Thursday, June 1, 2017

Santa Pudenziana

Today's photos:

1. The façade of the basilica of Santa Pudenziana.

2. The apse and main altar of the basilica.

3. The fourth century apse mosaic.

4. The bell tower.

5. A double staircase leads down to the level of the church.

6. From street level the upper part of the façade and part of the bell tower are visible.

There are several churches in the Eternal City which can claim to be "one of the oldest churches in Rome". One of these is certainly The basilica of Santa Pudenziana on Via Urbana in the Monti neighborhood.

A curiosity

Via Urbana is a street which follows the path of the ancient road, Vicus Patricius. Its name was changed to Via Urbana in honor of the Pope who widened it in the seventeenth century, Urban VIII Barberini (1623-1644).

The church is thought to have been built in 390 during the pontificate of Siricius (384-399). It underwent several restorations in its long history, the most extensive one carried out for Pope Sixtus V Peretti (1585-1590).

St. Peter

A tradition takes this church back even farther, to the year 145 when Pius I (140-155) had it built where a Roman senator, Pudens, had a house. It was the senator's daughter, Pudenziana, who requested that a church be built on the site of the house because of the tradition that St. Peter himself had been hosted here when he first came to Rome in the first century.

A curiosity

This is not the only connection to St. Peter which this church boasts. The main altar rests on an ancient Roman sarcophagus that is said to contain part of a wooden table on which the Apostle is believed to have celebrated the Eucharist.

The Apse mosaic

In the apse is a magnificent mosaic which has been dated to the year 390. In the center of the scene is depicted Christ enthroned, flanked by St. Peter at his left side and St. Paul at his right. Next to them we see figures which represent the apostles. Above the head of Christ rises a hill at the top of which is a jeweled cross flanked by the winged symbols of the evangelists: Matthew (an angel), Mark (a lion), Luke (a bull) and John (an eagle).

A curiosity

In this scene are two female figures which possibly represent Pudenziana and her sister Praxides. Both of these figures are holding a wreath, one over the head of St. Peter and the other over the head of St. Paul. They are believed to represent the converted Jews and the converted pagans. It was Peter who preached to the Jews and Paul to the pagans.

The buildings depicted in the background of the mosaic are believed to represent the city of Jerusalem.

The Caetani chapel

This chapel was begun by Volterra and finished in 1601 by Carlo Maderno, the architect who designed the façade of St. Peter's Basilica. The chapel is of special interest because it is said to have been built over the exact spot where the liturgy was conducted in the home of Pudens. The statues of the Virtues are by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

A curiosity

On one of the altar steps of the chapel, to the left, is the imprint of a host. Tradition says that it remained impressed on the step when it fell from the hand of a priest who, as he was celebrating mass, was having doubts about the true presence of Christ in the consecrated host.

(Unfortunately, during all three of my recent visits to the basilica, it was impossible to enter the Caetani chapel because the gate in front of it was securely closed with a chain and padlock and too dark to get a decent photo).

Today the church lies well below the level of the modern street. A beautiful double stairway behind an iron fence (locked when the church is closed) leads to the level of the basilica. A magnificent twelfth century bell tower rises above the rear of the church. It consists of five stories, each with open arches.

Despite its location in the center of Rome very near Santa Maria Maggiore, it is rarely crowded with visitors, a fact which makes it a delight for those few who do take the time and effort to find and visit it.


Scott Albert Johnson said...

Mr. Drago: This is Scott Albert Johnson, one of your students at St. Andrew's. Jerome Franklin posted on Facebook a pic of the two of you in Rome, and so I thought I would try to track you down. I have been working at St. Andrew's for five years as associate director of college counseling, and I also have a professional music career ( Just wanted to say hi... I will look you up the next time I am over there! SAJ

Scott Albert Johnson said...

p.s. my email address is

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