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.”
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.
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 (!).
San Paolo is also known for its cloisters, which feature gorgeously gilded, twisting columns.
Papal Basilicas of Rome Map
Photos © Melanie Renzulli
This post first published on 12 March 2008
Updated on 8 May 2021