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The Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside The Walls Endures

Experience the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside The Walls and see one of the Vatican’s major papal basilicas and one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches in Rome.

The Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside The Walls - interior

The Altar – The Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside The Walls

The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside The Walls (Basilica Papale di San Paolo Fuori le Mura) is also outside of Vatican City, but is owned by the Holy See and treated as if it is the headquarters of the diplomats of a foreign state. 

The original basilica was built over the tomb of Saint Paul in 313 AD and Pope Sylvester consecrated it in 330 AD. It was too small to handle the growing number of pilgrims visiting the basilica, so a new basilica was built in 390 AD, which at the time was the largest one in Rome.

This history of this basilica is not without its excitement. Since it is “outside the walls,” in other words outside the Aurelian Walls, the basilica was damaged in the 9th century during a Saracen raid. The Pope fortified the protection of the basilica, the monastery, and the peasant housing, forming the town of Johannispolis which existed until 1348, when an earthquake totally destroyed it.

In 1823,  a worker repairing the copper gutters of the roof started a fire that led to the near-total destruction of this basilica, which had preserved much of its original character for 1435 years. In 1825, Pope Leo XII issued orders that the basilica be rebuilt exactly as it had been when new in the fourth century and medieval mosaics and the tabernacle also be repaired and retained.

The Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside The Walls - Art

“I Was In Prison And You Visited Me.”

The Seven Pilgrim Churches Of Rome

The tradition of visiting all seven churches was started in order to combine conviviality and the sharing of a common religious experience through the discovery of the history of the early Saints. In the beginning, a few friends and acquaintances would gather before dawn and set out on their walk. At each church, there would be prayer, hymn singing and a brief sermon.

In addition to the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, there are six other sites that make up the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome.

The Seven Churches Visitation is a Roman Catholic tradition to visit seven churches on the evening of Maundy Thursday during Lent. During the Seven Churches Visitation, the faithful visit several churches to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in each church.

The Basilica Of St Paul Outside The Walls

The Basilica is one of the more dramatic settings of the churches that I’ve visited in Rome. The scale is grand and made even more so by the importance of the tomb of Saint Paul, and how empty the space is. The entire basilica should be visited, but the two most surprisingly beautiful spaces are the Quadriportico and the Nave.

The Quadriportico

The quadriportico is a porticoed garden measuring 230 feet square surrounded by 150 columns of white granite from Montorfano, near lake Como. There is a statue in the center of the garden by Giuseppe Obici from around 1850. The statue represents St. Paul with a long sword in his right hand. representing the instrument of his martyrdom. In his left hand he holds the book of the epistles.

In the four corners of the garden (quadriportico) are pedestals only one of which is occupied by a statue. It is the work of Francesco Fabi-Altini (1893). It represents Saint Luke, companion of Paul and author of the Acts of the Apostles.

The central door is by Antonio Maraini, and was made between 1929 and 1931. It is a bronze double door weighing around 8 tons. The iconography aims to celebrate the preaching of the two apostles of Rome within the framework of a cross. Scenes from the lives of SS. Peter and Paul are portrayed on the two doors, and to my eyes, the top panels, given the timing of the creation, look to have iconography similar to others from the Fascist period.

The Nave

Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside The Walls - Nave

The Nave – The Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside The Walls

The nave was really surprising to be both because of its grand scale, but also because of its emptiness. The space is more than 440 feet long, around half as wide and 100 feet high. There are two outer aisles that are separated by four rows of twenty columns made of the same Montorfano granite. There are no chairs, pews or really anything else in the center space, and only a couple of short benches along the two outer aisles.

Two large statues of St Paul, by Salvatore Revelli, and of St Peter, by Ignazio Jacometti, are found near the columns of the arch. The other apostles, dating from 1882, are in the niches of the lateral walls. There is a chronological series of Pope portraits from the fifth century that were, for the most part, destroyed by the fire and remade between 1848 and 1876.

How To Reach The Church Of St Paul Outside The Walls

The easiest way to reach the basilica is on Metro B. You can get that at Termini station, or a stop closer if it is more convenient, and take it to the Basilica S. Paolo stop. There are also bus lines, #23 and #769, that will drop you right by the basilica.

Hours Of Operation

In addition to the Basilica, there is a Cloister, an archaeological area, a souvenir shop and a bar if you need a snack. The hours are:

  • The Basilica is open every day from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, free admission
  • The Cloister is open every day from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm, admission € 4.00 (reduced € 3.00)
  • The Souvenir Shop is open every day from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm
  • The Sacristy is open every day from 8:00 am to noon and from 4:00 pm to 6:30 pm
  • The Bar is Open every day from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm

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