Is this the earliest image of St Paul? ‘Sensational’ 1,600-year-old icon of saint found in a Roman tomb
By Nick Pisa – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1196118/Pictured-The-sensational-1-600-year-old-icon-St-Paul-Roman-tomb.html
UPDATED: 03:33 EST, 29 June 2009
This faded face, with a pointed beard and furrowed brow, is believed to be the oldest image in existence of St Paul the Apostle.
Vatican archaeologists uncovered the fresco in a catacomb beneath Rome with the help of a laser, which cleared away centuries of grime, clay and limestone.
The image was created in the 4th century, according to Barbara Mazzei, the director of work at the catacomb.
It was easy to see that it was Saint Paul because the style matched the iconography that we know existed at around the 4th Century – that is the thin face and the dark beard,’ she said.
‘It is a sensational discovery and is of tremendous significance.’
The discovery was made at the Catacomb of Saint Thekla, who was a follower of St Paul and who was put to death under the Emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the 4th Century.
It was first uncovered on June 19 but was kept secret until yesterday to mark today’s religious holiday for the Feasts of St Peter and St Paul.
St Paul was a Roman Jew, born in Tarsus in modern-day Turkey, who started out persecuting Christians but later became one of the greatest influences in the Church.
He did not know Jesus in life but converted to Christianity after seeing a light on the road to Damascus and spent much of his life travelling and preaching.
He was executed for his beliefs around AD 65.
Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican’s cultural minister, said: ‘This is a fascinating discovery and is testimony to the early Christian Church of nearly 2,000 years ago.
‘It has a great theological and spiritual significance as well as being of historic and artistic importance.’
The significance of this discovery can not be understated. Many today challenge the iconographic tradition in the Orthodox Church. That this ancient depiction closely resembles the image of Saint Paul in other icons as part of a received tradition gives great validation to this “received tradition”. Many have asked us, “how do you know that this is what this Saint looked like”. Thanks to discoveries such as this, we can answer that our Sacred Tradition teaches us and this is the Tradition that has been handed-down to us over the centuries.
Due to iconoclastic periods in the Church history, many of the pre-6th and 7th century icons have been lost. The revelation of such a finding is of great importance.