VATICAN archaeologists have confirmed that St Paul was buried beneath the Roman church bearing his name.
They said they have identified a Roman sarcophagus beneath the main altar and an epigraph: Paul apostle-martyr.
A small hole in the lid of the stone coffin, through which pilgrims would push pieces of fabric to touch the bones of the martyr, has been filled.
“I have no doubt that this is the tomb of St Paul, as revered by Christians in the fourth century,” said Giorgio Filippi, the Vatican archaeologist who made the discovery, and who will present the results of his scientific tests on the remains of the saint on Monday.
St Paul’s sarcophagus was found after five years of extensive excavations at the church, which is second only in size to St Peter’s in Rome.
The announcement reinforces the move by the Vatican in recent years to present the Pope as the successor not only of St Peter, but also of St Paul the great missionary.
Paul of Tarsus was a Jew who campaigned against Christians until converted on the road to Damascus. Arrested on obscure charges, he insisted on his right as a Roman citizen to be tried in the capital of the empire.
He was acquitted, but was later a victim of Christian persecution in Rome, and was beheaded.
In the early fourth century Emperor Constantine built a church above his tomb outside the walls of the city.
“Our objective was to bring the remains of the tomb back to light for devotional reasons, so that it could be venerated and be visible,” Dr Filippi said. He began looking for the tomb at the request of Archbishop Francesco Gioia, within whose jurisdiction the church falls.
In 2000 the archbishop was inundated with queries from pilgrims about the whereabouts of the saint, which eventually persuaded the Vatican that there was enough demand from tourists to warrant raising the sarcophagus to the surface so that it could be viewed properly.