Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome

Wednesday, 10 May 2017 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, UNESCO World Heritage
Reading Time:  8 minutes

© Berthold Werner

© Berthold Werner

The Papal Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls, commonly known as St. Paul’s outside the Walls, is one of Rome‘s four ancient, Papal, major basilicas, along with the Basilicas of St. John in the Lateran, St. Peter’s, and St. Mary Major. The Basilica is within Italian territory and not the territory of the Vatican City State. However, the Holy See fully owns the Basilica, and Italy is legally obligated to recognize its full ownership thereof and to concede to it “the immunity granted by International Law to the headquarters of the diplomatic agents of foreign States”. 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 Paul the Apostle. A press conference held on 11 December 2006 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. The sarcophagus was not extracted from its position, so that only one of its two narrow sides is visible.

The Basilica was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine I over the burial place of St. Paul, where it was said that, after the Apostle’s execution, his followers erected a memorial, called a cella memoriae. In 386, Emperor Theodosius I began erecting a much larger and more beautiful basilica with a nave and four aisles with a transept; the work including the mosaics was not completed until Leo I‘s pontificate (440–461). In the 5th century it was 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. Under Pope St. Gregory the Great (590–604) the Basilica was extensively modified. The pavement was raised to place the altar directly over St. Paul’s tomb. A confession permitted access to the Apostle’s sepulcher. As it lay outside the Aurelian Walls, the Basilica was damaged in the 9th century during a Saracen raid. Consequently, Pope John VIII (872–82) 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, a rich merchant of Amalfi who lived in Constantinople, presented the bronze doors of the basilica maior, which were executed by Constantinopolitan artists; the doors are inscribed with Pantaleone’s prayer that the “doors of life” may be opened to him. Pope Martin V entrusted it to the monks of the Congregation of Monte Cassino. It was then made an abbey nullius. The abbot’s jurisdiction extended over the districts of Civitella San Paolo, Leprignano, and Nazzano, all of which formed parishes. But the parish of San Paolo in Rome is under the jurisdiction of the cardinal vicar. 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. On 15 July 1823, a negligent workman repairing the lead of the roof, started a fire that led to the near total destruction of this basilica, which, alone among all the churches of Rome, had preserved its primitive character for 1435 years. Pope Leo XII issued a document Ad plurimas encouraging donations for reconstruction. It was re-opened in 1840, and reconsecrated in 1855 with the presence of Pope Pius IX and fifty cardinals. The complete decoration and reconstruction, in charge of Luigi Poletti, 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 façade, looking toward the Tiber, was completed by the Italian Government, which declared the church a national monument. On 23 April 1891 the explosion of the gunpowder magazine at Forte Portuense destroyed the stained glass windows. On 31 May 2005 Pope Benedict XVI ordered the Basilica to come under the control of an Archpriest and he named Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo as its first archpriest.

© Dnalor 01/cc-by-sa-3.0 © Sky arth/cc-by-sa-4.0 © Berthold Werner
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© Dnalor 01/cc-by-sa-3.0
The covered portico that precedes the façade is a Neo-classicist addition of the 19th-century reconstruction. The 20th-century door includes the remains of the leaves from the original portal, executed by Staurachius of Chios around 1070 in Constantinople, with scenes from 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 (213 ft)-wide, and 29.70 metres (97.4 ft)-high, the second largest in Rome. The nave’s 80 columns and its stucco-decorated ceiling are from the 19th century. All that remains of the ancient basilica are the interior portion of the apse with the triumphal arch. The mosaics of the apse, work by Pietro Cavallini, were mostly lost in the 1823 fire; 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. St. Peter and St. Paul are portrayed at the right and left of the arch, the latter pointing downwards (probably to his tomb). The tabernacle of the confession of Arnolfo di Cambio (1285) belongs 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 nave’s interior walls were also redecorated with scenes from Saint Paul’s life in two mosaics. The sacristy contains a fine statue of Pope Boniface IX. South of the transept is the cloister, considered “one of the most beautiful of the Middle Ages”. 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.

Read more on vatican.va – Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls and Wikipedia Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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