Where would we be without St. Paul? We all know the story of his conversion. He was thrown off his horse and blinded by the light of Christ. Many times, God does the same to us – He throws us off our horse. God redirected Paul’s loyalty toward truth. Paul held the robes of those who stoned St. Stephen. Paul was loyal to Judaism. God opened his eyes to the fullness of truth. Because of this, Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles and I for one am grateful.
When planning my trip to Italy in 2021, my itinerary included five days in Rome. Many YouTube videos and even my friends said five days in Rome was too long. However, I had an extensive list of places I wanted to see in Rome and knew I needed at least five days to complete the list.
St. Paul Outside the Walls
One of the places on my list was the Catholic Church dedicated to St. Paul known as – St. Paul Outside the Walls. Like many of the churches in Rome, the structure was massive, and the architecture was stunning.
As I approached the outside of the church, I could see a statue of St. Paul.
Differences between St. Paul and St. Peter
Earlier in my trip, during my tour of the Vatican, I learned of the differences between the statues of St. Paul and St. Peter. St. Peter is always holding two keys – one is gold, and the other is silver. The first key represents the power to bind and loose in heaven which indicates spiritual authority. The second key represents the power to bind and loose on earth, indicating temporal authority.
St. Paul is always holding a book and a sword. The book represents the epistles written by St. Paul in the New Testament. The sword depicts the way he was martyred. He was a Roman citizen and, therefore, could not be crucified. He was beheaded by the sword in Rome in 67AD.
The beauty of this church is beyond words. There are so many beautiful churches in Italy – it is difficult to pick one over another.
As I walked through the front doors of this amazing basilica, my eyes canvassed the building from right to left and then up and down. I didn’t want to miss anything. As I slowly walked down the massive corridors of this beautiful basilica, I thought of St. Paul and all that he did for us. But I also thought of the people who built this beautiful building.
One of four major papal basilicas
St. Paul Outside the Walls is one of Rome’s four major papal basilicas. The three other major papal basilicas are Saint John Lateran, Saint Peter’s, and Saint Mary Major. I visited all of them and so much more – which is why I needed five days in Rome!
The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine I over the burial place of St. Paul.
A National Monument
The first basilica was consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324. In 386, Emperor Theodosius I erected a much larger basilica with a nave and four aisles – which is what we see today. The basilica was built outside the Aurelian Walls as indicated in its name. The Aurelian Walls were city walls built between 271AD and 275AD during the reign of Roman Emperor Aurelian. The basilica endured many renovations due to fire, lightning, and seize by the Saracen raid in 846. Massive reconstruction began in 1825 as instructed by Pope Leo XII. The transept is the part of the basilica that extends on either side of the nave to form the arms of the cross. This was added to the basilica during the 1825 renovation. The transept and high altar were consecrated in 1840 and opened to the public. The entire basilica was reconsecrated in 1854 in the presence of Pope Pius IX and fifty cardinals. The basilica has been declared a national monument by the Italian government.
Side Altars & Chapels
Like many of the other basilicas visited, there were several side altars and chapels.
The Chapel of St. Benedict was dedicated to the patriarch of western monasticism and was built by the architect Luigi Poletti, director of the reconstruction of the basilica after the fire of 1823.
The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament was built to house the venerated wooden crucifix of the 14th century.
As I continued to walk around this basilica, I was amazed to see a chapel dedicated to St. Stephen. Before the fire of 1823, there was an altar dedicated to St. Stephen near the tomb of St. Paul. After the fire, reconstruction included the Chapel of St. Stephen. The statue of St. Stephen is the focal point of this chapel. This work of art was carved by Rinaldo Rinaldi from white marble and depicts an adolescent Stephen with his eyes lifted up as described in the Acts of the Apostles.
I can’t say enough about the beauty of Catholicism and the dedication and devotion of those who built these magnificent structures.