Canadian patrons help unearth Vatican’s Santa Rosa necropolis

  • September 21, 2011

TORONTO - A treasure that was buried for centuries within the Vatican walls will soon be on public display thanks to a triumph of local archeology and Canadian philanthropy.

The Canadian chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums will travel to the Vatican Museums in October to celebrate its role in the restoration of the Santa Rosa necropolis, a Roman cemetery of significant archeological and historical value. The patrons have donated about $1 million to the restoration cause.

Discovered by accident in 2003 when a parking lot was being expanded, the necropolis was a burying ground mainly for slaves, servants and Rome’s lower classes.

“It was totally covered — and had been covered since the fourth century,” said Teresa Tomory, chair of the Canadian chapter of patrons.

Vatican  City is built on what was once the site of roads leading out of Rome, and cemeteries were located outside the walls of the city, said Tomory.

Forty-eight patrons of the Canadian chapter will fly to Rome for the official opening ceremonies on Oct. 10 that will be attended by Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, president of Vatican City State.

The necropolis provides an interesting look at the pagan culture of pre-Christian Rome. It contains tombs, paintings, mosaics, altars, tombstones and other artifacts.

“It’s been a major undertaking and from the point of view of the importance of this cemetery they say that it’s second in importance to the Scavi, which is where the tomb of Peter is,” said Tomory.

For this project, the Santa Rosa Necropolis was joined with a nearby cemetery during the reconstruction.

The money for the Santa Rosa necropolis was raised through donations from patrons of the chapter along with a fundraising campaign in which chapter members made a financial contribution according to one of four categories. Over five years, “Santa Rosa” patrons will donate $5,000, “Caravaggio” patrons will donate $25,000, “Raphael” patrons will donate $50,000 and “Michaelangelo” patrons will donate $100,000.  They started raising money in 2009 and final payment from donors is due in 2013, Tomory said.

Tomory said she’s glad to be part of the project because the history of the Catholic Church is represented by everything we see in the Vatican Museums. The Vatican has an important role in preserving this history for mankind, she said.  “This is one way I can contribute to the preservation of these things which are important as far as the human person is concerned. They tell us something about who we are and what our faith is all about,” said Tomory. “And it’s there for all the world to see.”

The Canadian chapter started in 1999, while the organization itself started in 1982. Chapters are located predominantly in the United States, but can also be found in Britain, Ireland, Scotland, Portugal and Monaco. The patrons financially support the restoration and conservation work in the Vatican Museums as they are not subsidized by the Holy See.

For more information on The Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, see

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