ROME Archeologists with the Vatican say they have unearthed a sarcophagus that may contain the remains of the Apostle Paul.
The eight-foot coffin was found buried under the main alter of St. Paul Outside the Walls basilica in Rome and dates to at least A.D. 390. It has not yet been opened, and may not be for some time. Tradition had long held that the coffin was somewhere on the site.
News of the sarcophagus' discovery was announced in 2005, although archeologists had to do considerable work to unearth it. Vatican officials held a press conference Dec. 11 to announce its excavation.
"For now we didn't open the sarcophagus to study the contents. Our aim was to unearth the coffin venerated as St. Paul's tomb, not to authenticate the remains," Giorgio Filippi, the archaeologist of the Vatican Museum, said, according to National Geographic News. "The sarcophagus was buried beneath the main altar, under a marble tombstone bearing the Latin words "Paulo Apostolo Mart," which means "Apostle Paul, Martyr."
The basilica "rises on the place where, according to tradition, Paul of Tarsus was originally buried after his martyrdom," Filippi said.
X-rays likely won't penetrate the marble coffin, another Vatican official told the Associated Press.
Eusebius, a church historian who lived around A.D. 300, wrote that Paul was beheaded in Rome under Emperor Nero. Details of Paul's death are not recorded in Scripture.
"While the possible discovery of the sarcophagus of the Apostle Paul is of great interest to the Christian world, it will be impossible to prove that the bones possibly contained in the box are his," R. Philip Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press. "As Baptists we relish historical research related to Christianity. But we do not venerate relics. Therefore any interest we have in this possible discovery will be relegated to its historical, but not its spiritual implications.
"One discovery we know will never be made and that is the uncovering of a sarcophagus containing the bones of Jesus Christ."