St. John Burial Chambers, Paul Believed to Have Preached Here
The Christian Cruises at Living Passages often visit the Catacombs (burial chambers) in Syracuse, Sicily. Along with the Catacombs of Santa Lucia, those of San Giovanni make up the part that is easiest to visit in the whole complex of Syracuse’s catacombs, which in terms of expansiveness and articulation are second only to those of Rome. The atmosphere that permeates this underground place is extraordinary, full of charm and mystery.
An exciting oral tradition on the island states that the Apostle Paul preached here in this place to his brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. This site we visit on our Christian cruises is called the “World of the Dead” or Chiesa di San Giovanni which means the Church of St. John.
On this tour, you see a Greek-cross shaped chamber with the others burial sites inside the catacombs. The site is also very famous for its painted frescoes and Christian carved symbols from the century Christ ascended.
This catacomb was excavated for the most part between 315 and 360 A.D., and remained in use until the end of the 5th century. Contrary to popular belief, burial in catacombs (or in underground tunnels carved into rock) was not an exclusively Christian custom. So much so that in Syracuse in the Catacomb of Vigna Cassia (open for visits by appointment only and only in large groups) the graves of dead Christians and pagans are located side by side, apparently linked by ties of kinship and not of religion.
In fact, in Rome there are Jewish catacombs and pagan catacombs in addition to the better known Christian catacombs. To save work, the tunnels in the Catacomb of San Giovanni of Syracuse were opened initially following the route of a disused Greek aqueduct (some traces of which are recognizable on the ceiling of the main gallery), which was expanded to its current dimensions.
Similarly, some existing cisterns along the route were converted into funeral chapels for families of distinction.