- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

ROME (AP) — Vatican archaeologists have unearthed a sarcophagus, thought to contain the remains of the Apostle Paul, that had been buried beneath Rome’s second-largest basilica.

The sarcophagus, which dates to at least A.D. 390, has been the subject of an extended excavation that began in 2002 and was completed last month, the project’s leader said 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,” said Giorgio Filippi, the Vatican archaeologist who led the project at Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

The interior of the sarcophagus has not 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 the saint had been buried.

The second church, built by the Roman emperor Theodosius in the fourth century, left the tomb visible, first above ground and later in a crypt.

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,” Mr. Filippi told the Associated Press.

Mr. Filippi said that the decision to make the sarcophagus visible again was made after many pilgrims who came to Rome during the Catholic 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 press conference at the Vatican on Monday.