Pope says bones in Vatican basilica are those of St Paul
PADDY AGNEW, in Rome
In his Sunday night homily in the basilica, marking yesterday’s feast day of saints Peter and Paul, the pope said carbon-fibre tests carried out on the tomb long believed to contain St Paul’s remains found traces of purple linen, incense and bones: “This surely confirms the unanimous and uncontested belief that the tomb contains the mortal remains of the apostle Paul.”
Catholic tradition has always argued St Paul’s body is located under the main altar in the 4th-century basilica.
Speaking at a service that marked the closure of the Pauline Year, held to celebrate the 2,000 years since the birth of St Paul, the Pope said: “We are gathered here at the tomb of the apostle whose sarcophagus, which lies under the papal altar, was recently subjected to an intensive, scientific analysis.
“A small hole was drilled in the side of the tomb, which has been unopened for centuries, allowing the introduction of an automatic probe, which found traces of a rich purple linen, laminated with gold, as well as a blue fabric of linen threads. Red incense grains and substances containing proteins and limestone were also discovered.” He said tests on the bone fragments indicated they belonged to someone who had lived between the first and second centuries AD: “All this fills our soul with deep emotion.”
Saints Paul and Peter have always been considered the evangelists who did the most to spread faith Christ’s death. Paul is thought to have been beheaded around AD 60 at the height of the persecution of early Christians. Popular belief holds that fragments of his skull are stored in St John Lateran, another Rome basilica.
The pope’s “news” represented the second major discovery relative to St Paul announced by the Vatican last weekend. On Saturday, L’Osservatore Romano reported the discovery of a fresco in another tomb depicting St Paul. The Vatican claims this fresco, dating from the 4th century and discovered during excavations of the tomb of St Tecla, is the oldest known icon of the apostle.
Vatican archaeologists have been working on St Paul’s tomb since 2002. The discoveries were made more than a year ago but the archaeologists were sworn to silence so the pope might make the announcement to coincide with the end of the Pauline Year.