Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Joint Ph.D. Program in Study of Religion

First Advisor

Gregory Robbins, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Pamela Eisenbaum

Third Advisor

Scott Montgomery


Callistus, Catacombs, Heterotopia


This dissertation examines the spaces commonly called the Cubicula of the Sacraments, five rooms in the Callistus Catacomb in Rome, in light of Michel Foucault's concept of heterotopia. I argue that the Christian communities that created the Cubicula constructed their spaces and construed the symbolic worlds they conjured there as a way of mimicking, mirroring, subverting, and critiquing the "other" spaces and cultures that surrounded them.

This work takes place along four lines of inquiry. The first of these is space and place, and uses Foucault's and Henri Lefebvre's notions of heterotopia to describe the Callistus Catacomb's location in the Roman landscape--its relationship to other spaces, structures, and ideas. The second is art; the rich decorations in the Cubicula provide opportunity to think about the communities' creative use of new and traditional iconography to construct a uniquely Christian world-view in art. The third is texts. Much of the art in the Cubicula is drawn from or connected to textual sources, and examination of those texts reveals selections and interpretations that tend toward spatial readings and meanings. The fourth is practices; the Cubicula of the Sacraments contain references to practices such as baptism and meals, and served as locations for practices such as funerals and pilgrimage--all serving to underscore and enhance the heterotopian nature of the spaces.

Together, the evidence of space and place, art, texts, and practices, when viewed through Foucault's work, reveal that the Cubicula of the Sacraments were heterotopias, or "other spaces," within the Roman landscape. These were spaces of contestation, expression, and the formation of communal identity--venues for the construal of Christianity and its place in the world, and meticulously constructed microcosms of the world as they thought it ought to be.

This dissertation, then, provides a holistic, theoretically grounded view of catacomb spaces, and demonstrates the usefulness of approaches that combine various types of evidence available in the catacombs to "read" them as wholes. It also illuminates Christian construals of themselves and the Roman Empire in the period before Constantine, shedding light on the development of Christian traditions.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Eric Christopher Smith


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

276 p.