Christian Art 101 – The Catacombs of Priscilla – An Introduction

 Beneath the feet of transcending cathedrals and bustling Roman streets lies an empire untouched by modernity. This city of the dead holds together the roots of ancient Christian civilization, art and faith. The Roman volcanic rock called the tufa adequately lent itself to dig, construct and support these underground structures called the catacombs. Roman catacombs originated under the papacy of Pope Zephyrin (199 – 217) who entrusted upon deacon Callixtus (later Pope) the task of supervising the cemetery of the Appian Way where most of the important Pontiffs of the third century would be buried.

The custom of the subterranean interment was well known to the Etruscans, the Jews and the Romans. However with Christianity a more complex and larger system developed. Christian hypogea wished to welcome the whole community into one necropolis, also called the coemeterium. The word in Greek signifies a dormitory thus emphasizing on the ‘temporary’ nature of death and the resting before the eternal resurrection.

The Catacombs of Priscilla are situated on the Via Salaria, its entrance enclosed in the convent of the Benedictine Sisters of Priscilla. Allegedly, in ancient times, this was a Roman quarry which housed the bones of several Popes and martyrs. It was thus called the ‘regina catacumbarum’ or ‘the queen of the Catacombs’.

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Karela with chana dal

Bitter gourd /Karela – 300 grams after it’s cleaned and cut
Channa dal – 50gms
Coriander powder – 1 teaspoon
Cumin powder- 1 teaspoon
Ginger garlic paste – 1 teaspoon
Onion powder – 1 tablespoon
Garlic powder- 1/2 teaspoon
Chilly powder- 1 teaspoon
Oil as required
Salt as required
Lime as desired

Clean a bit of the outer skin and reseed and cut the karela fine. Add salt and let it stand in a colander allowing the water to drip. If you don’t want you dish to be too bitter further squeeze the karela with your hands.

Soak the chana dal for two hours and then boil it in water till done. It should be firm to the bite.

In a pan heat oil and bring it to under spiking point. The oil and pan must be hot. Add the karela and keep frying till it is half done. Make sure it does not sweat, if it does it means your pan and oil were not hot but in any case keep cooking to draw out all water. You may need to add oil as the water dries out.

Now add the ginger garlic and all dry masalas. Drop the temperature and stir this vigorously till the masala is cooked. Now add the chana dal and give it a stir. Your dish is ready. If you like you could squeeze some lime.

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Unanswered prayers?   – Saturday, 5th Week of Easter  – ACTS 16:1-10

The council of Jerusalem was a game changer. Paul and Barnabas have not only been vindicated but have been given a mandate with human testimonials to back this mandate. Silas and Barsabbas are to accompany the two back to Antioch as a sign and seal of apostolic mandate.

We know that this decision to evangelize to the Gentiles did not go down well with the Judaizers. They will continue to follow Paul and disrupt his mission sowing seeds of doubt and dissension. But Paul had another challenge to face. No sooner did Paul and Barnabas receive the mandate to go back to Antioch than a disagreement erupted between the two. (15: 36-41) At the heart of this disagreement was the evangelist Mark, a cousin of Barnabas who had earlier parted ways with Paul and had returned to Jerusalem. While Barnabas wanted Mark to accompany them back to Antioch, Paul would have nothing to do with “this deserter”.  Christianity faced a temporary setback as Barnabas and Mark part ways going to Cyprus while Paul and Silas head to South Galatia.

Having arrived in Derbe and then Lystra, towns he had evangelized on his first missionary journey, Paul comes across Timothy, “the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but whose father was a Greek” (16:1).  A marriage such as this was considered illegal according to Deuteronomy 7:3. However if the mother was a Jew then the offspring was also Jewish. We are also told that Timothy, whom Paul wanted as an evangelizing companion, was a believer. One cannot understand why Paul who was mandated by the council of Jerusalem (15:5-11) to dispense with circumcision for the Gentiles would have a believer in the Lord circumcised. While compromise may not necessarily be held negatively this action almost seemed to be done to please the Judaizers. I wonder what would have happened if Paul simply held his ground?

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OBJECTS AND STORIES – The Rosary, a gift of St. Pope Paul VI to Mount Mary, Bandra

‘As for ourself, we can only say: Here We leave our heart. We feel Ourself to share in a moral citizenship with this land, which We will ever love’  – St. Pope Paul VI farewell address at Santacruz Airport, December 5, 1964.

His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, made history when he visited India to attend the 38th International Eucharistic Congress as a ‘Pilgrim’. His three day stay, from December 2 – 5, 1964, was a witness of his abiding love for the people of all classes, creeds and communities. It was ‘the warmest, biggest and most spontaneous demonstrations of public esteem and affection ever accorded to a distinguished visitor in India’s First City.’ St. Pope Paul VI, on his departure, left behind not only his pulsating heart but also certain ‘gifts’ which continue to throb efficaciously in testimony of a memory that can never be erased from the hearts and minds of the Church in Mumbai.

Amidst the recesses of the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum lies a simple white box with the coat of arms of H.H. Pope Paul VI. Within the box is enclosed the crystal Rosary, gifted by the Pope to the Basilica of the Mount, Bandra. The rosary delicately reflects the story of how it all came to be. Every bead resounds the ‘negotiations’ that had to be gone through before the Holy Father took the decision and conveyed it to H.E. Valerian Cardinal Gracias on September 30, 1964.

In the words of the late Cardinal himself:

‘When in September, 1964, I had a long audience with the Holy Father, I could vaguely sense in which direction his mind was moving. He told me at that audience that he would give me a decisive reply before my departure to Bombay, which had been fixed either for Friday, October 2 or Sunday, October 4, depending on when I would receive a call.’

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Mince

Red meat mince – 1/2 kilo
Onions – two cut fine
Tomatoes – four cut fine
Green chillies- four, minced finely
Curry leave – three sprigs
Cafreal masala – five table spoons
Ginger garlic paste – one large tea spoon
Fresh corriander – a handful chopped finely
Oil as required
Salt as required

For Cafreal Masala
Coriander leaves- 1/2 large bunch or one cup chopped
Green chillies – 10
Cardamom – 6
Cumin – 1 teaspoon
Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
Cinnamon – 2”stick
Cloves – 3
Ginger – 1.5 inch piece
Garlic – 10 cloves
Vinegar – 2 tbsp
Salt – 1 tsp

The above ingredients for the cafreal masala can be ground and stored on the refrigerator and used as desired

In a pan heat oil and add the chillies and curry leaves. Now add the onions and tomatoes and cook till the onions are translucent. Add some salt and the cafreal masala and cook it for three minutes on a low flame. Now add the mince and a cup of water. You may add more water later if you feel like ( in case you want more gravy). If you want the dish dry do not add water as the mince releases its own water but cook it on a low flame. If you want it with gravy then add the water and cook it for ten minutes finally adding the fresh coriander. Your dish is done.

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