The treasure of Anagni: a unique collection of epigraphs from Roman catacombs

Anagni, the city of Popes and the Slap given to Pope Bonifacio VIII, contains many treasures of archeology and art. It was one of the pontifical headquarters, the centre of European politics between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and in this period it became one of the richest cities.

The most important sacred building is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata, surrounded by a series of medieval buildings where the court and all the notables stayed.

The most emerging and significant residence from a political and military point of view is the Palace of Boniface VIII, former residence of Gregory IX and Innocent IV, which preserves the famous halls of the Geese and the Slap, and hidden until recently special parts of its wing.

In 1764 the palace was joined to the monastery of the Cistercian Sisters of Charity, erected by the anagninan Claudia De Angelis in the early eighteenth century and which, over time, had become a grandiose solitary place. The process of canonization of Sister Claudia De Angelis is ongoing.

The monastery has its own church born from the transformation of a previous medieval oratory dedicated to Saints Cosma and Damiano. The church is a jewel of the Baroque but there are traces of fragments of the previous cosmatesque pavements, rebuilt from 1737 near the high altar.

In the eighteenth century the church was re-dedicated to Saints Cosmas and Damian and to the Immaculate Conception, so to add Mary as curator of the health of souls to the veneration of the holy physicians of the body, the daughters of Claudia.

If you go down to the ground floor of the complex, you enter a unique room where the oldest and most obvious collection of urban inscriptions is kept in the walls, which complete the historical and spiritual significance of the work of Claudia De Angelis.

They are 80 epigraphs, most of which come from the Roman catacombs of San Callisto and Pretestato, but also from other Christian cemeteries along the roads of Appia, Latina, Ardeatina and Salaria.

They are written in Greek or in Latin, or are anepigraphs (i.e. epigraph without title), the slabs of the collection show all recurring paleochristian symbols: the Christogram, the figure of the orante (person at prayer), the fish, sheep, boat, tree, dove, vase, grapes, palm branch and Noah.

One of the most precious for the documentary value and for the iconographic aspects is the slab with the Traditio Legis scene (Christ delivering the new law), which can be dated to 380 AD, and which reproduces on a single register the great apse decoration of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican from when it was still a Constantinian building.

You see in the foreground Jesus on a mountain with St. Peter and St. Paul on either side. Two groups of lambs and two large palms close the image on the sides.

The epigraphs were brought to Anagni and catalogued with great wealth of details in the eighteenth century by Marc Antonio Boldetti and Giovanni Marangoni. Both were custodians of the Sagre Reliquie and therefore superintendents of the Catacombs of Rome.

They were also among the main supporters of the community of teachers gathered around Claudia De Angelis and consecrated them to the School of Charity for female education.

They endowed the monastery with countless relics and tombstones, so that it could become a place of sanctity and possess the tangible signs of worship and martyrdom of the early Christians. This was also a way of proving the value of the monastery’s activities through this particular kind of collection.

The inscriptions were originally part of the floor or on the sides of the altar of the monastery church. They were then moved to the current room before 1908, when Bishop Antonino Sardi refurbished the flooring and other works.

The countless reliquary vessels, placed inside the wooden doors on the walls, remained in the church. And the memory of the particular link with the worship of the SS. Martyrs can also be traced in the architecture of the building itself.

The central plant, in fact, is typical of the sanctuaries dedicated to the veneration of martyrs and church cemeteries, even the current church had a cemetery under the floor where the spiritual daughters of Claudia were buried until more than half way through the nineteenth century.

This cemetery was excavated in sandstone, the typical rock of Anagni, beginning in 1737, exactly as if it were a catacomb, and it has a cross-shaped plan, so that the church above is architecturally and theologically founded on the cross.

At the intersection of the vertical and horizontal arms there is a more ancient bell-shaped well, which collects pure and drinkable water from the deepest aquifer, while other ancient inscriptions have been deposited on the walls of the central corridor.

A visit to Anagni always brings surprises and it is a city where you have to go back often going every time to gain a different level of knowledge of our history.

Guide of Anagni

 Anagni stretches along the ridge of a long hill overlooking the Valley of Latini (or Sacco Valley), at the foot […]