Detailed sheets

Cemetery Basilica

In the north-eastern sector of the Columbaris dig area (fig. 1) you have the remains of the structure called “cemetery church”. In the aftermath of the Church Peace, the building was built on an area used for funeral purposes.

Fig. 1 - Map of the Columbaris complex indicating stages and sectors: the area in violet corresponds to the cemetery basilica (drawing C. Cocco, F. Collu from Cornus I. 1, p. 200, tab. II).

The tombs were covered by a beaten earth floor, at times cut and others were placed on top of them. To the North , the cemetery basilica has two apses, one inside the other (fig. 2, B-C; figs. 3-4) and a single long nave divided into five contiguous environments (fig. 2, D-H). The chambers could have been created at a later date because they were in different building techniques, using the materials of pre-existing structures and phonolite pieces.  There are two apse hemicycles, as the second, the smaller one, was built to resolve stability problems had by the first, larger one. There were five sarcophagi placed between the two.

Fig. 2 - Map of the cemetery basilica (MASTINO 1984, p. 98, fig. 13).
Fig. 3 - Axonometry of the double apse (from FARRIS 1993, p. 65, Tab. 4).
Fig. 4 - Basilica cimiteriale, zona absidale, veduta Nord-Est dell’area (foto di C. Cocco).

Chamber D (fig. 5) was occupied by seventeen rectangular limestone sarcophagi: Besides its funerary function, the space was probably used for liturgy purposes. This was clear on finding several elements such as: slabs used to cover tombs with recesses to hold offerings and two libation pipe fragments, one bronze and the other clay, to pour liquids into depositions. The F space was occupied by pits and sarcophagi embedded in the bedrock. During a period of intense building, at the start of the VI century, a corridor "E" was created inside the same space (fig. 6), to connect the chamber and space A.

Fig. 5 - Space D of the cemetery basilica with sarcophagi on site, to the right of the apse. Viewed from the East (photo by Unicity S.p.A.).
Fig. 6 - Corridor between the funerary basilica and the noble sepulchre, viewed from the East (photo by Unicity S.p.A.).

Partially preserved seats were found on three sides in chamber G. And the remains of a meal and numerous fragments of plates, bowls and glasses in pottery and glass were found spread amongst the depositions. This showed that the space was used for the Agape feasts. A further element of interest is a seat (figs. 7-8) on the southern side of the same chamber and a limestone nut next to it. The pulpit was an upturned sarcophagus, then adapted and shaped. It probably had a symbolic meaning of the deceased taking part in the funerary banquet held in his/her honour. A supporting pillar was set in the limestone nut; this and the seat are no longer visible.

Fig. 7 - Autograph page (from Relaz. Addis 1962, p. 19).
Fig. 8 - Detail of the autographed sketch by O. Addis (from Relaz. Addis 1962, p. 19).

Twenty pit burials and three sarcophagi were brought to the light from the fifth space, called H. In one case, a table was annexed to the burial to celebrate the refrigerium. This chamber must have been covered by a barrel vault which then collapsed.

To the South-East of H, there was an area (M) identified as a large courtyard, connecting the funerary basilica with the bishop's complex. In this space they found an oven and a well, to cook and prepare food and drink with. Moreover, it has been suggested that there was a portico further South of the chamber. Later on, they built a chamber (L) which contained a baptismal font with three steps on two sides. There was a fence (I) on the northern side of this space, in which they found a bigger sarcophagus covered by a cupola-shaped tomb stone. These various environments have returned a group of Christian burial epigraphs related to an period of time between the IV and V century. The life of the cemetery basilica probably ended because of a fire that spread between the end of the VII and the VIII century.


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