A newly uncovered artwork in the catacombs of Rome has some experts believing it’s the oldest image of the Christian apostle Paul.
This newly uncovered image could be the face of the apostle Paul
The faded image shows a man with a triangular-shaped face and pointed beard as he looks straight ahead.
According to published reports in Europe, the fresco dating back to the 4th century was discovered during restoration work at the Catacomb of St. Thekla but was kept secret for 10 days. The catacomb, or Christian burial place, is close to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, which is said to be built on the location where Paul was buried.
Vatican archaeologists used a laser to remove centuries of grime from the artwork before announcing the discovery through their official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
Barbara Mazzei, director of the work at the catacomb, told the London Telegraph:
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 1,600 years the face of St. Paul in a very good condition. It was easy to see that it was St. 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 St. 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, added: “This is a fascinating discovery and is testimony to the early Christian Church of nearly 2,000 years ago. It has a great theological and spiritual significance as well as being of historic and artistic importance.”
Although the Catacomb of St. Thekla is closed to the public, officials are hoping to put the ancient artwork on display later this year.
Basilica in Rome where Vatican says it found remains of St. Paul
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI announced today that the first-ever scientific tests on what some think might be the remains of Paul’s body “seem to conclude” they belong to the New Testament hero.
“A tiny hole was made to introduce a probe” which led to the retrieval of “minuscule bone fragments, and carbon dating showed they belonged to someone who lived between the first and the second century,” the pope said. “This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that they are the mortal remains of the apostle Paul.”
Cardinal Andrea Codero Lanza di Montezemolo, chief priest of the basilica, told Agence France-Presse Friday the pope had not ruled out “one day ordering a more detailed analysis” of the remains.
He cautioned that opening the sarcophagus would be “a big job, given the tomb is enormous and it might involve the demolition of the altar.”
According to the New Testament, Paul was a Roman Jew, a member of the tribe of Benjamin born in the ancient city of Tarsus located in modern-day Turkey.
He began his career persecuting Christians but then converted to Christianity after being temporarily blinded by God on the road to Damascus.
He is known as the apostle to the Gentiles and wrote most of the books in the New Testament.