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The Basilica of Saint Paul restored to splendor after great fire

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 8th, 2011
Catholic Online (

One of the five major basilicas of Rome, The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls or Basilica di San Paolo fuori le Mura was originally founded by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. The Basilica di San Paolo is the burial place of Saint Paul the Apostle. The site features a fascinating array of historical, religious and artistic sights for the modern visitor to explore and enjoy.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Following his execution and burial in Rome in the 1st century AD, Saint Paul's followers erected a shrine over the grave. The shrine was frequently visited to honor the great Apostle to the Gentiles and author of more than half of the New Testament. The first church on the site was a small one, founded by Emperor Constantine and consecrated on November 18, 324 AD.

Sixty-two years later in 386, Emperor Theodosius demolished the original church and began the construction of a much larger basilica. The structure was consecrated in 390 by Siricius, and completed in 395 under Emperor Honorius. The present basilica looks much the same as it did in the 4th century.

The walls and tower encircling the church were completed in 883. This was known as the "Johannipolis," or "City of John" after Pope John VIII, and was built to protect the church from Lombards and Saracens. The defense works were tested in 1083-1084, when they withstood several attacks by Emperor Henry IV.

When St. Odo of Cluny came to Rome in 937 AD, Alberico II, 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 gates of the basilica, which were executed by Constantinopolitan artists.

Pope Martin V entrusted it to the monks of the Congregation of Monte Cassino.

The cloisters of the monastery were erected between 1220 and 1241. There were two monasteries near the basilica at the time of Gregory the Great: St. Aristus's for men and St. Stefano's for women. Services were carried out by a special body of clerics instituted by Pope Simplicius.

In 1823 a great fire, started through the negligence of a workman who was repairing the lead of the roof, resulted in the destruction of the basilica. Alone of all the churches of Rome, it had preserved its primitive character for 1,435 years.

The whole world rallied to restore the structure. 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 façade was completed by the Italian government, which then declared the church a national monument.

Among the many sights to be seen is the main door, made of bronze with inlaid silver. The door was constructed 1929-1931 by Antonio Maraini, after the old door had been damaged in the fire of 1823.

The reliefs on the door show scenes from the lives of Sts Peter and Paul. Apart from the two central scenes, all of the events depicted took place in Rome. Flanking the main door are 19th-century statues of Sts Peter and Paul by Gregorio Zappalà.

The chapel of relics has numerous relics, the most notable of which are a set of chains said to be the prison chains of St Paul, used in the last days before his execution. They are exposed in the church on his feast days.

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