12/11/2006, 00.00
VATICAN
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Saint Paul’s sarcophagus found

The Apostle’s tomb is discovered during excavations in the basilica near the vestiges of the ancient Constantinian building. Now the Pope will decide whether it will be open for public viewing or not.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – It is “absolutely certain” that the sarcophagus found in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome contains the remains of St Paul. At a press conference releasing the findings of excavation work conducted in the church since 2002, Giorgio Filippi, from the Vatican Museums, announced that Vatican archaeologists are certain that the tomb uncovered was that of the saint. Card Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archpriest of the basilica, said that that it “was incontrovertible based on the historical tradition” that the basilica was built on top of the Apostle’s tomb.

“The monastery’s chronicle speaks about a big marble sarcophagus found during the rebuilding of the basilica after the 1823 fire in the Confession area, under two slabs on top of which the words ‘Paulo Apostolo Mart(yri)’ was engraved. However, unlike other sarcophagi found at that time, the saint’s tomb was not mentioned in the original excavation papers”.

The archaeological research in the area traditionally considered the apostle’s burial place began in 2002 and ended on September 22, 2006. It brought to light “important strata constituted by the abse of the Constantinian basilica built into the transept of what is known as the Three Emperors’ building. On the latter’s floor under the papal altar a big sarcophagus was found knowledge of which had been lost and which has been considered the tomb of St Paul since the times of Emperor Theodosius”.

Researchers were also able to measure the sarcophagus: 2.55 m (8 ft 5 in) long, 1.25 m (4 ft 2 in) wide, and 0.97 m (3 ft 2 in) high. The lid is 30 cm (1 ft) high and 12 cm (5 in) thick in its back edge. The visible section of the abse is the only evidence from the Constantinian basilica.

The sarcophagus has not been moved nor have all of its walled in sides been examined. They might still reveal other inscriptions.

It has still not been decided whether the sarcophagus will be on public view, the final decision ultimately falling to the Pope, and it is not yet known whether it contains any human remains or is a cenotaph, i.e. empty.

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