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PARADOXPLACE CHURCHES OF ROME     ESQUILINE HILL CHURCHES

 

SANTA PUDENZIANA

 

 

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Legend has it that the land on which the Basilica of Santa Pudenziana is built was once occupied by the house of a powerful Roman senator called Pudente (sometimes Pudens and sometimes sainted), who gave Saint Peter shelter in around 50 AD.   The Senator had two daughters, Pudenziana and Prassede (aka Praxedes), who later became martyrs but before this had asked that a church be built in remembrance of the hospitality given to Saint Peter.  Who knows?   There is no evidence for any of this (including Saint P's presence in Rome) but there is a Roman house under the present church which has been excavated and is said to contain very interesting examples of mosaic paving (it was closed to visitors when we went there in 2006).  In fact two churches were built - one for each sister.  The one at the bottom of the hill is Santa Pudenziana, and at the top is Santa Prassede.

 

More accessibly, the inside walls of the east end of the present basilica (right) are part of a Roman bath house from the time of the Emperor Hadrian (76 - 117 - 138 (62)).  It is thought that the process of conversion of the baths into a Christian church could have started as early as the 140s.  Interesting, remembering that  Christianity was not authorized by the Roman State, and therefore gatherings constituted an illegal assembly, until Constantine's Edict of Milan in 313.

 

The serious transformation of the baths into a basilica took place in the early 400s, and the apse mosaic dates from then - the oldest in Rome.

 

Over the centuries the old church was improved and altered many times, then majorly restored in the late 1500s and given a new look facade in the late 1800s.

 

 

 

 

 

The Basilica of Santa Pudenziana is just a short walk down the hill from Santa Maria Maggiore.  It is the church of the Philippine population of Rome, and it is more likely that you will find one of them down there than a tourist!

 

It all looks pretty bland when you walk in, but like so many old churches in Rome, a bit of probing yields interesting results.

 

Firstly - the mosaic on the left is the oldest Christian mosaic in Rome - more further down. 

 

Secondly the mosaic was actually built into, rather than on top of, the old Roman bath structure, which can still be seen if you can persuade the sacristan to take you up there - more even further down.

 

 

 

 

The facade of the Basilica of Santa Pudenziana is now well below the street level - most of it is a late 1800s job, but the elegant portico lintel is a recycled door / door jam work dating from either the 700s or the 1000s - is one of the significant works of medieval sculpture of Rome.  The figures are Pastore (first church owner, via the will of Pudente's son Novato) and  Pudenziana on the left, and Prassede and dad Pudente on the right.   

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                      Pastore and Pudenziana

 

 

 

Prassede and Senator Pudente / Pudens                                                                          

 

 

 

 

The elegant columns in the nave, recycled (like most columns in Europe) from a Roman building, were part of the original Basilica structure but had to be strengthened by the brick arch structures at an early stage because of stability concerns.   

 

 

 

 

The apse mosaic has lost material from its base and circumference over the years.  The senatorial disciples were originally full figure, the two outside figures have disappeared, and the four evangelist symbols - angel, lion (right), cow and eagle had more room to move.

 

Much of the right side of the mosaic disintegrated completely, and at one stage was replaced by painted figures until some very bland mosaics were substituted.

 

But the originals (below) dating from the early 400s are fascinating - relaxed figures, utterly unlike the rigid formality that emerged as Byzantium took over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above:  Backstage (visitable by arrangement), the sisters Pudenziana and Prassede flank the Virgin and Son.  

 

 

 

Right:  Mario Antonucci, who kindly gave up a slab of his lunch break to take us around "behind the scenes" and point out what was what.

 

 

 

 

 

At the back of the apse you can see the brickwork from the original thermal bath structure.  On the constructionally esoteric front, note that the brick wall on the right has a two concave curved corners plus a curved convex corner.  The curved concave corner (and associated brick shapes) (or was it the convex one?) did not reappear in Europe until the high middle ages.   

 

One in a hundred ancient Roman bricks laid was stamped with the "chop" of the then emperor, making extant walls easy to date.  On the right below are some examples of such chops.  These walls can variously be dated from 140 to 220.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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