Skip to comments.Paul's Tomb, Unearthed (fascinating history); Cardinal Art - A Key Find Lays Doubts to Rest
Posted on 12/14/2006 4:54:10 PM PST by NYer
ROME, DEC. 14, 2006 (Zenit.org).- 2006 has been a year of discoveries for Rome. New frescos, new archaeological finds and statues returned after years of foreign residence have made this year a hit parade of novelties.
But this week the Holy See topped the charts as it announced the unearthing of the tomb (a sarcophagus) of St. Paul. Vatican archaeologist Giorgio Filippi actually found the tomb three years ago, but further research established that "there is no doubt, the sarcophagus found under the pavement of the Basilica of St. Paul's is really that of the Apostle," as Filippi announced in a press conference Monday.
Unlike St. Peter, whose traditional presence in Rome was supported by a paucity of factual evidence until the excavations under St. Peter's Basilica from 1939 to 1950, St. Paul's sojourn in Rome is well documented in the Acts of the Apostles. St. Paul was probably sent to Rome as a prisoner somewhere around A.D. 58 to 60 and spent several years among the early Christian community of Rome.
Eusebius of Caesarea tells us, "Paul was beheaded by him [Nero]," while tradition elaborates that the saint was martyred outside the city at a site now known as Tre Fontane, or the Three Fountains. This picturesque name is derived from the legend that when Paul was beheaded, his head bounced three times on the ground -- miraculously creating three fountains. A church has graced the spot since the fifth century and today it is a monastery.
St. Paul's body was taken a little closer to the city, along the Via Ostiense, or the main road toward the sea, and buried alongside this major thoroughfare. Eusebius also cites the third-century ecclesiastic Gaius who claimed that he "can show you the trophies of the Apostles. If you will go to the Vatican or along the Via Ostiensis you will find the trophies of the founders of this church."
These "trophies" were simple, makeshift affairs meant to remain hidden from the eyes of Imperial persecutors. Only under Constantine were the apostles given due architectural homage. Great basilicas were erected over the simple tombs and the early graves were enclosed in the foundations of these churches.
The sarcophagus found by Giorgio Filippi was made slightly later, during the reign of Emperor Theodosius, the man who outlawed all other religious cults in 395, leaving Christianity the sole religion of the empire. The large marble sarcophagus was covered by a plaque bearing the inscription "Apostle Paul Martyr."
Thanks to the work of Filippi; the archpriest of the basilica, Cardinal Andrea Cordero del Montezemolo; and the engineers of the church, the sarcophagus, hidden behind the plaque under several feet of cement, was brought to light and can now be seen by pilgrims to the basilica.
This discovery restores to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls its central purpose as the place where the faithful go to pray at the resting place of the great apostle. For centuries people came to the tomb, especially during the first Jubilee year when Pope Boniface VIII declared the conditions for the plenary indulgence were to pray at the graves of St. Peter and St. Paul.
Dante, Michelangelo, St. Philip Neri and millions of others never questioned the authenticity of the location until a fire in 1823 devastated the basilica. The dramatic rebuilding and the subsequent enclosing of the sarcophagus in a block of cement made the historical reality of Paul's martyrdom at Tre Fontane and his burial along the Via Ostiense seem dim and doubtful.
The impetus for the excavation came during the Jubilee Year 2000. When millions of pilgrims came to the tomb of St. Peter, and thousands visited the excavation of St. Peter's grave and saw the proof of his presence, they then went to St. Paul's and wondered why no one had searched for the tomb of St. Paul.
The excavations began in 2002 and today the sarcophagus has been found and is on view for the faithful through a glass window laid into the floor. The remaining question is whether, as with the tomb of St. Peter, the remains of the Apostle Paul are still present. Catholics the world over had to wait 35 years from Pope Pius XII's announcement of the discovery of Peter's grave to the declaration that the bones had also been recovered.
Pope Paul VI announced the discovery of St. Peter's remains in 1976, inviting us to "rekindle in our minds the veneration, love, fidelity toward these apostles who constituted the beginnings of the Roman church and left to her the heritage of their word, of their authority and of their blood." Words that remain equally pertinent to this newest discovery.
From this moment forward, pilgrims will be able to see the graves of St. Peter and St. Paul, which Paul VI described as the "human and material as they are of the memory of the apostles." No doubt this is great boon for our scientific world of facts and proofs, but while we rejoice in being able to see and believe, Jesus praises those "who have not seen and believe."
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Now, I have never been the sort of person who gets worked up over cinema celebrities or rock stars. I don't hang around the Hotel Hassler waiting for a glimpse of Tom and Katie Cruise, but I am, I'm afraid, something of a cardinal fan (no, not the sports team). I stop midstride in Piazza San Pietro when I see those stately figures with the red sashes and the pectoral crosses. To me, the elegant processions of the princes of the Church in full regalia are the closest I'll ever come to seeing the world of Michelangelo and Bernini.
A new exhibit at the Museo di Roma offers a possibility of thinking about this extraordinary body of men as something more than papal-wannabes. The "Portraits in Purple" show features more than 70 images of cardinals from the Renaissance era to the present. Each visage -- grave, jocular, pensive or determined -- reflects a potential direction the Church could have taken, a man-behind-the-scenes, a future pontiff, or better still, a future saint.
The show opens with one of the greatest portrait artists of the Renaissance, Raphael, painting the likeness of what would become one of the most important men of his age, Cardinal Alexander Farnese.
Looking at the youthful features with an almost insouciant expression, one sees the fun-loving scion of the Farnese family, more occupied with pleasures of this world than those of heaven. But in the steady brown eyes, is there a glimpse of the man who would become Pope Paul III twenty years hence, convene the Councils of Trent and persuade Michelangelo to finish St. Peter's?
Other Renaissance portraits evoke an era where men joined the highest ranks of the Church very often out of ambition instead of vocation. Men such as the Medicis and Della Roveres were elevated through family connections and often lived extremely worldly lives. But among this group, more than a few scattered diamonds stand out.
Another Cardinal Farnese, great-nephew to Pope Paul III, was notorious throughout his youth for his pleasure-seeking lifestyle. Although a great patron of the arts, he poured his money into recreational villas and self-aggrandizing fresco cycles. The portrait by Scipione Pulzone from 1578, however, shows a changed man. After a decade of working with the Jesuits and practically single-handedly funding the Gesù, the Cardinal Farnese of this portrait had experienced a profound conversion and his former pals now lamented that he had become "all spiritualized."
It is hard to imagine a giant of a saint like Charles Borromeo once bustling among the College of the Cardinals, serving on committees with Cardinal Farnese or making lunch appointments with Cardinal Medici, but Ottavio Leone's portrait puts Cardinal Borromeo in very human and realistic light.
The following centuries present us with the post Counter-Reformation Cardinals. These papal nephews and great art patrons such as Cardinal Scipione Borghese, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi and Cardinal Francesco Barberini gave us some of the most beautiful churches and chapels that we admire today.
A copy of Bernini's bust of Cardinal Richelieu is a nod to the foreign prelates who also shaped world events.
Enlightenment portraiture renders the 18th- and 19th-century images more detached and dignified. The studied sobriety of these portraits keep an artistic distance from the parted lips and twinkling eyes of their lively Baroque predecessors. The almost photographic quality of some of these pictures reminds us that the age of journalism is upon us.
At last the 20th century arrives and we see the movers and shakers of modern Church history. Cardinal Gasparri, the man who negotiated and signed the Lateran Pacts with Mussolini, is represented. A few frames down there is Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, soon to be Pope Paul VI.
A final display shows a series of photographs by Marco Delogu with the faces of the cardinals we know today. Cardinal Arinze, Cardinal Re, Cardinal Van Thuân are all immortalized side by side with their illustrious predecessors.
One gentle self-effacing portrait stands out. It is Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, whom I would often see crossing St. Peter's Square as I was coming out of the basilica. All those times that I stopped and watched him pass, it never occurred to me that one day he would be elected Pope and the casual sightings in the square would become just a cherished memory.
Elizabeth Lev ALWAYS provides such interesting commentar on the events in Rome and, especially, the Vatican.
. . . with apologies to the Cardinal . . .
What an interesting article -- both the historic commentary on the re-discovery of St. Paul's tomb and the contemporary discussion on the portraits of the Cardinals and her personal observation of our dear "Papa-ratzi"!
I noticed some of the same features as I gazed upon the portraits of powerful and saintly cardinals when our local museum in Milwaukee hosted the St. Peter exhibit. They re-created parts of St. Peter's Basilica within the museum and visitors could walk throughvarious features and study exhibits of the Vatican treasures on loan for the occasion.
Among the exhibits were many life sized portraits of early Cardinals. Although the postures were stiff, the faces were so lifelike that I expected some of them to speak. Their expressions were learned, and I wished that I had known them.
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