Basilica of Santa Pudenziana

Rome, Italy

The basilica of Santa Pudenziana is a 4th-century church of Rome, dedicated to Saint Pudentiana, sister of Saint Praxedis and daughter of Saint Pudens. It has been suggested that there was no such person as Pudentiana, the name having originated as an adjective used to describe the house of Pudens, Domus Pudentiana.

The church of Santa Pudenziana is recognized as the oldest place of Christian worship in Rome. It was built over a 2nd-century house, probably during the pontificate of Pius I in 140–155 AD, and re-uses part of a bath facility still visible in the structure of the apse. This church was the residence of the Pope until, in 313, Emperor Constantine I offered the Lateran Palace in its stead. In the 4th century, during the pontificate of Pope Siricius, the building was transformed into a three-naved church.

The Romanesque belltower was added in the early 13th century. Restorations of 1588 by Francesco da Volterra, on orders from cardinal Enrico Caetani, Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, transformed the three naves into one and a dome was added, also designed by Francesco da Volterra. The painting of Angels and Saints before the Saviour on the dome is a fresco by a painter Pomarancio. During these last restorations some fragments of a Laocoön group were found that were larger than those in the Vatican. As no one was willing to pay extra for this find, they filled up the hole in the ground. These fragments were never recovered. The façade was renewed in 1870 and frescoes were added by Pietro Gagliardi.

The mosaics in the apse are late Roman art. They date from around the end of the 4th century; they are regarded by different groups of scholars as dating from either the reign of Pope Siricius (384-99) or the pontificate of Innocent I (401-17). They were heavily restored in the 16th century. They are among the oldest Christian mosaics in Rome and one of the most striking mosaics outside of Ravenna. They were deemed the most beautiful mosaics in Rome by the 19th century historian Ferdinand Gregorovius.

This mosaic is remarkable for its iconography. Christ is represented as a human figure rather than as a symbol, such as lamb or the good shepherd, as he was in very early Christian images. The regal nature of this representation prefigures the majestic bearing of Christ as depicted in Byzantine mosaics.

The Peter chapel, on the left side of the apse, contains a part of the table at which Saint Peter would have held the celebration of the Eucharist in the house of Saint Pudens. The rest of the table is embedded in the papal altar of St. John Lateran. The sculpture on the altar depicts Christ delivering the keys of Heaven to St. Peter (1594) by the architect and sculptor Giacomo della Porta. In the same chapel there are two bronze slabs in the wall, explaining that here St. Peter was given hospitality and that St. Peter offered for the first time in Rome bread and wine as a consecration of the Eucharist. The pavement is ancient. A door opens into a cortile with a small chapel that contains frescoes from the 11th century.

The statue of St Pudenziana (c. 1650) in a niche is by Claude Adam. The sisters’ well stands just outside the Caetani chapel in the left aisle, which is said to contain the relics of 3,000 early martyrs, many of which were brought here and hidden by Saints Pudentiana and Praxedes. This is marked by a square porphyry slab in the floor.

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Via Urbana 160, Rome, Italy
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Details

Founded: 4th century AD
Category: Religious sites in Italy

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