Though the carbon-dating experts knew nothing of their origins, the bone fragments were recovered after a tiny probe was inserted into the tomb which lies in a crypt beneath the Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls in Rome - a church long held to have been built on the site where Paul was buried.
It was only three years ago that the tomb itself was discovered by Vatican archaeologists.
The fact that it was positioned exactly underneath the epigraph Paulo Apostolo Mart (Paul the Apostle and Martyr) at the base of the altar convinced them it was Paul's tomb.Now backed by the evidence of his carbon-dated bone fragments, the Pope has announced: 'This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that the bone fragments are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul.'
When I first heard about this on the news, my rather flippant response was, "Well, duh. What have we Catholics been telling you all along?" To which my husband quipped, "Sounds like the old joke about 'who's buried in Grant's Tomb?'" All flippancy and silliness aside, I find this incredibly exciting. George Weigel's excellent Letters to a Young Catholic has a wonderful chapter about the discovery of Peter's tomb under St. Peter's Basilica and how it reinforces our real and tangible sense of our Catholic faith. He may have to add to that chapter in the next edition, because the discovery of Paul's bones is equally amazing.
Matthew at Shrine of the Holy Whapping has more:
One common line of argument I had read suggested the relics had been stolen and dispersed by Saracen pirates sometime during the early Middle Ages, so it is somewhat of a relief to discover they're still down there. More intriguing is the fact the bones, like St. Peter's, were wrapped in purple cloth, suggesting they were treated with reverence and swathed with costly fabric from a very early age.
Yet another reason for me to go on pilgrimage to Rome! God grant that I can make it there some day.