Back in July, we published a extensive report on the ancient Jewish catacombs and other ancient Jewish heritage in the town of Venosa in southern Italy, following a visit there by JHE Director Ruth Ellen Gruber.
Ruth’s brother, the architectural historian Samuel D. Gruber, accompanied her on the trip, and he has now published a more detailed description of the catacombs on his Jewish art and monuments blog.
The Jewish catacombs, he notes, lie beneath the surface of what amounts to “a vast cemetery hill, riddled with Jewish and Christian catacombs and other burial chambers created and used from the 4th through 6th centuries of the Common Era.” There are thousands of known burial places under the hill — and probably many more than have not yet been discovered.
He quotes some of the Jewish inscriptions and reports on research by scholars including Margaret Williams, who
has been able to link many of these inscriptions together to create a “stemma” of family connections that extend over seven generations and chart “ how a single family changed economically, socially and culturally in the course of two centuries.” So we do know that certain sections [of the catacombs] did indeed contain the remains of related family members, and that theirs often spanned decades. (See Margaret Williams, “The Jews of Early Byzantine Venusia: The family of Faustinus I, the Father,” Journal of Jewish Studies, Vol 50:1 (spring, 1999).
Among those identified are the apparently prominent family of the chairman of the synagogal board and chief medical officer of the town. The inscriptions on their places of burial, as well as those of others, bear witness to the thriving Jewish community that live in Venosa in late antiquity.
As we noted in our previous article on Venosa, excavations revealed around 75 inscriptions in the catacombs, written in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, as well as depictions of Jewish symbols such as the Menorah, Lulav, Esrog, and Shofar.
The Naples-based scholar Giancarlo Lacerenza has just published an extensive new article on these inscriptions: “Painted Inscriptions and Graffiti in the Jewish Catacombs of Venosa: An Annotated Inventory.” (In