Treasure discovered in "Paulus Grotto"

First archaeological proof of Presence of the Apostle in Ephesus

Newly discovered Paulus picture University of Vienna
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The discovery was pure coincidence: in 1998, a German archaeologist found ancient paintings under the whitewashed walls of a cave near Ephesus in modern-day Turkey, including a depiction of the Apostle Paul and the converted Thekla. Now you can see the first results of the excavation and budding works. They provide the first archaeological evidence that Paul was actually in Ephesus.

As early as 1906, the "Paulus Grotto", with its ancient inscriptions, was first mentioned by archeologist Friedrich August Otto Benndorf. When Renate Pillinger from the Institute of Classical Archeology at the University of Vienna chose the Grotto of St. Paul for further studies nearly ten years ago, she could not guess what treasures would wait for her under the whitewashed walls.

Paul under the whitewash

Renate Pillinger and her team cleaned the cave and took the inscriptions on the walls to scale. "In some of the works, the white whitewash on the walls was scuffed off, " says Pillinger, "and it looked like there was painting underneath." With the help of a colleague, the archaeologist searched: Carefully they wore the whitewash at the inscription of Paul - and what came out was the face of the apostle Paul. "A fantastic feeling, " says Renate Pillinger, describing her delight in the discovery in 1998.

The converted Thekla

But that was not all. Next to Paul are Theoklia on one side and her daughter Thekla on the other side in a house and with painted inscriptions. This is a unique iconographic translation of the apocryphal story of Paul and Thecla: The noble Virgin Thekla listens for days to the sermons of the Apostle Paulus and annoyed her mother Theoklia as well as her fiancee. Legend has it that Paul converts her from paganism to Christianity.

Unique slip

"Until now, there was no archaeological documentation about Paul in Ephesos, which is the only proof, " says Renate Pillinger, emphasizing the importance of the fund. "The depiction is very well preserved - and in a quality that is scarcely found in the paintings of the Roman catacombs." Paul's painting, depicted with a pointed beard and bald head, dates Pillinger to the end of the 5th ad


Whitewash as protection

Good for Paul and Thekla that they were protected behind the whitewash. "It is possible that the Christians have applied the whitewash to protect painting, " says Renate Pillinger. After all, some of the saints' portrayals have lost their eyes and gestures, as is the case with Theoklia's illustration. Paul and Thekla, on the other hand, have remained intact.

Since the discovery of Paul's group, more layers of paint have been and are being exposed in the cave. Four restorers work four weeks a year in the Paulus Grotto - a time-consuming and costly activity, alternating between the Institute for Classical Archeology of the University of Vienna and the Austrian Arch ological institute and through third-party funds. In three years, the restoration of the frescoes will be completed.

This is followed by scientific documentation and editing and a conservation concept. "The goal is to preserve the monument and possibly make it accessible to visitors on request, " says the project manager.

"Almost a romance novel"

Renate Pillinger is convinced that "the Paulus group is interesting in cultural and intellectual history". And the story of their protagonists Paul and Thekla is "almost a romance novel": Thekla follows Paul, is rejected by her family and denounced as a Christian, is miraculously saved from the death of fire and wild beasts and acts as a missionary. The historical content is controversial. But an adventurous story is always - and excellently illustrated.

(University of Vienna, 01.12.2006 - NPO)