Art Underground

By Hillary Asbury

The catacombs of Rome are a vast, labyrinthine network of passageways. They are cavernous: dark, cold, bleak, and eerie. Death lingers there. In the stillness and quiet of the depths, you can feel it. Long after the tombs fell into disuse, forgotten for centuries, they still whisper of finality… as though you can hear the last breaths of those ancient bones echo in the distance.

Yet in this desolate place we find some of the earliest examples of Christian art: rich frescoes which tell a different story. When newly painted, these artworks spoke directly to a persecuted church, often retelling stories of deliverance for God’s people; they illustrated miraculous healing at the hands of Christ. To those who mourned, huddled far underground in secret and in fear, they told of a bodily resurrection and a new life to come.

(Christ Heals a Bleeding Woman, Artist Unknown, 4th Century CE, Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, Rome, Italy.) {PD-Art}

Over the years these pieces survived, to resurface and tell us again and again of our hope in the dark, our promised salvation. They still speak of the true finality of a death on a cross, of Christ’s final victory over the grave. I can’t help but think that there is no better place for work of this kind. It stands in the midst of the darkness, looks death right in the face, offers life, and clearly speaks the name of the Light of the World: Jesus Christ.

(Christ as the Good Shepherd, Artist Unknown, 3rd Century CE, Catacombs of Saint Priscilla, Rome, Italy.) {PD-Art}