Catacombs of Generosa

Rome, Italy

The Catacomb of Generosa is part of an archeological complex, rich of remains not just Christian, but also pagan. The catacomb is situated inside a hill and occupies a single level. The former entrance of the catacomb, just like other Roman catacombs, was inside a basilica, built under Pope Damasus I in the second half of 4th century, whose remains have been discovered by Giovanni Battista de Rossi in the 19th century. In the apse a fenestella confessionis (little window for confession) allowed to see the main place of worship, while a side door gave access to the catacomb.

According to the tradition, the catacomb first served as burial place for martyrs Simplicius and Faustinus, killed in 303 under Diocletian. The hypogeum graveyard served mainly for the entombment of the farmers of the surroundings and therefore it shows a sober and poor style. Near 382 Pope Damasus built the semi-hypogeum basilica and the catacomb ceased being a graveyard and became a place of worship of the martyrs there buried. In 682 Pope Leo II moved the relics of the martyrs of Generosa in the church of Santa Bibiana on the Esquiline Hill: the catacomb was thereby gradually abandoned and its location was forgotten.

The discovery, in the 19th century, of marble inscriptions inspired the interest of the archaeologist Giovanni de Rossi, who in 1868 discovered the remains of the basilica and soon after the Catacomb of Generosa. The catacomb was restored in the 1930s by Enrico Josi. Further archaeological campaigns were carried out between 1980 and 1986.

The most important place of all the catacomb is the martyrs crypt, at the back of the apse of the external basilica. It hosted a fresco with Byzantine features, called Coronatio Martyrum, dating back to 6th century. It portrays five figures: the central one is Christ, handing out the crown of martyrdom to Simplicius, with Beatrix at his side; on the left of Christ are Faustinus, bearing the palm of martyrdom in his hand, and Rufinianus. The fresco was seriously damaged when Giovanni Battista de Rossi, in the 19th century, attempted to tear it off.

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