The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls is one of the 5 so-called papal or patriarchal basilicas in Rome. In 1823 the basilica needed to be almost completely rebuilt, after a fire had destroyed most of it. Highlights are the cloister and the mosaics on the triumphal arch.
St. Paul Outside the Walls Basilica Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
Address: Piazzale di San Paolo, 1 – Rome (tel. + 39 06 69880800/802). Opening hours: 07.00-18.30. Admission: Free. Metro: San Paolo (line B).
Cloister + Pinacoteca + Excavations in the garden of the convent
Opening hours: From 08.00 till 18.15. Admission: 4 Euros.
History and description
It was the emperor Constantine who transformed an old burial chapel along the Via Ostiense into a basilica. The chosen site was the spot where Saint Paul was supposed to have been buried.
In the year 324 Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls was consecrated by Pope Sylvester I and it quickly became a major destination for pilgrimages.
In 385 the temple was enlarged, a job that took 10 years and was finished during the reign of the emperor Honorius.
In the 9th century the Saracens raided the basilica and a borough sprang up around it. When this borough was fortified by Pope John VIII it came to be called Giovannopoli.
Many of the works of art originally present in the basilica were destroyed on August 15th 1823, when a fire destroyed most of the church, except for the transept and part of the facade.
It was decided to completely rebuild the Basilica and Pope Leo XII had Pasquale Belli tear down the parts still standing before starting reconstruction, following the plan of the original basilica, however. Reconstruction took almost 30 years (1825-1854).
Saint Paul Outside The Walls consists of 5 naves separated by no less than 80 huge granite columns. There are 42 windows so the inside of the basilica is extremely bright. The bronze doors (which are turned inwards at present) were cast in Constantinople and donated to the basilica in the year 1070.
Several of the parts of the original basilica not destroyed in the fire can now be seen in the 13th century cloister designed by Vassalletto. The cloister is characterized by small arches supported by twin columns. It also contains archaeological finds from the ancient burial ground at Ostiense. The entrance to the cloister is in the transept.
Highlights St. Paul Outside the Walls Basilica Rome
The 19th century mosaics on the upper part of the facade are by Luigi Poletti, as are the bell-tower and the pronaos (the inner part of the portico) on the north side. The 12 columns used for the pronaos originally stood in the nave of the ancient church.
The quadriportico, with the status of Saint Paul at its center, was designed by Virgilio Vespignani. Giuseppe Obici sculpted the statue.
The six columns in the entrance hall were donated to Gregory XVI by the viceroy of Egypt.
The mosaics in the central nave represent portraits of popes.
The frescoes in the central nave represent scenes from the life of Saint Paul.
The Triumphal Arch is decorated with (restored) 5th century mosaics.
Arnolfo di Cambio made the gothic ciborium surmounting the high altar (1285).
The candelabrum to the right of the altar was made by Nicola D’Angelo and Pietro Vassalletto in 1170.
The mosaic in the apse was commissioned by Innocent III and terminated under Honorius III (who is himself seated among the saints at Jesus’ feet).
The Chapel of the Holy Sacrament was designed by Carlo Maderno and contains the tomb of Pietro Cavallini, a 14th century crucifix by the same Cavallini and a 13th century wooden statue of Saint Paul.
Outside of the apse there are some (fragments of) Cavallini mosaics that originally embellished the facade.
The cloister contains the 12th century sarcophagus of Pietro Leone.
The picture gallery adjacent to the cloister shows some 17th century frescoes by Lanfranco that used to adorn the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament.
In 2008, during work near the garden of the abbey, a number of ruins from the early Middle Ages were found, probably of a nunnery. These ruins, consisting of a porch, some columns, a well and a bell tower, can now be visited (reservations are required, tel. +39 06 69880800).
Being situated along the former road to Ostia, the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls used to be also known as the Ostian Basilica.