ROME (AP) - The first-ever scientific test on what are believed
to be the remains of the Apostle Paul "seems to confirm" that
they do indeed belong to the Roman Catholic saint, Pope Benedict
XVI said Sunday.
Archaeologists recently unearthed and opened the white marble
sarcophagus located under the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the
Walls in Rome, which for some 2,000 years has been believed by the
faithful to be the tomb of St. Paul.
Benedict said scientists had conducted carbon dating tests on
bone fragments found inside the sarcophagus and confirmed that they
date from the first or second century.
"This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition
that they are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul," Benedict
said, announcing the findings at a service in the basilica to mark
the end of the Vatican's Paoline year, in honor of the apostle.
Paul and Peter are the two main figures known for spreading the
Christian faith after the death of Christ.
According to tradition, St. Paul, also known as the apostle of
the Gentiles, was beheaded in Rome in the 1st century during the
persecution of early Christians by Roman emperors. Popular belief
holds that bone fragments from his head are in another Rome
basilica, St. John Lateran, with his other remains inside the
The pope said that when archaeologists opened the sarcophagus,
they discovered alongside the bone fragments some grains of
incense, a "precious" piece of purple linen with gold sequins and
a blue fabric with linen filaments.
Vatican archaeologists in 2002 began excavating the 8-foot-long
coffin, which dates from at least A.D. 390 and was buried under the
basilica's main altar. The decision to unearth it was made after
pilgrims who came to Rome during the Roman Catholic Church's 2000
Jubilee year expressed disappointment at finding that the saint's
tomb - buried under layers of plaster and further hidden by an iron
grate - could not be visited or touched.
The top of the coffin has small openings - subsequently covered
with mortar - because in ancient times Christians would insert
offerings or try to touch the remains.
The basilica stands at the site of two 4th-century churches -
including one destroyed by a fire in 1823 that had left the tomb
visible, first above ground and later in a crypt. After the fire,
the crypt was filled with earth and covered by a new altar. A slab
of cracked marble with the words "Paul apostle martyr" in Latin
was also found embedded in the floor above the tomb.
Monday is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a major feast day
for the Roman Catholic Church, during which the pope will bestow a
woolen pallium, or scarf, on all the new archbishops he has
recently named. The pallium is a band of white wool decorated with
black crosses that is a sign of pastoral authority and a symbol of
the archbishops' bond with the pope.
At the end of Sunday's service in the warm basilica, the
82-year-old Benedict lost his balance slightly as he slipped on a
step on the altar, and was steadied by one of his assistants who
was by his side.
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