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Hello from Via Appia Antica in Rome. I would like to invite you to see this ancient road leading to the ancient part of the city. Via Appia Antica is the place where we visit the catacombs and Roman mausoleums. But I would like to begin exploring this road with this small church, called Quo Vadis Domine?

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One of the articles that we were recommended to read as part of our preparation for the trip was “Were Christians Buried in Roman Catacombs to Await the Second Coming?” by Charles A. Kennedy. Here are some excerpts from this article that explain the importance of Rome for early Christians and why so many of them were buried in the Roman catacombs. Personally, I find these explanations fascinating!!!!

Otto Beyer, a German scholar, estimated that the catacombs in Rome contained more than 600 miles of passageways and that they hold five million graves. The Christian population in Rome in the first centuries AD can account for only a very small percentage of the burials in the Christian catacombs. Who then is buried there?

One of the theories that explain the high number of graves in the catacombs is the reburial of Christian remains sent from other parts of the Empire.

According to the early theological and eschatological scheme, the Messiah would come again at Jerusalem. In Jewish tradition, second burials would take place in the hills surrounding Jerusalem. The discovery of Christian ossuaries used for reburials on the Mount of Olives is solid evidence that Christian communities in Palestine followed this tradition known from Judaism.

Why would the tradition change and why would the second burial be moved to Rome?

The answer is: the Second Jewish Revolt in Judea in 132-135 AD. When this last Jewish effort to throw off the Roman yoke failed, Jews were denied entry to Jerusalem and to most other areas of Judea as well. This decree also affected a great many Christians who still considered themselves Jewish.

The questions was then where should the Christians be buried in awaiting of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ? The answer was: Rome.

Today’s scholars think that a substantial segment of the Christian community in the early centuries believed that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ would occur in Rome. This is clearly reflected in the Acts of Paul and the Acts of Peter, which are biographies of the apostles written in the second century and never canonized in the New Testament. Both books contain an episode known as the Quo Vadis (Where are you going).  The setting is in Rome at the time of the hated emperor and tyrant, Nero. In the Acts of Peter we see Peter hurrying out of Rome on the Appian Way in an attempt to avoid the Neronian horrors, when he meets Jesus coming toward him. Peter asks, “Where are you going, Lord – Quo vadis, Domine?” Jesus answers, “I am going into the city to be crucified again.”

The apocryphal literature shifts the location of the Passion from Jerusalem to Rome. We learn from the Lives of the Saints that the relics of those saints who were martyred in Asia Minor, Egypt and elsewhere were brought to Rome for final burial in the third and fourth centuries.

CONCLUSION:

With the Temple destroyed, with the city of Jerusalem by 135AD renamed Aelia Capitolina, and with Jews banned from entering Jerusalem, Jews and Jewish Christians began praying fervently for the fall of Rome. The demise of Rome acquired religious significance-particularly with a view to the advent of the Messiah. Christians believed that those who had died defending their faith against Roman heathenism would the first to rise in the Resurrection. This conviction placed an obligation on the living to bury the dead in the most favorable site to await the Coming.

The Church at Rome then found itself the custodian of catacombs that not only had to serve the small Christian population of Rome, but also had to receive relics of the faithful from throughout the Empire.

Kennedy, Charles A. “Were Christians Buried in Roman Catacombs to Await the Second Coming?”, Biblical Archaeology Review 6.3 (May/Jun 1980): 16-31

After reading all this information let’s go back to Via Appia Antica and let’s visit the little church Quo Vadis Domine?

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On the left we see Saint Peter:

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On the right we see Jesus:

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In the middle of the floor between the two painting we find Jesus’ footprints:

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The two footprints on a marble slab at the center of the church (copy of a relief conserved in the nearby Basilica of San Sebastiano) are said to have been miraculously left by Jesus.

On both sides of the altar – two scenes of crucifixion:

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Henryk Sienkiewicz is the author of the famous novel “Quo Vadis?”

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And now the Polish song: Quo Vadis Domine? Enjoy!!

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4 comments

  1. Dziekujemy, Joasiu, za dzielenie sie z nami wrazeniami z Twoich podrozy i takze za ogromna prace jaka wlozylas w Twoj blog. Zmienilismy swoje wakacyjne plany i 19 wrzesnia wyruszamy do starej Europy aby nasycic dusze tym czego tutaj nam czasami brak.

    1. Dzieki Danusiu z mile slowa. Bardzo sie ciesze ze jedziecie do Europy. Pomysl jest fantastyczny. Dziekuje tez za wszystko co robicie dla mojej rodziny. Jestescie super!!!! Planujcie swoja podroz bo slyszalam od Radka ze ma byc fascynujaca.

  2. Thank you for the informations !

    In this location was the famous scene, that Sienkiewicz in Quo Vadis pictures:

    “About dawn of the following day two dark figures were moving along the Appian Way toward the Campania. One of them was Nazarius; the other the Apostle Peter, who was leaving Rome and his martyred co-religionists.
    The sky in the east was assuming a light tinge of green, bordered gradually and more distinctly on the lower edge with saffron color. Silver-leafed trees, the white marble of villas, and the arches of aqueducts, stretching through the plain toward the city, were emerging from shade. The greenness of the sky was clearing gradually, and becoming permeated with gold. Then the east began to grow rosy and illuminate the Alban Hills, which seemed marvellously beautiful, lily-colored, as if formed of rays of light alone.

    The light was reflected in trembling leaves of trees, in the dew-drops. The haze grew thinner, opening wider and wider views on the plain, on the houses dotting it, on the cemeteries, on the towns, and on groups of trees, among which stood white columns of temples.

    The road was empty. The villagers who took vegetables to the city had not succeeded yet, evidently, in harnessing beasts to their vehicles. From the stone blocks with which the road was paved as far as the mountains, there came a low sound from the bark shoes on the feet of the two travellers.
    Then the sun appeared over the line of hills; but at once a wonderful vision struck the Apostle’s eyes. It seemed to him that the golden circle, instead of rising in the sky, moved down from the heights and was advancing on the road. Peter stopped, and asked,—

    “Seest thou that brightness approaching us?”

    “I see nothing,” replied Nazarius.

    But Peter shaded his eyes with his hand, and said after a while,

    “Some figure is coming in the gleam of the sun.” But not the slightest sound of steps reached their ears. It was perfectly still all around. Nazarius saw only that the trees were quivering in the distance, as if some one were shaking them, and the light was spreading more broadly over the plain. He looked with wonder at the Apostle.

    “Rabbi! what ails thee?” cried he, with alarm.

    The pilgrim’s staff fell from Peter’s hands to the earth; his eyes were looking forward, motionless; his mouth was open; on his face were depicted astonishment, delight, rapture.
    Then he threw himself on his knees, his arms stretched forward; and this cry left his lips,—

    “O Christ! O Christ!”

    He fell with his face to the earth, as if kissing some one’s feet.

    The silence continued long; then were heard the words of the aged man, broken by sobs,—

    “Quo vadis, Domine?”

    Nazarius did not hear the answer; but to Peter’s ears came a sad and sweet voice, which said,—

    “If thou desert my people, I am going to Rome to be crucified a second time.”

    The Apostle lay on the ground, his face in the dust, without motion or speech. It seemed to Nazarius that he had fainted or was dead; but he rose at last, seized the staff with trembling hands, and turned without a word toward the seven hills of the city.

    The boy, seeing this, repeated as an echo,—

    “Quo vadis, Domine?”

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