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Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mure (Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls), Rome

Overview

San Paolo Fuori le Mure - interior
San Paolo Fuori le Mure - interior

Photo by Dnalor 01 on Wikimedia Commons

San Paolo Fuori le Mure - exterior
San Paolo Fuori le Mure - exterior

Photo by Berthold Werner on Wikimedia Commons

Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mure, or San Paolo Fuori le Mure, is one of the four ancient major Papal basilicas in Rome, often used by the Pope, along with the Archbasilica of Saint John in the Lateran, Saint Peter's Basilica, and Santa Maria Maggiore. Even if it is on Italian territory and not in Vatican City State, it is an extraterritorial property owned by the Holy See.

Description

San Paolo Fuori le Mure - transept
San Paolo Fuori le Mure - transept

Photo by Tango7174 on Wikimedia Commons

Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mure has imposing quadriportico has 150 columns and the façade is decorated with mosaics from the 19th century by Agricola and Consoni. The mosaic has three sections, representing in the lower section, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel; in the central section, the mystical Lamb surrounded by four rivers representing the four Gospels, and by twelve lambs representing the twelve Apostles; and in the upper section, Christ between St. Peter and St. Paul. A huge statue of Saint Paul from the 19th century stands in front of the church.
Holy Door
The basilica has three main doors. The central door is from the 10th century, executed by Constantinopolitan artists in bronze and received as a gift by Pope Gregory VII. The door to the right is the Holy Door. It was built for the Jubilee of the year 2000 in bronze by the italian sculptor Enrico Manfrini. The Holy Door (Latin: Porta Sancta) is traditionally an entrance located within the Papal major basilicas in Rome. The doors are normally kept closed, and only opened during Jubilee years designated by the Pope. The nave's 80 columns and its wood and stucco-decorated ceiling are from the 19th century. Only portions of the apse and the triumphal arch are original from the ancient basilica, which survived the fire from 1823. Here original mosaics from the 5th century can be seen, even though heavily restored, representing the Apocalypse of John, with Christ in the middle flanked by the 24 Doctors of the Church, and above it the symbols of the four Evangelists. Saint Peter and Saint Paul are portrayed at the right and left of the arch, the latter pointing downwards (probably to his tomb). An inscription in the lower section attest they were created during Pope Leo the Great's pontificate.
San Paolo Fuori le Mure - tabernacle
San Paolo Fuori le Mure - tabernacle

Photo by Livioandronico2013 on Wikimedia Commons

The windows, appearing to be stained glass, are actually made from translucent alabaster. The tabernacle of the confession is from the 13th century by Arnolfo di Cambio. Apostle Paul's tomb is in the basilica, below a marble tombstone in the basilica's crypt, at 1.37 metres (4.5 ft) below the altar. The tombstone bears the Latin inscription PAULO APOSTOLO MART ("to Paul the apostle and martyr"). The inscribed portion of the tombstone has three holes, two square and one circular. The circular hole is connected to the tomb by a pipeline, used in Roman times to pour perfumes inside the sarcophagus. The apostle's head rests at the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. The cloister, linking the basilica and the Benedictine convent, is considered "one of the most beautiful of the Middle Ages" due to its architectural harmony and the magnificence of its decorations. Built between 1205 and 1241 by the Italian sculptor Pietro Vassalletto, it has a double row of columns with different shapes, some of them with inlays with golden and colored-glass mosaics. The architrave and the inner frame of the cloister have the same decorations, with mosaics and zoomorphic sculptures on the white marble frame. Also visible are fragments from the old basilica and ancient sarcophagi, one with scenes of the myth of Apollo.
Archeologic complex
Archeologic complex

Photo by Lalupa on Wikimedia Commons

In 2008-2009, during construction works in the abbey's vegetable garden area, a complex of early medieval structures were found. Among them were the remains of a Porticus Sancti (Holy Gate) leading to the tomb of Saint Paul from around the 8th century and structures from the old monastery. The archaeological area was organized as an exhibition and has been open to public since 2013.

History

One of the oldest basilicas, the Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mure was built in the 4th century by the Roman Emperor Constantine I. It was constructed over the burial place of Saint Paul, replacing the tropaeum which had been erected on the site. According to the tradition, his burial place was two miles away from the place of his martyrdom. In 386, Emperor Theodosius erected a much larger church, at the time being larger than the Old Saint Peter's Basilica. Paul was one of the most important apostles (although not one of the Twelve Apostle), and authored thirteen of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament (although some believe six of them come from followers writing in his name). He spent time in Rome in the years following the fire, in the year 67 AD. He initially persecuted the Christians from the church of God. During one of his travels from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem, he had a vision of the resurrected Jesus in a great light and was struck blind for three days. Since then, he begun preaching the gospel and followed the teachings of Jesus. He was martyred during the first persecution against the Christians after the Great Fire of Rome. Because he was a Roman citizen after his father, he was not killed by crucifixion on the cross but by beheading. A legend says that after the beheading, his severed head bounced three times, and a spring of water sprang in each spot where his head touched the ground The fountains were named "San Paolo alle Tre Fontane" ("St Paul at the Three Fountains") after him. Later, a church of the same name was built on the same location in the 5th century. Paul was buried outside the walls of the Rome, on the property of a Christian woman, Lucina. A tropaeum was erected on the site and quickly became a place of veneration. Almost 300 years later, the Christian emperor of the Roman Empire, Constantine the Great, replaced the trophaeum with a church, which still exists today: San Paolo Fuori le Mura (Saint Paul's Church outside the walls). During the 4th century, Paul's remains, excluding the head, were found and moved into a sarcophagus. The sarcophagus is currently located under a marble tombstone in the basilica's crypt. In 1823 the church was almost completely destroyed by a fire started by a workman repairing the lead of the roof. Pope Leo XII issued a document Ad plurimas encouraging donations for reconstruction, and gifts arrived from all over the world: Tsar Nicholas I donated the blocks of malachite and lapis lazuli used for the tabernacle, king Fouad I of Egypt columns and windows of alabaster, the vice-king of Egypt, Mohamed Ali contributed by offering columns made of alabaster and others. The church was reconstructed identically to its previous form, with the portions of the apse and the triumphal arch which survived and reusing all the materials which were recuperated after the fire. A covered portico was added, and all the 80 columns and the wood and stucco-decorated ceilings were recreated. It was re-opened in 1840 when Pope Gregory XVI consecrated the Altar of the Confession and the Transept.