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For the wealthy and for martyrs there were also more imposing graves, known as arcosolia .An arcosolium was a space excavated in the wall above which a semicircular recess was hewn out, in which a sarcophagus was sometimes placed; in the excavation below, the body was laid and covered with a flat marble slab.The graves, or loculi , are cut out of the rock sides of the gallery, so that the length of the bodies can be judged from the length of the graves.
From the earliest times the lowest layer was worked as a stone quarry, and, both in the lowest and uppermost strata, irregularly hewn galleries are discovered everywhere, as in the Capitoline Hill and in the suburbs of the city.
The early Christian name for these places of burial was koimeterion , coemeterium , place of rest.
When, in the Middle Ages, the recollection of the catacombs passed away, the monks attached to the church of St.
The rock and broken material loosened by the constant digging in the innumerable passages were piled up in the sand-pits nearby, or brought to the surface in baskets, or were heaped up in the passages which were no longer visited because the families of the dead had passed away.
In order to obtain light, and above all fresh air, shafts called luminaria , somewhat like chimneys, were cut through the soil to the surface of the ground.
The question, however, arises as to whether the Christians were able to construct these subterranean cemeteries without molestation from the heathens.