Catacombs: Secret Sanctuary of Holy Land USA
The most forbidding spot in Holy Land USA is the entrance to the "Catacombs -- a History of the Church."
A murky ramp descends down into the earth, to depths unknown. In our first visits, we'd forget to bring flashlights. Any foray into these ancient burial chambers would likely end with a slip down a hidden staircase with your forehead impaled on a plank of rusty nails.
More level-headed study of the Catacombs has revealed some of its mysteries. It runs about 200 feet, snaking along the old parking lot in a series of corridors connected below the lip of the hill. It appears to be underground from the parking lot vantage point, but is actually all above the surface. Parts of the structure are collapsing. On the far end, a small entrance contains a sign: " The Pictorial Life of Christ -- From the Cradle to the Cross." Another crudely hand-lettered sign lists every Pope, up to 1978.
The "back" entrance to the Catacombs reveals former site of "The Pictorial Life of Christ."
Red paint, or splashes of blood? Some fun facts about Masses.
Every Pope. Memorize these. There will be a quiz in Pius III's tomb.
A few intrepid Smilers have traversed the lower sections of the Catacombs, pushing our knowledge further still.
"We finally found the entrance to the Catacombs that had eluded us two previous visits, and we just had to check it out in there. It was bizarre.
"There was broken glass and dirt everywhere. It was mostly dark, but some light came in from cracks in the structure. There was one spot labeled as the tomb of some Pope. Also, there was the green room. It was a room that lead off of the main catacomb and had a green skylight. The whole room was awash in an eerie green glow. There was fiberglass insulation hanging from the ceiling everywhere. We found newspaper clippings of miracles encased in glass, and a big stone head. There was also a room that was supposed to be Herod's something or other.
"The whole experience was definitely pretty creepy and I wouldn't recommend it to the weak of heart. It's dirty, dank and extremely unearthly down there." [Chuck Taylor/Ron Bozman, 8/18/97]