Hypatia pulled Benjamin into a narrow passage leading to a series of descending steps. She took an oil lamp from the wall and led the way down into an underground chamber below the oratory where former luminaries were buried in niches along the stone walls. They slid into an underworld of silence… ‘These are the commoners,’ said Hypatia, illuminating a wall filled from top to bottom with grinning skulls in small niches. ‘The masters had much smarter tombs. They are in the next hall.’ Benjamin’s hair stood on end but Hypatia was perfectly at home with the skeletons.
They moved on to the Great Hall. This was an airy gallery with many square columns, all carved out of the limestone rock. Big square pillars supported the seemingly endless alcoves. The hall was beautifully decorated with artwork in greens, reds and ochres. Here the sarcophagi were big and elaborate and reached to the ceiling. They explored only a small part of the catacombs before the heat and stale air became too much for them and they found their way back and replaced the dying lamp in its niche.