Ancient images of saints Peter and Paul - perhaps some of the oldest - were shown last week to reporters in Rome after they were found with lasers capable of burning off years of grime.
Twenty-first century laser technology has opened a window into the early days of the Catholic Church, guiding researchers through the dank, musty catacombs beneath Rome to a startling find: the first known icons of the apostles Peter and Paul.
Vatican officials unveiled the paintings Tuesday, discovered along with the earliest known images of the apostles John and Andrew in an underground burial chamber beneath an office building on a busy street in a working-class Rome neighborhood.
The images, which date from the second half of the 4th century, were uncovered using a new laser technique that allows restorers to burn off centuries of thick white calcium carbonate deposits without damaging the brilliant dark colors of the paintings underneath.
Beliefnet's Ben Witherington cautions:
1) the claim is these images are from the late 4th century. If that is the claim there are likely earlier images in various places in Turkey, including in the cave church of Paul and Thecla (and interestingly some of these images were found near the Thecla Church); 2) the art work, in terms of color and display are already found plentifully in Capadoccia in various of the cave churches there, and indeed in some of the Constantinian churches above ground as well (see my forth coming blog posts on the cave churches). So while I find this story ... interesting, it is hardly earth-shattering and the claims about what is 'earliest' are probably rather hyperbolic.