San Zotico is a ruined complex, comprising a 11th century (?) basilica and 4th century catacombs including (unusually) a possibly genuine underground church. It to the east of the eponymous Via Catacombe di San Zotico in the Borghesiana zone, south-west of the suburb of Finocchio - the actual address seems to be Via Nicolosi 51, from which a dead-end lane runs south-west alongside the site. Apparently the locality is called Valle della Morte
The focus of the complex is an underground shrine, containing the tomb of two (or three) martyrs.
SS Zoticus and Amantius were listed in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum as having been buried here on 10 February, and the revised Roman Martyrology (2001) has kept this entry and placed them in the persecution of Diocletian.
However the developed legend (Passio Zotici, early 8th century) has four martyrs, together with six anonymous companions. The identities of the other two, Irenaeus and Hyacinth (Giacinto in Italian) are a problem. Hyacinth is listed in the oldest recension of the Martyrologium Hieronymianum as having been buried at the fourteenth milestone of the Via Labicana, not the tenth -however, later recensions alter this to the tenth and add Irenaeus.
The presence of a 5th century fresco in the shrine-chamber, showing four men holding rolled-up scrolls, has been suggested as evidence that these four saints were originally interred here. However, the interpretation is uncertain -the fresco could be of the Evangelists. The actual remains of the martyrs' tomb also hints at a third burial, which could have been Irenaeus. The uncertainty has led to the deletion of him and Hyacinth from the revised Roman martyrology, together with their companions. The developed legend is that the group was a squad of soldiers martyred in the 2nd century, but this is fictional.
Catacomb shrine Edit
The archaeologists discerned two zones in the catacombs, an older one dating perhaps to the early 4th century and a newer extension later in the same century. Underground burials seem to have ceased in the mid 5th century -this set of catacombs was not large.
In the early 5th century, the original tomb chamber or cubiculum of the martyrs was enlarged and joined by several other cubicula, all closely packed with burials ad sanctos. This was clearly in response to a wish to be buried close to the relics of the martyrs.
Underground church Edit
The main chamber of the shrine area was remodelled at some stage, and this is a rare example in the Roman catacombs of what might genuinely have been a fully underground church. (Familiar and, unfortunately, still influential, romantic fantasies of past centuries imagine that Mass was celebrated in the catacombs from the earliest times. This is rubbish.)
The shrine was not part of the Roman suburban pilgrimage circuit in the early Middle Ages, but seems to have been a venue for the faithful of Frascati which is due south of here.
The Liber Pontificalis entry for Pope Leo III (795-816) describes him as restoring the cimiterium sancti Iutici, which is probably the set of catacombs here. He might have ordered this remodelling. At this time, it is fairly certain that a monastery was attached to the shrine although this is undocumented.
A problem arises with the corresponding entry for Pope Paschal I (817-24), who is described as having taken the relics of the martyrs to his church of Santa Passera. This would have been in the context of a contemporary campaign at Rome to strip and abandon the suburban catacomb shrines of martyrs, but here it is clear that the shrine was not abandoned, and the cult of the martyrs did not transfer to Santa Passera. Perhaps the relics were divided -and, anyway, the shrine did not belong to Rome but to Frascati.
Mediaeval monastery Edit
The first investigation in the catacombs was by Marc-Antonio Boldetti in 1715, who removed epigraphs (including the one mentioned above). He visited before the vaulting of the shrine chamber collapsed, which is thought to have happened in the later 18th century.
The next to show an interest was Pietro Santovetti, a cathedral canon of Frascati, in 1847. He was followed by Giovanni Battista De Rossi and Henry Stevenson at the end of the century.
However, a proper scientific archaeological survey only came in 1955, when Antonio Ferrua inspected the catacombs and (very fortunately) arranged for photographs to be taken.
A disaster occurred in 1975, when a legal dispute over the ownership of the site left it unsecured, and as a result the catacombs were looted by so-called tombaroli (tomb-robbers). They pillaged architectural items from the shrine area.
Finally, in 1998 Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai oversaw a series of campaigns to excavate the surface remains and to survey the catacombs. This lasted about ten years, since when the above-ground areas have been re-buried. There is nothing to see there now. The results were published in 2008.
The above-ground remains include a pre-Christian ancient surface cemetery, the rather irregular remains of the mediaeval monastery and a little church with a semi-circular apse.
The catacombs are rather small, and the surveyed part is all on one level. However, the archaeologists noted the existence of a further zone which they did not explore.
The galleries are excavated out of what is called the Villa Senni stratum of tufo stone. There is a single entrance staircase, leading to the oldest region which is herringbone style. This involves a single main passage, with side passages about every five metres. This first region is notable for having no cubiculi or arcosolia, but only loculi. This means that there were no special burial chambers or tombs, but only standard grave-slots in the walls of the passages.
The second phase of the catacombs involved a lengthening of the main passage, to a total length of seventy metres. The side passages here are about nine metres apart, and the zone ends in a set of cubicula numbering five (two of these form a doublet).
It is obvious that the tomb of the martyrs was the focus of the catacombs. A side passage on the right originally contained what De Rossi called a "table tomb". This was in between a loculus and an arcosolium, amounting to a large rectangular recess with the tomb-slots in the bottom covered by a stone slab (the "table"). This tomb was obviously of significance from its creation.
Later, in the 5th century, this passage was radically widened to create a large crypt-chamber, ten by seven metres. Two double cubicula were excavated opposite the entrance from the main passage, and the walls were provided with arcosolia. One of the latter has a fresco of four men holding rolled-up scrolls, interpreted as the Evangelists or the resident saints. Another two cubicula were cut on the other side of the main passage, and several arcosolia were cut around the entrance staircase. All these were filled with burials, witnessing to the popularity of the martyrs.
The crypt-chamber was provided with a lucinarium or light-shaft, the only one in these catacombs.
The final form of the shrine-chamber was established probably in the 9th century, when it might have become a church. The archaeologists in the Fifties found evidence for four free-standing columns (not piers cut from the living rock), and a column base was found in situ. These columns would have supported the vault that collapsed in the 18th century. The walls were painted to imitate polychrome marble revetting.
A block of stone was found with a cubical cavity, which might have been an altar with a cavity for relics.
Unfortunately, the column base and this stone were looted in the Seventies.