|Icons of Sts. Peter & Paul (AP Photo)|
The images, which date from the second half of the 4th century, were discovered on the ceiling of a tomb that also includes the earliest known images of the apostles John and Andrew. They were uncovered using a new laser technique that allowed restorers to burn off centuries of thick white calcium carbonate deposits without damaging the dark colors of the original paintings underneath.
The paintings adorn what is believed to be the tomb of a Roman noblewoman in the Santa Tecla catacomb and represent some of the earliest evidence of devotion to the apostles in early Christianity, Vatican officials said in opening up the tomb to the media for the first time.
Last June, the Vatican announced the discovery of the icon of Paul — timed to coincide with the end of the Vatican's Pauline year. At the time, Pope Benedict XVI also announced that tests on bone fragments long attributed to Paul "seemed to confirm" that they did indeed belong to the Roman Catholic saint.
On Tuesday, Vatican archaeologists announced that the image of Paul discovered last year was not found in isolation, but was rather part of a square ceiling painting that also included icons of three other apostles - Peter, John and Andrew - surrounding an image of Christ as the Good Shepherd.
"These are the first images of the apostles," said Fabrizio Bisconti, the superintendent of archaeology for the catacombs, which are maintained by the Vatican's Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology. Read more...