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The Unknown Catacombs

- Abstract

ITALIAN Jews are finding it very difficult to examine and preserve the records of their own history. The town of Venosa in the South of Italy, for example, boasts a group of ancient catacombs of exceptional historic importance.
Known for centuries as the catacombs of Santa Ruffina, and generally believed to be of Christian origin, they were actually used by Italian Jews both as a burial ground and religious meeting place from about the 3rd to the 11th centuries. From the evidence unearthed at Venosa we learn, among other things, that there was a renaissance of Hebrew in Italy during the early Middle Ages, and that there was far more Jewish cultural activity going on there than the standard texts had led us to believe. Yet today the catacombs of Santa Ruffina are in imminent danger of destruction, and the priceless material they contained is being tucked away in museums and monasteries throughout the Italian peninsula-part of a vast cultural and historical patrimony which may soon be lost to the Jews forever.

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