San Paolo Fuori le Mura

San Paolo Fuori le Mura (98)

The Basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura or Saint Peter outside the Walls is among the five churches considered as the oldest in Rome, and is the second largest after Saint Peter’s.

It is thought that the basilica was founded over the exact spot of the tomb of Saint Paul of Tarsus, who died beheaded in the nearby Abbey of the Three Fountains. The basilica was consecrated in 324 by Sylvester I, but little remains today of the original church. During the papacy of Pope Pious VII, on the night of the 15th and 16th of July 1823, a fire destroyed most of the building. It is thought the fire was due to negligence by a worker who was repairing the lead on the roof. The basilica was thus left practically destroyed, the only one among the churches of Rome that had preserved its early character for 1,435 years.

The current church is a faithful reconstruction of that early basilica and, although it lacks the warmth and spirit of the original, it is well worth visiting.

First of all, look at the bronze doors, which survived the fire. They show scenes from the Old and New Testaments, produced in Constantinople in 1070. 

Another element that has been preserved is the triumphal arch over the nave, with mosaics attributed to Pietro Cavallini. On the main altar you will see the outstanding Gothic baldachin by Arnolfo di Cambio, situated on the spot where the tomb of Saint Paul is placed.

As information of interest, in 1980 the basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura was included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

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