Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More on the Tomb of the Apostle ...

(or, "The Sarcophagus linked with St. Paul" as Zenit is putting it, a little more cautiously it would seem.) Here's the CNS story (I couldn't find it on their website ... this one showed up in my inbox on the community listserv.) based on the press conference yesterday
Vatican officials say they found St. Paul's tomb in Roman basilica
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After years of archaeological work,
Vatican officials announced they have identified the tomb of St. Paul
beneath the Rome basilica dedicated to the apostle.
Authorities said Dec. 11 that a roughly cut marble sarcophagus
was found beneath a historic inscription that reads: "Paul Apostle
Martyr." The tomb lies several feet below the main altar of the Basilica
of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
Only one end of the sarcophagus has been opened to view, and the
rest is buried beneath building material. If Pope Benedict XVI gives
permission, the experts may attempt to open the sarcophagus and find out
whether the saint's relics are inside.
"We can be certain that this is the tomb of St. Paul," Cardinal
Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archpriest of the basilica, told a
Vatican press conference.
"No one ever had any doubt that the basilica was built on the
site of the tomb. Now we can see it, through a small window we have
created," the cardinal said.
He said Vatican experts attempted to X-ray the tomb to view the
contents, but it did not work because of the thick marble walls of the
An "internal exploration" of the sarcophagus would pose
technical problems but probably will be attempted, the cardinal said. He
said it was certain that the tomb had remained sealed since it was
placed there in the fourth century.
"The Basilica of St. John Lateran says they have the heads of
Sts. Peter and Paul. I don't know how they can, since this tomb has
never been opened," the cardinal said.
Giorgio Filippi, the Vatican archaeologist who carried out the
studies on the tomb area, said that, archaeologically speaking, it did
not matter whether relics of St. Paul were discovered inside the
sarcophagus or not.
He said positive identification of the tomb was made using
historical and scientific methods, independent of the presence of

Experts believe the marble sarcophagus was put in place during
the reconstruction of the basilica in 390. The church was remodeled
several times afterward and almost completely destroyed by fire in
One of the more important archaeological finds, Filippi said,
was that the sarcophagus had a funnel-shaped hole in the top -- later
closed with mortar -- through which the faithful could stick pieces of
cloth to make secondary relics.
He said that was a significant sign that the tomb was revered
from the beginning as that of St. Paul of Tarsus.
Tradition holds that St. Paul was martyred by beheading in the
first century and that his body was buried in a cemetery along the Via
Ostiense, where the basilica was built.
Filippi began studying the basilica in 1993, and in 2002 he made
the first close examination that led to the lid of the sarcophagus.
END (Emphasis added)
Strictly speaking, there is another explanation -- that St. Paul's head was not interred in this tomb, and was preserved separately. This is hardly unusual in the history of saintly relics, and he was beheaded after all! Of course, I'm not at all familiar with the claims and stories surrounding the relics at St. John Lateran -- and I tend to be a bit skeptical with all these stories of relics anyway. Just pointing out that the fact that the tomb might seem to be unopened isn't automatically a contradiction to the head of the Apostle being at St. John Lateran.

I do hope a study of the contents is carried out ... The discovery of the tomb underneath the high altar at St. Paul's is significant enough though!

Fr. Zuhlsdorf has some interesting tidbits -- on the relics of Paul (chains associated with the Apostle) to be prepared to be given to the visiting Archbishop of Athens, and his brief account of the press conference, including a bit about the four Patriarchal Basilicas not being, well, Patriarchal anymore. All related to the elimination of the title "Patriarch of the West" by Pope Benedict.


Jamie said...

Okay, so when are we going back, Americano??

Gashwin said...

You know I only need an excuse! (And some money would be helpful :-)) ... And you know that Leprechano is totally missing us ..... LOL