Relics of St. Paul rediscovered?

Source: FSSPX News


Is there soon to be an announcement of the discovery of remains in the tomb of St. Paul? According to information obtained by I.Media, the interior of the sarcophagus of the Apostle has been examined at the express request of Benedict XVI, as the start of the year dedicated to St. Paul draws near. The soundings were carried out in mid-May 2007 with the aid of a small camera introduced through an orifice drilled in the sarcophagus, while the basilica was closed to the public.

The experts discovered several bones, including a femur, and also, to their surprise, water. In February 2005, the archeologist Giorgio Filippi announced to I.Media that the sarcophagus possibly containing the relics of St. Paul had been identified. The discovery, made by an exclusive team of experts from the Vatican Museum had been made during two soundings carried out after the 2000 Jubilee year on the basis of topographical surveys from the middle of the 19th century. These sketches had been realized during reconstruction work on the Basilica after a fire which devastated it in 1823.

On October 23, Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza de Montezemolo, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul-without-the-Walls, announced that Benedict XVI had “given his agreement that the sarcophagus of St. Paul could be opened.” The archpriest, a trained architect, said that he would prefer, however, to wait until the end of the Pauline year, June 29, 2009, to carry out the work underneath the main altar. In fact, these excavations, he explained, “would involve the necessity of moving the baldachino, which would mean a veritable demolition site.” “We have carried out x-rays, but the walls of the sarcophagus were too thick for us to be really able to see anything,” he added. “Even though there are three holes in the marble slab situated underneath the main altar, the sarcophagus itself is closed and sealed,” said Cardinal Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo.

 A brief history

 In the year 61 A.D., St. Paul arrived in Rome to be judged. After two years under house arrest in the heart of the city, which he used to evangelize and to write, the trial came to a halt through lack of accusers. But after the fire of 64 A.D., Nero under threat accused Paul of having led the rebellion. He was immediately arrested and put in chains in the Mamertine prison, then condemned to be beheaded outside the Aurelian walls, in the Via Ostiense, between 65 and 67.A.D. “Oh Paul,” wrote St. John Chrysostom in his Panegyric of the Prince of Apostles, “what place received your blood which shone, mixed with milk, on the chlamys of your executioner? Because your blood thus rendering his barbarous soul sweeter than the honey which led him, and with him his companions, to the faith.” These three escort soldiers, converted by the martyrdom of St. Paul, Longinus, Augustus and Megistus, were to be martyred three days after the Doctor of the Gentiles. The head of the Apostle, falling under the Roman sword touched the ground three times and from these three spots sprang up three fountains.

It was in these places of the Cella memoriae, the tomb of the Apostle, where Christians came to pray, that the emperor Constantine had a basilica built which was consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324 A.D. Restructured and extended between 384 and 395 A.D., under the emperors Theodosius, Valentine II and Arcadius, according to a plan of nine naves opening on to a quadriportico, it never ceases down the centuries to undergo embellishments and additions by the popes. Thus the imposing enclosure of fortified walls erected against the invasions at the end of the 9th century, the bell tower and the exquisite Byzantine porticoof the 11th century, the mosaics of the façade by Pietro Cavallini, the Cloister of the Vassallettos, and the Gothic canopy by Arnolfo di Cambio and the paschal candelabra by Nicola d’Angelo and Pietro Vassalletto in the 13th century. It was the golden age of Rome’s largest Basilica, until the consecration of the new Basilica of St. Peter, in 1626. The priest Gaius, “who lived under Zéphyrin, the bishop of the Romans from 199 to 217 A.D.,” quoted by Eusebius in the third century, is the first to report having visited the memoria of the two Apostles: “I can show you,” he wrote to Proclus, “the trophies (funerary monuments) of the Apostles. If you were to go to the Vatican or the Ostian way you would find there the trophies of those who established the Church in Rome.”

During the night of July 25, 1823, a fire devastated this unique witness of the Palaeo- Christian and Byzantine epochs, of the Renaissance and the Baroque era. The Basilica was reconstructed identically, reusing the salvaged elements of the original, and consecrated by Gregory XVI in 1840. In 1928, the one hundred column portico was added. Today it is the tomb of the Apostle which has been made visible. Beneath the present main altar, a marble plate bears the inscription, Paulo Apostolo Mart (Paul Apostle Martyr). The plate, composed of several pieces, has three orifices, one round and two square. The round hole is attached to a small pipe which is connected to the tomb: this evokes the Roman and later Christian custom of pouring perfumes into tombs. This plate, dating from the 4th to the 5th century is probably the vestige of a religion which preceded the major construction of 386 A.D. and which allowed the “confection” of relics through the simple contact with the tomb of the Apostle.

Saint Paul-without-the-Walls constitutes a vast extraterritorial collection (Motu proprio of Pope Benedict XVI, May 30, 2005) administered by an archpriest which comprises the Pontifical Basilica, a former Benedictine Abbey reformed by Odo of Cluny in 936 A.D., as well as the museums and annexes. (Sources: apic/imedia/