Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday of the 4th Week of Lent - Santi Quattro Coronati


Approaching the medieval gateway of this ancient church, dedicated to the Four Crowned Saints, one immediately gathers that this is a unique place.  Indeed it is, for though it stands only a few blocks from some of the busiest areas of the city, this oft-forgotten church holds centuries of tradition within its scarred walls.


The title of this church is actually in reference to two groups of martyrs from the Roman persecutions.  The first group were four soldiers, Severus, Victorinus, Carpophorus, and Severinus, who refused to take part in pagan worship, and were killed for this in the persecutions of Diocletian.  The name of this church may be derived from a military decoration of a small crown, which the four soldier saints may have earned during their service.  The second group were a group of five stonemasons, Claudius, Nicostratus, Sempronianus, Castor, and Simplicius, who were put to death for their refusal to carve a statue of Asclepius which would be used for pagan worship.

The oldest parts of this current building date from an apsed hall, built in the fourth century.  At some unknown point, but before 595, this became the Titulus Aemelianae.  Around the year 630, Pope Honorius I dedicated the first purpose-built church on this site, which was restored in the late eighth century by Pope Hadrian I.  In the mid-ninth century, Pope Leo IV undertook a more complete rebuilding and placed the relics of many martyrs in a crypt underneath the altar, including those of the four soldiers and the five stonemasons.  The relics of the latter were brought here possibly because of the similarity of their story to that of the soldiers.  The bell tower is also thought to date from this era.
Along with many other buildings in this neighborhood, this church suffered a near complete destruction in the Norman attack of 1084, at which time it seems that another rebuilding was taking place.  Pope Paschal II rebuilt the church, retaining the previous apse but making the new nave markedly smaller, consecrating it in 1116.  The chapel of St. Sylvester was completed in 1246; the frescoes in this are one of the gems of this complex.  In 1560, Augustinian nuns took up residence here, where they remain until today, having been joined by the Little Sisters of the Lamb more recently.  Much of the nave underwent a redecoration in the 1620s; the apse fresco and sanctuary arrangement date from this time as well.  Other than some minor additions and changes, the building has seen few further changes until the present time.

Coming to the sanctuary of the church, it is important to note that its size is the result of the reuse of the older apse for the smaller rebuilt nave.  On either side of the sanctuary are stairs leading down to the crypt (although only the steps on the left are used - or were used this morning).  The high altar stands over the relics of many saints - including the 4 Coronati mentioned above.  

Sunday, March 26, 2017

4th Sunday of Lent - Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

Combining the piety of the Blessed Virgin with the feminine strength of Cleopatra, the Empress Helena is one of the most interesting figures from late antiquity.  Born in Dalmatia in the mid-third century, she married an officer in the Roman army and bore him a son, who would one day become the Emperor Constantine.  When her husband acquired more power, he divorced her to marry on a higher social level, a common occurrence at the time and one she bore gracefully.  However, when her son became the undisputed leader of the Roman Empire in 312, she was given the title Augusta and held a role similar to that of a queen mother.  Connected to her title, she was given the Sessorian Palace, originally built under Commodus and Septimus Severus in the late second century.  It is the modified form of the great hall of this palace that now forms the central part of the present basilica.  The connection between St. Helena goes far further than simply having lived here, for tradition recalls how she made a trip to the Holy Land in 325 in order to bring back relics from the life of our Lord for veneration in the West.  These were later placed in a chapel behind the apse of the basilica, which had recently been adapted for Christian worship.

The basilica officially remained state property until at least the year 500, although worship and other ecclesiastical events took place in it during that time.  A renovation took place in the early eighth century, being followed by a more complete one in the mid-twelfth century.  In the late fifteenth century a restoration was carried out, including the creation of the apse fresco.  The current façade and narthex of the basilica date from 1733-34, being commissioned by Pope Benedict XIV.  He also made some changes to the interior, among other things rebuilding the roof and ceiling which still bears his name and erecting a new ciborium above the main altar.  The sacred relics of the Passion are currently kept in a chapel above their previous home, opened in 1930 and finished in 1952.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saturday of the 3rd Week of Lent - Santa Susanna

Today I am once again traveling with the Cardinal and not in Rome.  But there's also a change to our Station Church location for today.  The church of Santa Susanna is undergoing renovation - so the location for the Mass has been changed to Santa Maria della Vittoria (which is just across the street really).  However, there is also a MAJOR demonstration here in Rome today - and people have been advised simply not to go out - to stay at home and totally avoid the area of the demonstration.

For that reason, I'm kinda glad I'm not in town.  However, you can read about Santa Susanna here...


Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday of the 3rd Week of Lent

This ancient church stands in a small piazza just off the busy Via del Corso.  The titulus of St. Lawrence in Lucina took its name, as with many other of the early tituli, from the name of the donor of the site or structure itself, who in this case was the Roman landlady Lucina.  This area first became developed during the early Imperial period, with the famous Ara Pacis standing in a location just behind the apse of the church.  On this spot itself stood a large apartment building, known as an insula, traditionally that of Lucina though the original place of worship may have been located in another location nearby.  In the mid 430s, Pope Sixtus III built the first basilica here, like others of the time with a nave flanked by an aisle on each side and terminating in an apse.  Being in the midst of an area often hit by floods of the Tiber, the church was in need of periodical restoration, with at least two recorded in the first millennium.  During this era this church fulfilled an important liturgical role as the starting point of the procession for the Greater Litany, a penitential procession and liturgical service, on 25 April.  This procession, beginning here, would head up the Via Flaminia, crossing the Tiber at the Milvian Bridge before returning down the other side of the river for the stational Mass at St. Peter’s.
The Norman attack of 1084 affected this area, with the original basilica receiving its share of damage as well.  Although the extent of this is unknown, a refurbishing did follow, ending with the dedication by Pope Anacletus II on 25 May, 1130.  A reconsecration in 1196 can be taken to signal the definitive end of this period of restoration.  In this period the basilica, besides having its floor level raised, received a campanile in the style of the time, as well as interior furnishings in the cosmatesque style.  A renovation completed in 1462 brought about some minor changes, although the seventeenth century would see the entire interior transformed.  These actually began in the last years of the sixteenth century, when the floor was raised once again and a new high altar was constructed in the style of the time.  In 1616, the left aisle was converted into chapels opening on to the nave, a process continued in the right aisle in the middle of the century.  Finally, a new high altar was constructed and consecrated in 1676, largely giving the interior the appearance of today.  Bl. Pope Pius IX oversaw a restoration of the interior in 1857 and 1858 that added two additional chapels and removed some of the Baroque decorations, so that it is a largely nineteenth century interior, with some works from the preceding centuries, that we encounter today.  Additional work in the early twentieth century brought the façade back to an approximation of its medieval appearance.

The basilica sits just off the square which bears its name, with its restored porch and facade evoking and older time.  Entering the church you notice the door is guarded by two 12th century lions (statues of course).  On the side walls of the sanctuary are two reliefs: one of St. Lawrence, the other of St. Lucina.  The high altar has at the top a copy of the miraculous 15th century image of Our Lady of Health - an image that, when placed near a well in the 17th century, brought about miraculous healing for those who drank from the well.  The small side chapel closed to the door of the church contains the most famous relic in this church: beneath the altar in this chapel is kept a part of what is traditionally believed to be the gridiron on which St. Lawrence was martyred (you may recall that during week 1 of Lent we went to the church on the spot where he was martyred).  Standing here in front of this relic, I recall the many connections our family has with St. Lawrence - my father was, for a time, the organist at St. Lawrence church in Harrisburg.  My brother was married in this church.  My niece, who is preparing to marry in December, had photos taken with her fiancé in this church.  I have many fond memories connecting me to St. Lawrence.  Here, in front of this precious relic of his martyrdom, I reflect on the sufferings St. Lawrence endured and the faith that carried him through it.  I ask his prayers for me, for my family, for all my friends and those reading this blog - that we may, like St. Lawrence, come through the sufferings of this world to share with him in everlasting life.

Altar with gridiron of St. Lawrence           Image of Our Lady of Health   

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thursday - 3rd week of Lent - Sts. Cosmas and Damian


Sitting discreetly to the side of the Roman Forum, the small basilica of Ss. Cosmas and Damian can boast of not only a longer history of use than that ancient center of government, but also of that use continuing to the present day.  In fact, parts of this basilica date back to the time of the ancient forum, these structures being converted into a church in honor of these two saints some time later.  Ss. Cosmas and Damian were two brothers in the medical profession, who used their skills to heal people without seeking payment.  Although there are different traditions concerning their martyrdom, it seems likely that they suffered during the Diocletian persecutions in the early fourth century in the city of Aegea, then in Roman Syria.  Brought before the tribunal, they were tortured before being killed by decapitation, likely in 303.  Some years later their relics were brought to the city of Cyr, before being brought to Rome during the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great.
Some of the walls of the current structure can be traced as far back as the Emperor Vespasian, who reigned from A.D. 69 to 79.  Some time later a secular basilica was built on the site, which had a similar shape but a different purpose than later ones built for religious purposes.  Pope Felix IV modified the structure to include an adjacent circular temple, built at a later date than the secular basilica had been, for use as a house of worship and dedicated it around the year 530.  The beautiful mosaics that survive until the present are from this time, with some restorations, and would in turn inspire many others in the city.  The interior was refurbished about 150 years later, and in the late eighth century it was restored for use as a deaconry by Pope Adrian I.  The basilica continued without any significant changes until the baroque period.  At that time, spurred on by the rediscovery of the relics of the brother saints in 1582, Pope Clement VIII added side chapels to the nave in 1602.  This was followed by a more significant renovation under Urban VIII which saw a new floor installed at the actual ground level.  This had the effect of cutting off the lower half of the church from sight, as well as allowing for a closer viewing of the apse mosaic.  The general interior arrangement remained unchanged until the late twentieth century, when the floor of the circular part of the church was removed.

Today, the church is entered from behind, as the excavation of the forum has left the 17th century entrance unusable.  Passing through the beautiful cloister you see a wonderful foundation.  The entrance to the lower church is there, which takes you down to the tomb of Sts. Cosmas and Damian - and the ancient, ancient church underneath the present one.

Where Sts. Cosmas and Damian are buried - inside the altar

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tuesday - 3rd Week of Lent - San Prudenziana

From and Procedamus in Pace.
The little church of St. Pudentiana holds some of the earliest memories of the Roman Church within its ancient walls.  The Christian history of this site begins with St. Pudens, a Roman senator.  He allowed St. Peter to live in his house for at least six years, and it is believed that the first Mass celebrated by St. Peter in Rome took place here.  He may also be the Pudens named by St. Paul in one of his letters (2 Tm. 4:21).  An early tradition also held that he had two daughters, Pudentiana and Praxedes.  These two collected the remains of the martyrs after their death, laying many of them to rest in a well within their home.  Another early member of the Roman Church, St. Pastor, is thought to have set up an oratory on this site as well.

Any buildings on this site were either demolished or heavily modified to make way for the construction of a bath hall here in A.D. 139.  This structure would have had a large inner hall completely surrounded by an ambulatory.  At some later point this building came to be used for Christian worship, with the earliest proof of this dating from 384.  At this time the church was known as the Titulus Pudentis, after the traditional patron of Christian worship on the site.  A renovation followed, likely in the last decade of the fourth century, which demolished one end of the building and lengthened it.  The opposite end was renovated as a sanctuary, being decorated with a mosaic that comes down to us today.  Around the year 535, another renovation took place, mainly concerned with strengthening the walls.  The church was restored in the late eighth century and again at the turn of the twelfth century.  Around the time of this latter date the campanile was built.  The interior reached its current state between 1588 and 1599, when a renovation in a restrained baroque style took place.  A side chapel, gift of the Caetani family, was created at this time out of a medieval one dedicated to St. Pastor.  The apse mosaic was restored several times throughout its history, most recently in 1831; the current façade dates from 1870.

In a small chapel on the left commemorates Saint Peter: the inscription recounts the tradition that this place was the first in Rome in which he celebrated the Eucharist.  Within the altar are some fragments of a table on which St. Peter is believed to have celebrated Mass.  In the sanctuary, the mosaics are important because they are among the few to have survived since the fourth/fifth century - although the outer portions have been restored.  A big difference between these and other mosaics is that instead of the guilder and stylized Byzantine appearance, it expresses a truly Roman style of art.  The figures are all dress in the style of ancient Rome.  In the center is Christ, holding open a book that says Dominos conservator Ecclesiae Pudentianae, "The Lord, the protector of the church of Pudens."  Flanking Him are two figures believed to be Saints Peter and Paul; the two women crowning them may represent the two churches of the Jews and of the Gentiles, which come together in the one Church of Christ.  The buildings in the background are thought to replicate the appearance of the complex built by the Emperor Constantine I over the tomb of Christ, with the jeweled cross standing on Calvary, a symbol of the victory of Christ's death which is shared by all the martyrs.

On the left (above) is a photo of the well into which were thrown the relics.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday of the 3rd Week of Lent - San Marco


Surrounded by the former palace of the Venetian ambassador to the Papal States, this venerable basilica stands almost in the shadow of the Capitoline Hill, the symbolic heart of ancient Rome.  There are several layers of ruins beneath the current church, including some from the late empire that bear signs of Christian worship on this site before the construction of this church. 

Pope St. Mark was the founder of the first large house of Christian worship on this site in the mid 330s.  Whether his gift consisted of the church itself or just the land on which it is built is unknown; archeological finds point to the construction of the first basilica on this site to sometime in the first half of the fourth century.  This was replaced by another basilica on a somewhat higher level around the middle of the sixth century. 

Two features of this now lost structure are worthy of mention.  One was the Byzantine influences in its sanctuary, these being a sign of Eastern influence on the Roman liturgy in general throughout this period.  Another was a record being made during the iconoclastic controversies of this time, during which the abundance of sacred art present in this basilica was noted.  This second basilica was in turn replaced under Pope Gregory IV in the second quarter of the ninth century, and it is this third basilica which, much renovated, still stands today.  The two later churches kept the same dimensions as the first, the only difference being the heightened floor due to the rising ground level outside.  The Venetian Pope Paul II undertook a renovation in the mid-fifteenth century, including the construction of the Renaissance loggia in front as a setting for papal blessings.  This has a similar appearance to that which stood before the original St. Peter’s Basilica, also built in this period.  The mid-fifteenth century palace adjoining the basilica, formerly a papal residence, was given by them to the Venetians for use as an embassy in 1564, likely because of the connection to St. Mark, the patron of the great seaport.  The Venetian ambassador would finance a renovation of the church in the mid-seventeenth century.  Yet another renovation a century later saw the interior of the basilica take on its current appearance, including the distinctive red columns along the nave. 

Restorations were undertaken in the 1840s and 1940s, this latter one restoring the crypt.  This is noteworthy as being a good example of an annular crypt, so called because of its ring-like shape as it curves around the back of the apse.  These were common features of churches built in the late first millennium, although many have been lost in the subsequent centuries.

Approaching the sanctuary you descend the stairs into the crypt.  At the center is a small chapel, housing the remains of St. Adbon and Sennen within the altar - and those of Sts. Restitutus and Companions behind it.  Sts. Addon and Sennen are traditionally believed to have been two Persians who, accepting death rather than renounce the Faith, suffered martyrdom in the Decian persecution.  Their relics were moved to this church by Pope Gregory VI.
Beneath the high altar are the relics of St. Mark (the Pope, not evangelist), with the high altar above them.  In the  apse is a mosaic - the bottom depicting 12 lambs coming out from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, going toward the Paschal Lamb.  Above is an image of Christ with St. Mark the Pope, Agapitus, and Ages.  On His right are Sts. Felicissimus and Mark the Evangelist and Pope Gregory IV with a blue halo.  St. Mark has his arm on the shoulder of Pope Gregory, a visual reminder of how close we are to those who have gone before us in the faith when we gather around the Eucharistic Altar.

Just to prove I'm back in Rome...