Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Stational Church: Santa Balbina


The Roman Martyrology has this laus: “At Rome, of St. Balbina, virgin, daughter of blessed Quirinus, martyr, who was baptized and chose Christ as her spouse in holy virginity; after completing the course of this world she was buried on the Appian Way near her father.” While it is difficult to confirm this report, there is an ancient cemetery of Balbina midway between Via Appia and the Via Ardeatina. The difficulty is that this Balbina and the Balbina recorded in the Martyrology lived in different centuries, the first having been martyred under Hadrian in 132. In any case, tradition tells us that Pope St. Mark (336) erected a church on the far side of the Aventine Hill in memory of St. Balbina. By the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604) it was one of the twenty-five parish churches of Rome, called titulus Tigridae, and mentioned in the Synods of 499 and 594.

The Basilica of Santa Balbina has been restored to its fourth-century lines with medieval ornamentation. For the connoisseur of the cosmatesque, this church contains a fine pavement, a magnificent episcopal throne, and one of the finest tombs in Rome, that of Cardinal Surdi brought from the old St. Peter’s and signed by Giovanni di Cosma. The portico and campanile are likewise medieval, dating from the 10th or 11th century. Connected to the church is the Hospice of Santa Margherita for Aged People, but at one time the church was surrounded by a fortified monastery. Legend has it that it was in this church that Pope Sylvester and Constantine parted company when the seat of the empire moved to Constantinople. It is said that the so-called “Donation of Constantine” occurred on this spot.

Under the high altar, in a beautiful jasper urn, are the bodies of St. Balbina and her father, the Tribune Saint Quirinus, and St. Felicissimus. In the fourth niche on the right-hand side is a 15th century marble relief of the Crucifixion. The choir, restored in 1939, has fragments of 1st century mosaics found beneath the Via Imperiale.

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