Sunday, January 25, 2009

Papal Vespers from the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls

The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls is one of the great churches of Christendom, and one of the most beautiful of the papal basilicas.

A brief history of the basilica:
At the beginning of the 4th century, with the end of the persecutions and the promulgation of the Edicts of Tolerance in favour of Christianity, Emperor Constantine ordered the excavation of the cella memoriae, the place where Christians venerated the memory of Saint Paul the Apostle, beheaded under Nero around 65-67 A.D. Above his grave, located along the Ostiense Way, about two kilometers outside the Aurelian Walls surrounding Rome, Constantine built a Basilica which was consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324.

Between 384 and 395 the Basilica, under the emperors Theodosius, Valentinian II and Arcadius, was restored and enlarged according to an extensive project consisting of five naves opening out into an atrium (quadriportico), or courtyard with four rows of columns. Throughout the centuries the Basilica would not cease to be embellished and enhanced by the Popes. For example, the massive defensive wall was built to protect against invasions at the end of the ninth century, while the bell tower and the magnificent Byzantine door were constructed in the eleventh century.


On the night of July 15, 1823, a fire destroyed this unique testimony to the Paleo-Christian, Byzantine, Renaissance and Baroque periods. The Basilica was reconstructed identically to what it had been before, utilizing all the elements which had survived the fire. In 1840 Pope Gregory XVI consecrated the Altar of the Confession and the Transept.

The basilica today:

It is in this beautiful Roman basilica that we bring you coverage of Papal Vespers for the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul Apostle.

(Cardinal Deacons)

So far we see that these vespers are very similar in arrangement to the same event a year ago. (As a point of interest, another arrangement that has also been used in this basilica can be seen from the NLM coverage for the inauguration of the Pauline year, held on June 28, 2008.)

(The altar incensed at the Magnificat by two deacons)

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: