In Rome less than a mile away from the Aurelian walls raises one of the four Rome Papal Basilicas, the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls (San Paolo Fuori le Mura in Italian).
Around the year AD 65 the Apostle Paul was sentenced to death and because he was Roman, he was taken outside the walls of Rome to be executed and buried. A church was built over the spot where he was beheaded and although illegal many Christians came to pray at Saint Paul’s tomb. Once Christianity was legalized in AD 313 the Emperor Constantine built a small church over the saint’s grave. A short time later a larger basilica was built in place of Constantine’s church which was expanded again in the 8th century. Until the 16th century when a new Saint Peter’s was built to claim the title of the largest church in Christendom, Saint Paul Outside the Walls was the largest church in Rome.
The church as we see today is the result of a 19th century reconstruction. In 1823 a fire destroyed the Basilica and most of the artworks adorning it. From the original basilica remained only the magnificent 14th century mosaics by Pietro Cavallini, the richly decorated ciborium by Arnolfo di Cambio, and the cloister with its Cosmati pavement.
An imposing statue of Saint Paul greets us as we enter the vast Neoclassical quadriportico (an open space surrounded by porticoes on all sides). The interior has 5 naves adorned with 80 monolithic columns from the original Basilica and frescoes. The large triumphal arch at the end of the huge nave is fully decorated with Cavallini mosaics depicting Christ’s Benediction.
These decorations were originally found on the facade that was destroyed in the fire, but were later reinstalled after a full restoration in the 19th century. The Ciborium (canopy) by Arnolfo di Cambio that surmounts the main altar is among a masterpiece. Four columns of red porphyry, surmounted by capitals covered in gold leaf, support the meticulous decoration of the steepled roof.
The Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament, where we can admire Carlo Maderno’s decorations, is magnificent. A visit to Saint Paul Outside the Walls is not complete without having enjoyed its beautiful cloister and strolled around its spiral columns adorned with tiny weaving of colored mosaics.
The light that filters through the palms of the neighboring garden, the silence enforced by heavy walls of the adjacent monastery, and the sound of water from the small fountain make this a place beyond time.
Unusual things to know about Saint Paul Outside the Walls:
The interior perimeter of the Basilica is decorated with medallions that depict the portraits of all Popes including Benedictus XVI. A pointed light illuminates the portrait of the current Pope.
Legend has it that the world will end when the empty medallions run out. Only about 14 are left!
It always possible to recognize Saint Paul by his iconographic attributes: A sword and a book. Legend tells us that Saint Paul was a Roman soldier (hence the sword) who was converted to belief in the Holy Scriptures (the book) by an appearance of Christ on the Road to Damascus.
One of the entrance doors to the Basilica is the so-called Holy Door, made entirely of bronze. This door is opened only during Jubilee years, when it allows the Christians who pass through it to have all their sins pardoned.
Restaurants and good food near the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls:
Dar Moschino | Traditional Rome Trattoria | Garbatella Quarter | €30 No C/C
Nè Arte Nè Parte | Traditional Rome Trattoria | Testaccio Quarter | €35
Da Oio a Casa Mia | Traditional Rome Trattoria | Testaccio Quarter | €35
Osteria Fernanda | Innovative Italian Restaurant | Porta Portese Area | €35
Zampagna | Very Traditional Rome Trattoria | 179 Via Ostiense | €25 No C/C
Flavio Al Veloavedetto | Traditional Rome Trattoria | Testaccio Quarter | €35
Doppiozero | All Day Food & Wine Bar | Ostiense Quarter |
Pizza Luigi | Pizza to Go | Ostiense Quarter |
Volpetti Piu’ | All Day Food & Wine Bar | Testaccio Quarter |
Andreotti | All Day Bar & Pastry Shop | 54b Via Ostiense |
This is part of the Christian Tour of Rome in the footsteps of the early Christians that Nancy Aiello Tours is proud to organize for its guests and Rome lovers.
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Since 1997 Nancy Aiello Tours, based in Rome, specializes in Tailor-Made Private Guided Vatican, Rome & Italy Tours for Leisure & Business Travelers.
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