[Interesting news on the day before the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. The fourth century image was found in the Catacomb of Saint Thekla near the Constantinian Basilika of the Apostle Paul outside the walls along Via Ostiense in Rome. Interestingly the image of the Apostle Paul found there very closely resembles all contemporary Byzantine icons of the Apostle Paul as he is described in apocryphal accounts and as he was depicted throughout the history of the Roman Empire. The apocryphal book, The Acts of Paul and Thekla, describes the mighty apostle as "a man rather small in size, bald-headed, bow-legged, with meeting eyebrows, a large, red and somewhat hooked nose." Yet the power of the man was unmistakable. "Strongly-built," the account goes on, "he was full of grace, for at times he looked like a man, at times like an angel." The Ecclesiastical History of Nikephoros describes him as having a long curling beard, high forehead, pale face, prominent shoulders and deep piercing eyes.- J.S.]
Rome Catacomb Reveals "Oldest" Image of St. Paul
Sunday June 28, 2009
ROME (Reuters) – Vatican archaeologists using laser technology have discovered what they believe is the oldest image in existence of St Paul the Apostle, dating from the late 4th century, on the walls of catacomb beneath Rome.
Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano, revealing the find on Sunday, published a picture of a frescoed image of the face of a man with a pointed black beard on a red background, inside a bright yellow halo. The high forehead is furrowed.
Experts of the Ponitifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology made the discovery on June 19 in the Catacomb of Santa Tecla in Rome and describe it as the "oldest icon in history dedicated to the cult of the Apostle," according to the Vatican newspaper.
The discovery, which involved removing layers of clay and limestone using lasers, was announced a day before Rome observes a religious holiday for the Feasts of St Peter and St Paul.
Peter and Paul are revered by Christians as the greatest early missionaries. Converting on the road to Damascus following a blinding vision of Jesus, Paul took the Gospel to pagan Greeks and Romans and met his martyrdom in Rome in about 65 AD.
Early Christians in Rome buried their dead in catacombs dug into the soft rock under the city and decorated the underground walls with devotional images, often in the Pompeian style.
(Writing by Stephen Brown; Editing by Sophie Hares)
'Oldest' Image of St Paul Discovered
Archaeologists have uncovered a 1,600 year old image of St Paul, the oldest one known of, in a Roman catacomb.
By Nick Pisa in Rome
28 June 2009
The fresco, which dates back to the 4th Century AD, was discovered during restoration work at the Catacomb of Saint Thekla but was kept secret for ten days.
During that time experts carefully removed centuries of grime from the fresco with a laser, before the news was officially announced through the Vatican's official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.
There are more than 40 known Catacombs or underground Christian burial places across Rome and because of their religious significance the Vatican's Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archeology has jurisdiction over them.
A photograph of the icon shows the thin face of a bearded man with large eyes, sunken nose and face on a red background surrounded with a yellow circle – the classic image of St Paul.
The image was found in the Catacomb of St Thekla, close to the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, which is said to be built on the site where he was buried.
St Thekla was a follower of St Paul who lived in Rome and who was put to death under the Emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the 4th Century and who was subsequently made a saint but little else is known of her.
Barbara Mazzei, the director of the work at the Catacomb, said: "We had been working in the Catacomb for some time and it is full of frescoes.
"However the pictures are all covered with limestone which was covering up much of the artwork and so to remove it and clean it up we had to use fine lasers.
"The result was exceptional because from underneath all the dirt and grime we saw for the first time in 1600 years the face of Saint Paul in a very good condition.
"It was easy to see that it was Saint Paul because the style matched the iconography that we know existed at around the 4th Century – that is the thin face and the dark beard.
"It is a sensational discovery and is of tremendous significance. This is then first time that a single image of Saint Paul in such good condition has been found and it is the oldest one known of.
"Traditionally in Christian images of St Paul he is always alongside St Peter but in this icon he was on his own and what is also significant is the fact that St Paul's Basilica is just a few minutes walk away.
"It is my opinion that the fresco we have discovered was based on the fact that St Paul's Basilica was close by, there was a shrine to him there at that site since the 3rd Century.
"This fresco is from the early part of the 4th Century while before the earliest were from the later part and examples have been found in the Catacombs of Domitilla."
Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican's culture minister, said:"This is a fascinating discovery and is testimony to the early Christian Church of nearly 2000 years ago.
"It has a great theological and spiritual significance as well as being of historic and artistic importance."
The Catacomb of St Thekla is closed to the public but experts said they hoped to be able to put the newly discovered icon of St Paul on display some time later this year.
St Paul was a Roman Jew, born in Tarsus in modern-day Turkey, who started out persecuting Christians but later became one of the greatest influences in the Church.
He did not know Jesus in life but converted to Christianity after seeing a shining light on the road to Damascus and spent much of his life travelling and preaching.
St Paul wrote 14 letters to Churches which he founded or visited and tell Christians what they should believe and how they should live but do not say much about Jesus' life and teachings.
He was executed for his beliefs around AD 65 and is thought to have been beheaded, rather than crucified, because he was a Roman citizen.
According to Christian tradition, his body was buried in a vineyard by a Roman woman and a shrine grew up there before Emperor Constantine consecrated a basilica in 324 which is now St Paul Outside the Walls.
St Paul's Outside the Walls is located about two miles outside the ancient walls of Rome and is the largest church in the city after St Peter's.
His feast day is on Monday along with St Peter and it is a bank holiday in Rome where they are patron saints of the city.
Officials are considering opening the tomb below St Paul's in the Basilica's crypt which is said to hold his remains.