Fire damages St Paul Outside-the-Walls on July 15, 1823
A blaze nearly destroyed the ancient Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls in Rome on this day in 1823.
A workman repairing the lead in the church roof accidentally started a fire that burned down the Basilica, which dated back to the third century and was unique in Rome, having retained its primitive style.
A Note about Pope Pius VII & St. Paul Outside the Walls
In the summer of 1823, Pius VII broke his leg and was unable to recover from the wound. Two weeks earlier, a fire had devastated his beloved church, St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, the abbey where he had both studied and taught in his younger years. He was not even told of the fire and died in August. He was buried in a mausoleum erected by Thorwaldsen in St. Peter’s Basilica.
St Paul Outside-the-Walls is one of four major Papal Basilicas in Rome, along with St John Lateran, St Peter’s and St Mary Major.
After the fire, Pope Leo XII (1823 – 1829) appealed for donations to help rebuild the church in exactly the same style.
The Basilica was reopened in 1840 and re-consecrated in 1855 in the presence of Pope Pius IX.
The redecoration was helped by contributions from all over the world, including pillars of alabaster from Egypt and malachite and lapis lazuli from Russia.
The Italian Government funded the work on the façade and declared the Church a national monument.
The Basilica had been founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine over the burial place of St Paul. In the sixth century the building was modified to enable the altar to be placed directly over Paul’s tomb.
The Basilica, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is outside the territory belonging to the Vatican although it is owned by them.