Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter restored

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The culmination of a one year project to restore the paleochristian frescoes that decorate the Roman catacombs of Sts. Marcellinus and Peter “ad duas lauros”, was announced by the Vatican this week.

Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter restored
The restored frescoes of the catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter
[Credit: Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA]

This initiative was the result of an agreement signed in June 2012 between the Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology of the Vatican and the Heydar Aliyev Foundation (HAF) of Azerbaijan, which funded the project.

Among the restored frescoes are those of the cubicle of Susanna and the fossor, the niche of Daniel, the arcosolium of Orpheus, the cubicle of Our Lady with two Magi, and the cubicle of the praying matron.

The most advanced conservation techniques, especially laser-based
cleaning, have enabled the removal of a tenacious black patina that had
provided resistant to all traditional cleaning methods. The last
procedure, recently completed, involved the cubicle of the “praying
matron”, in an advanced state of deterioration.

Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter restored
Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter restored
Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter restored
The restored frescoes of the catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter
[Credit: Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA]

The newly-revealed frescoes consist of a central medallion with the Good Shepherd surrounded by the Biblical episodes of Jonah, Daniel among the lions and Noah in the Ark. In the corners there are praying male figures and birds. On the walls there is a rich decorative pattern with floral, plant-based and fantasy elements. On the wall of the entrance there is the notable figure of a praying woman, which although only just recognisable before restoration, now makes a strong visual impact. The figure, framed by two slender trees, may represent the deceased entombed in the cubicle.

During the presentation, which took place at the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Ravasi and the president of the HAF announced that their collaboration will continue and its next objective will be the restoration of the monumental complex of St. Sebastian Outside-the-Walls on the Via Appia Antica, currently only partially open to the public.

Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter restored
Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter restored
Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter restored
The restored frescoes of the catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter
[Credit: Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA]

The agreement relates to an extraordinary collection of sarcophagi, some situation in the perimeter of the Basilica of St. Sebastian (Museum of Sculptures and Epigraphic Museum), others “in situ” in their mausoleums.

The Pontifical Commission for Religious Art has proposed to the HAF a conservation programme for the restoration of around fifteen sarcophagi. Aliyeva expressed her appreciation of the proposal on behalf of the Foundation, and a new agreement will be signed for the financing of the restoration works to render the complex accessible to the public.

Source: Vatican Radio [February 27, 2016]

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