The Catacomb of Santa Savinilla in Nepi is one of the most impressive early Christian burial places in the Lazio region. Used from the 3rd to the 5th century, it is characterized by wide and rather high corridors. It holds over 1,000 tombs of different kinds. Access to the catacomb is in the San Tolomei outside the Walls Church.
Catacomb of Santa Savinilla Nepi
Address: Via del Cimitero, 29 – Nepi. Phone: 0761 570604. Opening times: Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 till 15:30 (May 1 till September 30), from 10:30 till 17:00 (rest of the year). Closed: Monday till Friday. Ticket price: 5 Euros, guided tour included. (Note that opening times and admission may be subject to change.)
History and description
The Santa Savinilla catacombs of Nepi contain around 1,000 tombs of different kinds. These include mensa tombs, arcosolio tombs, pavement “formae,” funerary niches and simple loculi.
Savinilla was a matron, who, after having collected the bodies of the saints Ptolemy and Romanus, buried them in a crypt she had had excavated on her property. San Tolomeo and San Romano had been martyred by Claudius Gothicus, Emperor from 268 till 270. The two martyrs are now patron saints of Nepi.
The catacombs of Santa Savinilla were in use until the first half of the fifth century. Once abandoned, they were thought to have been forgotten over the course of the centuries.
In 1540, Nepi’s city wall was erected. This entailed demolishing a medieval church dedicated to San Tolomeo that had been built on the site. According to local tradition, during these works, the catacomb was rediscovered, supposedly with the mortal remains of the saints still intact.
This tradition proved not to be based on the truth. A fresco in the catacomb was later found to have been painted in the 14th century, there were medieval oil lamps and a document mentioning the tunnels was discovered. The document had been written in 1492. Hence it was concluded that, although the site had stopped being used as a cemetery, its use as a devotional site had continued.
A new church dedicated to San Tolomei was built toward the end of the 17th century. Unfortunately, part of the catacomb was destroyed during its construction.
Recent excavations show that the original entrance to the galleries had been moved during the work. Some of the tombs that had been dug into the tuff stone had also been destroyed.
What to see
The 14th century fresco might identify the arcosolium burial site of San Romano. There is no direct evidence of this, but the size, the fact that it is the only one with a step in front of it, and the frescoes on either side seem to point in that direction. What is certain is that the person buried here must have been someone of importance.