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"This Blessed Day" is a daily blog about Christian culture & history
“This Blessed Day” is a brand-new Substack newsletter that focuses on Christian history, Christian culture, and important Christian figures.
I love the idea of a short, daily inspirational reminder of my Christian faith and heritage.
Below you will find the newsletter for May 31st.
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May 31: A Boy Discovers the Catacombs of Rome
Antonio Bosio (1575-1629) is the founder of Christian archeology
On May 31st of the blessed year of our Lord 1578, an ancient Christian cemetery was accidentally discovered beneath the streets of Rome on the Via Salaria. These underground labyrinths later became known as “the catacombs of Rome.” This archeological discovery would fire the imagination of a boy named Antonio Bosio for the rest of his life.
Bosio was born in Malta in 1575 as an illegitimate child — and he was only twelve years old when he was placed under the care of his uncle in Rome. His relative was a member of the Knights of Malta — like his father. While studying the law, the young Antonio became interested in reading ancient Christian texts, and exploring the hidden catacombs.
On December 10th, 1593, Antonio made his first exploration of a new catacomb (now known as Domitilla’s) in Rome. He was only 18 years old at the time, and he was looking for early Christian inscriptions. That’s how the career of “the Christopher Columbus of the catacombs” got started. Bosio began to study the entire corpus of early Christian writings in order to find clues to the catacombs and their meaning. His scholarship was so broad that he left behind two thousand pages of notes (in folio) for his book manuscript — which still rests at the Vallicelliana library at Rome in massive volumes.
So Antonio Bosio spent the rest of his life — thirty-six years — conducting the systematic archeological exploration of the Roman catacombs. He is credited with being the first explorer to discover at least thirty suburban cemeteries. This could be terrifying work. According to Bosio’s servant: “When I lived in his house, he had started working on that beautiful book he wrote on underground Rome, and I often went with him to explore the hollows of that city for the most ancient evidence, and always meeting with some misadventure or other. And once, having lost our bearings in relation to the entrance, we remained trapped there for two days, without knowing, nor having hope in finding, where the entrance was. We were recommending ourselves to the Lord, waiting to die when, coming across a crevice, we started calling in a loud voice; fortunately for us we were heard by a countryman who was passing by, and, with his help, we were freed from that dungeon.”
In 1604, Pope Clement VIII honored his achievements by officially legitimizing his birth.
Antonio died before he could publish the results of his archeological explorations. He was only 54 years old. The first edition of his masterpiece, Roma sotterranea (“Subterranean Rome”) was released in 1634, five years after Bosio’s death. The book contained the most extensive research on early Christian burial practices and funeral rituals in existence — as well as lengthy descriptions of the Roman catacombs that he had discovered. The book was published under the supervision of the Knights of Malta. There were so many illustrations that the printing process lasted almost three years.
Antonio Bosio is still remembered today as the founder of Christian archeology.