An exciting discovery mentioned on the wires today: images of Jesus together with Peter, John and Andrew on the ceiling of the catacombs of St Tecla near St Paul's Basilica. The pictures date to the end of the 4th century or the beginning of the 5th century. They are the oldest paintings of the faces of Jesus' apostles and follow the discovery of the image of St Paul last year. Here is Reuters:
The images in a branch of the catacombs of St Tecla near St Paul's Basilica, just outside the walls of ancient Rome, were painted at the end of the 4th century or the start of the 5th century.
Archaeologists believe these images may have been among those that most influenced later artists' depictions of the faces of Christ's most important early followers.
"These are the first images that we know of the faces of these four apostles," said Professor Fabrizio Bisconti, the head of archaeology for Rome's numerous catacombs, which are owned and maintained by the Vatican.
The frescoes were known but their details came to light during a restoration project that started two years ago and whose results were announced on Tuesday at a news conference.
The full-face icons include visages of St Peter, St Andrew, and St John, who were among Jesus' original 12 apostles, and St Paul, who became an apostle after Christ's death.
The paintings have the same characteristics as later images, such as St Paul's rugged, wrinkled and elongated forehead and balding head and pointy beard, indicating they may have been the ones which set the standard.
The four circles, about 50 cm in diameter, are on the ceiling of the underground burial place of a noblewoman who is believed to have converted to Christianity at the end of the same century when the emperor Constantine made it legal.
Bisconti explained that older paintings of the apostles show them in a group, with smaller faces whose details are difficult to distinguish.
"This is a very important discovery in the history of the early Christian communities of Rome," said Bisconti.
Update 1. A good set of photographs at Fox News.