St Paul's tomb unearthed

Vatican Archaeological teams say that they have completed excavation of a sarcophagus at the St Paul Outside the Walls basilica in Rome that is believed to contain the remains of the Apostle Paul.

The sarcophagus - or stone coffin - which dates back to at least 390 AD, has been the subject of an extended excavation that began in 2002 and was completed last month, the Vatican archaeologist, Giorgio Filippi, who headed the excavations told Associated Press this week.

"Our objective was to bring the remains of the tomb back to light for devotional reasons, so that it could be venerated and be visible," Mr Filippi said.

The interior of the sarcophagus has not yet been explored, but Mr Filippi didn't rule out the possibility of doing so in the future.

Two ancient churches that once stood at the site of the current basilica were successively built over the spot where tradition said St Paul had been buried.

After his execution and burial, St Paul's followers erected a memorial called a "cella memoriae" over the grave.

In 386, Emperor Theodosius I began the erection of a much larger and more beautiful basilica, but the work including the mosaics was not completed until several centuries later.

When a fire destroyed the church in 1823, the current basilica was built and the ancient crypt was filled with earth and covered by a new altar.

"We were always certain that the tomb had to be there beneath the papal altar," Filippi told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Filippi said that the decision to make the sarcophagus visible again was taken after many pilgrims who came to Rome during the Church's 2000 Jubilee year expressed disappointment at finding that the saint's tomb could not be visited or touched.

The findings of the project will be officially presented during a news conference at the Vatican on Monday.

Vatican archaeologists unearth St. Paul's tomb (International Herald Tribune, 6/12/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
St Paul Outside the Walls (Wikipedia)

Tomb raiders hit jackpot with archbishop's teeth (CathNews 11/10/06)
Israeli archaeologists uncover 'oldest church' (CathNews, 9/11/05)
Archeologists discover St Paul's tomb (CathNews, 18/2/05)

7 Dec 2006