Santa Prassede is a basilica in Rome, located near the major basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
The church in its current form was commissioned by Pope Hadrian I
around the year 780, and built on top of the remains of a 5th century
structure and was designed to house the bones of Saints Prassede
, the daughters of St. Pudens
, traditionally St. Paul
's first Christian convert in Rome. The two female saints were murdered for providing Christian burial for early martyrs
in defiance of Roman law. The basilica was enlarged and decorated by Pope Paschal I
in c. 822.
Pope Paschal, who reigned 817-824, was at the forefront of the Carolingian Renaissance started and advocated by the emperor Charlemagne. They desired to get back to the foundations of Christianity theologically and artistically. Paschal, thus, began two, linked, ambitious programs: the recovery of martyrs' bones from the catacombs of Rome and an almost unprecedented church building campaign. Paschal dug up numerous skeletons and transplanted them to this church. The Titulus S. Praxedis was established by Pope Evaristus, around 112.
The main altarpiece is a canvas of St Praxedes Gathering the Blood of the Martyrs
(c. 1730-35) by Domenico Muratori
The most impressive element of the church, clearly, is the mosaic decorative program. Paschal hired a team of professional mosaicists to complete the work in the apse, the apsidal arch, and the triumphal arch. In the apse, Jesus is in the center, flanked by Sts. Peter and Paul who present Prassede and Pudenziana to God. On the far left is Paschal, with the squared halo of the living, presenting a model of the church as an offering to Jesus. Below runs an inscription of Paschal's, hoping that this offering will be sufficient to secure his place in heaven.
On the apsidal arch are twelve men on each side, holding wreaths of victory, welcoming the souls into heaven. Above them are symbols of the four Gospel writers: Mark, the lion; Matthew, the man; Luke, the bull; and John, the eagle, as they surround a lamb on a throne, a symbol of Christ's eventual return to Earth.
Though those mosaics as well as those in the Saint Zeno chapel, a funerary chapel Paschal built for his mother, Theodora, are the best-known aspects of the church, an intriguing and relatively hidden aspect are ancient frescoes. Ascending a spiral staircase, one enters a small room, covered in scaffolding. However, on the wall is a fresco cycle dating most likely from the 8th century. The frescoes depict probably the life-cycle of the name saint of the church, Prassede.
Among known titulars of this see there are Silvanus Antonius (318), Serraus Aquileus (or Serranus) (335), Domitius Ligus (387), Annius Longus (421), Severus Flavius (475), Ginesius (478), Sebastianus (482), Lorentius Caelius — Antipope Laurentius
— (494), Paschal Massimi — later Pope Paschal I — (796), Ottavius Elarius (829), Aldemar (1062), Benedictus Caius (1073), Desiderius (after 1077), Lambertus Scannabecchi — later Pope Honorius II
— (1099), Desiderius (1105), Ublado Allucingoli — later Pope Lucius III
— (1141), Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte — later Pope Julius III
— (1542-1543), Rafael Merry del Val
The current Cardinal Priest of Titulus S. Praxedis is Paul Poupard.
Pillar From The Flogging Of Jesus
Santa Prassede also houses a segment of the alleged pillar upon which Jesus
was flogged and tortured
before his crucifixion in Jerusalem
. The relic is alleged to have been retrieved in the early Fourth Century AD by Saint Helena
(mother of the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine I
) who at the age of eighty undertook a pilgrimage
in the Holy Land
to found churches for Christian worship and to collect relics associated with the crucifixion of Jesus in Calvary
. Among these legendary relics retrieved by Helena, which included pieces of the True Cross
(now housed in the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
, also in Rome) and wood from the Jesus's crib, was the segment of the pillar now housed in Santa Prassede. The authenticity of these relics, including the Santa Prassede pillar, is disputed by historians and Christians alike, due to lack of forensic evidence and the massive proliferation of fake relics during the Middle Ages