Herculaneum House
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Herculaneum House
Page 160

Mount Vesuvius

HerculaneumA beautifully preserved Christian house was discovered in 1938 under fifty five feet of volcanic mud in a place called Herculaneum not far from Pompeii in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, in Southern Italy. It was only 5.6 miles east of Naples and a short distance from the Mediterranean. Mount Vesuvius had a large cone and steep sides from a previous eruption. Volcanic mud from Vesuvius flowed down the volcano sides in 79 AD upon the houses and people living in Herculaneum. That eruption also ejected rocks, fumes and ash to a height of over 20 miles and molten rock at the rate of something like 1.5 million tons per second! The thermal energy involved was estimated at a hundred thousand times that of the Hiroshima atom bomb! Approximately 16,000 people died according to the only eyewitness report written by the magistrate Pliny the Younger (61-113 AD) to the historian Tacitus (56-117 AD). Upon excavation, archaeologists found that one particular house, which was once splendid in design and decor, had fallen upon hard times before the eruption. The first floor had been turned into two apartments. In one room, which could have belonged to either apartment, a small chapel had been set up. A patch of white plaster had been let into the wall at some time subsequent to the construction of the room. Plainly marked in the center of this plaster was a sizeable cross.

Christian Cross

James OssuaryThe Anglican theologian and evangelist Dr Michael Green in his excellent book, "Evangelism in the Early Church", explained that though it was not certain, this likely afforded proof of Christian ownership. Some experts had doubted that the cross became a Christian symbol so early, but other recent discoveries of clearly inscribed, beautiful and ornate Christian inscriptions including crosses on bone boxes or ossuaries from the first and second centuries in Jerusalem seemed to point to the acceptance of the cross as a Christian symbol much earlier than thought. Among the embellishments on one ossuary were the sign of the cross, a fish, Jonah emerging from the whale and the anchor, which were all well known early Christian symbols. The stone ossuaries were rectangular boxes for bones about two foot long from the Judeo-Christian community in Jerusalem. They presented the clear probability that the cross was used as a Christian symbol in the first century AD as well as at the beginning of the second century, much earlier than was previously thought.

Christian Symbol

Pompeii figureMoreover, a wooden cross was also found in another Herculaneum house buried in volcanic mud at the same time. There were one or two probable other examples at Pompeii, along the coast from Herculaneum notably that from the House of Pansa which occupied an entire city block and had an approximate floor area of 20,000 square foot. There was therefore every reason to believe that this indenture in the wall at the Herculaneum residence was a Christian emblem from 79 AD or prior to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

"Herculaneum House"
by Ron Meacock © 2018

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