As you may know, today (June 29) was the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, one of my favorite feast days of the liturgical year. Because of the close association of these two apostles, and their martyrdom in Rome, Sts. Peter and Paul have always shared a feast day going all the way back to at least the year 258 A.D. (and that's only because it's the earliest Roman calendar of the martyrs that has been found). It took some research for me to find that out, as I've always wondered why these great apostles did not have their own feast days. You can't argue with hundreds and hundreds of years of Church history!
Anyway, last Sunday marked the end of the Church's "Year of Saint Paul," and in case you missed it, Pope Benedict made a stunning announcement in his homily. The Holy Father closed the Year of Saint Paul by celebrating mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome (image at left), one of the four major (or "Papal") basilicas of Rome. Side note: Molly and I had the great experience of visiting this basilica when we went to Rome in 2000 as chaperones for a parish youth group trip for World Youth Day. (I wanted to dig up some pics for this post, but unfortunately I think those are packed :-) Anyway, the basilicas of Rome aren't located where they are, respectively, for no reason; just like the Basilica of St. Peter, there is a very specific reason the Basilica of St. Paul is located right where it is: the burial place of St. Paul himself. A news story quote (see also here):
With “great emotion” [the Pope] announced that a recent scientific probe confirmed what Catholic tradition has always held, namely that the body of the Apostle Paul is located under the papal altar in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls....Amazing. Imagine consecrating the Holy Eucharist during mass on an altar beneath which lies the body of the Apostle Paul himself! Couple this with the relatively recent (1950 and 1968) strong archaeological evidence that the tomb of St. Peter is directly below the altar of the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome and it's doubly amazing. Whoever said the faith is boring?!
The Pontiff said that recently the tomb was “subject to a scientific investigation. A small hole was drilled in the sarcophagus, unopened for centuries, and a probe was introduced. It found traces of a valuable purple fabric, in linen and gold layer-laminated, and a blue fabric with linen threads. Red incense grains and substances containing proteins and limestone were also discovered. Small fragments of bone were found and radiocarbon dated by experts who did not know their place of origin. Results indicate that they belong to someone who lived between the 1st and 2nd century A.D. This seems to confirm the unanimous and undisputed tradition according to which these are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul. All this fills our soul with deep emotion.”