(Larry Hurtado) By happy accident (often a feature of scholarly research!) yesterday, I ran across an article I would likely never have learned about otherwise: Ann Marie Yasin, “Displaying the Sacred Past: Ancient Christian Inscriptions in Early Modern Rome,” International Journal of the Classical Tradition 7 (2000): 39-57.
Yasin focuses on the origins of scholarly investigation of ancient Christian sites and artifacts in Rome, particularly inscriptions and grave sites. I was surprised to learn that this takes us back to the late 15th century (Fra Giocondon and Pietro Sabino, who catalogued inscriptions). Archaeological work began with Antonio Bosio, who discovered the Roman catacombs “on an unprecedented scale” from 1593 (Bosio published his “monumental work”, Roman sotterranea in 1632).
As she further shows, all through the 17th and 18th centuries, the Roman Church was keenly interested in the investigation, acquisition, and study of ancient Christian artifacts, particularly those reflective of, or thought to be connected with, early Christian martyrs. The furtherance of connections with the ancient period of Christianity was seen as of great interest by church authorities.
It is interesting also that in this period a number of scholars valued “material evidence” over texts, as they were so suspicious of the forgery and alteration of texts.