'Oldest' images of Christ's apostles found in Rome

image captionRestorers used new laser technology to uncover the images

Art restorers in Italy have discovered what are believed to be the oldest paintings of some of Jesus Christ's apostles.

The faces of Apostles Andrew, John, Peter and Paul were uncovered using new laser technology in a catacomb in Rome.

The paintings date from the second half of the 4th Century or the early 5th Century, the restorers and Vatican officials believe.

The images may have influenced later depictions of Christ's early followers.

'Very emotional'

"These are the first images that we know of the faces of these four apostles," said Fabrizio Bisconti, head of archaeology for Rome's numerous Vatican-owned catacombs.

The frescoes in a tomb of a Roman noblewoman in the Santa Tecla catacomb were known about but their details came to light during a two-year restoration project funded by the Vatican.

The images were uncovered using new laser technology that allowed the restorers to burn off thick white calcium carbonate deposits caused by extreme humidity and lack of air.

"The laser created a sort of mini-explosion of steam when it interacted with the calcium carbonate to make it detach from the surface," said Barbara Mazzei, who was in charge of the project.

"It was very, very emotional to discover this," she added.

Andrew, Peter and John were among Jesus' original 12 apostles.

Paul was an influential early Christian who travelled widely in the Mediterranean area in the 1st Century. His letters to the early churches, found in the Bible's New Testament, are arguably some of the most influential on Christian thinking.

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