Oldest known portrait of St Paul revealed by Vatican archaeologists

The 4th-century portrait was found in the catacombs of St Thecla, not far from the Basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls

The 4th-century portrait was found in the catacombs of St Thecla, not far from the Basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls

By Richard Owen, UK TIMES

Vatican archaeologists have uncovered what they say is the oldest known portrait of St Paul. The portrait, which was found two weeks ago but has been made public only after restoration, shows St Paul with a high domed forehead, deep-set eyes and a long pointed beard, confirming the image familiar from later depictions.

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, which devoted two pages to the discovery, said that the oval portrait, dated to the 4th century, had been found in the catacombs of St Thecla, not far from the Basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls, where the apostle is buried. The find was “an extraordinary event”, said Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Barbara Mazzei, a restorer, said that centuries of grime had been removed with a laser. Fabrizio Bisconti, Professor of Christian Iconography at Rome University and a member of the team that made the discovery, said that it appeared to have decorated the tomb of a nobleman or high church official.

Professor Bisconti said that the catacombs contained hundreds of Christians who had wanted to be buried near St Thecla, a Roman Christian martyr — not to be confused with the friend of St Paul known from the apocryphal “Acts of Paul and Thecla” or the English 8th-century Benedictine nun of the same name. Pope Benedict XVI, who a year ago announced a “Pauline Year” dedicated to the apostle that ended yesterday, said that it had been “a true period of grace in which, through pilgrimages, catecheses, publications and various initiatives, the figure of St Paul was offered again to the entire Church. His vibrant message among Christian communities has revived everywhere the passion for Christ and the Gospel.”

It is widely believed that the spread of Christianity would not have been possible without St Paul. A Roman Jew from what is now Turkey, he founded churches throughout the Roman Empire. He was executed — it is believed beheaded — in AD65 for his beliefs.


Pope Says Scientific Analysis Seems to Confirm Tradition

St. Paul Bascilica Outside the Wall

St. Paul Bascilica Outside the Wall

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 28, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The tomb of St. Paul may indeed contain the remains of the Apostle of the Gentiles, Benedict XVI affirmed in his homily at the closing of the Year of St. Paul.

The Pope presided at first vespers this evening for the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, which marked the conclusion of the Pauline Year. The celebration took place at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, where it has traditionally been believed St. Paul was buried.

“An authentic scientific analysis” conducted on the sarcophagus conserved in the basilica, the Holy Father said, “seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that these are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul.”

Looking from the back of the nave

Looking from the back of the nave

“A tiny hole was drilled into the sarcophagus — which over many centuries had never been opened — in order to insert a special probe, which revealed traces of costly purple colored linen fabric, laminated with pure gold and a blue fabric with linen filaments,” Benedict XVI explained.
“Grains of red incense and protein and chalk substances were also discovered,” he continued. “There were also tiny bone fragments, which were sent for carbon-14 testing by experts who were unaware of their origin. These were discovered to belong to a person who had lived between the first and second centuries.”
St. Paul is said to have been beheaded at Aquas Salvias — where the Church of Tre Fontane was then erected — while he was buried at the place where the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls now stands, and where two basilicas — one ordered by Emperor Constantine and the other the so-called basilica of the “Three Emperors” (Theodosius, Valentinian II and Arcadius) — were constructed during the fourth century.

Despite the fact that the original tomb of St. Paul had been the object of profound devotion on the part of pilgrims from the beginning, over the centuries it disappeared from view and eventually could no longer be identified.
During the reconstruction of the basilica, which had been destroyed by a fire in 1823, two marble plaques dating from the time of Pope Leo the Great (440-461), which contained the barely visible inscription “Paolo Apostolo Mart” (“Paul the Apostle Martyr”), were discovered beneath the “confessio” altar.
The first archaeological inspections, which took place in 2002-2003 in the area of the “confessio,” permitted the identification of the remains of the Constantinian and Theodosian basilicas.
Between May 2 and Nov. 17, 2006 excavations were carried out that brought to light a marble sarcophagus 2.5 meters long and about 1.2 meters long, which rested on layer of clay floor dating from 390, the time during which the Constantinian basilica was expanded.
Beginning in 2007, visitors were allowed to enter below the basilica’s altar to pray before the tomb of the Apostle.





Sexagesima Sunday

Station at St. Paul


Today’s  Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul combines a melancholy strain of penitence with notes of rejoicing in honor of the Apostle of the Gentiles.

           The Epistle describes vividly the incredible trial endured by St. Paul in his apostolate among the Gentiles.  The parable of the sower related in the Gospel, is aptly chosen by the Church for this feast of the Apostle Paul, who scattered the seed of the good tidings from Damascus and Arabia in the east even unto the Pillars of Hercules in the west.

           Many are the evils that threaten our eternal salvation in the midst of the world; the good seed falls on the highway, but its growth is prevented in many ways.  Each one of us should resolve at the foot of the altar to make use, as St. Paul would have us do, of every means to ensure our final salvation.  What shall it profit us to gain the whole world, if by so doing, we imperil our own soul?

Epistle. 2 Cor. 11, 19-23; 12, 1-9

Gospel. Luke 8, 4-15

Sexagesima-St. Paul-When I am Weak then I am Strong


Sermon by: Rev. Mr. Jonathon Romanoski, FSSP 

Click below to listen, however, first, please put the background music from Sonific SongSpot below and to the lower left on pause  before clicking to listen .