Catacomb Delight

8 Jan

Exiting the Cave of the Ascents at Beit She'arim

Exiting the Cave of the Ascents at Beit She'arim. Click image to view more photos of Beit She'arim.

I’ve always enjoyed a touch of the macabre while visiting historic sites. I’m happy to stroll through historic cemeteries, reading tombstone inscriptions. One of my favorite sites in Rome is the Capuchin Crypt. Today we took a day trip to Beit She’arim National Park for an exploration of some ancient Israeli catacombs. While it would be difficult for any site to rival the grotesque nature of the Capuchin Crypt, I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this Israeli necropolis.

The park features a series of catacombs carved out of chalk hills below the site of the ancient city of Beit She’arim, founded in the 1st century BCE. Some of the catacombs, or caves as the Park refers to them, were rather large with several chambers inside. Most of the caves were ransacked by robbers who entered by digging an opening in the rock above the solid stone doors placed at the entrances. Even so, many of the sarcophagi remain and were displayed in what is now referred to as the Cave of the Coffins. The decorations on the sarcophagi are primitive yet impressive and many depict synbols from Greek mythology. One of the largest catacombs was the burial site of Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi (Judah the Prince). Since he had been the leader of the Sanhedrin, the highest judicial and ecclesiastical council of Jews in Eretz Israel, it was considered desirable to be buried near him, making the site at Beit She’arim the main cemetery for Jews in late antiquity.

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One Response to “Catacomb Delight”

  1. Don January 9, 2012 at 2:23 am #

    When you creep
    from ” When You Skulk Through the Night” sung in the famous
    musical
    Through the vaults
    Hold your skull-lamp high
    And don’t be unswayed
    By the Dark…
    At the end of the Hall
    There’s a deep black abyss
    and the hideous scream
    Of the Snark!

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