Milos Catacombs: One of the most important archeological findings of Milos is the famous catacombs. These catacombs were found in 1844 and it is estimated that they were built towards the end of the 1st century. They were used as Christian cemeteries during Roman times. The catacombs are three in total and they are found underground. They are interconnected as they have hallways that decrease in height as you reach the death chamber. The hallways are typically about 200 meters in length with 5 to 7 carved graves on each side of the hallway.
These graves are mostly decorated with natural jewels and pictures. These catacombs were not just places to bury the dead. They were also used as Christian churches during the time when Romans were persecuting Christians. These catacombs show that Christianity spread early on the island of Milos. Today, you cannot visit all of the catacombs. You can only take a tour around the arcades.
These catacombs lie southwest of the village of Tripiti. They are situated 150 meters above sea level. You will have to walk up a steep hill to get to them. Christians built the catacombs here since it seemed to be a good location to hide from their Roman persecutors. They are considered to be one of the largest examples of Christian cemeteries in the world. These catacombs were not easy to build, as the Christians had to dig them out of volcanic rock. The result is regarded as a prime example of an early Christian monument.
It also indicates the period that Cristians came to Milos, around the 1st century AD. It is conjectured that it happened at this time since Miloan trade with Rome and the rest of the known world was booming then. The first people to find these catacombs were not archaeologists, but illegal antique dealers who discovered them in 1840 and decided to pillage them. The three catacombs are connected by three corridors and a dead hallway. It is like a maze and is about 185 meters long. You can only visit one part of these catacombs i.e. the second chamber or arcade. The graves are located in vaults and the last count revealed 126 vaults.
Archaeologists are of the opinion that thousands of early Christians were buried here. Each vault or grave was lighted by an oil lamp. The oil lamps have now been replaced with more modern electrical lights. The graves for the more important people of that time have Christian symbols and epitaphs on them. Archaeologists have studied these graves in the past. Their research was deterred by the fact that most graves have been destroyed by exposure to natural elements.
One of the most important persons of that era was the Vicar. His body can be found in a grave on the right side of the central chamber. It is the 6th grave on the right. A sarcophagus can be found in the same vault as the vicar and it is thought to be the home of one of the first Christians killed for his beliefs. Early Christians used this grave as an altar for worship.The worship at the catacombs had to be in secret because of the Romans. This changed in 313 AD, when the Roman emperors Constantine the Great and Licinius issued the Edict of Mediolanum, allowing freedom of religion.
Religions would not be persecuted anymore on the island of Milos. These catacombs were originally meant to bury the dead. About 300 graves can found in these catacombs. These graves were not meant for one person. They actually put many dead people in each grave. The number of dead people these catacombs could be as high as 8000 people. Many people believe that there is another section that has not been discovered yet.
The construction of these catacombs was one of the main goals of early Christians in the 3rd century AD. This stemmed from the fact that Christians believe that there is a possibility that like Jesus Christ, you could come back from the dead. A grave is supposed to be a place to preserve your body until you come back to life. They also did not think that Romans would pay proper respect to a dead person of a group that they hated and persecuted.
The catacombs are full of labyrinths so that the Romans could get lost in them. This was a way to protect the bodies from their enemies. A Baptistery is located near these catacombs. This is thought to have been built by the Jews who converted to Christianity. These converted Jews had come from Israel to Milos after the Romans began leaving post Christians.
The word catacomb comes from the name of a region in Rome near the river Tiber where there are a lot of caves. Christians adopted this name to use for their underground burial places. Some efforts were made to make these burial places as unique as possible. There are unique inscriptions, names and traces of paintings that can be found on the walls.
Each burial place has the symbols for Alpha and Omega. Christians believed that Jesus Christ was the alpha and the omega. Alpha is the beginning of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the end of the Greek alphabet. For Christians, Jesus Christ is the beginning as well as the end of everything.
There would have been more information about the inscriptions if humidity had not eroded them. Pirates, locals, conquerors and travelers did not help by repeatedly stealing stuff from these catacombs. They almost took the tombstones as well. The catacombs of Milos are a unique archaeological find that you must see when you visit this small Greek island of Milos.