Wednesday of Week IV of Lent

The Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls is one of the four major basilicas and one of the seven papal basilicas in the world. It is most famous as the resting place of St. Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles. St. Paul holds equal dignity with St. Peter, the two pillars of the Church.

St. Paul was sentenced to death around 67 AD in Rome. As he was a Roman, he was beheaded outside the walls of Rome, at the site of Tre Fontane close to the basilica. Constantine built a small church over his tomb here. A larger basilica later replaced the church. The church was further expanded in the 8th century, making it the largest church in the world at that time (until the new St. Peter's Basilica was built in the 16th century). This lasted until the devasting fire in 1823 that burned down the whole basilica. The whole world was quick to donate money to rebuild the present basilica to its former glory.

St. Paul's tomb is under the papal altar. During the Year of St. Paul, Pope Benedict XVI authorized carbon dating of the bone fragments of St. Paul's relics. The result confirmed the remains dating from the 1st or 2nd century.

The basilica is used for a lot of ecumenical events. The pope always comes here during the Week of Christian Unity in January every year, which ends on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on 25 January. It was on this day in 1959 that Blessed Pope John XXIII announced the opening of the Second Vatican Council in this same basilica.

Mosaic portraits of all the popes can be found in the upper portion of the side walls. Some say that when space runs out for portraits, the world will end. There are only seven spaces left. At least that will be enough to last until after 2012.

A Cardinal archpriest represents the pope to govern the papal basilica. Territorially belonging to the Vatican City State, it is guarded by gendarmerie or police force of the tiniest state in the world. A Benedictine abbey is attached to the basilica, whose abbot in the past acted as the abbot nullius of the territorial abbacy.

Attend this fascinating virtual tour of different parts of the basilica.

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