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Catholic Dictionary




One of the five great basilicas of Rome. Founded in 386 by Emperor Valentinian II (372-92), it was finished by his successor, Flavius Honorius, on the site of the church built by Emperor Constantine over the tomb of St. Paul. It was almost totally destroyed by fire in 1823. Rebuilt to the same dimensions as the original with help from amny parts of the world, it was consecrated by Pope Pius IX in 1854. The interior is imposing with its broad nave, eighty columns of granite brought from Lake Maggiore, dividing the side aisles and the central area. Above the arches are the mosaic portrait medallions of every pope through Pope Benedict XV. The high altar is surmounted by the famous Arnolfo di Cambio tabernacle, the exterior reliefs on it taken from the Old Testament. Four columns of Oriental alabaster support the canopy over it. Under it in a splendid casket are the mortal remains of St. Paul. The triumphal arch, at the apse end, was saved from the conflagration along with its exquisite fifth-century mosaics of the head of Christ centered in glory and surrounded by the twenty-four elders with St. Peter and St. Paul below them.