First Dec. 25 Christmas
Services were held at Roman Pagan Shrine
By ARIEL DAVID
Associated Press Writer
ROME (AP) -- The church where the tradition of celebrating
Dec. 25 was invented, was built on an old pagan shrine as part of
effort to supposedly spread Christianity, a leading Italian
Italian archaeologists last month unveiled an underground grotto
they believe ancient Romans revered as the place where a wolf
Rome's legendary founder Romulus and his twin brother Remus.
A few feet above the grotto, or "Lupercale," the Emperor
built the Basilica of St. Anastasia, where some believe Christmas
first celebrated on Dec. 25.
Constantine made Christianity a lawful religion in 313. He played
role in unifying the Roman Pagan beliefs and practices with those
early followers of Jesus.
In 325, he convened the Council of Nicaea, which fixed the dates
important old world Roman festivals. It opted to mark Christmas,
celebrated at varying dates, on Dec. 25 to be unified with the
Solstice Saturna festival celebrating the birth of the sun god,
Carandini, a professor of archaeology at Rome's La Sapienza
told reporters Friday.
The Basilica of St. Anastasia was built as soon as a year after
Nicaean Council. It probably was where Christmas was first marked
Dec. 25, part of broader efforts to unify pagan practices and
with Christian celebrations in the early days of the new religion,
"The church was built to supposedly Christianize these pagan
worship," he said. "It was normal to put a church at these pagan
Rome's archaeological superintendent Angelo Bottini, who did not
part in Carandini's research, said that hypothesis was "evocative
coherent" and "helps us understand the mechanisms of the passage
joining paganism to Christianity."
Bottini and Carandini both said future digs could bolster the link
between the pagan shrine and the church if structures belonging to
"Lupercale" are found directly below the basilica.
The Basilica St. Anastasia was the first church to rise not on the
ancient city's outskirts, but on the Palatine Hill, the palatial
of power and religion in imperial Rome, Carandini said. Though
known today, at the time of Constantine it was one of the most
basilicas for Catholics in Rome, he said.
The "Lupercale" shrine - named after the "lupa," Latin for
she-wolf - is
52 feet below ground. So far, archaeologists have only been able
it by inserting probes and cameras that have revealed a vaulted
decorated with colored marble and a white imperial eagle.
Though some experts have expressed doubts that the pagan grotto is
fact the mythological nursery of Romulus and Remus, most
believe the shrine fits the descriptions found in ancient texts,
plans are being drawn up to excavate the structure further.