Saturday, February 23, 2008

Stational Church: Santi Marcellino e Pietro


Marcellinus was a prominent priest in the City during the reign of Diocletian, and Peter is said to have been an exorcist. The Passio states that they were apprehended and cast into prison, where they were zealous in strengthening the faithful. At one point they even offered to cure the sick daughter of their pagan jailer, Arthemius. The man scoffed at the offer and asked if their God were powerful enough to free them from prison. In the middle of the night, Peter and Marcellinus were miraculously released and came to Arthemius. Thereupon, the jailer’s entire family was baptized, together with three hundred others. Soon afterwards, they were condemned to death by Serenus (or Severus) the magistrate. The two were conveyed privately to a forest called the silva nigra, and there they were beheaded in order that their burial place should not be known. The secret, however, was divulged, possibly by the executioner, who subsequently became a Christian. Two devout women, Lucilla and Fumina, rescued their relics and interred them honorably in the catacomb of St. Tiburtius on the Via Labicana. They are honored still in the Roman Canon at Mass.

Constantine built a church over their tomb, in which he caused his mother, St. Helena, to be buried. During the Synod of Symmachus in 499, there was a church listed in their honor, the titulus Nicodemi, one of the original twenty-five parishes of Rome. A hospice which became a center for pilgrims was located at the site.

Nothing exists, unfortunately, from the original structure. We know that it was rebuilt by Gregory III (731-742), and that in 827 Gregory IV sent the bodies of Sts. Marcellinus and Peter to Eginhard, Charlemagne’s former secretary, to enrich the monasteries he had rebuilt or constructed. They were eventually deposited at Seligenstadt, Germany, after having worked many miracles along the way. Their church here in Rome was newly restored by Alexander IV (1254-1261) and then dedicated on April 10, 1256. Clement XI (1700-1721) reconstructed the basilica several meters above the ancient one. It was finished by Benedict XIV (1752) so that now no trace of the ancient basilica can be seen. The present church preserves a miraculous painting of the Crucifixion. It also contains a lovely stepped dome, and an interior which is clearly influenced by the work of Borromini. It is in the shape of a Greek cross. Underneath the altar is an urn with the relics of the martyr St. Marcia. Also to be noted are the altar on the right-hand side dedicated to Pope St. Gregory the Great and a small chapel next to it, dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes.

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