The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls has stood in the Eternal City for nearly 2 millennia. This holy site has a connection to one of the greatest secrets of the Catholic church. Woven into the details of its interior is the truth about the end of the world.
The Basilica of Saint Paul in Rome is one of the major Catholic basilicas. Over the course of its existence it's gone through a lot. It's suffered earthquake damage, lightning damage, has burnt down to its foundations and has been sacked by invaders. It truly is a miracle that this Christian relic has maintained its original structure.
The basilica's interior, from its completion until today, has been decorated by a collection of papal portraits. It is these portraits that hold a link to a mysterious legend.
As in many churches, so too does the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls contain niches in a line under its windows for the large circular mosaic representations of all the popes. The tradition began in the 5th century A.D., when all the portraits were painted as frescos. Unfortunately they all burned during the 1823 fire.
After the portraits were restored, they began making them out of mosaic only. If information about the outer appearance of any pope was lost, the Italian painter Filippo Agricola would simply come up with a portrait.
The papal portrait tradition hides a sinister secret. The problem arises from the final few portrait niches. The legend goes that when all of the niches are filled and the final pope dies, the end of the world will ensue.
Today, there are only 6 empty niches next to Pope Francis's portrait. If the next several popes serve for an extended period of time, such as Pope Pius IX, who stood as head of the Roman church for 31 years, the world will be able to take a breather - at least briefly. If we're unlucky though, the niches could fill up like they did during the 7th century, when 6 popes served for a total period of just over 4 years.