The Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls (Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mura) contains a unique series of portraits (in mosaic) of all the popes from Peter to Francis.
The portraits take the form of a frieze which winds its way around the entire church, starting in the transept (right of the apse) and ending in the aisle (far right). There are a number of spaces left for the portraits of popes-to-be, but it is said that once these run out, the world will come to an end!
The practise started during the reign of Pope Leo the Great (r. 440-61), but only 40 portraits survived the conflagration, which destroyed the basilica in 1823. The present series was begun in 1847 by Pope Pius IX (r. 1846-76).
It is customary for the church to shine a spotlight on the portrait of the present incumbent of the office, namely Pope Francis (r. 2103-). And a very fine portrait it is.
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 and
small-group walking tours
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