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Norway’s Medieval Wooden Churches Look Plucked From a Fairy Tale

Starting in the Middle Ages, when Norway became a Christian country, former Vikings-turn-Christians built immense cathedrals and churches to honor the new religion—all made entirely from wood rather than the typical stone construction of the time. Known as “stave” churches, after the wooden “stavers” or corner posts and load-bearing pillars that keep the church from collapsing, these churches range from modest structures to ornate, multi-layer architectural masterpieces.

At one point, more than 1,000 stave churches existed throughout Norway, but many of the original ones fell apart over time or were destroyed. Often, the original stavers were driven directly into the ground, allowing for quick rot; other churches were ravaged by fires or storms. Now, only 28 historical stave churches remain, many of which feature elaborate carvings that mix Christian and Viking symbols.

These are the ten oldest in Norway:

Urnes Stave Church in Luster

Urnes Stave Church
Urnes Stave Church (Creative Commons)

Built about 1130, Urnes is Norway’s oldest stave church and the only one on the Unesco Heritage list. The site, though, is much older, and was home to two earlier churches. Parts of the previous churches, include a door opening, a corner post and several wall planks, were repurposed in the new construction. The northern wall features the most intricately decorated panel found in any existing stave church. The carvings, created in a traditional Viking style, show a snake biting and being bitten by another animal. The carvings combined with the Romanesque basilica layout make the church a fascinating example of the melding of pre-Christian Nordic symbology with Christian medieval influences. The church and cemetery are still in use today.

Hopperstad Stave Church in Vik

Hopperstad Stave Church
Hopperstad Stave Church (Creative Commons)

Hopperstad was also built around 1130, but unlike Urnes, much of the interior has been removed and replaced. Over the years, the original construction fell into disrepair and neglect. In the early 1880s, architect Peter Andreas Blix saw the historical significance of the church and offered to restore it free of charge. Blix based his restoration on other existing stave churches, but preserved the church’s original consecration crosses. Thanks to strong Norwegian heritage in the Midwest, there’s an exact replica of Hopperstad in Moorhead, Minnesota.

Kaupanger Stave Church in Sogndal

Kaupanger Stave Church
Kaupanger Stave Church (Creative Commons)

Twenty-two staves support this church, the largest number of all the remaining stave churches in Norway. Kaupanger is also the best preserved and is still the parish church used by the surrounding community today. Two previous churches stood here before the current church was built, one of which was partially burned as a consequence of a farmer’s revolt in 1183 that resulted in the governor Ivan Dape’s murder. The architecture at Kaupanger is fairly different from Norway’s other stave churches—emphasizing height rather than ornate carvings.

Undredal Stave Church in Undredal

Undredal Stave Church
Undredal Stave Church (Creative Commons)

From looking at it, one wouldn’t expect this tiny church to be in the same league as the other stave churches dotting Norway. White clapboard siding covers the exterior, making it look like a little chapel rather than a Viking-era relic. Undredal is one of the smallest historic wood churches, seating only about 40 people. A few artifacts are on display inside: the first bell and chandelier, dating back to the Middle Ages; a kneeler from 1647; candleholders from 1702; a 1680 baptismal font; the original wall paintings from the 1600s; and a pulpit from 1696. When the church was first built in 1147, it was called St. Nicholas Chapel.

Høyjord Stave Church in Vestfold

Høyjord Stave Church
Høyjord Stave Church (Creative Commons)

This church is half restoration, half reconstruction. The original layout of the church was built over twice, in the 1600s and the 1800s. In the 1950s, the stave foundation from the original medieval church was discovered, and it was rebuilt to match the original footprint. Originally, the church had a dirt floorand benches only along the sides for the elderly and infirm. Everyone else stood for services. The paintings on the walls inside are recreations, made to match décor on older parts of the church. Høyjord also has a stave supporting the church from the middle of the sanctuary, a feature found in only two stave churches in Norway.

Flesberg Stave Church in Buskerud

Flesberg Stave Church
Flesberg Stave Church (Creative Commons)

Originally, Flesberg was a simple rectangular stave church when it was built in the late 1100s. In the 1730s, it was expanded to a cross shape. The original church stands as the western arm of the cruciform. Church services and concerts are still held in the building in the summer. Flesberg also holds the honor of being the subject of the oldest existing painting of a stave church, a landscape from 1701.

Lom Stave Church in Oppland

Lom Stave Church
Lom Stave Church (Creative Commons)

From the time the church was built in the 1160s until the 1800s, Lom was used as both a church and a resting place for those traveling throughout the country. Remodeling began in the 1600s when the church was deemed too small and was expanded into a cruciform shape. It was expanded again in the 1660s, making it one of the largest stave churches in Norway. The carved dragon heads featured in the eaves are exact modern replicas, installed in 1964, so that the originals could be preserved.

Torpo Stave Church in Hallingdal

Torpo Stave Church
Torpo Stave Church (Creative Commons)

The Torpo church is the oldest building in Hallingdal. Built in the late 1100s, it is well known for a series of 13th-century paintings depicting the the martyrdom of St. Margaret, the saint the church was consecrated to. One of the more unique features in Torpo is an inscription on a chancel rail from the original builder. In runic script, it reads, “Torolf built this church.”

Hedalen Stave Church in Oppdal

Hedalen Stave Church
Hedalen Stave Church (Creative Commons)

Hedalen is yet another stave church that continues to be used as a parish church. It was built around 1163 and is decorated with dragon and vine carvings meant to represent the act of leaving behind evil forces as you enter the church. There’s a bearskin in the sacristy, and legend has it the skin belonged to a bear shot before the altar once the church was rediscovered in the woods after The Plague. The church holds some medieval relics, including a Madonna statue from 1250, a crucifix from 1270, and a font cover from 1250. The church’s prize possession is a copper-gilded wood reliquary, also from 1250. These artifacts are unique and rare throughout Norway as many Catholic objects were destroyed after the Reformation.

Nore Stave Church
Nore Stave Church (Creative Commons)

When Nore was built in the late 1160s, the construction was unique for the time: it was built as a choir church and has balconies, an apse, a choir and cross arms. A large amount of the original building is still standing, though it was remodeled and partially rebuilt in both the 1600s and 1700s. Some of the original decorative paintings can still be seen, as well as a prayer inscription and two crucifixes dating back to the Middle Ages.

Heddal Stave Church in Notodden

Heddal Stave Church
Heddal Stave Church (Creative Commons)

Though not in the top ten oldest stave churches, Heddal is the largest in Norway. It was first built around 1250, and as it’s still in continual use, visitors can see several historical eras reflected in the décor. Some of the prized items inside and on the exterior are rose paintings from the 1600s, runic inscriptions and carvings telling the Viking legend of Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer. There’s also a café, an exhibition about the history of the church, and an open-air historical museum of a farm and buildings from the 1700s and 1800s.

The bug collecting boy that went on to invent Pokémon

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Pokémon is one of the biggest game franchises ever created. With over 20 films, 122 games, and over 800 creatures to capture, the Pokémon series has been highly influential in gaming culture across the globe.

The origins of Pokémon may be surprising for some, because it begins with one man’s love for bug-catching.

Satoshi Tajiri, founder of the game company Game Freak, grew up in Machida, Japan. Machida was still widely rural when he was a boy and he would spend his time exploring the wilderness, catching bugs as a hobby.

This love of bug catching would become a favorite hobby of his and would inspire him to create the Pokémon game. With urbanization taking place in his home city, he began to realize that the children of the future wouldn’t get the chance to interact with bugs and nature as he did. This realization would stay with him as he grew older.

Satoshi’s fascination with bugs was only eclipsed by his fascination with computers and arcade games. While his parents looked down on his obsession with playing games at the arcade, mainly because it led him to skip school, Satoshi saw games as more than just a hobby. He saw them as a valuable part of life.

So deep was Satoshi’s obsession with games that he began his own magazine called Game Freak, which contained tips, cheats, and articles about different popular games.

With the assistance of artist Ken Sugimori, Game Freak became a briskly selling magazine and would attract other like-minded individuals to the team.

 Over time, Satoshi and his team would realize that they didn’t simply want to write about games, they wanted to create them. In 1989, they formed the company Game Freak and set about creating games such as Yoshi, and Mario & Wario.

These games would prove to Nintendo that Game Freak was serious about game design and they were competent enough for a big project.

Satoshi, still thinking about the joys of bug collecting and wanting to bring it to the world so that children anywhere could have the same experience as him, began to develop the idea of Pokémon in 1990.

The Game Boy was an excellent choice of console because of the fact that Game Boys could be linked together. This would inspire Satoshi to come up with the concept of trading, a concept that Pokémon is famous for.

With Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto guiding Satoshi through the process of creating the Pokémon game design, Game Freak was cleared to begin production for Pokémon. This would be a tumultuous six-year process for Satoshi and his team, as making the game was a costly and long endeavor.

Pokemon pikachu cake

With the production taking so long, Game Freak almost went bankrupt, Creatures Inc., of Mother fame, made a decision to invest in the company, saving it from dying. In exchange for the investment money, Creatures Inc. would receive a third of rights to the Pokémon franchise.

In 1996, Pokémon Red and Green would release in Japan, achieving a staggering 10 million copies sold within the year. Game Freak was no longer threatened by bankruptcy and Nintendo would go on to create their own subsidiary, known as The Pokémon Company, in 1998.

The first two games, Red and Green (although released in the United States as Red and Blue), would ultimately end up selling over 31 million copies during its run.

The game was well received not only by game consumers but also by game critics as well. They liked the simplicity, the clever use of the trading mechanic, as well as the “gotta catch em all” system which encouraged completion in the game.

To this day, Pokémon Red and Blue are considered to be one of the most influential games to have been made during the 1990s.

In the end, thanks to Satoshi’s love of bugs and collecting, he was able to create a game franchise that would go on to become a multi-billion-dollar industry.

This industry would do more than just create video games and sell products, it would spark the imaginations of a generation, giving them fond memories of their favorite pocket monsters.

J Andrew Pourciaux


Andrew Pourciaux is a novelist hailing from sunny Sarasota, Florida, where he spends the majority of his time writing and podcasting

The gorilla that learned to sign and loved a kitten, has sadly passed away

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It’s a sad day in the famous animal kingdom. Koko the gorilla has died.

Koko became famous as a linguistic marvel. She was said to have mastered more than 1,000 hand signs to communicate with her human handlers.

Animal psychologist Francine Patterson taught Koko a modified version of American Sign Language and said she used her words to convey not only tangible items but also thoughts and feelings.

Koko was said to have an IQ between 75 and 95 and could understand 2,000 words of spoken English.

Koko died in her sleep at age 46, which is considered “old” for a gorilla. Gorillas typically live to between 30 and 40 in the wild.

“Her impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world,” said the Gorilla Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to study and preserve great apes, which oversaw Koko’s life and announced her death.

Koko captured the world’s heart when she gently held a kitten, which she called All Ball. The story of the gorilla and her pet was told in National Geographic and later in a children’s book, Koko’s Kitten. Sadly, All Ball was hit by a car and killed. In heart-breaking video footage, Dr. Patterson asks Koko what happened to All Ball, according to NPR, and Koko signs: cat, cry, have-sorry, Koko-love. And then: unattention, visit me.

Koko was born on July 4, 1971, at the San Francisco Zoo and lived most of her life at the Gorilla Foundation’s preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. A western lowland gorilla, she was named Hanabi-ko, Japanese for “fireworks child” to commemorate her birth date, which readily turned into the nickname Koko.

She was chosen as an infant to work on a language research project Dr. Patterson was conducting. Dr. Patterson developed a decades-long relationship with her subject.

Koko appeared in two documentaries and on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1978, in a kind of proto-selfie: a photograph she took of herself in a mirror.

KoKo The Famous Gorilla Receives A Kitten

In 2001, the comedian Robin Williams visited Koko. In a hilarious and delightfully sweet video, she can be seen showing Williams around her environs, sniffing and trying on his glasses, and mimicking his silly faces. She invited him to tickle her, and gently tried to tickle him too.

Williams seemed genuinely delighted as she goes through his pockets, pulls out his wallet, and tries to eat his money. When she saw his image later in movies, she seemed to recall him and also seemed to mourn his death.

Koko also met other kind-hearted celebrities like Mr. Rogers, Betty White, Sting, and William Shatner, who after learning of her death, posted a remembrance to Twitter, including a photo of their meeting.

Beyond her capacity to communicate, she also impressed scientists with her ability to play a recorder, which requires simultaneous breath and finger control.

In time, however, some scientists questioned Dr. Patterson’s methods and interpretations, suggesting that the gorilla merely kept signing until she received whatever “reward” she desired from Dr. Patterson. Some skeptics posited that people were projecting their own emotions onto Koko when they suggested that the gorilla was sad about the death of Robin Williams; the gorilla may have been simply mirroring the sadness in her human handlers.

Of course, it’s impossible to measure the depth of a gorilla’s understanding and emotions. And it is undeniable that she had an impact.

“Koko’s capacity for language and empathy has opened the minds and hearts of millions,” the Gorilla Foundation said in the statement announcing her passing.

“Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy. She was beloved and will be deeply missed.”

 E.L. Hamilton

Earliest Portrait Photos Ever Taken Bring Americans From the 1840s to Life After Being Colorized

These amazing photographs were all taken in the 1840s using the daguerreotype which had just been invented. Images show various people from 1840s New York and bring to life how people looked and dressed in that era. They believed to have been taken by legendary early American photographer Matthew Brady, show a selection of 11 portraits taken as daguerreotype images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Images: My Colorful Past/mediadrumworld, via Daily Mail)  May 18, 2018

Lucian Freud and Sue Tilley: The story of an unlikely muse

One of Lucian Freud’s more famous paintings depicts a fertility goddess having a nap on her sofa. She is naked and seems to be deep in unguarded sleep (her face is partly squished and she looks like she might be drooling). Despite this, she is majestic; she has curves on her curves, and they phosphoresce gently in shades of brown, pink, and white. How did the artist sneak up on her? Will he survive her wrath when she wakes up?

(Credit: Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images)

Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995) broke records when it was sold to Roman Abramovich in 2008 for £17 million ($33.6 million) (Credit: Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images)

No need to worry. For one thing, the goddess isn’t actually asleep: Freud painted her in that pose in sessions spread over many months – he liked to paint from life, and he was fussy, layering and working oil paint until it looks like slathered mud. But for another, the goddess isn’t actually a goddess: she is Sue Tilley, at the time working as a supervisor in a government Jobcentre in London (the title of the painting is Benefits Supervisor Sleeping), and she is as generous on the inside as she is on the outside.

 

In person, Tilley has a lot of presence, and you realise that Freud’s paintings tap into this. She was in her 30s in the paintings; she is 60 now. She is very kind, dead honest, quick to smile. She has the startling sophistication of someone who has been around the block a few times. And what a block.

(Credit: Sue Tilley)

Tilley was close friends with the Australian performance artist and club promoter Leigh Bowery – here photographed with his parents Evelyn and Thomas, 1984 (Credit: Sue Tilley)

Tilley led a Technicolor life long before she met Freud: she was close friends with the ‘total’ artist Leigh Bowery and when she wasn’t at her desk in the office she was part of the anarchic clubbing set in London in the 1980s, centring on notorious nights with names like Blitz and Kinky Gerlinky, but especially Bowery’s own creation, Taboo. The latter was one of the wilder and glitzier moments in a decade of egregious moments (polysexual, polysocial, polyeverything), and one of those avant-garde detonations whose effects can still be felt far away in the mainstream.

Wild nights

There is a large literature on the visual genius of Bowery. His exquisitely executed alter egos were nightmarish (in the fecund sense), often powerfully sexualised, sometimes purely beautiful, always resonant. Bowery ignored the boundaries of taste. He was a prodigy in all senses, but perhaps particularly in the old sense of an omen, a shooting star streaking across the night sky. Like so many of the remarkable gay men of that period, he was erased by Aids.

(Credit: Sue Tilley)

Bowery was also a muse for Lucian Freud; Tilley photographed him (pictured right) with the artist David Holah at her flat in Camden (Credit: Sue Tilley)

Tilley’s Instagram account offers a mood board that includes her 80s adventures: she says she didn’t consider it a good night unless she’d got drunk enough to fall over at some point. Although Tilley was Dorothy in this Land of Oz, her place in posterity really is guaranteed by a series of four nude portraits which Freud did of her in the late phase of his career. All are likely to remain of art-historical significance.

(Credit: Alamy)

Freud paid Tilley a small daily fee but she didn’t receive any money from the sale of paintings she modelled for (Credit: Alamy)

Of those, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995) is probably, and deservedly, the most famous. Evening in the Studio (1993), the first of the series, has her sprawled on the floor with a seated girl apparently disinterested and reading a book in the background. The composition is an odd combination of domestic scene and crime scene. (Tilley says she was relieved when Freud bought the sofa because it was painful to lie on the floor for hours.)

All of these paintings are in the hands of extremely rich men, capable of paying tens of millions of dollars for the privilege of gazing on Tilley’s ‘flesh’

Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994) depicts Tilley in the corner of the sofa with her head lolling back, as if she’d just swallowed some poison; a position that could not have been comfortable either. Finally, in Sleeping by the Lion Carpet (1996) Tilley is shown sleeping upright in a chair, facing us. I like that painting because the juxtaposition with the lions in the background suggests that Tilley’s grandeur is epic. (Quite true, I’d say.) She hates that painting because she says it makes her look awful.

Freud once revealed: “If I am putting someone in a picture I like to feel that they’ve fallen asleep there or they’ve elbowed their own way in: that way they are there not to make the picture easy on the eye or more pleasant, but they are occupying the space of my picture and I am recording them.” This unflinching gaze produced works that resonate deeply with viewers. “The task of the artist,” Freud said, “is to make the human being uncomfortable, and yet we are drawn to a great work of art by involuntary chemistry, like a hound getting a scent; the dog isn’t free, it can’t do otherwise, it gets the scent and instinct does the rest.”

All of Freud’s paintings of Tilley are in ‘private collections’, ie the hands of extremely rich men, capable of paying tens of millions of pounds for the privilege of gazing on her ‘flesh’ (Freud’s word). For instance, Roman Abramovich set a then-record for the largest amount paid for a painting by a living artist when he bought Benefits Supervisor Sleeping in 2008 for £17 million ($33.6 million at the time). If you want to see it, you might want to become very good friends with him. Be prepared to become a Chelsea supporter, because he owns that football club too.

(Credit: Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images)

Freud has been called an “unrivalled interpreter of human flesh in paint”; he painted Sleeping by the Lion Carpet in 1996 (Credit: Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images)

Another one, Sleeping by the Lion Carpet, is on display as part of the show All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life, currently on at Tate Britain in London until the end of August 2018. That painting is on loan from a billionaire who among other things owns Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Catch it before he hangs it back up in his guest toilet.

Benefits Supervisor Resting, meanwhile, has been described as “Freud’s ultimate tour de force, a life-size masterwork in the grand historical tradition of the female nude, painted obsessively with intense scrutiny and abiding truth”; when it was sold at auction in 2015, Christie’s head of post-war art Brett Gorvy said that the painting “is recognised internationally as Freud’s masterpiece and proclaims him as one of the greatest painters of the human form in history alongside Rembrandt and Rubens”. Gorvy described the painting as “a triumph of the human spirit, showcasing Freud’s love of the human body”, commenting on Tilley that Freud “observed every inch of her with an uncritical eye almost daily for more than nine months”.

(Credit: Alamy)

Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994) has been described as ‘a triumph of the human spirit, showcasing Freud’s love of the human body’ (Credit: Alamy)

According to Gorvy, Tilley “is calm and confident, relaxed and comfortable in her own skin. She is very much in control, taking on the artist and the viewer. A contemporary take on the Odalisque and the fertility goddess, with her head flung back, she exudes an intriguing ambiguity, implying ecstasy, defiance and the deep exhale of peacefulness.” Benefits Supervisor Resting went on to sell for £35 million ($56 million).

None of the money that has rained down on her representations has made its way to Tilley. When she was posing for Freud he paid her a small daily fee (she told The Guardian that she thought she’d been picked out by Freud as a life model because she represented good value for money – “He got a lot of flesh”).

She liked Freud because he was ‘hilarious’ and loved to gossip with her

Yet, she says, she had the pleasure of his company. She liked him because he was ‘hilarious’ and loved to gossip with her. (Tilley met Freud through Bowery, who was also being painted by him.) She found Freud’s mercurial personality fascinating: she says he could be “mean, extremely generous, grumpy, funny, loud, quiet”; also manipulative, but perhaps in a rather charmingly transparent way. Grumpy seems to have won out, because eventually he dropped her as a friend after taking offence at an offhand remark she made.

(Credit: Tate photography, Joe Humphrys)

Freud’s Sleeping by the Lion Carpet is currently on show as part of All Too Human at Tate Britain (Credit: Tate photography, Joe Humphrys)

Freud gave her some etchings, which she sold years ago because she was short of money, but otherwise she has no mementos. She says he didn’t phone to say thank you after his first painting of her sold for a large sum of money.

She has a £60 printed copy of Freud’s portrait of Leigh Bowery (now in Tate Britain) on the wall of her flat. In 1997 she published Leigh Bowery: The Life and Times of an Icon, which must be his most definitive biography. It also captures the London club subcultures of the Bowery era very vividly.

From muse to maker

Tilley has retired from the Jobcentre and moved from London to a quiet seaside town in East Sussex. But she is not dozing off. She enjoys frequent visits from artists, creatives, and journalists from around the world who want to talk about Freud, Bowery, and Tilley. And the walls of her flat are vibrant with art, some of it by friends, but most by her. She learned how to draw when she was young and then dropped it, but she has recently taken it up again. She is good.

(Credit: Sue Tilley)

Tilley has been painting for years: this 2016 image shows Trojan, one of the people in Leigh Bowery’s circle in the 1980s (Credit: Sue Tilley)

Through friends and accident, she ended up having a large solo show of paintings and drawings at an east London gallery in 2015. It caught her a little by surprise, but got her working flat out to produce pieces to fill the gallery. Her style is sketchy, maybe a little cartoonish, self-assured. The effect of her anti-aesthetic is charming. She focuses on the personal: portraits of friends, drawings of everyday objects which she sometimes affectionately calls ‘boring’ but which she loves.

Tilley elaborates on this low-key universe in a further step in her artistic career: her collaboration with the S/S18 Fendi Men’s collection, where luxury clothes and bags are decorated with her pictures of desk lamps, bottle openers, banana skins, cups of coffee. Fendi calls this “corporate escapism” and it is undeniably fun; although you would need to be escaping after light-heartedly robbing a bank, since a T-shirt with a drawing of a martini goes for about £480. I suppose one can’t really complain, since a painting of Tilley goes for upwards of 35,000 times that amount. It is long past time that she got a bigger piece of the action.

(Credit: Sue Tilley)

Tilley describes this image she painted on a plate as The Benefit Supervisor Has Woken Up (Credit: Sue Tilley)

So, onward for Sue Tilley and her remarkable life. At one point she shows me a nude self-portrait that she painted on a plate for a charity auction. The image echoes Benefits Supervisor Resting, except she is sitting upright and alert, her eyes open. She tells me the title is The Benefit Supervisor Has Woken Up. I would say she never went to sleep. Such a pity that Freud isn’t alive to sit for her.

By Cameron Laux 14 May 2018

Restoration work in Rome’s ancient catacombs reveals 1,600-year-old hidden frescoes

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Since their rediscovery in the 16th century, Rome’s catacombs have dazzled the archaeological community. The ancient underground burial networks are a famed burial site both for Christians and for people who worshiped any of the earlier Roman religions.

Underneath the city, people were either placed in distinct catacombs or buried together. It began as early as the 2nd century AD, when inhumation had become a more common funerary practice. Christians at the time typically opted for burials instead cremations, as they believed in bodily resurrection at the Second Coming.

As an extremely important site, Rome’s ancient catacombs represent an epic monument of the ancient empire and the inception of Christianity. Moreover, the catacombs also provide an invaluable contribution to the history of early Christian art. They have been a treasured site with a plethora of frescoes, sculptures, or gold-glass medallions among other items, which widely exemplify the artwork done before 400 AD.

The exploration and excavation of Rome’s hidden tunnels seem to be a continual work in progress. The discoveries have never ceased to surprise us. Not only have new chambers been identified in recent decades, but so have new precious artifacts.

In May 2017, restorers put the finishing touches on a seven-year restoration work of two underground burial rooms in the Catacombs of Domitilla. Thanks to their effort, two long-hidden frescoes, which were likely commissioned approximately 1,600 years ago by bakers in the city, have been revealed.

The Catacombs of Domitilla, named after Saint Domitilla, expand over 11 miles of underground caves. As large and impressive as they are, they are exceptional for several other reasons. They are the oldest of Rome’s catacombs, and the only ones still containing bones. Reportedly, they alone have been the burial site of almost 150,000 bodies.

The Domitilla Catacombs are also the best-preserved and the most extensive of all ancient burial networks beneath the city. Among their treasures and invaluable artifacts is a 2nd-century fresco of the Last Supper.

Lurking under a chalky deposit and algae domesticated after centuries of being abandoned, new frescoes have been found. Experts have used lasers and scanning technology to restore the paintings, stripping away the deposits, layer by layer. The technique used has never before been applied in catacombs.

As the layers have been removed, numerous images have slowly started to emerge on the surface, depicting figures from the Old and New Testament, and also vignettes related to the baker’s trade.

According to Barbara Mazzei, who had been supervising the restoration work on behalf the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, the restorers have accomplished the work “millimeter by millimeter.”

One of the scenes revealed in the frescoes depicts the deceased accompanied by two saints. The saints may be Nereus and Achilleus, who were two martyrs, most likely killed under Emperor Diocletian and buried here. According to the experts, all evidence shows the frescoes’ origin dates back to the second half of the fourth century when a similar type of iconography was common.

Restoration projects at the catacombs are set to continue further, as there are still more chambers that are in poor condition. It might mean that new finds just may be on their way.

A new museum, to be inaugurated in June, is to showcase artifacts dating from the 2nd to the 5th century from several catacombs in Rome. The collection is certain to shed light on how paganism and Christian faith were mysteriously intertwined together in the early Church.

 Stefan Andrews

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