Monday, March 17, 2008

Stational Church: Santa Prassede

According to tradition, the titulus Praxedis, one of the original twenty-five parishes of Rome, was built above the house where Saint Praxedes, daughter of the Senator Pudens and sister of Saint Pudentiana, sheltered persecuted Christians, twenty-three of whom were discovered and killed before her eyes. She collected their blood with a sponge and placed it in a well where she herself was afterwards buried. This ancient church was restored by Pope Adrian I (772-795) and practically rebuilt by Pope St. Paschal I (817-824). This pope also added the two oratories of San Zenone (now called “the Garden of Paradise” because of its exquisite beauty) and San Giovanni Battista, and behind the apse he founded a monastery for Greek monks with an oratory dedicated to Saint Agnes.

When the heretic Constantine Copronymus (740-775) repudiated devotion to relics and began to collect as many as he could and throw them into the sea, Paschal responded by collecting as many relics as he could and protecting them, bringing to this church the bodies of Saints Praxedes and Pudentiana from the catacombs of Priscilla, as well as the remains of St. Zeno, St. Valentine, and a host of other relics of martyred saints from insecure suburban catacombs. The relics that he could not fit into the altar above the crypt, he put in the Chapel of Saint Zeno. Paschal then placed a list of relics on marble tablets near the sanctuary. Those that could be named were, and the rest (some 2,300, it is said) had to remain, as the inscription says, “known to God alone.”

Santa Prassede became today’s station during the tenth century after the transfer from Santi Nereo ed Achilleo. In 1198 the church was given to the Benedictine Monks of the Congregation of Vallombrosia, who still direct it. Saint Charles Borromeo (Medici, 1538-1584), who was cardinal titular of this church, celebrated Mass here daily while he was in Rome, and his chair is in the chapel of his name. St. Bridget of Sweden often came here to pray, and the Chapel of the Crucifix contains a crucifix that is said to have spoken to her.

Note the porphyry disc in the nave which seals the well of the original house. Be sure to visit “the Garden of Paradise” and the Chapel of St. Zeno with relics of Sts. Zeno and Valentine. Also in this church is a chapel with half of the Pillar at which Our Lord was scourged and a 9th century Byzantine mosaic depicting the Blessed Virgin and saints on the inner arch and Christ and the Apostles on the outer.

The 9th century Byzantine apse mosaic depicts Christ among the clouds being awarded the crown of victory by the hand of the Father. He is flanked by Sts. Peter and Paul, holding their arms around the shoulders of Sts. Prassede and Pudentiana. Pope St. Paschal (with a square halo, indicating that he was still alive at its execution) is seen holding a model of the church, and the saint on the right side is probably St. Zeno the martyr. The blue band at the base is a common symbol of baptism, and here it is even inscribed Jordanes, the River Jordan in which the sacrament of Baptism was instituted.

Do not miss the relics of the sponge, in the sarcophagus of Sts. Prassede and Pudentiana, and other relics of the martyrs. Near the main entrance (most visitors enter through the side door) is a marble slab fixed into the wall. It is said that Saint Praxedis once slept on it. A statue of the saint stands in front of the slab. In a chapel on the right-hand side of the nave are vestments and articles of clothing that belonged to Pope St. Pius X. ~From Pontifical North American College, Station Churches of Rome

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