A Virtual Pilgrimage  

 


TO THE BASILICA OF ST. PAUL OUTSIDE THE WALLS, ROME

Our virtual pilgrimage is based on the pilgrim route through the Basilica that will be taken
by tens of thousands of pilgrims during the coming year of Jubilee.

St. Paul Outside-the-Walls

ABOUT THE BASILICA

The Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls has been through many changes through the centuries.  According to tradition, Paul was martyred by beheading at Aquae Salviae and his remains were buried at a common cemetery along the Via Ostiensis, outside the city walls.  Immediately, his burial-place became a place of pilgrimage for Christians.  According to tradition, the first church was built over Paul’s tomb by Pope Sylvester I during the reign of the Emperor Constantine, in the year 324.  This small building was enlarged between 384 and 386, and took the form of a grand Roman basilica, with five naves, 80 columns, and a four-sided portico.

Over the centuries, the building was substantially altered and adapted, with major renovations in the 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 14th, 16th, and 18th centuries!  Then, on the night of 15-6 July, 1823, the great basilica was almost destroyed by fire.  Pope Leo XII called on all the bishops in the world to support the rebuilding effort, which began almost immediately and continued into the twentieth century.  The architects and artists of the time attempted to restore the building to something resembling the “original” Constantinian basilica.  While what we see today is largely a 19th-century building, it has been called “a vivid example of reconstructed authenticity,” and of all the major basilicas in Rome (the others are St. Peter’s, St. Mary Major, and St. John Lateran) St. Paul outside the Walls most resembles the kind of church the Christians of the 4th-10th centuries would have experienced.


STAGE 1.  THE PAULINE DOOR
“a door was opened for me in the Lord” 2 Cor 2:12

 

We approach the basilica through a four-sided portico, built between 1890 and 1928.

St. Paul Outside-the-Walls

In the center, a dramatic image of St. Paul by Giuseppe Obici (1817-1878) confronts us, his gaze bent on all who enter the basilica.  The vividly-colored mosaics on the upper part of the façade depict four prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.

St. Paul Outside-the-Walls

Above them we see an image of Jesus as the Lamb of God.  From where the Lamb is seated four rivers flow—symbolizing the four Gospels—and twelve lambs drink from these streams, representing the twelve Apostles.  On the pediment above, we see Christ in majesty, his hand raised in blessing, flanked by Saints Peter and Paul.  These beautiful mosaics date from the 19th-century, and are based on mosaics placed here in the 10th-century.  The whole façade is crowned by a cross, bearing the inscription “spes unica”—our only hope.  As St. Paul said, “may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).  Pilgrims pass into the Basilica through the central bronze doors by Antonio Maraini (1931), depicting scenes from the life of St. Paul in bronze.

St. Paul Outside-the-Walls


Prayer:  As pilgrims pass into the Basilica through the Pauline Door, they commit themselves to becoming apostles of the Lord—spreading the good news in word and in action in their daily lives, and opening the doors of faith to those who have not heard the good news.

 

STAGE 2.  IN THE NAVE
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” I Corinthians 3:16

St. Paul Outside-the-Walls

The nave of the Basilica is vast and impressive, lined on each side with twenty granite columns.

St. Paul Outside-the-Walls

Above the columns, both in the aisles and in the central nave, are medallions depicting all the Popes, from Saint Peter to Pope Benedict XVI.  These mosaic portraits were begun by Pope Pius IX in 1847.  Each portrait is distinct, and together they form a powerful reminder of the unbroken tradition of faith, reaching back to the apostles.
 
Prayer:  As pilgrims walk through the nave, they pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, the successor of Peter.  And as they marvel at the beauty of this house of God, they recall that by baptism, they, too, are temples of the Spirit.


 
STAGE 3.  BEFORE THE TOMB OF ST. PAUL
“Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”  Colossians 4: 18

St. Paul Outside-the-Walls

Recent excavations have confirmed the presence of the saint’s tomb, part of an extensive cemetery from ancient Roman times, beneath the high altar.  Here, pilgrims can venerate the relics of St. Paul, as well as the chains with which he was bound while a prisoner in Rome.

St. Paul Outside-the-Walls

Above the altar and the tomb rises a magnificent canopy.  It is the work of Arnolfo di Cambio, and dates from 1282 (it suffered minimal damage in the 1823 fire).  The porphyry columns support a graceful Gothic canopy, decorated with statues of various saints, including Saint Paul, and the donor, Abbot Bartholomew, head of the ancient Benedictine monastery which adjoins the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls (Benedictine monks work and pray at the Basilica to this day).

St. Paul Outside-the-Walls

Near the altar is the ancient Paschal candle stand, which dates from the twelfth century, and which depicts scenes from the Easter liturgy and the Passion of Christ in wonderfully detailed carving.

Pilgrims kneel at the tomb of St. Paul during the Jubilee Year (photo by Father Ryan)

Prayer:  As pilgrims gaze on the chains of Paul, they pray that they may be more closely linked to Christ.  Kneeling before St. Paul’s tomb, they ask his intercession for themselves and for all in need.


STAGE 4.  THE APSE
‘We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.’ Rom 8:26

St. Paul Outside-the-Walls

The apse mosaics date from the 13th-century, and though severely damaged by fire, were carefully restored in 1836.  They feature traditional iconography of Christ, enthroned in glory, flanked by Peter and Andrew on one side, and Paul and Luke on the other.

St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls

Prayer:  In the apse, pilgrims from many nations come to make their confession, a traditional part of a Jubilee year observance.

 
STAGE 5.  THE BLESSED SACRAMENT CHAPEL
‘Pray without ceasing’ 1 Thes 5:17

St. Paul Outside-the-Walls

We conclude our virtual pilgrimage in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, located to the left as you face the main altar.  It was built to celebrate the 1625 Jubilee.

St. Paul Outside-the-Walls

The crucifix is much older, dating from the 1300’s.  It is said that as St. Bridget knelt here in prayer, Christ turned his head to look at her.  Also in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel is a wooden statue of St. Paul, worn away by the devotion of pilgrims, who for centuries chipped away tiny splinters to take home as relics.
 
Prayer:  Pilgrims to the Basilica conclude their journey here, praying and reflecting on the life and letters of Saint Paul.  ‘You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by all, shown to be a letter of Christ administered by us, written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh.’ 2 Cor 3:2-3

St. Paul Outside-the-Walls

Are you interested in making the pilgrimage to Rome during the Jubilee year--for real?  Visit www.annopaolino.org for more information.
 
Photos by M. Laughlin



St. James Cathedral, Seattle