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Papal basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls

Façade of the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls

Basic information
Location Rome
Geographic coordinates 41°51′31″N 12°28′38″E / 41.85861°N 12.47722°E / 41.85861; 12.47722Coordinates: 41°51′31″N 12°28′38″E / 41.85861°N 12.47722°E / 41.85861; 12.47722
Affiliation Roman Catholic
Year consecrated IV Century
Ecclesiastical or organizational status Major basilica
Leadership Francesco Monterisi
Website Official Website
Architectural description
Architectural type Church
Direction of facade WbN
Groundbreaking IV Century
Year completed 1823
Length 150 metres (490 ft)
Width 80 metres (260 ft)
Width (nave) 30 metres (98 ft)
Height (max) 73 metres (240 ft)
Historic Centre of Rome, the Properties of the Holy See in that City Enjoying Extraterritorial Rights and San Paolo Fuori le Mura*
UNESCO World Heritage Site
State Party  Italy and Flag of the Vatican City.svg Holy See
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iii, iv, vi
Reference 91
Region** Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1980  (4th Session)
Extensions 1990
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

The Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls (Italian: Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mura), commonly known as St Paul-without-the-Walls, is one of four churches that are the great ancient major basilicas or papal basilicas[1] of Rome: the basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Peter's and Saint Paul Outside the Walls. Archbishop Francesco Monterisi, named in 2009, is the current archpriest of this basilica.



The basilica was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine I over the burial place of Saint Paul, where it was said that, after the Apostle's execution, his followers erected a memorial, called a cella memoriae. This first edifice was expanded under Valentinian I, in the 370s.

In 386, Emperor Theodosius I began the erection of a much larger and more beautiful basilica with a nave and four aisles with a transept; the work including the mosaics was not completed till the pontificate of Leo I (440-461). In the 5th century it was even larger than the Old St. Peter's Basilica. The Christian poet Prudentius, who saw it at the time of emperor Honorius (395–423), describes the splendours of the monument in a few expressive lines. As it was dedicated also to Saints Taurinus and Herculanus, martyrs of Ostia in the 5th century, it was called the basilica trium Dominorum ("basilica of Three Lords").

Under Gregory the Great (590-604) the basilica was again extensively modified: the pavement was raised, in order to place the altar directly over Paul's tomb. A confession permitted the access to the Apostle's sepulcher.

In that period there were two monasteries near the basilica: St. Aristus's for men and St. Stefano's for women. Masses were carried out by a special body of clerics instituted by Pope Simplicius. In the course of time the monasteries and the clergy of the basilica declined; Pope Saint Gregory II restored the former and entrusted the monks with the care of the basilica.

As it lay outside the Aurelian Walls, the basilica was damaged during the Saracen invasions in the 9th century. In consequence of this Pope John VIII (872-882) fortified the basilica, the monastery, and the dwellings of the peasantry, forming the town of Joannispolis (Italian: Giovannipoli) which existed until 1348, when an earthquake totally destroyed it.

In 937, when Saint Odo of Cluny came to Rome, Alberic II of Spoleto, Patrician of Rome, entrusted the monastery and basilica to his congregation and Odo placed Balduino of Monte Cassino in charge. Pope Gregory VII was abbot of the monastery and in his time Pantaleone of Amalfi presented the bronze doors of the basilica maior, which were executed by Constantinopolitan artists. Pope Martin V entrusted it to the monks of the Congregation of Monte Cassino. It was then made an abbey nullius. The jurisdiction of the abbot extended over the districts of Civitella San Paolo, Leprignano and Nazzano, all of which formed parishes; the parish of San Paolo in Rome, however, is under the jurisdiction of the cardinal vicar.

Cloister of the monastery of San Paolo fuori le mura.

The graceful cloister of the monastery was erected between 1220 and 1241.

From 1215 until 1964 it was the seat of the Latin Patriarch of Alexandria.

The Holy Door.
Interior of the church.
Arnolfo di Cambio's tabernacle.

On July 15, 1823 a fire, started through the negligence of a workman who was repairing the lead of the roof, resulted in the almost total destruction of the basilica which, alone of all the churches of Rome, had preserved its primitive character for 1435 years. It was re-opened in 1840, and reconsecrated 1855 with the presence of Pope Pius IX and fifty cardinals. Completing the works of reconstruction took longer, however, and many countries made their contributions. The Viceroy of Egypt sent pillars of alabaster, the Emperor of Russia the precious malachite and lapis lazuli of the tabernacle. The work on the principal facade, looking toward the Tiber, was completed by the Italian Government, which declared the church a national monument. On April 23, 1891 an explosion at Porta Portese destroyed the stained glasses.

On 31 May 2005 Pope Benedict XVI ordered the Basilica to come under the control of an Archpriest. That same day he named Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo as its first archpriest.

Apse mosaic (1220). The apse mosaic was made by Venetian artists. Christ is flanked by the Apostles Peter, Paul, Andrew and Luke.
Detail of the apse mosaic: portrait of the Pope Honorius III, that ordered the mosaic.
Plan of the basilica.

Architecture and interior

The covered portico that precedes the facade is a Neo-classicist addition of the 19th century reconstruction. The 20th century door includes the remains of the leaves of the originary portal, executed by Staurachius of Chios around 1070 in Constantinople, with scenes of the New and Old Testament. On the right is the Holy Door, which is opened only during the Jubilees.

The new basilica has maintained the original structure with one nave and four aisles. It is 131.66 metres (432.0 ft) long, 65 metres (210 ft)-wide and 29.70 metres (97.4 ft)-high, being the second in size in Rome.

The 80 columns of the nave are from the 19th century, as well as the stucco-decorated ceiling. Of the ancient basilica there remain only the interior portion of the apse with the triumphal arch. The mosaics of the apse, work by Pietro Cavallini, went mostly lost in 1823; only a few traces were incorporated in the reconstruction. The 5th century mosaics of the triumphal arch are original: an inscription in the lower section attest they were done at the time of Leo I, paid by Galla Placidia. The subject portrays the Apocalypse of John, with the bust of Christ in the middle flanked by the 24 doctors of the church, surmounted by the flying symbols of the four Evangelists. At the right and left of the arch are portrayed St. Peter and St. Paul, the latter pointing downwards (probably to his tomb).

The tabernacle of the confession of Arnolfo di Cambio (1285) belong to the 13th century.

In the old basilica each pope had his portrait in a frieze extending above the columns separating the four aisles and naves. A 19th century version can be seen now. The interior of the walls of the nave were also redecorated with scenes from the life of Saint Paul in two series of mosaics.

The sacristy contains a fine statue of Pope Boniface IX.

South to the transept is the cloister, considered "one of the most beautiful of the Middle Ages"[2]. built by Vassalletto in 1205-1241, it has double columns of different shapes. Some columns have inlays with golden and coloured glass mosaics; the same decoration can be seen on the architrave and the inner frame of the cloister. Also visible are fragments from the destroyed basilica and ancient sarcophagi, one with scenes of the myth of Apollo.

The tomb of St. Paul

According to tradition, Paul's body was buried two miles away from the place of his martyrdom, in the sepulchral area along the Ostiense Way, owned by a Christian woman named Lucina. Upon it was erected a tropaeum which quickly became a place of veneration.[3]

Constantine I erected a basilica on the site of the tropaeum, significantly extended by Theodosius I from 386, now known as the Saint Paul Outside the Walls. During the 4th century, Paul's remains were moved into a sarcophagus, except for the head, which according to church tradition rests at the Lateran. Paul's tomb is below a marble tombstone in the Basilica's crypt, at 1.37 metres (4.5 ft) below the altar. The tombstone bears the Latin inscription PAULO APOSTOLO MART ("to Paul the apostle and martyr"). The inscribed portion of the tombstone has three holes, two square and one circular. The circular hole is connected to the tomb by a pipeline, reflecting the Roman custom of pouring perfumes inside the sarcophagus, or to the practice of providing the bones of the dead with libations. The sarcophagus below the tombstone measures 2.55 metres (8.4 ft) long, 1.25 metres (4.1 ft) wide and 0.97 metres (3.2 ft).

Front of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls

The discovery of the sarcophagus is mentioned in the chronicle of the Benedictine monastery attached to the Basilica, in regard to the 19th century rebuilding. Unlike other sarcophagi found at that time, this was not mentioned in the excavation papers.[4]

On 6 December 2006, it was announced that Vatican archaeologists had confirmed the presence of a white marble sarcophagus beneath the altar perhaps containing the remains of the Apostle.[5] A press conference held on 11 December 2006[6] gave more details of the work of excavation, which lasted from 2002 to 22 September 2006, and which had been initiated after pilgrims to the basilica expressed disappointment that the Apostle's tomb could not be visited or touched during the Jubilee year of 2000.[7] The sarcophagus was not extracted from its position, so that only one of its two narrow sides is visible.[8]

On 29 June 2009 Pope Benedict XVI announced that carbon 14 dating of bone fragments in the sarcophagus confirmed a date in the first or second century; "This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that they are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul," Benedict announced at a service in the basilica to mark the end of the Vatican's Paoline year in honor of the apostle. With the bone fragments archaeologists discovered some grains of incense, and pieces of purple linen with gold sequins and blue linen textiles.[9]

A curved line of bricks indicating the outline of the apse of the Constantinian basilica was discovered immediatedly to the west of the sarcophagus, showing that the original basilica had its entrance to the east, like Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. The larger 386 basilica that replaced it had the Via Ostiense (the road to Ostia) to the east and so was extended westward, towards the river Tiber, changing the orientation diametrically.

List of Abbots of St Paul Outside the Walls

  • 1867-1895 Leopoldo Zelli Jacobuzi
  • 1895-1904 Bonifacio Oslaender
  • 1904-1918 Giovanni del Papa
  • 1918-1929 Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster
  • 1929-1955 Ildebrando Vannucci
  • 1955-1964 Cesario D'Amato
  • 1964-1973 Giovanni Battista Franzoni
  • 1973-1980 Position empty
  • 1980-1988 Giuseppe Nardin
  • 1988-1996 Luca Collino
  • 1996-1997 Position empty
  • 1997-2005 Paolo Lunardon
  • 2005- Edmund Power

Archpriests of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls

Other burials

See also


  1. ^ Benedict XVI’s theological act of renouncing the title of "Patriarch of the West" had as consequence that Roman Catholic patriarchal basilicas are today officially known as Papal basilicas.
  2. ^ Hinzen-Bohlen, p. 411
  3. ^ the earliest account of a visit to the memorials of the apostles is attributed to Gaius, the Presbyter, "who lived when Zephyrinus was bishop of Rome [AD 199-217]", as quoted by Eusebius reporting that "I can point out the tropaia of the Apostles [Peter and Paul]; for if you go to the Vatican or the Ostian Way, you will find the tropaia of those who founded this Church".
  4. ^ Asia News: Saint Paul’s sarcophagus found
  5. ^ Catholic News Agency: "St Paul burial place confirmed"
  6. ^ Communiqué about the press conference
  7. ^ Associated Press: Have St. Paul’s remains been unearthed?
  8. ^ Christian Fraser, St Paul's tomb unearthed in Rome, BBC News, 7 December 2006
  9. ^ Guardian UK "Pope: Scientific analysis done on St. Paul's bones", 29 June 2009 accessed 29 June 2009


  • Hinze-Bohlen, Brigitte. Kunst & Architektur-ROM. Cologne: Könemann. 
  • Rendina, Claudio (2000). Enciclopedia di Roma. Newton & Compton. pp. 867–868. 

External links



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