Sunday, March 19, 2023

Roman Pilgrims at the Station Churches 2023 (Part 4)

Once again, our thanks to our Roman pilgrim friends Jacob and Agnese for sharing their photos of the Lenten station Masses in Rome with us. This post includes a lot of relics, and, more by coincidence that any deliberate design on my part, shows three different churches which are now below street level, as the many layers of the Eternal City have risen up around them. We also have a good example of a modern revival of the ancient custom of the Collect churches, once an integral part of the Stational liturgy, as explained in this article from 2010

Friday of the Second Week of Lent – St Vitalis
San Vitale was first dedicated in the year 416; modern constructions around it, including the street on which it sits, the via Nazionale, are on a much higher level, and one must now descend a rather large staircase to reach the church. This first photo was taken from the top of the stairs. In Italy, it was also a very common custom once upon a time to hand decorative covers on the columns of a church for a major feast day and other important occasions, as we see here.  
This church has also faithfully maintained the custom of spreading greenery all over the floor on the station day...

and of making a display of its many relics.
Saturday of the Second Week of Lent – Ss Peter and Marcellinus
Back when the Pope himself kept the Stations on a regular basis, the ceremony of each ferial day in Lent began at the “Collect,” a church not too far from the Station, where the faithful would gather over the course of the day. The Pope would arrive in the later afternoon, vest for Mass, and process with the clergy and faithful to the Station; the custom of singing the Litany of the Saints at the Lenten Stations is a remnant of this tradition. The Collects dropped out of use fairly early; they are not listed in the Missal, and several of them were at churches which no longer exist. However, the Stations are now sometimes kept in a similar fashion; the one for this day began with the exposition of a relic at the church of St Anthony of Padua across the street, followed by a procession over to the stational church. (The first five photos are by Agnese.)

This church was originally constructed in the 4th century, in honor of two Roman martyrs of the persecution of Diocletian, the priest Marcellinus and the exorcist Peter; they are named in the Canon of the Mass, and their feast is kept on June 2nd. By the mid-18th century it had fallen into ruins and had to be completely rebuilt. It is below the level of the modern street on which it sits, at the corner of the via Merulana and the via Labicana, but not nearly as much as San Vitale.

The Third Sunday of Lent – St Lawrence Outside-the-Walls
This is one of Rome’s oldest churches, built by the Emperor Constantine in the first years of the peace of the Church, over the site of the great martyr’s burial. Pope St Sixtus III (432-40) built a second church on the site, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, flush with one of the walls of the Constantinian structure; this wall was then taken down in the time of Pelagius II (579-90, St Gregory the Great’s predecessor), transforming the Marian church into the nave of St Lawrence’s. The sanctuary was then rebuilt at a rather higher level than the nave, with a large crypt beneath it. The dedication to the Virgin Mary of what is now the nave is remembered in the traditional Gospel of the day, which ends with the verses from Luke 11 commonly read on Our Lady’s feasts, and at Her Saturday Votive Mass. “And it came to pass, as He spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to Him: Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the paps that gave Thee suck. But He said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.”

The high altar, with the tomb of St Lawrence directly underneath it in the crypt.
After a bomb that landed very close to this church in mid-July of 1943, doing severe damage, the surviving medieval Cosmatesque works were carefully and beautifully restored.

Monday of the Third Week of Lent – St Mark
A medieval processional cross which had been stolen from this church was recently recovered by the special unit of the Carabinieri (an Italian national police force) dedicated to investigating the theft of and illegal traffic in art and cultural artifacts. The cross was formally returned to the basilica on this occasion.
The church was originally dedicated by Pope Mark, who reigned for less than 10 months in 336 AD, to his namesake the Evangelist. Because the latter is the Patron Saint of Venice, which nicked his relics from Alexandria in Egypt in 828, it has often been given as the cardinalitial title to the bishops of that city; six Popes have been elected while cardinal of this church, four of whom were Patriarch at the time of their election. (Gregory XII, 1406-15, the last Pope to resign before Benedict XVI; Paul II, 1464-71; Clement XIII, 1758-69; and John Paul I, 33 days in 1978.) The church is now surrounded on three sides by the Palazzo Venezia, formerly the embassy of the Venetian Republic to the Papal States, and later on, of the Austrian Empire to Italy. The apsidal mosaic dates from the reign of Pope St Gregory IV (828-44); the Pope himself is the figure on the left, with a square blue halo to indicate that he was still alive at the time the mosaic was made.
Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent – St Pudentiana
Like San Vitale and Ss Peter and Marcellinus, the basilica of Saint Pudentiana is now sunk below the street level, as new layers of buildings have been built up around it. In the 1920s, the church required such an extensive renovation that an alternative station was appointed for this day at the church of St Agatha. (It is apparently scheduled for another major restoration soon, so this may be the last time we see it for a while.) ~ From 1556 to 1565, the Cardinal-Priest of this church was Scipione Rebiba; the vast majority of Latin Rite Catholic bishops (and therefore the priests ordained by them) today derive their Apostolic succession from this man through Pope Benedict XIII (1724-30).

A tradition of uncertain historical reliability has it that this church was built within the house of a Roman Senator named Pudens, who hosted St Peter for many years when he came to Rome. This side altar contains a relic said to be part of the table on which St Peter habitually celebrated Mass, the rest of which is in the baldachin over the high altar of the Lateran basilica. The sculpture of Christ giving the keys to Peter was done by the sculptor Giacomo della Porta, Michelangelo’s successor-but-one as chief architect of St Peter’s Basilica.  
The church has undergone many restorations, most notably, a radical transformation in the later 16th century, at a point when it was practically in ruins. This “restoration” clipped off much of the lower part of the apsidal mosaic, and a good portion of the sides as well; as a result, Christ now appears in the company of ten of the Apostles, rather than the customary twelve. In the upper part are seen the four animals which represent the four Evangelists; this is one of the oldest images of them, from the later part of the 4th century. At the time it was made, this tradition was generally accepted, but had not yet been confirmed precisely as we now know it. Ss Jerome and Augustine, who were both alive when the church was built, give slightly different explanations of which animal represents which writer, and both differ from St Irenaeus. Going from left to right, they appear in the order which Jerome gives (man – Matthew; lion – Mark; bull – Luke; eagle – John) in the prologue of his commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew. Since Jerome had lived in Rome, and been the secretary to Pope St Damasus I, who died in 384, it is quite possible that the artist or his patron took this arrangement directly from a personal conversation with the Saint.

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