15 July 2016

Fire damages St Paul Outside-the-Walls

Beautiful Basilica was faithfully rebuilt and restored

A painting at the National Gallery of Modern Art  in Rome shows the Basilica after the fire
A painting at the National Gallery of Modern Art
 in Rome shows the Basilica after the fire
A blaze nearly destroyed the ancient Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls (Basilica Papale San Paolo Fuori Le Mura) in Rome on this day in 1823. 

A workman repairing the lead in the church roof accidentally started a fire that burnt down the Basilica, which dated back to the third century and was unique in Rome, having retained its primitive style.

St Paul Outside-the-Walls is one of four major Papal Basilicas in Rome, along with St John in the Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano), St Peter’s (San Pietro in Vaticano) and St Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore).

After the fire, Pope Leo XII appealed for donations to help rebuild the church in exactly the same style.

The Basilica was reopened in 1840 and reconsecrated in 1855 in the presence of Pope Pius IX.

The redecoration was helped by contributions from all over the world, including pillars of alabaster from Egypt and malachite and lapis lazuli from Russia.

The Italian Government funded the work on the façade and declared the Church a national monument.

The façade of the reconstructed Basilica pictured today
The façade of the reconstructed Basilica pictured today
The Basilica had been founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine over the burial place of St Paul. In the sixth century the building was modified to enable the altar to be placed directly over Paul’s tomb.

The Basilica, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is outside the territory belonging to the Vatican although it is owned by them.

Travel tip:

St Paul Outside-The-Walls is in Piazzale San Paolo, close to the Tiber in the south of the city. It is open daily from 07.00 to 19.00. If travelling by Metro get off at San Paolo. The number 23 bus will take you to the Ostiense/San Paolo stop close to the Basilica.

Travel tip:

Vatican City is an independent state inside Italy policed by its own security force, the Swiss Guard. Within it is St Peter’s Basilica, built over the place where St Peter is believed to have been crucified and buried. A few minutes walk from the Basilica you will come to the entrance to the Vatican museums where you can see the Sistine Chapel, which was decorated by Michelangelo. The Pope holds audiences in the Vatican every Wednesday and blesses the crowds in St Peter’s Square every Sunday.

(Photo of painting by Lalupa CC BY-SA 4.0)


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