About the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls
The Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls is one of four great ancient basilicas of Rome. It was built in the fourth century by Constantine, above St. Paul's grave near where he had been beheaded in the first century. The Basilica was consecrated in 324, and toward the end of the fourth century it was expanded by Emperor Theodosius I to accommodate an increasing number of pilgrims to the Basilica. From that point on, it has been continually added to by many of the popes. At the beginning of the 13th century, Pope Innocent III commissioned a large mosaic for the apse, on which a large number of mosaicists worked.
In July 1823, the Basilica was greatly damaged by fire, and was rebuilt identically to what it had been before. Pope Leo XII had to appeal to Catholics to help with the rebuilding process, and received a great response from both Catholics all over the world as well as world leaders such as Tsar Nicholas I, King Fouad I of Egypt, and the vice-king of Egypt, Mohamed Ali. These gifts included blocks of malachite and lapis lazuli (a semi-precious stone), as well as columns and windows of alabaster. The reconstructed Basilica was consecrated on December 10, 1854.
On the outside of the Basilica, there are 150 columns and a statue of St. Paul in the center, which was created by Giuseppe Obici. Mosaics on the facade include the prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel – on the lower section, the mystical Lamb surrounded by four rivers which represent the four Gospels as well as twelve lambs representing the twelve Apostles on the central section, and Christ between Saints Peter and Paul on the upper section.
In 2005, the first archpriest of the Basilica was named, Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, who was subsequently named a Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in March 2006. Under the Cardinal there has been much archaeological and restoration work done in order to improve the experience of the Basilica for pilgrims who come. Also in 2006, the Vatican announced that archaeologists had found a sarcophagus under the altar which is believed to contain the remains of St. Paul. Pilgrims to the Basilica can now see the tomb through a window just below the Papal Altar.
There are three permanent exhibits that people visiting the Basilica can see: the Chapel of Relics, which contains the chain that was said to be used during St. Paul's imprisonment to join him with a Roman soldier guarding him; the Art Gallery, including paintings preserved from the old Basilica and a Carolingian Bible manuscript from the 8th century; and the Lapidary (or Tombstone) Collection, with sarcophagi and nearly 2000 tombstone fragments with Greek, Latin, or Hebrew inscriptions that were found during various excavations at the Basilica. There are other exhibits at the Basilica during the Pauline Year which are intended to help visitors learn more about St. Paul and the Basilica.
This article is adapted from information found at the Papal Basilica St. Paul Outside-the-Walls website.
To learn more about St. Paul or the Pauline Year, visit the Pauline Year page.