Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls with the Tomb of Apostle Paul

Basilica of Saint Paul Outside The Walls, Piazzale San Paolo, Rim, Italija

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The Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, commonly known as St. Paul’s outside the Walls, is one of Rome’s four ancient, Papal, major basilicas.

The Chapel of the Relics

The most precious of all the relics and other objects on display is without doubt the chain with which, according to ancient tradition, the Apostle Paul was joined to the Roman soldier who was guarding him during his forced stay in Rome. This sacred relic was cited for the first time by Pope Leo the Great in the 5th century.

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Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls with Tomb of Apostle Paul

The death of Paul the apostle 

His body was taken two miles away from the place of his martyrdom and laid in the burial area which a Christian woman named Lucina owned on Via Ostiense and which was part of a pre-existing burial ground.

Paul came to Rome in 61AD for his trial by the Roman court which condemned him to death as a Christian.

The sentence was carried out in a place called palude Salvia close to Rome (later known as the Three Fountains after the three springs that gushed up where the severed head of the saint bounced three times on the ground).

Though he was a Christian, the Apostle Paul could be buried in a Roman necropolis because he was a Roman citizen.

His tomb immediately became a place of veneration and a memorial chamber was built above it where pilgrims and faithful people came to pray during centuries of persecution.

Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls with Tomb of Apostle Paul

The Tomb of Apostle Paul

1.37 metres below the modern day papal altar is a marble headstone (2.12 metres by 1.27 metres) made up of various sections and bearing the inscription PAULO APOSTOLO MART…

The section inscribed with the name PAULO has three holes, one round and the other two square shaped.

Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls with Tomb of Apostle Paul

The Sarcophagus

Above the solid sarcophagus measuring 2.55 metres long by 1.25 metres wide by 0.97 metres high, the successive confessional altars have been built. During the recent excavations a large window was removed below the papal altar in order to allow the faithful to view the tomb of the Apostle.

The Pauline Flame

Following the tradition of the Church, each pilgrim can share in this gesture of light alongside the resting place of St Paul. In offering this candle we join ourselves to those communities which Paul visited and these same candelabra will be placed in Churches along the Pauline itinerary.

Your flame of prayer and communion are lit and extinguished by the monks of the Benedictine Abbey

Outside of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls

The great portico, 70 metres in length and composed of 150 columns, was designed by Poletti and completed by Calderini. In the centre stands the huge statue of St Paul by Giuseppe Obici (1807-1878)

The facade is decorated with mosaics that were made between 1854 and 1874 (cartoons by Agricola and Consoni) depicting the Prophets on the lower level, the mystic Lamb surrounded by four rivers symbolising the four Gospels and twelve lambs representing the twelve Apostles on the middle level and Christ between St Peter and St Paul on the upper level.

The monumental oxidised bronze door by Antonio Maraini, was put up in 1931; during the Jubilee Year 2000 the new Holy Door in golden bronze by sculptor Enrico Manfrini was added

The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls and its History

In 313 the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan which marked the end of the Christian persecutions and conferred on them freedom of worship, encouraging the construction of places of prayer.

In virtue of this, the site of St Paul’s martyrdom, which had been a place of unceasing pilgrimage since the first century, was enhanced by the creation of a modest basilica of which only the side of the apse remains.

It was most likely a small building with three naves which housed, close to the apse, the tomb of Paul decorated with a golden cross.

Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls with Tomb of Apostle Paul

The great Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls of the Three Emperors

Constantine’s little church was soon judged to be too small to contain the flow of pilgrims and the decision was taken to knock it down and build a bigger basilica, changing the position from East facing to West facing. St Paul’s Basilica, with its imposing Byzantine structure, is Rome’s largest patriarchal basilica after St Peter’s in the Vatican.

Its base is 131.66 metres long by 65 metres wide and it rises to a height of 30 metres, comprising five naves (a large central one measuring 29.70 metres flanked by four lateral ones) supported by a forest of 80 monolithic granite columns.

From the 4th to the 8th century

Throughout the centuries the Popes continually witnessed to their love of this Church by restructuring it and embellishing it with frescoes, mosaics, paintings and chapels.

Leo the Great (440-461) covered the triumphal arch with mosaics, rebuilt the roof and began the famous series of papal portraits which go round the top of the nave and the transept with 265 round mosaics (including the most recent one of Pope Benedict XVI which is lit up) and of which the original series of frescos are kept in the museum next to the Basilica.

In the 6th century Pope Symmachus restructured the apse and built some dwellings for the poorest pilgrims, while Pope Gregory II (715-731) entrusted the tomb of the Apostle to the Benedictine monks and Pope Leo III (795-816) laid the first marble headstone following the earthquake of 801.

From the 9th to the 11th century

Pope John VIII (872-882) had a fortified wall (Giovannopoli) built around the Basilica and Abbey to protect them from potential attacks, while Gregory VII (abbot of the monastery before he was elected Pope) was responsible for laying the floor of the transept, building a bell tower (which was destroyed in the 19th century) and commissioning a splendid door at the entrance to the Basilica composed of 54 panels with silver inlay.

Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls with Tomb of Apostle Paul

The Golden Age

In the 13th century the Basilica was enriched with splendid works of art: while Pope Honorius III commissioned the great mosaic in the apse (24 metres wide by 12 metres high) work was also begun on the beautiful cloister designed by the artist Vassallectus and in 1285 Arnolfo di Cambio’s magnificent ciborium was added.

Another famous work from this period is the candelabra for the Easter candle, a six metre high column decorated with bas reliefs in Romanic style inspired by decorations on the sarcophagi which tell stories from the New Testament.

The Jubilees

During the Jubilees that took place from the 14th century onwards, ever greater numbers of pilgrims came to the tomb of the Apostle and on these occasions the Popes undertook major works on the Basilica.

During the Jubilee of 1575 Gregory XIII decided to add the balustrade around the tomb of the saint, while in 1600 Clement VIII had the high altar built and in 1625 Urban VIII had the chapel of St Laurence redone by Carlo Maderno.

In the Holy Year of 1725 Benedict XIII entrusted the construction of a new portico to Antonio Canevari who demolished the old vestibule and added the chapel of the Crucifix (or Holy Sacrament chapel) in order to house the miraculous crucifix made of polychrome wood attributed to Sienese artist Tino di Camaino (14th century).

Today you can still see a 13th century mosaic icon and a poignant statue-reliquary of St Paul in polychrome wood bearing signs of the fire of 1823.

The fire of July 15th 1823

On the night of July 15th 1823 a terrible fire almost entirely destroyed the Basilica leaving hardly any of the structures intact. Miraculously the nave area of the transept was not burnt down thus preserving Arnolfo di Cambio’s ciborium and a few of the mosaics.

However most of the walls of the Basilica had to be rebuilt. Leo XII was the pope responsible for the rebuilding of St Paul’s and being unable to provide for the enormous costs he appealed for help to the rest of the Catholic world through his encyclical of January 25th 1825 entitled Ad plurimas easque gravissimas.

He received a huge response and not just from the Catholic world: Czar Nicholas 1st donated blocks of malachite and lapis lazuli (later used for the two sumptuous lateral altars in the transept) while King Fouad I of Egypt gave columns and windows made of the finest alabaster.

Thus the greatest building site of the 19th century Roman Church was begun and the Basilica was rebuilt in identical style using materials which had been saved from the fire in order to preserve the ancient Christian tradition.

On December 10th 1854 Pope Pius IX (1846-1876) consecrated the new Basilica in the presence of a great number of Cardinals and Bishops who came to Rome from around the world for the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

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The Tomb of St. Paul

Paul came to Rome in 61AD for his trial by the Roman court which condemned him to death as a Christian. The sentence was carried out in a place called ‘palude Salvia’ close to Rome (later known as the Three Fountains after the three springs that gushed up where the severed head of the saint bounced three times on the ground). His body was taken two miles away from the place of his martyrdom and laid in the burial area which a Christian woman named Lucina owned on Via Ostiense and which was part of a pre-existing burial ground. Though he was a Christian, the Apostle Paul could be buried in a Roman necropolis because he was a Roman citizen. His tomb immediately became a place of veneration and a memorial chamber was built above it where pilgrims and faithful people came to pray during centuries of persecution.

The tomb stone
1.37 metres below the modern day papal altar is a marble headstone (2.12 metres by 1.27 metres) made up of various sections and bearing the inscription PAULO APOSTOLO MART…
The section inscribed with the name PAULO has three holes, one round and the other two square shaped.

The Sarcophagus

Above the solid sarcophagus measuring 2.55 metres long by 1.25 metres wide by 0.97 metres high, the successive confessional altars have been built. During the recent excavations a large window was removed below the papal altar in order to allow the faithful to view the tomb of the Apostle.

Weekday timetable:

  • 07.00 am
  • 08.00 am 
  • 09.00 am 
  • 10.30 am 
  • 05.00 pm 
  • 06.00 pm (saturday) 

Weekend and Holiday timetable:

  • 07.00 am 
  • 08.00 am 
  • 09.00 am 
  • 10.30 am 
  • 12.00 pm 
  • 05.00 pm Solemn Vespers (with Benediction)
  • 06.00 pm 

St. Paul the Apostle

Paul of Tarsus (originally Saul) canonised as St Paul the Apostle (died 67 AD) did not know Jesus during his lifetime like the other Twelve Apostles but was the first to have as his only experience that of the Risen Christ.

Born in Tarsus, he was sent as a young man to Jerusalem where he was given a strict training in the Law at the school of Rabbi Gamaliel the Elder. After several years there he returned to Tarsus and so was not present in Jerusalem during Jesus’ preaching ministry but only returned to the city a few years after Christ’s passion.

During this phase of his life Saul was a fervent Pharisee: he witnessed the stoning of Stephen, holding the cloaks of his murderers as described in the Acts of the Apostles (8: 1-3). Soon afterwards he was given the task of going to Damascus to imprison the Christians there (Acts 9:2) since he was zealous and firmly against the religion of Jesus which was beginning to spread and establish itself.

His conversion took place on the road to Damascus when a light from heaven suddenly surrounded him and falling from his horse, he heard a voice saying ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’

Saul was blinded and groped around, stunned by what had happened: then for three days he waited without eating or drinking for someone to come and at that moment we could say that Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, was born. He decided to withdraw into the desert and spent three years there rethinking his life and meditating at length on the gift he had received.

Comforted by this light of truth, he returned to Damascus and began preaching with enthusiasm, provoking anger amongst the pagans who considered him a renegade and tried to kill him with the result that he was forced to flee the city. He took refuge in Jerusalem and stayed a couple of weeks there meeting Peter, the leader of the Apostles and James to whom he explained his new life.
The Apostles understood and stayed with him for many hours each day, talking to him about Jesus. But the Christian community in Jerusalem did not trust him, mindful of the vicious persecutions he had inflicted on them, and it was only through the guarantees given by Barnabas, a formerly influential Levite, that their doubts were removed and he was accepted.

During the two weeks he spent in Jerusalem Paul tried to convert others to Christ, but this missionary activity annoyed the Jews and bothered the Christians so in the end, feeling ill at ease, Paul went first to Caesarea and then returned to his own city, Tarsus in Cilicia, where he returned to his job as a tent maker.

From 39 AD to 43 AD we have no news of him until Barnabas, invited by the Apostles to organise the emerging Christian community in Antioch, came to Paul and asked him to come too. It is at this point that Paul abandons forever the name Saul because he was convinced that his mission was not so much among the Jews as among those other peoples whom the Jews referred to as ‘Gentiles.’ It was in Antioch that the disciples of Christ were first known by the name ‘Christians.’ Thanks to Paul’s zeal, in a few years time ‘the Word went out from Jerusalem and the Law from Zion,’ as the prophet had predicted.

The Basilica Saint Paul Outside the Walls and its History

In 313 the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan which marked the end of the Christian persecutions and conferred on them freedom of worship, encouraging the construction of places of prayer. In virtue of this, the site of St Paul’s martyrdom, which had been a place of unceasing pilgrimage since the first century, was enhanced by the creation of a modest basilica of which only the side of the apse remains. It was most likely a small building with three naves which housed, close to the apse, the tomb of Paul decorated with a golden cross.

The great Basilica of the Three Emperors
Constantine’s little church was soon judged to be too small to contain the flow of pilgrims and the decision was taken to knock it down and build a bigger basilica, changing the position from East facing to West facing. St Paul’s Basilica, with its imposing Byzantine structure, is Rome’s largest patriarchal basilica after St Peter’s in the Vatican. Its base is 131.66 metres long by 65 metres wide and it rises to a height of 30 metres, comprising five naves (a large central one measuring 29.70 metres flanked by four lateral ones) supported by a forest of 80 monolithic granite columns.

From the 4th to the 8th century
Throughout the centuries the Popes continually witnessed to their love of this Church by restructuring it and embellishing it with frescoes, mosaics, paintings and chapels. Leo the Great (440-461) covered the triumphal arch with mosaics, rebuilt the roof and began the famous series of papal portraits which go round the top of the nave and the transept with 265 round mosaics (including the most recent one of Pope Benedict XVI which is lit up) and of which the original series of frescos are kept in the museum next to the Basilica.

In the 6th century Pope Symmachus restructured the apse and built some dwellings for the poorest pilgrims, while Pope Gregory II (715-731) entrusted the tomb of the Apostle to the Benedictine monks and Pope Leo III (795-816) laid the first marble headstone following the earthquake of 801.

From the 9th to the 11th century
Pope John VIII (872-882) had a fortified wall (Giovannopoli) built around the Basilica and Abbey to protect them from potential attacks, while Gregory VII (abbot of the monastery before he was elected Pope) was responsible for laying the floor of the transept, building a bell tower (which was destroyed in the 19th century) and commissioning a splendid door at the entrance to the Basilica composed of 54 panels with silver inlay.

The Golden Age
In the 13th century the Basilica was enriched with splendid works of art: while Pope Honorius III commissioned the great mosaic in the apse (24 metres wide by 12 metres high) work was also begun on the beautiful cloister designed by the artist Vassallectus and in 1285 Arnolfo di Cambio’s magnificent ciborium was added. Another famous work from this period is the candelabra for the Easter candle, a six metre high column decorated with bas reliefs in Romanic style inspired by decorations on the sarcophagi which tell stories from the New Testament.

The Jubilees
During the Jubilees that took place from the 14th century onwards, ever greater numbers of pilgrims came to the tomb of the Apostle and on these occasions the Popes undertook major works on the Basilica. During the Jubilee of 1575 Gregory XIII decided to add the balustrade around the tomb of the saint, while in 1600 Clement VIII had the high altar built and in 1625 Urban VIII had the chapel of St Laurence redone by Carlo Maderno.

In the Holy Year of 1725 Benedict XIII entrusted the construction of a new portico to Antonio Canevari who demolished the old vestibule and added the chapel of the Crucifix (or Holy Sacrament chapel) in order to house the ‘miraculous’ crucifix made of polychrome wood attributed to Sienese artist Tino di Camaino (14th century). Today you can still see a 13th century mosaic icon and a poignant statue-reliquary of St Paul in polychrome wood bearing signs of the fire of 1823.

The fire of July 15th 1823
On the night of July 15th 1823 a terrible fire almost entirely destroyed the Basilica leaving hardly any of the structures intact. Miraculously the nave area of the transept was not burnt down thus preserving Arnolfo di Cambio’s ciborium and a few of the mosaics. However most of the walls of the Basilica had to be rebuilt. Leo XII was the pope responsible for the rebuilding of St Paul’s and being unable to provide for the enormous costs he appealed for help to the rest of the Catholic world through his encyclical of January 25th 1825 entitled Ad plurimas easque gravissimas. He received a huge response and not just from the Catholic world: Czar Nicholas 1st donated blocks of malachite and lapis lazuli (later used for the two sumptuous lateral altars in the transept) while King Fouad I of Egypt gave columns and windows made of the finest alabaster.

Thus the greatest building site of the 19th century Roman Church was begun and the Basilica was rebuilt in identical style using materials which had been saved from the fire in order to preserve the ancient Christian tradition. On December 10th 1854 Pope Pius IX (1846-1876) consecrated the ‘new’ Basilica in the presence of a great number of Cardinals and Bishops who came to Rome from around the world for the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

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