they're amazing to look at.