Catacombs beneath the streets of Newark

oldchurchprofile

I can’t recall where I read this, but I read somewhere that the only catacombs in the US were located beneath a church in the Portuguese section of Newark, NJ. I made some phone calls and found out this was true and that the church would give a tour if asked. So I asked.

Located at Lafayette & Prospect, the catacombs are beneath the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The church was established in 1927 in what was at the time, a mostly Italian neighborhood. The catacombs were constructed by church members in the late 1950’s, many coming after work to labor in the building. Eventually the neighborhood began to change, and now is primarily Portuguese. According to the woman who gave me the brief tour, there are 3 Italian families who attend the church, even though the service is given in Portuguese and (presumably) they don’t speak the language. I went to the rectory and gave a small contribution in return for the tour. No amount is specifically requested, it’s whatever you feel is appropriate. I gave $20 just because. The entrance to the catacombs are through this door….

outerdoor

This door is probably the heaviest, most stubborn door I’ve ever encountered. The key would barely turn the lock, and the door as almost rusted into place. We finally got it open (please don’t ask how long it took to subsequently close it) and we entered into… the basement?

When I say catacombs, it probably conjures up images of old monks walking stooped over thru tunnels lined with brick led by dripping torches as rats squeak in the distance. Maybe you think of old bones wrapped carefully and preserved lying in cutouts along the walls of the passageway. Think again. Indiana Jones this wasn’t. It looked much like any other basement in any other building or house. The walls were finished, as were the ceilings and floors, which were as tall and wide as you would expect in any normal basement. Lining the walls were various paintings of saints and other holy things. In short this wasn’t so much a catacombs as a replica of a catacombs. It was interesting, but not at all what I was expecting.

Is it worth the trip? Probably not I’m sad to say.

stpancracio

jesus

statues

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