Tradition holds that Paul's body was collected by his followers and buried in the catacombs along with the body of Saint Peter. Then in approximately 390 A.D. the remains of St. Paul were moved to Rome's Basilica of St. Paul. The sarcophagus containing St. Paul then vanished, not to be seen again for nearly 1,600 years.
For centuries it was believed the sarcophagus was buried beneath the alter of the Basilica of St. Paul but not until 2002 was the alter explored to see if the long thought resting place for St. Paul was indeed there. After four long years the alter was opened and a white sarcophagus was found. On top of the sarcophagus was a Latin inscription which read "Paul Apostle Martyr". The inscription and the location of the sarcophagus seemed to confirm this was indeed the tomb of St. Paul. The question remained however, did the sarcophagus contain the bodily remains of the great missionary. The Vatican decided against allowing the sarcophagus to be opened at that time.
The Vatican later changed its position on this issue and allowed further examination by archeologist. Three years after the sarcophagus was discovered, Pope Benedict reported a tiny hole had been drilled in the sarcophagus in order to allow inspection of the interior. The probe found traces of a precious linen cloth which was purple in color and laminated with pure gold. They also found blue colored textile with filaments of linen. Traces of limestone, protein and grains of red incense were also found to be present. Also there were small bone fragments, which according to carbon dating belonged to a person who lived in either the first or second century A.D.
At the same time the discovery of bone fragments was being announced the Vatican also announced the discovery of perhaps the oldest image of St. Paul yet found. The frescoed image was discovered on the walls the catacomb of Santa Tecla below Rome. It is believed the image was drawn sometime in the fourth century. It depicts a man with a pointed black beard on a bright red backdrop. It was customary for tombs to be carved out of the soft rock within the catacombs and the walls decorated with drawings or paintings.
While it can never be proven the bone fragments within the sarcophagus are those of Saint Paul, all evidence points in that direction. Moved to its hiding place approximately 325 years after Paul's death the sarcophagus remained hidden and undisturbed for the next 1600 years. The sarcophagus is now on display in the basilica. The Vatican has not released a time line for how long the sarcophagus will remain on display.