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Last edited 24 Nov 2021
|Inside the Terrace catacombs at Highgate cemetery, there is a brick-vaulted gallery that is naturally illuminated by oculi set in the terrace above. The spaces were used as both temporary and permanent resting places.|
The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture (third edition) was published in 1980. It was created for Penguin Reference and compiled by John Fleming, Hugh Honour and Nikolaus Pevsner. It defines a catacomb as: ‘An underground cemetery, sometimes on several levels, consisting of linked galleries and chambers with recesses for tombs (loculi).’
It is believed that the term catacomb was first used to describe a third century Christian underground burial chamber located outside Rome. During this period, it was illegal to bury the dead within the walls of the city.
This manner of burial was used in other parts of Italy, where a tradition of fresco painting on catacomb walls emerged as an early form of Christian art. Carvings also decorate the walls in some instances.
Some noteworthy examples include:
- San Gennaro catacombs in Naples.
- Paris catacombs (which hold the bones of more than six million people and was used by the French Resistance during the Second World war).
- Odessa catacombs (which were used for mining not for burial purposes).
London has its own catacombs, including those of Highgate Cemetery. These brick vaulted structures - referred to as the Terrace catacombs - are believed to be one of the earliest examples of asphalted construction in England.
These are some of the coffins stored in the recesses of Highgate cemetery's catacombs.
Dating from the 1830s, this structure has separate recesses for 825 coffins, including one for the British surgeon, Robert Liston. Liston specialised in amputations and introduced the use of anaesthesia - outside the United States - for operations.
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