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Significant Findings Uncovered At The Tomb Of St. Paul

June 29, 2009

Tiny bone fragments dated from the first or second century have been identified in a tomb in the Basilica of St. Paul in Rome. Pope Benedict made the announcement on Sunday, and also claimed the findings confirmed suspicions that it held the apostle’s remains, Reuters accounted. 

“This seems to confirm the unanimous and undisputed tradition that these are the mortal remains on the Apostle Paul,” the pontiff said at St Paul’s Outside the Walls, on the eve of the Feasts of St Peter and St Paul celebrated on Monday.

About AD 65, Paul met his martyrdom in Rome after widely sharing the Gospel to pagan Greeks and Romans.  Along with Peter, Paul is one of the most revered among Christians as one of the greatest early missionaries and founders of the Christian church. 

According to Christian tradition, St. Paul was laid to rest with St. Peter in a catacomb on the Via Appia, before being transferred to the basilica built in his honor.  It has been commonly believed for centuries that his remains were buried under the altar.

In 2006, Vatican archaeologists were finally able to apply scientific research to the religious tradition when a stone sarcophagus was discovered at the location.

During the “Pauline Year,” a year when the Roman Catholic church celebrated the second millennium of the birth of the “Apostle of the Gentiles,” the first findings were discovered. 

Pope Benedict recounted the specifics of the discovery, saying a small hole had been drilled in the sarcophagus to allow for examination of the inside, exposing “traces of a precious linen cloth, purple in color, laminated with pure gold, and a blue colored textile with filaments of linen.”

“It also revealed the presence of grains of red incense and traces of protein and limestone. There were also tiny fragments of bone, which, when subjected to Carbon 14 tests by experts, turned out to belong to someone who lived in the first or second century,” said the Pope.

News of the bone fragments were accompanied by news that Vatican archaeologists had also found what they suppose is the oldest existing image of St. Paul on the walls of the catacomb beneath Rome, dating from the late 4th century.

The finding was published in the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano on Sunday, a red background picture of a frescoed image of the face of a man with a high furrowed forehead and sharp black beard, consumed in a bright yellow halo.

The discovery was made on June 19 by experts of the Ponitifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology inside the Catacomb of Santa Tecla in Rome. The Vatican newspaper described it as “the oldest icon in history dedicated to the cult of the Apostle.”

It was customary practice of the time for early Christians to bury their dead under the city in catacombs dug into the rock, and then decorate the underground walls with devotional images, similar to Pompeian fashion.

Image Caption: Front of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls – Roma – Italy. Courtesy Alberto Fernandez Fernandez – Wikipedia

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