An underground cemetery made up of a succession of narrow galleries and chambers cut into bedrock. Rows of horizontal burial niches were cut into the walls for single or multiple burials. As space was needed, the catacombs were extended further underground. The Callistus catacombs, for example, had seven layers of galleries and covered over 6 miles.

Burial Niche, or Loculus

A rectangular slot cut into the walls of a catacomb where bodies would be placed for burial. After a burial, the niche would be sealed with a slab of marble or terracotta.


Tablelike structures placed in burial chambers to hold offerings of food or drink when people came to the graves for banquets in honor of their family members. The tops of mensae often had depressions carved into them in the shape of the foods to be offered on them, such as fish and bread, and included basins or pipes to hold wine. Early Christians expanded the practice of eating with their dead to include others within the Christian community who had died, such as saints and martyrs.

Burial Chamber, or Cubicle

An elaborate room in a catacomb, used as an underground mausoleum, with burial niches or more elaborate tombs cut into the walls. These private chambers could be designated for one particular family or group; some included mensae, altars and chairs for both the bereaved and the soul of the deceased. The walls and ceilings of the chambers were often decorated with a variety of pagan and Christian motifs, usually in the form of frescoes on the walls and ceilings.


Usually an open-air banquet hall, similar to a modern-day picnic shelter, built for those who followed an old Roman tradition of eating special meals at the graves of dead loved ones. A triclia is distinct from a triclinium, a couch for reclining on while dining, or the dining room itself, in Roman homes.