Architectural Drawings of the Reconstruction of St. Paul Outside the Walls


In this 2015 Wishbook we once again propose the restoration of the extremely valuable prints and drawings from the Ephigraphic Collection of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

On the night of July 15, 1823, a fire ravaged the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. In one tragic night, the entire collection of Paleo-Christian, Byzantine, Renaissance, and Baroque architectural and decorative treasures within were destroyed. Pope Leo XII made an appeal to all the faithful to aid in the rebuilding of the Basilica. In order to maintain Christian tradition, he wished to identically rebuild it by re-using some elements saved from the fire.

Parts were moved, restored, demolished, and reconstructed. Not only did a multitude of Catholics respond to the appeal, but gifts arrived from all over the world, including blocks of malachite and lapis lazuli—gifts from Tsar Nicholas I later used for the construction of the two lavish lateral transept altars. King Fouad I and the vice-king, Mohamed Ali, of Egypt gave columns and windows of fine alabaster. St. Paul’s Basilica soon became the Church of Rome’s most important construction site of the 19th Century.

There remains from this period the most significant documents in the restoration and reconstruction of the basilica. Those who were commissioned to rebuild this momentous structure on Via Ostiense maintained a collection of hundreds of drawings, photographs, designs, and documents chronicling construction of the basilica after the fire from 1823 -1938.

These documents are important to preserving the historical identity of this papal basilica. They are the only known resources available to the Vatican Museums that detail the protection of the structure and the execution of the historical interventions, maintenance, and other restorations carried out. This collection is highly valued by international scholars of history, archeology, architecture, and art because of the great  quantity and quality of the documents.

Designs of particular interest include: graphite blueprints, colored pencils and inks in large formats made in a 1:1 scale depicting carvings, bases of columns, moldings, and entablatures. Other valuable documents show the architectural designs on tracing paper—wax or canvas—which describe the transept, naves, aisles, altars, and the bell tower. They are very fragile and difficult to handle largely due to the nature of their supports. A final artistic treasure is the collection of patterns for the decorative details on the mosaics, marble flooring, friezes, and ceilings. These patterns are rendered on paper in colored pencil or tempera. The pieces are expected to return on display in St. Paul Outside the Walls.