If you're not aware, yesterday was the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the two men accredited with founding the Church in Rome. Last year, Pope Benedict XVI declared a Year of St. Paul to celebrate his incredible contributions to Christianity: so yesterday, in addition to being Paul's feast day, was also the end of the Pauline year. And how does Pope Benedict ring it in? With a great surprise!
Turns out, Paul's bones were found... in his sarcophagus! Here's how Il Papa put it:
"A tiny perforation was made in the sarcophagus, which has never been
opened over the centuries. A special probe was introduced, which detected traces
of a precious purple-dyed linen fabric covered in gold sequins and a blue fabric
with linen threads. Grains of red incense, as well as protein and calcareous
substances, were also detected."
Additional tests confirmed that the body belonged to a man from the first or second century. And since he was buried in St. Paul's tomb, I think we can safely conclude who it was. At first brush, finding a man in his own grave might not be that striking, but when that man is St. Paul, and that grave is from just after the time of Christ, it's an incredible find. A few things which struck me:
- First, it's incredible that they've preserved it for that long - that at no point from the 1st century to the present was the body stolen or destroyed - not during the sack of Rome, not during the Napoleonic invasion, not during two World Wars, etc.
- Second, it's at least another point for the Christian case. There are some increasingly bizarre views held by atheists, like that Christ didn't exist. Some liberal camps claim the earliest gospels were the Gnostic ones, etc. Having the body of the real Apostle Paul means that Paul really did exist - he wasn't some 2nd century literary concoction. And he's received a dignified burial, purple (expensive, royal) linens covered in gold sequins and all.
- It shows that the Early Church Fathers knew what they were talking about regarding Paul. This is at least some evidence that they knew what they were talking about in other areas. The Bible doesn't tell us how or where Paul died: Tradition did. And now we know it was right.
- He's buried in ceremonial linens with traces of incense still lodged in them.* In other words: he had a Catholic burial. That. Is. Huge.
The other, really absurd thought I had was just what an awesome surprise it was on the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul at the climax of the Year of St. Paul. And for some ridiculous reason, my next thought was, "man, I wish Pope Benedict planned my birthday party!"
*Upon second thought, it's possible that something like myrrh is meant. We'll have to wait and see.