It was the second major discovery concerning St Paul announced by the Vatican
in as many days.
On Saturday, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano announced the
discovery of a fresco inside another tomb depicting St Paul, which Vatican
officials said represented the oldest known icon of the apostle.
The pope said archaeologists recently unearthed and opened the white marble
sarcophagus located under the Basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls in
Rome, which for some 2,000 years has been believed by the faithful to be the
tomb of St Paul.
He said scientists had conducted carbon dating tests on bone fragments found
inside the sarcophagus and confirmed that they date from the first or second
“This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that they are
the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul,” he said, announcing the findings at
a service in the basilica to mark the end of the Vatican’s Paoline year, in
honour of the apostle.
Paul and Peter are the two main figures known for spreading the Christian
faith after the death of Christ
According to tradition, St Paul, also known as the apostle of the Gentiles,
was beheaded in Rome in the 1st century during the persecution of early
Christians by Roman emperors. Popular belief holds that bone fragments from
his head are in another Rome basilica, St John Lateran, with his other
remains inside the sarcophagus.
The pope said that when archaeologists opened the sarcophagus, they discovered
alongside the bone fragments some grains of incense, a “precious” piece of
purple linen with gold sequins and a blue fabric with linen filaments.
On Saturday, the Vatican newspaper announced that a round fresco edged in gold
featuring the emaciated face of St Paul had been discovered in excavations
of the tombs of St Tecla in Rome. It was believed to have been dated from
the end of the fourth century, making it the oldest known icon of St Paul,
meaning it was an image designed for prayer, not just art, L’Osservatore
Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Vatican’s culture department,
said the discovery was an “extraordinary event” that was an “eloquent
testimony” to the Christianity of the first centuries.
Vatican archaeologists in 2002 began excavating the 8-foot long tomb of St
Paul, which dates from at least AD 390 and was buried under the basilica’s
main altar. The decision to unearth it was made after pilgrims who came to
Rome during the Roman Catholic Church’s 2000 Jubilee year expressed
disappointment at finding that the saint’s tomb – buried under layers of
plaster and further hidden by an iron grate – could not be visited or
The top of the coffin has small openings – subsequently covered with mortar –
because in ancient times Christians would insert offerings or try to touch
The basilica stands at the site of two 4th-century churches – including one
destroyed by a fire in 1823 that had left the tomb visible, first above
ground and later in a crypt. After the fire, the crypt was filled with earth
and covered by a new altar. A slab of cracked marble with the words “Paul
apostle martyr” in Latin was also found embedded in the floor above the
Today is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a major feast day for the Roman
Catholic Church, during which the pope will bestow a woollen pallium, or
scarf, on all the new archbishops he has recently named.
From The Belfast Telegraph
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