The phrase commonly denotes the study of the monuments, as distinct from the documents, of early Christianity for the light they can throw on the thought and religious life of the Church, especially in the first six cents. The beginnings of Christian archaeology are associated with explorations of the Roman catacombs in the late 16th and early 17th cents., and Rome remained the main focus of attention for the next 250 years. Since the beginning of the 20th cent. research has spread to areas outside Rome and now encompasses the whole of the ancient Mediterranean world, including N. Africa. In Britain especially, there has been a trend towards including the excavation and scientific study of Christian sites of the medieval period within the field of Christian archaeology.
The main classes of monuments studied are cemeteries, buildings (chiefly churches, baptisteries, and monasteries), sculpture, paintings, mosaics, textiles, liturgical apparatus, and miscellaneous objects such as lamps, medals, and rings. The study of such material provides information that could not be obtained from literary records alone, particularly with regard to the lives of the lower social classes of Christian society and the ordinary routine of Christian observance.
Subjects: Biblical Studies.