.- One side of a Roman tomb, long revered as that of St. Paul, has been freed from a 19th-century block of concrete and, thanks to a transparent floor, will soon be visible to the public.
Offering a press conference at the Vatican yesterday the Archpriest of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls, Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archeologist, Giorgio Filippi, and basilica official, Pier Carlo Visconti, revealed the results of an ongoing archeological undertaking at the famous basilica.
Filippi said that archeological investigations which have taken place over the last four years uncovered the apse of the original basilica built by the Emperor Constantine in the early part of the fourth century. “On the floor of this building, under the papal altar,” he said, “we found that great sarcophagus of which all trace had been lost, considered since the time of Theodosius to be the tomb of St. Paul.”
Prior to the discovery, Filippi noted, "although it is an incontrovertible historical fact that the basilica of St. Paul was built over the tomb of the Apostle, the location of the original tomb remained an open question.”
According to the archeologist, records of the Benedictine Monastery which is tasked with caring for the basilica, speak of “a great marble sarcophagus found during reconstruction work on the basilica following the great fire of 1823, in the area of the Confession, under the two stones with the inscription PAULO APOSTOLO MART[YRI]. However, there is no trace of it in the excavation documents, unlike the other sarcophagi unearthed on that occasion.”
Cardinal Montezemolo told the Italian news service ANSA that the next stage in the work will be to open the tomb, if the Vatican approves. However, he added, “future research will not have to prove that this is Paul's burial place, because there has been agreement on this for 2,000 years."
Filippi, said that while he has "no doubt" the tomb was St Paul's, he was somewhat cautious on what archaeologists might find inside the tomb, saying "it could contain anything".
According to Filippi, the tomb might even be a cenotaph (empty tomb), erected in the name of the saint and "assuming the same value of the tomb itself" - while not actually containing Paul's body, ANSA reported.
"It has a hole on top through which pieces of cloth could be pushed, touching the relic and becoming holy in their turn," Filippi said.
In his talk, Cardinal Montezemolo layed out a plan to completely reorganize the basilica, part of which involves the creation of walking route for pilgrims and visitors including, among other things, a new museum area centered on the monastery’s cloister.
The cardinal also spoke extensively of the work taking place around the tomb of St. Paul and mentioned a new transparent floor which will make it possible to see the remains of the basilica's Constantinian apse and the tomb.
Montezemolo said that, if tests are approved, they will probably also examine the stone the sarcophagus is made of.
St Paul's Outside the Walls, which is about three kilometers outside the ancient walls of Rome is the city’s largest church after St Peter's.