The Holy See is the term used in the Roman Catholic Church for the diocese or Episcopal jurisdiction which the Bishop is the Pope. Since the Pope is the leader of the Catholic Church, and the Bishop of the Holy See that means that diplomatically the Holy See can and does act and speak on behalf of the entire Catholic Church. The Holy See is also the governing body of Vatican City which is an internationally recognized state. While Vatican City only officially came into existence in 1929, the Holy See has been the head of the Christian Church since the first century.
While somewhat more complex, it is easiest to think of the Holy See as the governing body of the Catholic Church, and it is headed by the Pope. In addition each Episcopal See (Diocese) is considered holy, it is commonly understood when the term “Holy See” is used that it is referring to the Holy See in which the Pope is the Bishop. The Pope is the leader of the entire Catholic Church worldwide including the Latin Rite (often called Roman Catholic), and Eastern Catholic Churches which are in full communion with Rome. The Pope is the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle of Jesus Christ. The current Pope, Benedict XVI is the 265th pope. Within the Holy See there are several Churches, one of the most famous of which is the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-The-Walls. This beautiful Basilica is built over the burial place of Saint Paul who was one of Jesus’ apostles. The church was first built in this spot in 370AD and was expanded and improved many times over the last 1800 years. During this time it was also damaged in Earthquakes, Fires and wars, always to be repaired or restored.
This is one of four ancient basilicas, also known as papal basilicas, with the others being St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Peter’s. In addition to being one of the oldest and most beautiful basilicas in the Christian church, it is also a place where many Christians, especially Catholics, travel as a pilgrimage. Not only to see the impressive architecture and celebrate Mass but also to be in the are where one of the most famous Apostles is buried.
The rich history and beautiful architecture of the basilica also make this a popular destination for even those people who may not be Catholic. In the last major restoration after a fire in 1823 many countries contributed to the rebuilding of this historic Basilica. Egypt sent pillars of alabaster, Russia sent malachite and lapis lazuli to make the tabernacle and the Italian government helped to complete the façade. These, along with several other contributions, have made this one of the most beautiful and ornate churches in the world. Today the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls is run by the Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo and is open for regular Mass and prayer. While the sarcophagus of Saint Paul is only visible during special occasions, it is still in the Basilica where it was buried nearly 2000 years ago.