Archaeologist Says He Has Found St. Paul’s Tomb -- By: John Thavis

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 18:3 (Summer 2005)
Article: Archaeologist Says He Has Found St. Paul’s Tomb
Author: John Thavis

Archaeologist Says He Has Found St. Paul’s Tomb

John Thavis

A Vatican archaeologist believes he has rediscovered the tomb of St. Paul, buried deep beneath the main altar of the Rome basilica dedicated to the apostle.

The sarcophagus, which lay hidden for centuries, had a hole into which the faithful could stick pieces of cloth to make secondary relics, said Giorgio Filippi, the archaeologist and inscriptions expert at the Vatican Museums who carried out the studies.

The tomb lies directly beneath a historic inscription that reads: “Paul Apostle Martyr.” The marble sarcophagus was apparently first placed there during reconstruction of the basilica in AD 390.

“I have no doubt this is the tomb of St. Paul, as revered by Christians in the fourth century,” Filippi said as he stood next to the main altar of St. Paul Outside the Walls. He spoke in an interview with Catholic News Service.

Filippi’s discovery was the result of more than five years’ archaeological sleuthing. Surprisingly, the findings have not yet made a huge impression inside the Vatican or in ecclesiastical circles. The Vatican newspaper, for example, has yet to report on the discovery.

The sarcophagus lies several feet below the marble structure of the main altar, embedded in a platform of concrete. Filippi managed to reach the back side of the sarcophagus, but he said opening the tomb would be practically impossible without destroying the altar area.

He added that, in any case, it was not essential to check what’s inside the sarcophagus. The important thing is that it was clearly venerated as the tomb of St. Paul, he said.

Tradition holds that St. Paul suffered martyrdom by beheading in the first century, and that his body was buried in a cemetery along the Via Ostiense, where the basilica was built. A church was first erected there in AD 320, and a larger basilica was constructed in 3 90; it was remodeled several times over the centuries and almost totally destroyed by fire in 1823.

Pilgrims still come to St. Paul’s, but not nearly as many as those who pour daily into St. Peter’s Basilica, located some 5 mi (8 km) away. On a recent weekday afternoon, no more than 75 people were inside the massive church.

Filippi began his detective work in 1993, when he studied the early Christian inscriptions in the cloister of the basilica and in the monastery nearby. He began asking questions of older monks and caretakers, trying to discover where some of the inscriptions and other artifacts came from.

He soon discovered that by lifting up certain pavement stones in the basilica’s floor, a series of underground chambers and tunnels were accessible—most of them unmapped and forg...

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