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Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls | by Luciano Giandomenico
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Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls

"The Basilica di San Paolo fuori le Mura" — known in English as the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls or St Paul-without-the-Walls — is one of the four churches considered to be the great ancient basilicas of Rome. The Roman Catholic Church counts among them St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Peter's. Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, named in 2005, is the current archpriest of this basilica.

The basilica was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine I over what was believed to be the burial place of Saint Paul, where it was said that, after the Apostle's execution, his followers erected a memorial, called a cella memoriae, over his grave. This first edifice was expanded under Valentinian I.

In 386, Emperor Theodosius I began the erection of a much larger and more beautiful basilica with a nave and four aisles with a transept; the work including the mosaics was not completed till the pontificate of Leo I. In the 5th century it was even larger than the Old St. Peter's Basilica. The Christian poet Prudentius, who saw it at the time of emperor Honorius, describes the splendours of the monument in a few, expressive lines. As it was dedicated also to Saints Taurinus and Herculanus, martyrs of Ostia in the 5th century, it was called the basilica trium Dominorum ("basilica of Three Lords").

Under Gregory the Great (590-604) the basilica was again extensively modified: the pavement was raised, in order to place the altar directly over Paul's tomb. A confession permitted the access to the Apostle's sepulcher. In that period there were two monasteries near the basilica: St. Aristus's for men and St. Stefano's for women. Masses were carried out by a special body of clerics instituted by Pope Simplicius. In the course of time the monasteries and the clergy of the basilica declined; Pope Saint Gregory II restored the former and entrusted the monks with the care of the basilica.

As it lay outside the Aurelian Walls, the basilica was damaged during the Saracen invasions in the 9th century. In consequence of this Pope John VIII fortified the basilica, the monastery, and the dwellings of the peasantry, forming the town of Joannispolis (Italian: Giovannipoli: it existed until 1348 when an earthquake totally destroyed it.

In 937, when Saint Odo of Cluny came to Rome, Alberic II of Spoleto, Patrician of Rome, entrusted the monastery and basilica to his congregation and Odo placed Balduino of Monte Cassino in charge. Pope Gregory VII was abbot of the monastery and in his time Pantaleone of Amalfi presented the bronze doors of the basilica maior, which were executed by Constantinopolitan artists. Pope Martin V entrusted it to the monks of the Congregation of Monte Cassino. It was then made an abbey nullius. The jurisdiction of the abbot extended over the districts of Civitella San Paolo, Leprignano and Nazzano, all of which formed parishes; the parish of San Paolo in Rome, however, is under the jurisdiction of the cardinal vicar.

The graceful cloister of the monastery was erected between 1220 and 1241.

From 1215 until 1964 it was the seat of the Latin Patriarch of Alexandria.


On July 15, 1823 a fire, started through the negligence of a workman who was repairing the lead of the roof, resulted in the almost total destruction of the basilica. Alone of all the churches of Rome, it had preserved its primitive character for 1435 years. The whole world contributed to its reconstruction. The Viceroy of Egypt sent pillars of alabaster, the Emperor of Russia the precious malachite and lapis lazuli of the tabernacle. The work on the principal facade, looking toward the Tiber, was completed by the Italian Government, which declared the church a national monument.

The basilica was reopened in 1840, but it was reconsecrated only fifteen years later at the presence of Pope Pius IX with fifty cardinals. On April 23, 1891 an explosion at Porta Portese destroyed the stained glasses.

On 31 May 2005 Pope Benedict XVI ordered the Basilica to come under the control of an Archpriest. That same day he named Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo as its first archpriest.


(Taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

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Taken on March 31, 2007