San Paolo fuori le Mura, Rome

The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls(Basilica di San Paolo fuori le Mura) is one of the five major basilicas of Rome, Italy.

Originally founded by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, the Basilica di San Paolo is the burial place of Saint Paul the Apostle. It features a fascinating array of historical, religious and artistic sights to explore.


History of San Paolo fuori le Mura

After his execution and burial in Rome in the 1st century AD, Saint Paul's followers erected a shrine (cella memoriae) over the grave. Early Christians frequently visited the site to honor the great Apostle to the Gentiles and author of more than half of the New Testament.

The first church on the site was a small one, founded by Emperor Constantine and consecrated on November 18, 324.

In 386 Emperor Theodosius demolished the original church and began the construction of a much larger basilica. According to the inscription on the triumphal arch, it was consecrated in 390 by Siricius, and completed in 395 under Emperor Honorius. Although heavily restored, the present basilica looks much the same as it did in the 4th century.

In the course of time the monasteries and the basilica declined, but St. Gregory II restored the monasteries and entrusted the monks with the care of the basilica.

In 883, the walls and tower encircling the church were completed. This was known as the "Johannipolis," or "City of John" after Pope John VIII (872-882), and was built to protect the church from Lombards and Saracens. The defense works were tested in 1083-1084, when they withstood several attacks by Emperor Henry IV.

In 937, when St. Odo of Cluny came to Rome, Alberico II, patrician of Rome, entrusted the monastery and basilica to his congregation and Odo placed Balduino of Monte Cassino in charge. Pope Gregory VII was abbot of the monastery and in his time Pantaleone of Amalfi presented the bronze gates of the basilica, which were executed by Constantinopolitan artists.

Pope Martin V entrusted it to the monks of the Congregation of Monte Cassino. The jurisdiction of the abbot extended over the districts of Civitella San Paolo, Leprignano, and Nazzano, all of which formed parishes.

The graceful cloisters of the monastery were erected between 1220 and 1241. In the time of Gregory the Great there were two monasteries near the basilica: St. Aristus's for men and St. Stefano's for women. Services were carried out by a special body of clerics instituted by Pope Simplicius.

In 1823 a great fire, started through the negligence of a workman who was repairing the lead of the roof, resulted in the destruction of the basilica. Alone of all the churches of Rome, it had preserved its primitive character for 1,435 years.

The whole world contributed to its restoration. The Viceroy of Egypt sent pillars of alabaster, the Emperor of Russia the precious malachite and lapis lazuli of the tabernacle.

The work on the principal facade, looking toward the Tiber, was completed by the Italian government, which declared the church a national monument.

What to See at San Paolo fuori le Mura

The main door, of bronze with inlaid silver, is modern, made 1929-1931 by Antonio Maraini after the old door had been damaged in the fire of 1823. The original door was a gift from Pope Gregory VII, set up in 1070, and was made of the same materials. It can be seen, restored, on the inside of the basilica.

The reliefs on the door show scenes from the lives of Sts Peter and Paul. Apart from the two central scenes, all of the events depicted took place in Rome. Flanking the main door are 19th-century statues of Saints Peter and Paul by Gregorio Zappalà.

The nave and ornate ceiling date from the 19th century, but the triumphal arch mosaic survives from the 5th century. Its inscription dates it to the time of Leo I (440-61). The theme of the mosaic is the Apocalypse: the 24 Elders of the Apocalypse flank a bust of Christ with the symbols of the Four Evangelists.

All that remains of the medieval basilica is the 13th-century apse mosaic, created by Venetian artists. The mosaic centers on Christ flanked by the Apostles Peter, Paul, Andrew and Luke. In the lower zone are Apostles carrying scrolls with the text of Gloria in excelsis. Beneath Christ is a throne with the instruments of the Passion and a cross. In the center of the cross is another depiction of the Teaching Christ. The figure near Christ's feet is Pope Honorius III (1216-1227), who ordered the mosaic.

One of the basilica's most important artworks is a 12th-century candelabra by Vassalletto, who's also responsible for the remarkable cloisters, containing twisted pairs of columns enclosing a rose garden.

Also notable is the baldachino (richly embroidered fabric of silk and gold, draped over an important person or sacred object) of Arnolf di Cambio, dated 1285, which also was spared by the fire.

The cloisters were built between 1208 and 1235. The inscription in the mosaics is a poem describing the importance of cloisters in the life of a monk and the use of the cloisters as a place of meditation and study. The sacristy of the cloisters contains a fine statue of Pope Boniface IX.

The chapel of relics has numerous relics, the most notable of which are a set of chains said to be the prison chains of St Paul, used in the last days before his execution. They are exposed in the church on his feast days.

In the gift shop, monks and students sell a fine collection of souvenirs, rosaries, and bottles of Benedictine wine every day except Sunday and religious holidays.

Quick Facts on San Paolo fuori le Mura

Site Information
Names:Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls · San Paolo fuori le Mura
Categories:churches; monasteries; World Heritage Sites
Dedication: St. Paul
Dates:c. 395; rebuilt 1823
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:41.858606° N, 12.476877° E
Address:Via Ostiense 186
Rome, Italy
Email:[email protected]
Hours:Basilica: daily 7am-6:30pm
Cloisters: daily 9am-1pm and 3-6pm
Lodging:View hotels near San Paolo fuori le Mura
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.


  1. Personal visit (July 18, 2006).
  2. St-Paul-Without-the-Walls - Catholic Encyclopedia
  3. St Paul's Outside the Walls - Churches of Rome
  4. St. Paul Outside the Walls (Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura) - Frommer's
  5. Major Basilica of San Paolo fuori le Mura -

More Information

© Google Earth
© Holly Hayes
Interior of the nave looking east to the apse. San Paolo fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls), Rome,... © David Joyal
Nave looking west. San Paolo fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls), Rome, Italy. © Holly Hayes
© Br Lawrence Lew, OP
Statue of St. Paul the Apostle with his sword symbol at the front of the nave. San Paolo fuori le Mura (St.... © Holly Hayes
12 of the 24 Elders of the Apocalypse on the Byzantine mosaic on the triumphal arch, 5th century. San Paolo... © Holly Hayes
Detail of beautifully decorated ceiling. San Paolo fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls), Rome, Italy. © Holly Hayes
Transept of San Paolo fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls), Rome, Italy. © Holly Hayes
Frescoes of saints in San Paolo fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls), Rome, Italy. © Holly Hayes
Replica of the marble slab placed over the tomb of Saint Paul in the Constantinian period (early 4th century).... © Holly Hayes
Cloister of San Paolo fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls), Rome, Italy. © Holly Hayes

Map of San Paolo fuori le Mura, Rome

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