Byzantine basalt tomb door, Syria, circa 6th-7th Century A.D.

Material:  Basalt
Conservation:  Good condition
Material:  Basalt
Dimensions:  145 x 91 x 7 cm
Provenance:  UK private collection, England, acquired in the 1970s / Bonhams London, Auction, 2014 / This piece is accompanied by an export certificate from the Spanish Ministry of Culture No. 2020/01166 with date 17/02/2020 and certificate of authenticity.
Exhibited:  Ifergan Collection, Málaga (2018-2020)
Published:  Antiquities, London, Bonhams, October 2nd, 2014.
On request
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This impressive basalt piece was the door to a tomb. Its decoration distributed in eight square panels shows a variety of symbols from different cultures. Among them, we can recognize Solomonic columns, crosses, square rosettes and parchments, separated by a slender central column. The upper hole on the upper left side was used as a handle to open and close the door. These symbols could have had a protective function for the tomb in the face of its destruction and as protection against a possible entrance of thieves.
These types of rock-hewn tombs, like the one in which Jesus’ body was placed according to the Gospels (Mark 15:46), were widespread in the ancient Near East. A number of similar doors discovered in Syria are carved with crosses and the monogram “Christ”.
The popular conception that the catacombs were “secret” or that they had to hide their affiliation is probably wrong; the catacombs were large-scale commercial enterprises, usually located just off the main roads of the city, whose existence was well known. The non-explicit symbolic nature of many early Christian visual motifs may have had a discretionary function in other contexts, but in the tombs they reflect the lack of any other repertoire of Christian iconography.

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