Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wednesday of Fourth Week: St. Paul Outside the Walls

Well, well, well.  Today we conquered the farthest walk of all the station churches, which is the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, so-called because it is located outside the ancient Aurelian walls of the city of Rome.  This church is where the beloved Apostle to the Gentiles is buried, and the church itself is absolutely fantastic.  A brisk morning walk took us from the seminary's gates to the basilica's outer courtyard in a square 60 minutes.

Given the distance, today was our smallest walking group, but we still ended up with about 150 at Mass plus about 40 priests.  So I had a great idea this morning..  Since this one is the doozy as far as distance goes, I decided to record some short clips of our walk through the streets of Rome so you could get a sense of it all.  I even made the video more interesting with soundtrack music!  Enjoy watching:

Saint Paul was killed during the Christian persecutions of Nero in the latter 60s AD. As a Roman citizen, he merited a more dignified manner of death than the cross or the arena, and so at the end of his life he walked the ancient Via Ostiense (which we walked along today to the basilica) to a place now marked by the monastery of Tre Fontane (Three Fountains), and it was there that Paul was beheaded.  His remains were interred in a small roadside tomb the spot of this basilica.

Saint Paul Outside the Walls

The first shrine built onsite was completed by Emperor Constantine before 340 AD, but Paul's popularity with Christian pilgrims soon outgrew the church, so Emperors Valentian II, Theodosius I, and Arcadius built a second, larger church which was dedicated around the year 400.  It was the largest and most architecturally advanced basilica in Rome at the time, and fared well for several centuries until the Saracens invaded Rome in 847 and sacked the basilica.  It was subsequently restored by Pope John VIII and again by Gregory VII, was who elected to the papacy in 1073.

In the high Middle Ages we have two big embellishments:  first is the rear apse mosaic, which was completed around 1220 by Venetian artists at the request of Popes Innocent III and Honorius III.  This might be my favorite apse mosaic in all of Rome.  Second is the baldacchino above the high altar, which comes from the sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio in 1285.  A beautiful piece of work.

Most of the nave was destroyed or heavily damaged when the roof caught fire on the 15th of July 1823.  The restoration and reconstruction of the interior wasn't completed until 1854, and an exterior courtyard was added in 1928 to give the basilica the look you see today.



One of the unique things about St. Paul's is that its walls contain mosaic portraits of the 266 popes who have spanned the entire history of Christianity in an unbroken line from St. Peter to Pope Francis.  That's a lot of portraits!  You can see about 60 of them in the second picture above of the nave: they are all those bright circles above the arched columns.  And actually if you look carefully, you can see more portraits by looking in between the columns at the aisle walls on either side.  The most current popes are all the way up there at the end of the right aisle wall.

Maybe we remember a few famous predictions that the world was supposed to end about three times in 2012?  Well there's a small joke that says the apocalypse won't really come until the very last spot in St. Paul's basilica is filled with a papal portrait.  So the question is, how many blank circles are left in the entire basilica?  Answer... only five!

Francis' portrait was just recently completed, so have a gander:


And I just had to put this last picture up because this is the best sculpture of St. Paul I've ever seen.  It's the absolute best in Rome, and that's no matter of opinion, it's pure science.  You what it is?  It's the hooded robe.  Well, and the sword.  And the beard.  St. Paul, pray for us!

1 comment:

  1. 6,155. Do you know what the number is? Think about it for a moment or two. Utterly bewildered? Brain cramp set in? We somehow went from a self imposed restriction of two photos per post to a whopping 6,155 images on this single post. Your brazen disregard for rules is truly astounding.

    How did I get to this number you ask? Assuming 30 frames per second, your so called "video" accounts for 6,150 individual images. TUT TUT Mr. Lenz. I think i speak for everyone when i say "we expected better".