Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Feast of St Martina

January 30th is the feast day of the Roman virgin and martyr St Martina. The Martyrology notes the day of her death as January 1st, and that it took place in the reign of the Emperor Alexander Severus (222-235). Although far less well-known than her fellow Romans Agnes and Cecilia, by the 7th century there was a church built in her honor at the base of the Capitoline Hill, close to the Mamertine prison and the Julian Senate-house. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V gave it to a confraternity of artists named for St Luke the Evangelist, and it has ever since been known as ‘San Luca e Martina’. Starting in 1634, a complete reconstruction of the church was guided by one of the great artists of the Italian Baroque, Pietro da Cortona, and after his death in 1669, brought to completion by his students.

At the very beginning of the works to clear away the previous structure, the relics of St Martina were rediscovered within the ruins; Pope Urban VIII then added her feast to the general calendar, giving her two proper hymns of his own composition. (With all due respect to both the Saint and the Pope, they may easily be counted among the worst Latin hymns ever written.) Since the acts of St Martina are considered at best highly unreliable, her feast was removed from the general calendar in the reform of 1969, but remains on that of the Extraordinary Form. The confraternity of San Luca also keeps her feast day each year with a solemn Mass, this year celebrated by His Eminence Beniamino Cardinal Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy.

A reliquary of St. Martina, who was beheaded after undergoing many torments, placed on the main altar of the church on the feast day.

Directly above the main altar is a statue of the saint by Luca Berrettini, nephew and student of Pietro da Cortona, made in 1635-9.
The main altarpiece of the church is a copy by Anteveduto Grammatica of a painting by Raphael, “St Luke Painting an Image of the Virgin Mary.”
The cupola
The counter-façade, with the dedicatory inscription and the crest of Cardinal Francesco Barberini, nephew of Urban VIII, who took great personal interest in Pietro da Cortona’s work, and was one of the principal sponsors of the rebuilding project.
The funerary inscription of Pietro da Cortona, just in front of the main door.
The church has a large crypt, the pavement of which is at roughly the same level as the original church. In the antechamber before the main chapel are the relics of four other Virgin Martyrs, Saints Euphemia, Sabina, Dorothea and Theodora. Each has her own statue, with the relics enclosed below in the small sarcophagus on the wall.
The upper part of the lintel between the antechamber and the chapel.
The relics of St Martina are in the main altar of the crypt-chapel.
The right side-chapel of the upper church is dedicated to another sainted painter, Lazarus the Monk, who was tortured by Theophilus, the last iconoclast Emperor in Byzantium, for painting icons. After the end of iconoclasm, he dedicated his skills to restoring holy images that had been defaced.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: