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  4. Catacombs of St. John

Catacombs of St. John, Siracusa

Photo © Proust2000. View all images in our Catacombs of St. John Photo Gallery.
Photo © Marcello.
Photo © David Spitz.
Photo © David Spitz.

The Catacombs of St. John in Siracusa contain some 20,000 Early Christian tombs - honeycombed tunnels of empty coffins that were long ago looted of their "burial riches" by plundering grave robbers. They are entered through the evocative ruins of a Norman church.

History

In Roman times, Christians were not allowed to bury their dead within the city limits, so they went outside the boundaries of Syracuse to create burial chambers in what had been used by the Greeks as underground aqueducts. The early Christians recycled these into chapels.

Syracuse has other subterranean burial grounds, but the Catacombs of St. John are the only ones open to the public. You enter the "world of the dead" from the Chiesa di San Giovanni, now a ruin. St. Paul is said to have preached on this spot, so the early Christians venerated it as holy ground.

The church's roots go back to the 6th century, when a basilica stood here, but it was eventually destroyed by the Saracens. The Normans reconstructed it in the 12th century and it served as the cathedral of Syracuse, but in 1693 an earthquake destroyed it. A baroque church was then built, but was abandoned in the 17th century and left in ruins by the earthquake of 1908.

What to See

All that remains of the church today are roofless Norman walls and about half of the former apse, both overgrown. A beautiful rose window is still visible on the facade.

Underneath the church is the Cripta di San Marciano (Crypt of St. Marcian), constructed on the spot where the martyr is alleged to have been beaten to death. His Greek-cross chamber is found 5m (16 ft.) below the ground.

Some faded frescoes and symbols etched into stone slabs can still be seen in the catacombs.

Quick Facts on Catacombs of St. John

Site Information
Names:Catacombs of St. John; Catacombs of St. John, Siracusa
City:Siracusa
State:Sicily
Country:Italy
Categories:Graves and Tombs
Faiths:Christianity
Styles:Paleochristian
Status:museum
Visitor and Contact Information
Location:Siracusa, Italy
Coordinates:37.076631° N, 15.284842° E  (view on Google Maps)
Lodging:View hotels near this location
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

Map of Catacombs of St. John

Below is a location map and aerial view of Catacombs of St. John. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.

References

  1. Frommer's Sicily.

More Information

Article Info

Title:Catacombs of St. John, Siracusa
Author:Holly Hayes
Last updated:04/04/2009
Permalink:www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/siracusa-catacombs-of-st-john/italy/siracusa-catacombs-of-st-john
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