Definition of catacomb in US English:



usually catacombs
  • 1An underground cemetery consisting of a subterranean gallery with recesses for tombs, as constructed by the ancient Romans.

    • ‘Such operations also from time to time reveal the catacombs in which the bodies of Christians were buried.’
    • ‘Christian paintings from over fifty western masters are brought together here to tell the story of western Christian belief, piety, and history from the catacombs through the twentieth century.’
    • ‘While their Roman counterparts worshipped in catacombs and underground vaults, the Egyptian Christians built their churches openly and performed their ceremonies in full view of the Empire.’
    • ‘With such simple means the earliest Christian artists evoked the light of the world, flickering in the surrounding darkness, casting a living, dancing shadow on the walls of a Roman tenement or catacomb.’
    • ‘The combination of anchor and fish forms the ‘anchor-cross,’ which is another early Christian symbol found in the Roman catacombs.’
    • ‘Because they feared persecution from the Roman rulers, they met secretly in private homes or in underground passages and rooms called catacombs.’
    • ‘I recommend a visit to one of the catacombs in Rome, or anywhere else there are Christian catacombs.’
    • ‘The catacombs were not hideouts during persecution; they were burial grounds and places of worship, and their location was not secret.’
    • ‘Other etchings are derived from ancient mythology, or obscure incidents such as the discovering of the bodies of S. Peter and S. Paul in the Roman catacombs.’
    • ‘The catacombs and fantastic burial monuments are located along the way from Casale Rotondo to Cecilia Metella's tomb.’
    • ‘This and their fourth-century date - well into the Christian empire - has led some scholars to propose for them a hidden Christian significance, calling in support other images of Orpheus in Christian catacombs in Rome.’
    • ‘The catacombs are the ancient underground cemeteries used by the Christians and the Jewish people in Rome.’
    • ‘But from the very beginning, Christians used other means of artistic expression as well, such as sketches on the walls of Roman catacombs.’
    • ‘The slow progression of arches, with their classical stonework, feels more like something from a Roman catacomb than from the London Underground.’
    • ‘Megalithic temples that predate the Egyptian pyramids, Bronze Age archaeological sites, Phoenician inscriptions, and Roman catacombs all contribute to a sense of nationhood.’
    underground cemetery, sepulchre, crypt, vault, mausoleum, tomb, ossuary
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 An underground construction resembling the catacombs built by ancient Romans.
      • ‘He lived in dangerous times, so he constructed several secret passageways and catacombs underneath the city and inside the castle.’
      • ‘In those cases, the water stopped flowing and turned the kyareses into dry but comfortable underground catacombs.’
      • ‘A week of tramping for miles underground and sleeping in limestone catacombs tunneled out by sulfuric acid is not everyone's idea of happy camping.’
      • ‘And because of its sudden notoriety, the Hell-Fire Club had to move from the abbey at Medmenham to a hidden warren of Gothic catacombs Sir Francis created at his nearby estate, some 30 miles north-west of London.’
      • ‘Badgers actually live together in large underground catacombs called ‘setts.’’


Old English, from late Latin catacumbas, the name of the subterranean cemetery of St Sebastian near Rome.