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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > C > Campo Santo de' Tedeschi

Campo Santo de' Tedeschi

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(Holy Field of the Germans)

A cemetery, church, and hospice for Germans on the south side of St. Peter's, Rome, which covers part of the ancient Circus Vaticanus, where great numbers of Christians suffered death by the order of Nero. After the Emperor Constantine built his great basilica over the graves of the Apostles Peter and Paul, the faithful sought to be buried in the vicinity of these holy sepulchres. On account of local conditions the graves were dug chiefly on the south side of the basilica, in the earth with which Nero's circus was filled during the construction of St. Peter's. Whether St. Helena covered this burial place with earth from Mount Calvary, or whether, at the time when Pisa obtained earth from Jerusalem for its cemetery, the basilica of the Vatican also obtained sacred soil for this cemetery, is uncertain, but it is a fact, that since the fifteenth century the soil of this cemetery has been held to be sacred earth from Jerusalem, and as such it has been asked for and obtained, under papal sanction, by many localities when new cemeteries were to be laid out. This tradition, in connection with the immediate vicinity of the graves of the Apostles and with the memory of the first martyrs under Nero, fully justifies the name of campus sanctus, "holy field".

In 796 Charlemagne, by permission of Pope Leo III, founded on ground adjoining this spot a hospice for pilgrims, which was intended for the people of his empire. In connection with the hospice was a church dedicated to the Saviour and a graveyard for the burial of the subjects of Charlemagne who died in Rome. From the beginning this foundation was placed under the care of the ecclesiastical authorities of St. Peter's. The decline, soon after this period, of the Carlovingian empire, brought the hospice, the Schola Francorum, entirely under the jurisdiction of the basilica; at the same time the original intent of a place for pilgrims and the poor was preserved. In the complete ruin which overtook Rome during the residence of the popes at Avignon (1309-1378), and during the following period of the Schism, the ecclesiastical foundations in the vicinity of St. Peter's sank into decay. After the return of the popes new life sprang up, and the enthusiasm for building and endowing foundations in this part of the Eternal City was rekindled under Popes Martin V, Eugenius IV, and Nicholas V. The remembrance of Charlemagne and his hospice revived in the mind of the large and influential German colony then residing at Rome, and during the reign of Martin V (1417-1431) the enlarged cemetery was surrounded with a wall built by Fredericus Alemannus, who also erected a house for its guardians. Johannis Assonensis, a German confessor attached to St. Peter's and later Coadjutor Bishop of Wurzburg, assembled his countrymen there during the pest of 1448 and founded among them a brotherhood, the object of which was to provide suitable burial for all poor Germans dying in Rome. This brotherhood built a church, a new hospice for German pilgrims on the adjoining land, and developed the Campo Santo into a German national institution.

In the fifteenth, sixteenth, and even in the nineteenth century the German nation was represented at Rome by numerous officials at the papal court and by guilds of German bakers, shoemakers, and weavers; in these ages Germans were to be found in every industry of ordinary life, and German bankers and inn-keepers were especially numerous. Nevertheless the steadily decreasing German population of Rome during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries caused the Campo Santo, as a national foundation, and the brotherhood to sink more and more into neglect. Pius IX, who thoroughly understood the change of conditions and the demands of modern times, in 1876 sanctioned a new foundation in a college for priests in which archaeological studies and church history were to be pursued. Friends of the undertaking in Germany endowed five free scholarships and made possible the acceptance of resident students. The library contains 6000 volumes and embraces large collections of works on Christian antiquities and modern church history. The museum includes sarcophagi, carvings, inscriptions, a large number of early Christian lamps, textile fabrics of the sixth century from Egypt, and many small articles of various kinds. In 1887, a periodical was established under the name of "Romische Quartalschrift fur christliche Altertumskunde und fur Kirchengeschichte", and in 1901 another periodical entitled "Oriens Christianus". These publications afford the members of the college the opportunity to publish at once the results of their studies and researches. The college gives the German people a new institution for the cultivation and development of ecclesiastical science. Its students have already furnished a large number of university professors and church dignitaries of high rank. The church of the foundation has been restored and adorned with stained-glass windows and the building greatly enlarged and newly furnished; furthermore, it has received a large number of sacred utensils and vestments.

The tombstones in the adjoining cemetery bear many distinguished names, among them those of Cardinal Hohenlohe, Archbishop de Merode, Bishop von Anzer, Monsignor Schapman, and other church dignitaries. The names of many artists also occur, as those of Koch, von Rhoden, Ahlborn, Achtermann; among the diplomats and scholars buried here are Theiner, Platner, Diekamp; other tombs are those of the queen-mother Carlotta of Denmark, Princess Caroline Wittgenstein, Princess Sophie Hohenlohe, and other women of high rank. Some of the monuments are of artistic value. Formerly the Campo Santo was seldom visited by the Germans in Rome and was scarcely known in Germany. Now, especially on the great church festivals, they gather for service and prayer in the church of the Campo Santo and in the cemetery. The priests of the college often guide German travellers through the catacombs and accompany them on visits to the other objects of interest in the Eternal City. The Campo Santo is a national foundation for the Catholics of the former German Confederation, that is, it is intended both for Austrians and Germans. The secular protector is the Emperor of Austria, while the spiritual protectorate is exercised by a cardinal in the name of the pope. The cardinal protector has, in conjunction with the archbishops of Salzburg, Munich, and Cologne, the right to name the rector.

About this page

APA citation. Waal, A. (1908). Campo Santo de' Tedeschi. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Waal, Anton de. "Campo Santo de' Tedeschi." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Gerald M. Knight.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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