As one may expect, Rome does not lack in the church category. All types and sizes up to the best know, St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican. However, there are three other major basilicas in Rome: St. John Lateran (first among the four for being the oldest), Saint Mary Major (Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore), and St. Paul Outside the Walls (Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mura). As the term “major basilica” implies, they are of high importance to the Catholic Church and any other basilica is just “a” basilica or a minor basilica.
As with St. Peter’s and St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Walls was built is on top of the site where St. Paul was buried. The original church was built in the fourth century and it got built on and modified up until the nineteenth century when a fire destroyed a good bit of it and it got reconstructed. The modifications it went through in those 1400 years were done for different reasons: fortifying it against potential invaders, repairing damage, beautifying it, or simply making it larger.
Of the original church only a couple of things remain (the triumphal arch with its fifth century mosaics, and part of the apse). But it was other details that grabbed my attention.
First, was the images of all the Popes right above the top of the columns. It really gives a great sense of the longevity of the Church.
Second, how uninviting the exterior is (at least on the sides), hiding the interior beauty of this church.
Third, to me it seem a different style of architecture for a church. I suppose this derives from the fact that its design goes back to a very old design even if it was modified through the centuries. So it may not be a design that is odd but one that I am not familiar with.
Fourth, the colonnade inside the church (around 80 columns is pretty spectacular.
Fifth, the stucco ceilings which are so beautifully decorated.
Finally, the altar and the tabernacle on it are beautiful crowns over the tomb of St. Paul. One can take a few stops down to see the chains that held St. Paul prisoner in Rome.
St. Paul Outside the Walls is away from the beaten path of central Rome that most tourists stick to but it is an easy subway ride from that part of Rome. Whether due to your faith, your interest in architecture, simple curiosity or only trying to get away from the crowds, it is well worth checking out.
What lesser known bits of Rome have you visited? Any recommendations?