Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

This word is derived from arcus "arch" and solium , a term sometimes used by Latin writers in the sense of "sarcophagus"; solium porphyretici marmoris (Suet., Ner., 50). The term arcosolium was applied by the primitive Christians to one form of the tombs that exist in the Roman catacombs. Thus, an inscription published by Marchi (Mon. delle arti prim., 85), which may still be seen in the courtyard of the Palazzo Borghese, states that "Aur. Celsus and Aur. Hilaritas have had made for themselves and their friends this arcosolium, with its little wall, in peace." The arcosolium tombs of the catacombs were formed by first excavating in the tufa walls a space similar to an ordinary loculus surmounted by an arch. After this space was cleared an oblong cavity was opened from above downwards into that part of the rock facing the arch ; a marble slab placed horizontally over the opening thus made completed the tomb, which in this way became a species of sarcophagus hewn out of the living rock. The horizontal slab closing the tomb was about the height of an ordinary table from the ground. In some instances, as in the "papal crypt " and the crypt of St. Januarius, the front wall of the arcosolium tomb was constructed of masonry. A species of tomb similar in all respects but one to the arcosolium is the so-called sepulchrum a mensâ , or table-tomb; in this a rectangular niche takes the place of the arch. The baldacchino tombs of Sicily and Malta belong also to this class; they consist of a combination of several arcosolia. A more ancient form of the arcosolium than that described consisted of an arched niche, excavated to the level of the floor, in which sarcophagi of marble or terra-cotta containing the remains of the deceased were placed. Arcosolium tombs were much in vogue during the third century in Rome. Many of the later martyrs were interred in them, and there are reasons to suppose that in such instances the horizontal slabs closing the tombs a served as altars on certain occasions. The arcosolia of the Roman cemeteries were usually decorated with symbolic frescoes, the vault of the arch and the lunette being prepared with stucco for this purpose. One of the most interesting examples of an arcosolium adorned in this manner may be seen in the catacomb of Sts. Peter and Marcellinus; in the lunette the miracle of Cana is represented as a symbol of the Eucharist, while on the arch a baptismal scene and a symbol of baptism - always associated with Eucharistic symbols - are depicted on either side of a veiled orans . A second excellent example of a decorated arcosolium, in the Cæmeterium Majus , represents on the arch our Saviour between two praying figures, and in the lunette Mary as an orans (unique in the catacombs ), with the child Jesus. (See CATACOMBS.)


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • Daily Reading for Monday, July 25th, 2016 HD Video
  • St. James the Greater: Saint of the Day for Monday, July 25, 2016
  • 'She is the witness to the risen Christ': Mary Magdalene honored
  • 'Contemplative communities are not immune': Pope Francis on prayer
  • Daily Readings for Monday, July 25, 2016
  • Christ apparition in Mexico
  • Daily Reading for Tuesday, July 26th, 2016 HD Video

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Second Corinthians 4:7-15
7 But we hold this treasure in pots of earthenware, so that the immensity ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
1 [Song of Ascents] When Yahweh brought back Zion's captives we lived in ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 20:20-28
20 Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came with her sons to make a request ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for July 25th, 2016 Image

St. James the Greater
July 25: Nothing is known of St. James the Greater's early ... Read More