On January 25th, 1873, the foundation stone of San Paolo entro le Mura, the first non-catholic church to be built inside the city walls was laid in Via Nazionale. The date was significant, for January 25th is the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, and the new church would be dedicated to the apostle.
The church, which was completed in 1880, was called St Paul Within the Walls (San Paolo entro le Mura) to distinguish it from the ancient and much more famous basilica of San Paolo fuori le Mura (St Paul Outside the Walls).
For centuries Rome had been ruled by the popes, who insisted that all non-catholic worship take place outside the city walls. But on September 20th, 1870, the papal rule of the city came to an end and Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, which had been established in 1861.
The new constitution allowed for freedom of worship and the building of non-catholic churches within the city walls. Rome's American Protestant community lost no time in raising funds to buy a plot of land on the newly created via Nazionale. They chose the British architect, George Edmund Street (1824-81), who would go on to design All Saints' Anglican Church, on Via del Babuino.
The mosaics in the apse and choir, which were designed by the English artist and designer Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98), are the pride and glory of St Paul's.
On the face of the first arch is an image of the Annunciation. The mosaic on the second arch depicts the Tree of Life. On either side of Christ stand Adam and Eve with her firstborn. The great mosaic in the apse depicts Christ in Glory.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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