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Catacombs of St. Tecla
June 22nd, 2010
04:29 PM ET

Vatican: Oldest known images of apostles Andrew and John found

The oldest known image of the apostles Andrew and John have been discovered in catacombs under the city of Rome, dating back to the 4th century A.D., archaeologists announced Tuesday.

The paintings were found in the same location where the oldest known painting of St. Paul was discovered last year, the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology said Tuesday.

They are part of a group of paintings around an image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd on the ceiling of what is thought to have been a Roman noblewoman's tomb, experts said.

A painting of St. Peter makes up the fourth member of the group, but older images of him are thought to exist, Vatican experts said.

Their inclusion in the tomb shows the aristocrats were among the last Romans to convert to Christianity, archaeologist Fabrizio Bisconti said.

The Roman matron must have been very rich, he said, as the colors and richness of the decoration show.

The images of the apostles' heads and shoulders against a deep red background were uncovered after two years of work, Vatican experts said.

Archaeologists used a new laser technology to remove layers of white carbon calcium deposited on the frescoes over the centuries without disturbing the paintings.

They are located in the catacombs of St. Tecla, one of the 40 Roman catacombs under Rome. It sits under a modern eight-story building in a working-class neighborhood. It is closed to the public and its entrance is mostly hidden.

The Vatican spent about 60,000 euros (about $74,000) on the archaeological work, it said. The apostles were a group of a dozen men, according to Christian tradition, who spread the gospel of Jesus after his crucifixion.

- CNN.com Senior Producer

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Jesus

soundoff (342 Responses)
  1. sentinal2012

    Christianity didn't make it to Rome until 800 A.D. Paul travelled south toward the Gaza. Mark went into Egypt. etc. etc. That is one heck of a "word of mouth campaign". BUT if they knew where they came from and back then people didn't mix much outside of probably a 25 mile circle, then they probably could have guessed at what he looked like. The ACE in the sleeve is prophecy which is the artists were sent images of the apostles or the images were handed down due to intense emotion over the original exposure.

    June 22, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
    • dalis

      800!? No, even secular historians and archaeologists agree on the presence of early Christians in Rome by the middle of the 1st century, leading to the Diocletian persecution in the 3rd century, then the normalization of Christian practice withe Edict of Milan (313) under Constantine.

      Please tell me you're not a skeptic about the settled history of Christianization of Europe but that you'd believe a Mayan-calendar derived conspiracy theory (2012?)

      June 22, 2010 at 11:56 pm |
  2. JustMe

    I can only speak for me. Knowing Christ has been the best thing in my life. We all do have our own choice in life. Our freewill. Just remember if you ever come to the place where life seems without hope. He WILL be there for you. No matter what you have done. He loves everyone one of you who read this.

    June 22, 2010 at 11:44 pm |
    • John

      Excellent..but so few really care.

      June 23, 2010 at 1:03 am |
    • whybs

      There are a bunch of sheep out there! Ignorance is bliss! Unquestioned/pretended knowledge is deadly! 😦

      June 23, 2010 at 9:32 am |
  3. John Q. Public

    For all we know, they looked like Justin Timberlake. These images were made more than 300 years after they died. Anybody want to speculate as to what your ancestors from the early 1700s looked like? Unless they were rich (commissioned portraits), or very famous (somebody else with money commissioned a portrait), there were no contemporary images of our ancestors made until photography became relatively inexpensive in the mid-1800s.

    June 22, 2010 at 11:41 pm |
  4. Peter Q. Wolfe

    Adoptee by grace,

    I will mention what happened in one of the Gospels about the annointing of Jesus with the expensive perfume. Someone asked Jesus that if they sold the perfume they could help the poor. He replied to the tune of "The poor will always be among you" so sometimes things for sake of development and reflections without too exhorbadent of a price can be worth it. It's true though that people need to be more generous around the world like me in the future I plan to adopt a sponsered child in Brazil or somewhere like that for like 25$s per month. Small things like cutting one less cola out of your diet helping yourself in the process and muturally helping another person around the world. People should also prevent waste of food and other sources of what others in other nations considered a luxury like running power and clean water. We should all count our blessings and realize our responsability should be higher to solve the worlds problems. For example, I would like to work in Apple in accessability for the disabled like myself.

    June 22, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
  5. Lee

    I don't see anwhere in the article where it says these portraits are supposed to be accurate dipictions of them. In Catholic art the religious figures take on the culture of the country where they were painted. God has no color, therefore in Catholic art skin color doesn't really matter. In all white Poland, you have the most revered image in all of Poland, The Black Madonna. I believe there are several throughout Europe. In Asia you have Mary and Christ with Asian features. We Catholics don't worship the images as if they were God's themselves, they only aid us in our prayer life. Therefore painting them to look like the surrounding culture isn't that big of a deal. Yes, Jesus probably had darker features. And your point is???? Anyway, I though the portraits shown here had darker features, dark hair etc.

    June 22, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
  6. d3wayne

    they look like the beatles to me

    June 22, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
  7. Adoptee by grace

    75000 dollars better spent on feeding the poor. As far as matters of faith, why throw pearls before swine? God loves you and gives you from you first breath to your last to love him back. If you don't he will dry the eyes of those who do. Shalom

    June 22, 2010 at 11:10 pm |
  8. Peter Q. Wolfe

    To the poster above, look at my quote "Intelligent design" and I just smugged the entire idea. Actually then I would evaluate the comment without reading what I said affectively. Good try though and it's a theory and not a scientific law. I studied it in college and my instructor for the class actually believed in both. I think they are 100% incompatable with one another and while I'll admit binocular vision, body hair, opposable thumbs and upright apish genetical similarities seem plausable, I don't think they are in fact real. If you weren't religious for example it's a theory tht can have a bit of untruthfulness or else it would be a scientific law like the law of gravity by a christian scientist. Many scientific inventions were and still are being made by christians and I think science can be practiced on a limited scale with christian belief.
    Finally, what difference does it make how apostles looked like? Seriously I could care less it's like apples and oranges. If it was important surely Jesus Christ would have let us know in pictures true to us and perserved them in some way with the Father who art in Heaven in the likness of the original apostle Saints. Oh, evolutionanist, Darwin wasn't an radical atheist either and look up what religion he supposedly was too! Matter of fact, I would argue that christians would be surprised to know how many christians are out there in the natural sciences and some are disgusted with some estimations of geology as the age of the Earth being incompatable with biblical doctorine. I'm in engineering at my university and I find computers and christianity close to one another in a small scaled down version of a future being to surpass human intelligence and beyond our pity differences but unfortunately some people on here think there is multiple ways to Heaven. The Bible specifically says "There is only way one to my Father and that is through me" Jesus Christ said. This means protestants and catholics pretty much with some christians thinking sunnni nonviolent recognizers of Jesus as a the messiah as well. We also believe that if you never had the opportunity to learn of Jesus via the Amazon Basin or some remote area like the Bask people in Spain or something that you are at another level of accountability as well.
    note: I've seen more derisive comments thrown at catholics from protestants than catholics throwing anything on anyon at all. If anything catholics think other faiths with jewish people unlike mormons or baptists or etc in popular culture think likewise of salvation through symbolic faith in a spiritual Jesus just less of a chance cause it was told to me by what I consider moderate creditable sources in theology.

    June 22, 2010 at 11:03 pm |
    • dalis

      @ Peter I would simply say that science and religion are not an either-or proposition. In fact, many problems happen when people elevate one to the exclusion of the other. I don't think we actually have any disagreement here, so chill out.

      June 22, 2010 at 11:39 pm |
  9. april

    What is with you people? nobody is trying to say that these are true likenesses of the apostles. They are just the earliest known depictions. They tell historians a few things about how Christianity was perceived by Romans of that time period. So they are important to historians. And they might have formed the basis for future paintings of the apostles. Since there was a period of art history during which christian scenes were very popular, and were painted by many famous artists, these early paintings are very important to an art history buff as well. It's possible that someone of that era might have known a few details about appearance – like someone had a beard, or another had a mole on his nose. But a realistic likeness? Probably not.

    June 22, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
    • John

      I'm sure people are already worshiping these paintings even before this story and now more with many more mocking.

      June 23, 2010 at 1:05 am |
  10. Bobloblaw

    Revelation 1:14
    His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;

    This is the whole thing...people interpret the scriptures differently. When they talk of being 'like wool'...I believe they are talking about the color of his hair at his second coming.

    June 22, 2010 at 10:53 pm |
  11. bleachnstuff

    Religion is for the uneducated. Try reading a biology textbook instead of that fatuous bible.

    June 22, 2010 at 10:48 pm |
    • dalis

      Somehow, when someone tells me that to be educated means NOT to read a book, I can't take them seriously. I have a novel idea: read all the books.

      June 22, 2010 at 11:42 pm |
    • John

      George Washington, Abraham Lincoln to name a few, were not uneducated stupid, yet they loved God and could nothing without him. Please foregive me for the stupid remark.

      June 23, 2010 at 1:08 am |
    • Ronald Harper

      What he means is that religion appeals to the uninformed. An education brings objectivity to considering things like these paintings, helping to understand why they're there and why these people were important in a broader, scientific and historical sense. And that it's a good idea to read a book on biology, or some other natural science – to move on and read many other types of books, after you've finished reading the bible as a child.

      June 23, 2010 at 1:20 am |
    • dalis

      But, that isn't what he said, so I can't know what bleachnstuff meant beyond the words on the screen. As a side note, I've noted plenty of historical inaccuracy among those on this page who claim to have evolved beyond religion.

      June 23, 2010 at 1:33 am |
    • Adrian

      Newton was christian, Hassan Ibn Al Haitham was muslim, and Einstien was jewish along with more and more exceptions. The founder of physics, founder of optics and the most popular scientists were all religious .

      June 23, 2010 at 4:03 am |
  12. Daniel H.

    I used to get annoyed by portrayals of early Christian figures as Caucasians. Then a trip to Shimabara Castle in Japan taught me something. I saw paintings of Asian Mary sitting in a lotus blossom; you'd mistake her for Buddha if she wasn't holding a baby. See, everybody does this. Every culture imagines these people in their own basic image. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing, either, but rather highlights the universality of the religion.

    June 22, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
  13. sinofracism

    God, in his infinite wisdom, came down from heaven into time and space as a human being at a time when there were no cameras or videos. He knew how much pain and anxiety the sin of racism would cause once the mid-Atlantic slave trade began and that's probably why we have no pictures of Jesus. As Kirk Franklin put it, "It doesn't matter what color He was – as long as His blood was red." The blood that Jesus shed for us on the cross when He took all the punishment you and I deserve is what really matters!

    June 22, 2010 at 10:31 pm |
  14. Peter Q. Wolfe

    There is no way that anyone can say what Jesus Christ looked like either. I mean his birth was spawned by the Holy Spirit in conjunction with Mother Mary. So, I logically dicern that Jesus Christ looked like what the Holy Spirit not Mother Mary so much looked like. I don't think it matters whether Jesus Christ had biological brothers or sisters either cause it's quoted in one of the four gospels I read that Jesus clearly thought that everyone was his brothers and sisters and he needed to be with the ones who sinned. The pictures are probably fascinating and I can't see to see them so appreciate your vision okay? Seriously before I became blind I really thought I could possibly become blind nor be a convert into precatholicicism from an atheist prospective cause at some point you just have to submit to the Lord. I mean come on a Big Bang theory with nothing or no purpose other than an intelligent design made by shear accident through evolutionism? Come on now who is crazy?
    Finally, I don't know why religion at times is so argumenative on Earth. We are on this Earth for what eighty measely years on average and americans due to bad lifestyle choices won't last even that long. Immediate gratification with no moral compass being religion leaves no room for consequences of ones actions to others and to oneself. Maybe you need to re-evaluate your life and priorities like eternal life or mortal life? Will these physical comforts when you have past away and they have gone into disrepair? The thing is that blurring of lines and cow towing to different beliefs destroying a religious affiliation cause of some men isn't right. I mean if a baptist preacher encourages gluttony, greed, hate, judgemental behavior and etc, yet isn't reported as such isn't any better as it's all sin onto itself. Idiotry is when you allow a physical or nonphysical object to get in the way of you and God so crucifixes as they aught to be practiced aren't The problem with the Bible is that too many protestants and othe religion look at it literal not in context and in content cause that would be too much reading or they might be afraid what they might find is a catholicism and come back home!

    June 22, 2010 at 10:21 pm |
    • dalis

      Actually, the Big Bang Theory was first posited by a Roman Catholic priest, the astrophysicist Georges Lemaître – but he never said it happened without purpose.

      June 22, 2010 at 10:27 pm |
  15. Derek

    It always amazes me how people love to distort and change history to fit their own views. Europeans would love Jesus and the apostles to look blond with blue eyes, blacks would love them to be black. The facts remain:they were neither black nor European looking. They were Jewish/Hebrew. Don't think Ashkenazi Jews either. The people who are closest in resemblance today are the Jews who didn't go (and mix somewhat) to Europe, but those middle eastern Jews who stayed in that area(a lot of Jews remained in surrounding countries). So, look at today's people in the Middle East, that is as close as you can get if you want to find out about their appearance.

    June 22, 2010 at 10:16 pm |
  16. John

    This is the proof of Jesus' existences.

    June 22, 2010 at 10:15 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      400 years after the fact–if it was a fact?

      June 22, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
    • Ronald Harper

      There's not a lot of dispute about whether or not 'jesus' existed – the Roman historian Josephus recorded his appearance before Pilate. It's striking that you are so excited that this might be proof that 'jesus' existed, but don't know about Josephus. You can wiki 'Josephus on Jesus' to learn more about him. To make a broader point, I think you aren't alone – in that, for the most part, people who are religious generally are ignorant of history, of putting words and texts like this into historical context, and of the world at large. In general.

      June 23, 2010 at 1:13 am |
  17. Denise

    Paul was not an original apostle.

    June 22, 2010 at 10:11 pm |
    • Ronald Harper

      You're right, he was just a well traveled person that spread the story of what happened to the people of his region when the Romans invaded and butchered most of them. He was just a regular person with a harrowing story to tell. A story about regular people that were in a frightening situation – nothing magical or mystical about this at all.

      June 23, 2010 at 1:16 am |
  18. Ex-NCO

    Why is one of them wearing platemail armor?Thats about 1300 years too soon..

    June 22, 2010 at 10:06 pm |
    • dalis

      I'm not seeing armor. I think those are Roman-style robes.

      June 22, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
  19. Not happy

    Whats the point of this being a CNN highlighted story if the gallery is 'expired' and I cannot see the pictures ? If you're gonna expire the gallery, then take away the story. Thank you CNN

    June 22, 2010 at 10:00 pm |
  20. Observer

    HAHA!! Reading all this really made my day! I think it is hilarious how archeology so quickly turned into a battle over the Bible. I love reading these debates, but lets not start calling people tools of Satan folks, that is just silly name calling. Not that I believe in Satan, but if you are going to evoke the name of Satan just because someone is ornery, at least make sure the person is a child murderer or something.... not every negative comment is a result of the Devil.....

    June 22, 2010 at 9:48 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.