Pope Francis says "The tombs of the martyrs and their memories represent the privileged centers of interest of the great Roman archaeologist..." FULL TEXT
LETTER OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS
ON THE OCCASION OF THE 25th PUBLIC SESSION
OF THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMIES
To dear Brother
Cardinal GIANFRANCO RAVASI
President of the Pontifical Council for Culture
and of the Coordination Council between Pontifical Academies
The XXV Public Session of the Pontifical Academies is now imminent, which will have as its central moment the awarding of the Prize annually awarded to distinguished scholars. This meeting, postponed last year due to the pandemic, is now being renewed despite the difficulties that remain. In fact, it is fundamental for the dialogue between the Academies and for the recognition given to young talents who stand out in their respective cultural and thematic fields.
This 25th edition is curated by the Pontifical Roman Academy of Archeology and the Pontifical Academy Cultorum Martyrum , which, on the occasion of the bicentenary of the birth of the great archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi, appropriately wanted to dedicate it to him.
Giovanni Battista de Rossi is considered the founder of modern Christian archeology. Indeed, his contemporary Theodor Mommsen claimed that he "had elevated this discipline from a mere pastime of scholars to a true historical science".
De Rossi's activity was strongly encouraged by Blessed Pius IX , who on 6 January 1852 established the Commission of Sacred Archeology "for the most effective protection and surveillance of the cemetaries and ancient Christian buildings of Rome and the suburbs, for the scientific excavation and exploration of the cemetaries themselves, and for the conservation and custody of what was found or brought to light from the excavations ». The Roman archaeologist was equally dear to Leo XIII , who wanted him to be a guest in the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the last period of his life.
The Pope's support also translated into the purchase by the Holy See of some land above the most important catacombs, so as to preserve from the building activity those fundamental testimonies of early Christianity, to which de Rossi consecrated the his studies and his excavations.
Thus it was that, in the central years of the nineteenth century, the oldest cemetery nucleus of San Callisto came to light, where the crypt of the Popes, from the third century, and that of Santa Cecilia were identified, bringing specialists and faithful closer to archaeological and , through them, to the steadfast and fervent faith of those ancient Christian communities.
Through the comparative study of documentary sources and archaeological memories, Giovanni Battista de Rossi discovered many tombs of Roman martyrs and, together with collaborators and young scholars, revived the cult addressed to them. The tombs of the martyrs and their memories represent the privileged centers of interest of the great Roman archaeologist, who laid the foundations of a lively discipline and ready to grasp the message coming from the Christian catacombs, intended as places of temporary rest in anticipation of the resurrection. He perceived and brought out the deep meaning of those underground necropolises, dotted with thousands of niches all the same, as if to plastically express the fraternity and equality between all the members of the Church.
The pilgrimages, which even today take place along many of the catacomb galleries discovered and studied by de Rossi, retrace the itineraries of the faithful of the first centuries, who, with emotion, reached the tombs of the martyrs to touch those simple tombs and to leave , through the many graffiti still legible today, an invocation, a plea, a sign of devotion.
We admire Giovanni Battista de Rossi's extraordinary commitment as a tireless scholar, who laid the foundations of a scientific discipline, Christian archeology, still present today in many universities; and we also remember the passion with which he lived what for him was a real vocation: to discover and make known the life of the first Christian communities in Rome, through all possible sources, starting with the archaeological and epigraphic ones.
His example deserves to be re-proposed to promote and develop the studies of Christian archeology, as well as in specialized fields, also in universities and institutes where theology and history of Christianity teachings are present.
Therefore, wanting to encourage those who with great commitment and enthusiasm, in the footsteps of Giovanni Battista de Rossi, dedicate themselves to archaeological research and historical and hagiographic studies, I am pleased to award the Gold Medal of the Pontificate to research " The Machaerus Archaeological Excavations ”, directed by Professor Gyözö Vörös, member of the Hungarian Academy of Arts , whose results are collected in three monumental volumes concerning the Jordanian citadel overlooking the Dead Sea.
As a sign of encouragement for archaeological studies on early Christian monuments, I then assign, ex aequo , the Silver Medal of the Pontificate to Doctor Domenico Benoci, for the thesis on "The Christian inscriptions of Area I of San Callisto", and to Dr. Gabriele Castiglia, for the monograph "Christian topography of central-southern Tuscany".
Wishing all the Academicians and participants in the XXV Public Session an ever more fruitful commitment to promote Christian humanism, I invoke the maternal protection of Mary, Queen of martyrs, so that she always accompanies you on your human and academic journey, and I impart from my heart the Apostolic Blessing to you and your loved ones.
From the Vatican, 1 February 2022