[an error occurred while processing this directive] Jubilee Year of St. Paul
Pilgrimage - Basilica

The History of the Basilica

At the beginning of the 4th century, with the end of the persecutions and the promulgation of the Edicts of Tolerance in favour of Christianity, Emperor Constantine ordered the excavation of the cella memoriae, the place where Christians venerated the memory of Saint Paul the Apostle, beheaded under Nero around 65-67 A.D. Above his grave, located along the Ostiense Way, about two kilometers outside the Aurelian Walls surrounding Rome, Constantine built a Basilica which was consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324.

Between 384 and 395 the Basilica, under the emperors Theodosius, Valentinian II and Arcadius, was restored and enlarged according to an extensive project consisting of five naves opening out into an atrium (quadriportico), or courtyard with four rows of columns. Throughout the centuries the Basilica would not cease to be embellished and enhanced by the Popes. For example, the massive defensive wall was built to protect against invasions at the end of the ninth century, while the bell tower and the magnificent Byzantine door were constructed in the eleventh century. Other important additions include Pietro Cavallini’s mosaics in the façade, the beautiful Vassalletto family’s cloister, Arnolfo di Cambio’s celebrated Gothic baldachin and the Candelabrum for the Paschal candle attributed to Nicola d’Angelo and Pietro Vassalletto of the thirteenth century. This historical period represents the golden age of what had been the biggest Basilica of Rome, until the consecration of the new Basilica of St. Peter in 1626. This sacred place of Christian pilgrimage was well-known for its artistic works.

On the night of July 15, 1823, a fire destroyed this unique testimony to the Paleo-Christian, Byzantine, Renaissance and Baroque periods. The Basilica was reconstructed identically to what it had been before, utilizing all the elements which had survived the fire. In 1840 Pope Gregory XVI consecrated the Altar of the Confession and the Transept.

Other embellishments followed the reconstruction. In 1928 the portico with 146 columns was added. Contemporary work in the Basilica has uncovered the tomb of the Apostle, while other important and beneficial works are carried out, as in the past, thanks to the generosity of Christians from all over the world.

In the fifth century under the Pontificate of Leo the Great, the Basilica became the home of a long series of medallions which would to this day depict all the popes throughout history. This testifies, in an extraordinary way, to “the very great, the very ancient and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul” (Saint Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 3, 3,2).

Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls constitutes an extra-territorial complex (Motu Proprio by Pope Benedict XVI, 30 May 2005), administered by an Archpriest, His Eminence Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo.

In addition to the Papal Basilica, the entire complex includes a very ancient Benedictine Abbey, restored by Odon of Cluny in 936. This Abbey remains active even today under the direction of its Abbot who retains his ordinary jurisdiction intra septa monasterii. The Benedictine Monks of the ancient Abbey, founded near the tomb of the Apostle by Pope Gregory II (715-731), attend to the ministry of Reconciliation (or Penance) and the promotion of special ecumenical events.

It is in this Basilica that every year on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, January 25, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity solemnly opens. The Pope has specified two privileged tasks for this Papal Basilica: the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance) and the development and organization of ecumenical initiatives.

On June 28, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Basilica and announced that the following year would be designated the “Pauline Year” to commemorate the bimillennium of the birth of Saint Paul. Thus, the “Pauline Year” will run from June 28, 2008 to June 29, 2009.

Source: Vatican Website http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/en/basilica/storia.htm

The Tomb of St. Paul

The Tomb
In 61 A.D. Paul arrived in Rome to undergo judgment. Here he was beheaded [1] between 65 and 67 A.D. His body was buried two miles away from the place of his martyrdom, in the sepulchral area along the Ostiense Way, owned by a devout Christian woman named Lucina, which was part of a pre-existent burial place [2]. Even though he was a Christian, it was possible to bury the Apostle Paul in a Roman necropolis, due to his Roman citizenship. Shortly thereafter, his tomb would become a place of worship and veneration. Upon it was erected a cella memoriae or tropaeum, namely a memorial, where during the first centuries of persecution many of the faithful and pilgrims would go to pray, drawing the strength necessary to carry out the work of evangelization of this great missionary [3].

The Marble Tombstone
At 1.37 meters below the present Papal Altar lies a marble tombstone (2.12 m. x 1.27 m.), bearing the Latin inscription PAULO APOSTOLO MART (Apostle Paul, martyr)... It is composed of various pieces. On the piece where PAULO is written there are three holes, a round and two square ones [4].

The Sarcophagus

It is above a massive sarcophagus, measuring 2.55 meters long, 1.25 meters wide and 0.97 high, that the “Altars of Confession” were later placed. During recent work in the Basilica, a large window-like opening was made just below the Papal Altar, in order to allow the faithful to see the Apostle’s tomb.


1) Outside the Aurelian Walls, along the Ostiense Way, undoubtedly at Aquas Salvias.
2) The excavations confirm the presence of a cemetery under and around the Basilica (burial niches and underground graves) for poor people and free slaves.
3) Gaius, the Presbyter, “who lived when Zephyrinus was bishop of Rome from 199 to 217”, as quoted by Eusebius in the third century, was the first one to tell about his visit to the memorials of the Apostles. “Gaius”, Eusebius writes “In a written dialog with Proclus, the leader of the Phrygians, says the following about the places where the sacred relics of the apostles mentioned [Peter and Paul] are deposited: ‘But I can point out the tropaia of the Apostles; for if you go to the Vatican or the Ostian Way, you will find the tropaia of those who founded this Church’”.
4) The circular hole, which does not modify the inscription, is without a doubt from contemporary times. A small pipeline connects it to the tomb, which brings to mind the Roman custom, later to become also Christian, of pouring perfumes inside the sarcophagus. This 4th to 5th century marble tombstone is most likely evidence of religious veneration prior to the great construction of 386 A.D.

Source: Vatican Website http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/en/basilica/tomba.htm

The Constantine Building

The Emperor Constantine, who reigned from 306 A.D. to 332 A.D., ended the persecutions of Christians, by proclaiming the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., which established freedom of worship. It favours the construction of places of Christian worship, especially that commemorating the Apostle.

He ordered the erection of a place of worship above his tomb [1]. One might think that this first building was very small because probably, prior to its construction, there lied the structure of a domus ecclesiae, that is a domestic church. On November 18, 324 A.D. the Basilica was consecrated by Pope Sylvester I (314 A.D. - 335 A.D.).

After the important restoration work of 2006, one can notice by observing the ground that the apse was oriented eastward following the custom of the times.

The magnificent Basilica of the Three Emperors [2]

In 395 it was consecrated by Pope Silicius (384-399).
In order to enlarge the Basilica, by that time too small for the continuous influx of pilgrims, it became necessary to change its orientation, from East to West.
The style of its structure was Byzantine, measuring 131,66 meters long, 65 meters wide and 30 meters high.
It was built according to a design which specified five naves (a large central nave 29,70 meters long, flanked by four lateral naves) all sustained by a so-called “forest” of 80 monolithic columns made of granite and its quadriportico (70 meters long), that is, a courtyard with four rows of columns. It had been the largest Roman Basilica until the re-construction of St. Peter’s.
Witnessing to the Church’s love for this place, throughout the following centuries the Popes would not cease to restore and embellish it by adding frescoes, mosaics, paintings and chapels.


1) The apse of the first Basilica of Constantine, which dates back to the fourth century and is currently visible through a transparent glass floor, was discovered thanks to these important excavations around the tomb. One should not exclude the possibility that these foundations could also contain the remains of the ancient tropaeum, that is, the commemorative monument which was erected above the tomb of the Apostle.

2) In 386 A.D. Theodosius, Arcadius and Valentinian II assigned the work for the new Basilica to the architect Cyriades. The Basilica was completed under Emperor Honorius, according to the inscription on the Triumphal Arch named after Galla Placidia, the sister of the Emperor who financed the project.

Source: Vatican Website http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/en/basilica/costantino.htm

The 5th to the 8th Century

Despite the great invasions during this period, the Popes continued to carry out work on the Basilica: Leo the Great (440-461) ordered the decoration of the Triumphal Arch in mosaic [1] and the re-construction of the roof destroyed by the fire, in order to start the long series of mosaic medallion portraits depicting all the Popes throughout history [2], which would form a high frieze around the transept and nave.

Pope Symmachus (498-514) restored the apse and constructed the habitacula for the poorest of pilgrims.

The continuing presence of the Benedictine Monks near the tomb of the Apostle dates back to Gregory II (715-731).

Leo III (795-816) laid down the first marble slab after the earthquake in 801.


1) This mosaic is tied to the same Venetian school of mosaicists of the Basilica of Saint Mark. In the centre is a Byzantine Christ giving a blessing, flanked by two angels and 24 Ancients of the Apocalypse. Underneath are depictions of the Apostles Peter and Paul, the latter of whom seems to be pointing to his tomb located 15 meters below. This mosaic was touched up and restored several times. Finally it was placed in its definitive and present location after the fire of 1823.
2) This sequence of papal portraits testifies in an extraordinary way to “the pre-eminent authority of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul”, as saint Irenaeus wrote in the 2nd century. After the fire of 1823, Gregory XVI requested that the chronological series of papal medallions, characteristic of the Basilica, be reproduced in mosaic. The old medallions that survived the fire are currently preserved in the monastery.

Source: Vatican Website http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/en/basilica/v_secolo.htm

The 9th – 11th Century

Pope John VIII (872-882) undertook the construction of a fortified wall surrounding the Basilica and its Abbey in order to protect it from invasions. This defensive wall was known as “Joannispolis” or “City of John”.

Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), abbot of the monastery before being elected Pope, raised the pave of the transept connecting it with the central nave, constructed the bell tower (destroyed in the 19th century) and placed at the main entrance a magnificent Byzantine door [1] adorned by fifty-four panels wrought in damascene silver.


1) In 1070 the Byzantine door was commissioned by Pantaleone, Consul of Amalfi in Constantinople (it was his gift for being redeemed from his sins; as a noble merchant he became wealthy from Muslim and Christian slave trafficking, a trade which was forbidden by the Church). Theodore, an artist of that time, depicted a Christological cycle, an Apostolic cycle (the martyrdom of the Apostles) and a Prophetic cycle. In our time, the door has been restored and transferred to serve as the counter façade of the Holy Door.

Source: Vatican Website http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/en/basilica/ix_secolo.htm

The Golden Age of the Basilica

Innocent III (1198-1216) ordered the creation of the large mosaic [1] in the apse (24 meters wide and 12 meters long), which at present looks much the same as it did when it was completed centuries ago. Later Pope Honorius III [2], called on another group of Venetian artists who had worked on the Basilica of Saint Mark in Venice to complete the team of mosaicists for the project.

Many artists contributed to its final construction. The Gothic baldachin, located right above the Papal Altar and the tomb, was realized by Arnolfo di Cambio [3]; while the decoration of the façade was done by Pietro Cavallini, the cloister by the Vassalletto family [4], and the monumental Candelabrum for the Paschal candle was created by Nicola D’Angelo and Pietro Vassalletto [5].

At that time the Basilica was universally known, not only as an important destination for pilgrimages but also as a chest of Paleo-Christian, Byzantine and Gothic artistic treasures.


1) The magnificent mosaic was restored between the 16th and 18th centuries and, after the fire partially destroyed it in the 19th century, it was repaired by using parts of the old tesserae. At present some original fragments, representing the heads of the Apostles, are exposed in the Permanent Exhibit Halls.

2) One may observe Pope Honorius III kneeling at Christ’s feet. Pope Paul VI referred to this image during his first address to the Bishops taking part in the Second Vatican Council on September 29, 1963: “The radiant royal majesty of Jesus emerges in the Pantocrator, just like in your Basilicas, Our Venerable Brethren of the Eastern and Western Churches. And We recognize Ourselves in the figure of Our Predecessor, Honorius III, in the magnificent mosaic of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls, represented in adoration before Christ, a tiny figure bowed down to kiss Christ’s feet who, in His Greatness, is presiding over the assembly gathered in the Basilica, that is the Church”.

3) The Gothic canopy, rich and delicate at the same time (1285), with its pointed arches whose corner niches house the statues of Paul, Peter, Timothy and Bartholomew (the Abbot at that time), represents the initial expressions of a new figurative art. The canopy is sustained by four porphyry columns.

4) The cloister, adjacent to the transept on the south side, is considered the apex of the Cosmatesque School (workshop of the Vassaletto family at the beginning of the 13th century). This quad is composed of a series of four small columns, each one different from the other, smooth, ribbed, or twisted, all sustaining small round arches, surmounted by a marvelous architrave decorated by mosaics.

5) The Candelabrum of the Easter Candle has been present since the 10th century, near the bare altar during the Holy Saturday liturgy. The Candelabrum of Saint Paul is an exceptional example of the work done by the Roman marble artists between the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th: scenes of the Passion and Resurrection are flanked by decorations with acanthus leaves and animals. One can observe the names of Nicola d’Angelo and Pietro Vassaletto to whom this work is attributed.

Source: Vatican Website http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/en/basilica/oro_basilica.htm

The Jubilees

From the 14th century on, the tradition of Jubilees attracted pilgrimages to the tomb of the Apostle, and the Popes took advantage of those occasions to undertake important works. Boniface IX (1389-1405), and later Martin V (1417-1431), exhorted the faithful to make donations to realize these projects, granting them indulgences tied to their prayer and penance.

Gregory XIII added a balustrade around the tomb for the Jubilee of 1575. Clement VIII built the high altar for the Jubilee of 1600, while in 1625 Urban VIII transformed the chapel of St Lawrence by Carlo Maderno [1].

For the Jubilee year of 1725, Benedict XIII commissioned Antonio Canevari to construct a new portico, demolishing the ancient vestibule and adding the chapel of the Crucifix (or Blessed Sacrament) with the “miraculous” Crucifix, which was done in polychrome wood [2] by Tino di Camaino from Siena (14th century). Here one can also admire a 13th century mosaic icon and a touching relic-statue of Saint Paul made of polychrome wood which bears traces of evidence of the fire of 1823.

The altars and the chapels which open onto the transept make the Basilica a witness to Baroque art [3].


1) At the present time the monks celebrate lauds, vespers and choral mass here.
2) St Bridget reported having seen the face of Christ turn toward her while she was praying at the foot of this Crucifix in 1370. He offered her words of encouragement in founding a religious community. A statue of the saint was later placed in the Chapel. Another founder of a religious order, St. Ignatius of Loyola, professed his vows on August 22, 1541 before the 13th century mosaic icon which is also held in this Chapel
3) The Altar of the Conversion of Saint Paul, attributed to Camuccini and located in the apse of the left transept, recalls the fundamental experience of the internal conversion of the Apostle to the Gentiles. It is surrounded by the statues of St. Gregory the Great and St. Bernard. The altar of the Assumption, next to the right transept holds the copy of the mosaic of the coronation of the Virgin Mary, by Giulio Romano (1492). In the right transept lies the chapel of Saint Benedict, dedicated to the Monastic Order which for centuries has celebrated in the Basilica. It contains a homonym statue (a magnificent restoration of which was recently carried out).

Source: Vatican Website http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/en/basilica/giubilei.htm

Fire July 1823

In only one night, the Basilica was destroyed by fire.

A significant appeal was launched by Pope Leo XII to all the faithful[1]: the Basilica had to be rebuilt in an identical way, re-using the elements preserved from the fire, in such a manner that the Christian tradition could be maintained as it had been since its origins.

Parts were moved, restored, demolished, and reconstructed[2]. Not only did a multitude of Catholics respond to the appeal, but gifts arrived from all over the world. For example, blocks of malachite and lapis lazuli were donated by Tsar Nicholas I. These were going to be used for the construction of the two sumptuous lateral altars of the transept. King Fouad I of Egypt gave columns and windows of very fine alabaster as a gift, while the vice-king of Egypt, Mohamed Ali contributed by offering columns made of alabaster. Thus, it became the Church of Rome’s most important construction site of the 19th century.

On December 10, 1854, Pope Pius IX (1846-1876) consecrated the “new” Basilica in the presence of a great number of Cardinals and Bishops, gathered in Rome from all over the world for the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception[3].


1) Letter Ad plurimas pasque gravissimas of 25 January 1825.
2) Architects like Valadier, then Belli and afterwards Luigi Poletti directed the work until 1869.
3) A long list of all their names is engraved along the walls of the apse.

Source: Vatican Website http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/en/basilica/incendio.htm

The external area of the Basilica

The imposing quadriportico, 70 meters long and composed of 150 columns, planned by Poletti, was concluded by Calderini. A colossal statue of Saint Paul stands right at the centre of the atrium and was sculpted by Giuseppe Obici (1807-1878).

The façade is decorated by mosaics which were done between 1854 and 1874 (based on the designs of Agricola and Consoni). They depict: in the lower section, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel and in the central section, the mystical Lamb surrounded by four rivers which symbolize the four Gospels, and by twelve lambs representing the twelve Apostles. In the upper section, Christ is situated between Peter and Paul.

There are three main doors. At the centre [1], is the monumental door in green bronze made by Antonio Maraini, which was placed here in 1931; to its right is the new Holy Door [2], made of golden bronze, created by the sculptor Enrico Manfrini and erected for the Jubilee of the year 2000.


1) The central door (7.48 meters x 3.35 meters) shows episodes relating to the lives and preachings of Sts Peter and Paul. A big cross with inlaid silver and embellished with stones of lapis lazuli overlays the door from side to side.

2) The Holy Door (3.71 meters x 1.82 meters) illustrates the theme of the Trinity. A Latin inscription at the bottom of the door reads: Ad sacram Pauli cunctis venientibus aedem – sit pacis donum perpetuoquoe salus. It is a beautiful couplet wishing: the gift of peace and eternal salvation to be granted to all those visiting Paul’s Holy Temple.

Source: Vatican Website http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/en/basilica/esterno.htm

The Present Territorial Complex

On May 31, 2005, a “Motu Proprio” of Pope Benedict XVI completely re-organized the administration of the Basilica, and the entire extraterritorial complex, as we journey into the 21st century [1].

The Pope appointed an Archpriest, Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, who initiated several important works.

Nowadays, as in the past, the progress of these works depends on the generosity and donations of the faithful and pilgrims coming here from the fourth corners of the globe.

In December 2006, the Archpriest-Cardinal made visible to the public the raw marble sarcophagus, which at present can be reached by passing underneath the Papal altar, and also the wall of the Paleo-Christian apse, which can be viewed through a transparent glass panel.


1) The extraterritorial complex of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls includes the large Basilica, the Abbey run by the Benedictine monks for the past thirteen centuries and other buildings and areas now dedicated to tasks concerning the institutional functions of the Church. It belongs to the Holy See, which exercises power over it, and enjoys a special legal status, in accordance with the norms of international law (the Lateran Treaty of 1929 and subsequent Agreements between the Holy See and Italy).

Source: Vatican Website http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/en/basilica/complesso.htm

The Archpriest-Cardinal of the Basilica

Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, Archpriest of the Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls, is an architect and was ordained a priest in 1954 for the Diocese of Rome. In 1977 he was appointed Archbishop.

He was sent as a member of the Holy See’s diplomatic corps to all five continents. He served as the Papal Nuncio in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and later in the Sandinistan Nicaragua and anti-Sandinistan Honduras, where he was able to save several people who had been kidnapped during those difficult times. 

Thereafter he was appointed Papal Nuncio to Uruguay, a country of strong secular influence. Pope John Paul II visited Uruguay twice during his term as Papal Nuncio. In the capital city of Montevideo he had a large Cross erected commemorating these Papal visits, known as “the Nuncio’s Cross”. From 1990 to 1998, he served as the Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine. He promoted the creation of the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land and he was responsible for the signing of the Fundamental Agreement, which normalized the official relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel in 1993. And he became the first Apostolic Nuncio in Israel. From 1998 to 2001 he held the position of Papal Nuncio in Italy and San Marino, as well.

Afterwards the Pope entrusted him with the task of preparing a study for the reorganization of the extraterritorial complex of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls. In 2005, he became the first Archpriest of the Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls.

On March 24, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI named him a Cardinal. Since then, with the collaboration of the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of Saint Paul,  he has been carrying out important architectural works, restorations and general rearrangements to better serve all the faithful and pilgrims who come from various parts of the world to visit the Basilica, especially for the upcoming Pauline Year (28 June 2008 - 29 June 2009).

Source: Vatican Website http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/en/basilica/cardinale.htm

The Benedictine Abbey

The presence of the monastic community dates back to Pope Gregory I, also known as the Great (590-604).

Pope Gregory II established a stable Benedictine community, which is still present here today.

In 936 Odon of Cluny reformed it: the abbot took the name of “abbas et rector Sancti Pauli”.

Hildebrand of Soana is the most illustrious monk among them, who, after having worked for the renewal of the Basilica and the life of its monastery, was elected Pope and took the name of Gregory VII (1073-1085). As Pope he initiated the reform of the Church, the so-called Gregorian reform.

The Abbey became the owner of a huge feudal patrimony.

From then on this complex passed through periods of great splendor but also dark ones as well, until the seizure of its goods in 1870. Nevertheless the monks, even at that time, did not abandon their charge by the tomb of the Apostle.

Even before the beginning of the 20th century, the monastic activity retrieved its vigor in a particular way by administering the Sacrament of Penance and promoting Christian Unity.

It was here on January 25, 1959 that Pope John XXIII announced the convocation of the Second Vatican Council.

The ancient Library contains more than 10,000 volumes which date back from between the 15th to the 17th century (including Maurist and Bollandist editions), while the modern one contains more than 100,000 books.

Source: Vatican Website http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/en/basilica/abbazia.htm


The Chapel of Relics

The chain that, according to the most ancient tradition, attached the Apostle Paul to the Roman soldier assigned to guard him while in prison in Rome, is the most precious among the relics and objects on display in this chapel. Already in the 5th century, Pope Leo the Great made mention of it.

The Art Gallery

The existing Art Gallery, located in the Sacristy and in two annexed rooms, preserves some precious paintings from the old Basilica. About forty of them date back to between the 13th to 19th century, such as The Virgin Mary with the Infant Christ by Antoniazzo Romano (15th century) and the copy of rare documents, including a Carolingian Bible manuscript from the 8th century, which is preserved in the library of the Abbey, together with some engravings preserved from the fire of 1823.

The Lapidary Collection

In the cloister, one can presently find sarcophaguses and about 2000 fragments of tomb stones. Some of these contain inscriptions engraved in Greek, Latin and Hebrew, all taken from the necropolis discovered during the various works carried out near the Basilica. The most beautiful sarcophagus, called the “dogmatic”, is currently preserved at the Pio-Christian Museum in the Vatican. The Praeceptum, a huge marble stone with an epigraph from Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) refers to a female monastic community which existed in the Basilica at that time.

Source: Vatican Website http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/en/basilica/esposizioni.htm