Papal Basilicas of Rome: Saint Paul Outside the Walls (Photos)

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San Paolo Fuori Le Mura, known in English as Saint Paul Outside the Walls, is one of the most important churches in Rome. It houses the shrine of Saint Paul.

Along with St. Peter’s, San Giovanni in Laterano, and Santa Maria Maggiore, San Paolo is one of Catholicism’s four patriarchal basilicas. Each of the four basilicas has a “holy door,” opened only during a Jubilee year. That usually means every 25 years, unless a Pope calls for an extra Jubilee or “Giubileo Straordinario.”

Vast interior of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
San Paolo balachin in front of the Venetian-designed apse mosaic which dates from 1220

Built on top of the grave of St. Paul, this church has existed since before the 4th century.

Emperor Theodosius ordered a monumental church built on top of the original church between 384 and 395 A.D. After San Paolo was built, it remained the largest basilica in Rome until St. Peter’s was completed in 1626.

In 1823, most of the church was destroyed in a fire. An identical church was rebuilt using surviving architectural elements and reconsecrated by Pope Gregory XVI in 1840.

Papal medallion portraits line the upper register above the columns that separate the aisles from the nave

Elements that did survive the fire are a series of portrait medallions of each of the Popes, beginning with St. Peter. These medallions encircle the top register of the church and legend has it that when the circle of medallions is completed, then the apocalypse is nigh (!).

Columns, mosaics, and fronds in the cloister of San Paolo Fuori Le Mura

San Paolo is also known for its cloisters, which feature gorgeously gilded, twisting columns.

Papal Basilicas of Rome Map

Photos © Melanie Renzulli

Last updated on May 8th, 2021

Post first published on March 12, 2008