Sunday, November 10, 2013

Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, 1

Four Roman basilicas date from Constantine, whose 313 Edict of Milan legalized Christianity in the Empire. They are the four "papal" churches of present-day Rome: St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, St. Peter's (destroyed in the 16th century to make way for the current St. Peters), and St. Paul's Outside the Walls. We had seen the first three on previous visits to Rome, but never had been to St. Paul's, and we were determined on this visit to complete the set.

I don't know how many churches we have visited in the last five years. Several hundred, I suppose, including some of the very greatest. So it's encouraging, to us at least, to know that we can still be absolutely knocked out and overwhelmed by yet another of these great buildings. St. Paul's was the largest of the original four, built on the traditional site of Paul's tomb. (Paul, the apostle to us gentiles, was beheaded in 67AD, story goes, outside the Aurelian walls of Rome; he was considered a Roman citizen and thus not to undergo the indignity of crucifixion). Constantine's original basilica was taken down later in the 4th century to make way for the present building, still 4th century, and still second largest of all Rome's churches. St. Paul's burned in 1823, mostly the nave, but enough survived, and the subsequent re-building adhered quite faithfully to the original 4th century plan...together with the numerous ornaments added over the centuries. Nothing we had read prepared us for the immensity and majesty of this church, not to mention its great antiquity, and we spent a couple hours marveling. If you go to Rome, don't miss it.
What the interior looked like prior to the fire (from the museum)

After the fire

So, disoriented a bit, we walked in the north
transept, thinking it was the main entrance, and
were already wowed looking at the golden
coffered ceiling, the portraits of the popes, the
giant alabaster windows, and

In the half dome, the largest Pantokrator mosaic I have
seen yet--maybe 100 feet across--

And a humble little Pope Honorius III, responsible for this
incredible 12th century mosaic

Then we are in the altar area looking into the tomb of St. Paul

And then we turn around and look abaft and see the
colossal nave, 80 granite columns, a "forest of columns"
as many writers have put it, two giant aisles on either
side, ever more golden coffered ceiling, portraits and
paintings, Corinthian capitals everywhere, more alabaster
than in all the previous Italian churches we've seen...


And thus

And thus; the alabaster was a gift from the
King of Egypt...

The Easter Candle, a huge carved column,
12th century

The south transept, with a great Raphael

The inner south aisle

1 comment:

Tawana said...

Wow! This place is fabulous!