Throughout the centuries, and especially during the Renaissance, this iconography was to inspire representations of the Resurrection.
While the catacombs could on occasion serve as a refuge during persecutions, they were first and foremost communal cemeteries, the sole dedicated sites that, until the reign of Constantine, ensured the visibility of the Church.
Located to the southeast of Rome, beyond the city walls, the catacomb of Marcellinus and Peter extends over seven acres and includes more than two and a half miles of subterranean galleries spread over three levels, with numerous chambers and chapels.
Between the mid-3rd and the end of the 4th century, at least twenty thousand bodies were interred there. About sixty such catacombs have been identified around the city of Rome. However, this one is remarkable for its frescoes that have retained an astonishing freshness, as seen in the one reproduced here on the cover of your Magnificat.
Here then is Noah, represented at the moment the dove returns to him bearing an olive branch, confirmation that the earth has returned to life after being submerged by the Flood. The patriarch is clearly depicted here as a prominent figure of Jesus Christ: he bursts forth from the ark having defied death, just as Jesus will burst forth from the tomb having victoriously passed through death. Throughout the centuries, and especially during the Renaissance, this iconography was to inspire representations of the Resurrection.
As the Easter Vigil's blessing of baptismal water reminds us, Noah prefigures the coming of the Son of Man: "O God, who by the outpouring of the flood foreshadowed regeneration, so that from the mystery of one and the same element of water would come an end to vice and a beginning of virtue." Thus, while Noah saved humanity by constructing the ark, Jesus will save it definitively through the foundation of the Church. And thus, while Noah sealed the first covenant with God, Jesus will seal the definitive covenant, the new and eternal one.
Pierre-Marie Dumont. "The Victory of Life over Death." Magnificat (February, 2019).
Reprinted with permission of Magnificat.
Image: The Return of the Dove to Noah's Ark, mural, late 3rd century, Catacombs of Saints Peter and Marcellinus, Rome, Italy.
The AuthorPierre-Marie Dumont is the Founding Publisher of the monthly magazine Magnificat. He is a married layman and the father of a large family. Copyright © 2019 Magnificat
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