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.

    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The catacombs are the ancient underground cemeteries used by the Christians and the Jewish people in Rome.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Megalithic temples that predate the Egyptian pyramids, Bronze Age archaeological sites, Phoenician inscriptions, and Roman catacombs all contribute to a sense of nationhood.’
    • ‘But from the very beginning, Christians used other means of artistic expression as well, such as sketches on the walls of Roman catacombs.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Such operations also from time to time reveal the catacombs in which the bodies of Christians were buried.’
    • ‘The slow progression of arches, with their classical stonework, feels more like something from a Roman catacomb than from the London Underground.’
    underground cemetery, sepulchre, crypt, vault, mausoleum, tomb, ossuary
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 An underground construction resembling the catacombs built by ancient Romans.
      • ‘Badgers actually live together in large underground catacombs called ‘setts.’’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘In those cases, the water stopped flowing and turned the kyareses into dry but comfortable underground catacombs.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘He lived in dangerous times, so he constructed several secret passageways and catacombs underneath the city and inside the castle.’


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