The human remains in an ancient Roman tomb may belong to Saint Paul, Pope Benedict XVI revealed in a surprise announcement. Now the Vatican wants to open the sarcophagus and conduct further tests.
St. Paul's Basilica was built over the apostle's grave in the fourth century
The marble coffin in Rome's St. Paul's Basilica has never been opened, but, according to tests conducted thus far, the tomb contains pieces of human bone that have been dated to the time of Saint Paul.
Pope Benedict shared the findings Sunday at a service outside the church marking the end of the Vatican's Pauline year in honor of the apostle.
The tomb in St. Paul's Basilica has been sealed for some five centuries
Carbon dating showed that the bone fragments belonged to someone who lived between the first and the second century AD, the pontiff said.
"This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that they are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul," added Benedict.
Paul - born Saul - had actively persecuted Christians, but converted after seeing Jesus in a vision while on the road to Damascus. He is believed to have been beheaded in the year 67 in Rome after years of travel as an early missionary to spread the message of Jesus.
Archeologists collected the bone fragments by inserting a probe through a small hole in the tomb, which is located under the basilica's main altar.
Bits of incense, purple linen with gold sequins and blue linen were also found, said the pope.
Though the findings had been known for more than a year, the Vatican waited for Benedict to make the official announcement. He is likely to approve further tests and the opening of the tomb.
Editor: Michael Lawton