|Saint Paul is Clearly Identifiable in this Frescoe|
Hello My Friend and Welcome.
On the liturgical calendar June 29th is the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, making it an opportune time to examine the oldest known image of the Apostles. To do that, we must head to Rome. Put on a light jacket and bring your flashlight because we’ll be going into the catacombs. More specifically, we’ll be visiting the tomb of a Roman noblewoman in the Santa Tecla catacomb.
For those not be familiar with Santa Tecla, or Saint Thecla, she was reputed to have been a pupil of the Apostle Paul and is the heroine of the apocryphal Acta Pauli et Theclae — The Acts of Paul and Thecla. Our knowledge of her is derived exclusively from these writings, which appeared about 180. According to the narrative, Thecla was a virgin from Iconium whom Paul converted to Christianity. She was miraculously saved from death several times and traveled with St. Paul to Antioch in Pisidia. From there, she went to Myra where the Paul was preaching, and finally to Seleucia where she died.
With the consent of St. Paul she acted as a female Apostle and proclaimed the Gospel. Notwithstanding the purely legendary character of this story, it’s very possible that it in some way relates to an historical person. It is easy to believe that a virgin of this name who was a native of Iconium was actually converted by St. Paul and then, like many other women of the Apostolic and later times, labored in the work of the Church. In the Eastern Church the wide circulation of the Acts led to her veneration. She was called Apostle and proto-martyr among women. Her veneration was especially strong in Seleucia where she was buried, Iconium, and Nicomedia.
And so we now head deep into an ancient catacomb dug beneath an eight-story office building in a working-class neighborhood of Rome. Watch you head, the ceiling’s low in places. Follow this long corridor, turn the corner…a little further, and here they are. Hidden away in this dank, damp manmade cave are the earliest known icons of the Apostles Peter and Paul. The paintings, which date from the second half of the 4th century, also include the earliest known images of the Apostles John and Andrew. The paintings adorn what is believed to be the tomb of a Roman noblewoman in the Santa Tecla catacomb and represent some of the earliest evidence of devotion to the apostles in early Christianity.
Vatican officials announced the discovery of the icon of Paul in June, 2009. Their announcement was timed to coincide with the end of the Vatican's Pauline year. At the time, Pope Benedict XVI also announced that tests on bone fragments long attributed to Paul seemed to confirm that they did indeed belong to the saint.
Vatican archaeologists recently opened up the tomb to the media and revealed that the image of Paul was not found in isolation, but was part of a square ceiling painting that also included images of three other apostles — Peter, John and Andrew — surrounding an image of Christ, the Good Shepherd. "These are the first images of the apostles," said Fabrizio Bisconti, superintendent of archaeology for the catacombs, which are maintained by the Vatican's Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology.
TWO-YEAR RESTORATION EFFORT
The Vatican office oversaw, and paid for, the two-year restoration effort. This was the first time lasers were used to restore frescoes and paintings in a catacomb. The damp, musty air of these underground tombs makes preservation of paintings particularly difficult and restoration problematic. In this particular case, the small burial chamber at the end of the catacomb was completely encased beneath inches of white calcium carbonate deposits. Previous restoration techniques would have just scraped it away by hand. This method requires them to leave a filmy layer on top so as to not damage the paintings underneath.
FIRST USE OF A LASER
The new laser technique allows them to remove the entire thing. The use of the laser allowed restorers to burn off centuries old deposits without damaging the dark colors of the original paintings underneath.
Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings.