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Ancient frescoes revealed underneath Rome

The frescoes: the word ‘Bosio’ is a piece of graffiti left by Antonio Bosio, a 16th-century explorer (ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

Archaeologists have used lasers to burn away centuries of grime in catacombs underneath Rome to reveal “stunning” frescoes that are 1,600 years old.

The Catacombs of St Domitilla, believed to be the world’s oldest existing Christian cemetery, contain a total of 150,000 burial spots.

Most are small niches carved into tunnel walls for poor Christians. The niches were sealed with a slab of marble or walled up with brick. The round and sumptuously decorated cubicula (small rooms) were built by wealthier families and trade cooperatives, whose members pooled their money for a more dignified resting place.

The newest restoration work was done on the chambers for the city’s bakers.

Bernardino Bartocci, president of the modern city’s association of breadmakers, told the Catholic News Service that he attended the unveiling as a sign of how bakers continue to be and “have always been united as a group, like a big family”.

Barbara Mazzei, who oversaw the restoration, said that pagan symbolism ­– such as depictions of the four seasons or a peacock representing the afterlife – was juxtaposed with bibilical scenes without any apparent contradiction.

The unifying motif is salvation and the deliverance from death, as is underlined by the depictions of Noah in his ark welcoming back the dove, Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of Isaac, Jonah and the whale, and the multiplication of the fishes and loaves, she said.

Restorers used lasers to send pulses of precise frequencies to selectively remove specific substances – soot, algae and calcium carbonate – without damaging the colour pigments and underlying surfaces.

Despite the seven years of meticulous work to reveal the frescoes’ original splendour, restorers intentionally left the graffiti and autographs left by visitors from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Bishop criticises Trump for pulling out of climate deal

President Donald Trump’s decision “not to honour the US commitment” to the Paris climate agreement “is deeply troubling”, the chairman of the US bishops’ committee on international justice and peace has said.

Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, said after the president had made his announcement: “The Scriptures affirm the value of caring for creation and caring for each other in solidarity. The Paris agreement is an international accord that promotes these values. President Trump’s decision will harm the people of the United States and the world, especially the poorest, most vulnerable communities,” he said.

Mr Trump said the climate accord “is less about the climate and more about other countries obtaining a financial advantage over the United States”.

He said he wanted to create a “level playing field” and establish the “highest standard of living, highest standard of environmental protection”.