ROME - Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that a scientific analysis of a tomb thought to contain the remains of Saint Paul, which has never been opened in 19 centuries, has uncovered ancient bone fragments.
The pope, speaking at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-The-Walls in Rome, said the discovery confirmed the view the tomb belonged to the apostle.
The coffin, inside the basilica, had "recently been the object of a scientific analysis", said Benedict addressing a service at the end of year-long celebrations dedicated to Saint Paul.
"A tiny hole was made to introduce a probe" which led to the retrieval of "miniscule bone fragments, and carbon dating showed they belonged to someone who lived between the first and the second century," the pope said.
"That seems to confirm the undisputed, and long-held view that the tomb contains the remains of Paul the Apostle," Benedict said.
The chief priest of the basilica, Cardinal Andrea Codero Lanza di Montezemolo, said Friday that the pope had not ruled out "one day ordering a more detailed analysis" of the remains.
He added that tests had been carried out on the tomb, situated under the basilica's altar, with such an analysis in mind, but opening it would be "a big job, given the tomb is enormous and it might involve the demolition of the altar."
Since late 2006, visitors have been able to see the coffin through an opening made in the main altar.
Cardinal Montezemolo said "there is no doubt" the tomb was that of Paul the Apostle, who was beheaded in the year 67 in Rome.
Excavations were permitted in 2002 to uncover the tomb, and the Vatican said it was Paul's final resting place in February 2005.
Saint Paul was from a Jewish family but was famously converted to become a follower of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus.
He travelled thousands of miles round the Mediterranean spreading the word of Jesus, and helped transform Christianity into a worldwide religion.