National Geographic News Story & Photo

“St. Paul's Tomb Unearthed in Rome”

Maria Cristina Valsecchi in Vatican City

for National Geographic News

December 11, 2006

St. Paul's stone coffin has been found beneath Rome's second largest basilica, but its contents remain a mystery, Vatican archaeologists announced today.

The sarcophagus dates back to about A.D. 390 and was uncovered in Rome's Basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls, named for its location beyond the ancient wall surrounding Rome's center.

Long believed to be buried beneath the church's altar, the coffin is now on display for the first time in centuries—its precious cargo, however, is not.

"For now we didn't open the sarcophagus to study the contents. Our aim was to unearth the coffin venerated as St. Paul's tomb, not to authenticate the remains," said Giorgio Filippi, the archaeologist of the Vatican Museum, who directed the excavations.

"The sarcophagus was buried beneath the main altar, under a marble tombstone bearing the Latin words "Paulo Apostolo Mart.," meaning "Apostle Paul, Martyr."

The basilica "rises on the place where, according to tradition, Paul of Tarsus was originally buried after his martyrdom," Filippi said.

Photograph by Alessandra Tarantino/AP.


Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, Archpriest of Rome's Basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls, shows the passageway through which one side of St. Paul's stone coffin is visible.

The sarcophagus had long been believed buried beneath the church's main altar. But it took a multiyear excavation to verify that fact. No one knows for sure, however, whether the early Christian Apostle's remains are still in his coffin.

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