Santa Pudenziana is a 4th century palaeo-Christian church which is also (despite appearances) a converted 2nd century Roman bath-house, and one of the few ancient Roman buildings in Rome that has never been a ruin. It is located near Santa Maria Maggiore, and the postal address is Via Urbana 160 in the rione Monti. It has a chaplaincy for expatriates from the Philippines, and is a minor basilica. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia page here.
The dedication is to St Pudentiana, a legendary Roman martyr.
The church is actually on the Viminal hill, and in ancient times the street which is now the Via Urbana was the Vicus Patricius. On it was a 1st century private house, remains of which survive below the church. This edifice was the possible origin of one of the tituli, the first parish churches in Rome, although the foundation of this one is obscured by legend and the archaeologists found no evidence of Christian cultic activity.
According to the tradition, the first church or chapel on the site of the house's garden was established as early as in the pontificate of Pius I (140–155). In later centuries it was known as the Titulus Pudentis, and this Pudens was probably simply the original owner of the house.
A later fictional romantic legend, which may possibly preserve the names of real people, describes St Pudens as a Roman senator of the gens Acilia Glabriones who gave hospitality to St Peter and was martyred in the pogrom of Christians ordered by Nero. He allegedly had two virgin daughters who were also martyred, SS Pudentiana and Praxedis (who has the nearby church of Santa Prassede dedicated to her). The existence of the daughters is historically extremely problematic; "Pudentiana" probably derives from a corruption of the original titulus name as Titulus Pudentiana or "Pudentian Title".
Pudens himself has been deleted from the revised Roman Martyrology.
The Termae NovaeEdit
The reason why the tradition specified the garden as the site of the original church is that the house was allegedly demolished in the year 139 (before Pope Pius) to make way for a small public bath-house known in the sources as the Thermae Novae. The original house had its rooms filled in to provide the foundations, and this raised the ground level to that of the present church.
The legend describes the founders of the bath complex as two sons of Pudens called Novatus and Timothy, who feature in the artworks of the church. Hence the baths are also known as the Thermae Novatianae or Timothianae in the literature.
The new bath-house building had two rooms; a rectangular one which was surrounded by an ambulatory, and a second, smaller one to the west which was the entrance and locker-room and is now occupied by the present Caetani chapel. There was an exedra at each end of the main room, and remains of one survive behind the church's apse (which can be examined from the Via Cesare Balbo, running parallel to the Via Urbana to the north). Three external arcade arches on each side supported by pillars held up the outside walls. Various basins to hold different temperatures of water were set into the floor of the main room, and these survive below the floor of the present church.
Recent revisionist analysis of the site has thrown doubt on the identification of the building with the Thermae Novae, because there is a lack of obvious ancient water supply and storage arrangements in the complex. It might have been a tannery instead, but debate continues.
Conversion to a ChurchEdit
The first part of the complex known to have been used as a place of worship was the entrance room, which was possibly a chapel used by Novatian heretics after 250. It emerges into history when, according to the Liber Pontificalis, Pope Siricius (384-99) reconsecrated and dedicated this oratory to St Peter. The clerics of the oratory were then Maximus, Leopardus and Iliceus, and a surviving epigraph mentions them. Leopardus is referred to as lector de Pudentiana, the first use of this name.
This oratory used to have a mosaic of Christ the Good Shepherd with an inscription referring to the three clerics again (Maximus fecit cum suis), and this led to the later renaming of the chapel after the (fictional) St Pastor (Latin for shepherd).
The same three clerics apparently oversaw the conversion of the main room of the bath-house into a proper basilica. An apse was inserted into the western exedra and provided with the surviving mosaic in the last decade of the 4th century, twelve grey marble columns were pillaged from elsewhere to provide the arcades and a new entrance was made onto the present Via Urbana. The façade of this was made from the external wall of the east exedra. The vaulted cement roof was replaced with a wooden one, and the basins in the floor were filled in and covered. The mosaic used to have an epigraph, now destroyed, which listed the three clerics and also gave a hint that the buildings in the background were actually those put up on the north side of the Vicus Patricius by the city prefect Valerius Messala at the end of the century (splendorem publicum in vico patricio).
The synod of Roman clergy of 499 refers to theTitulus Pudentis.
The east exedra was later demolished and replace with what is essentially the present façade, and this is thought to have happened under Pope Adrian I (772-95). A lost mosaic inscription recorded a restoration ordered by him, although it is unclear just how much work was done. Some scholars allege that the entrance prothyrum is later. The nave columns were apparently encased in piers in this restoration.
Another lost inscription mentioned a further restoration under Pope Gregory VII (1073-85).
The building of the campanile is undocumented, although this was probably provided in the reign of Pope Innocent III in the early 12th century. At about the same time a schola cantorum in the Cosmatesque style was provided like that at San Clemente, although later tragically destroyed in the great 16th century restoration.
Pope Pius V (1566-72) granted the vacated complex to the Dominican penitentiaries of Santa Maria Maggiore, but they were not in possession for long. In 1587, Pope Sixtus V in turn made the church over to the new reformed Cistercian monastic congregation of the Feuillants. As a result, a large new monastery was built to the north. This should be distinguished from the small old convent, an L-shaped block attached to the lower right side of the church.
As part of the project, the church was drastically altered in 1588 by Francesco da Volterra, on orders from Cardinal Enrico Caetani. Some of the changes were very unfortunate, such as the partial mutilation of the mosaics from c. 390 and the demolition of the ancient St Pastor's Chapel to make way for the present Caetani Chapel. The wooden nave ceiling was replaced with a barrel vault, the nave pillars were opened up to reveal the ancient columns within and the ceiling of the transept was replaced by an elliptical dome. This latter was one of the first in Rome. Also the aisles were sectioned by blocking walls to create a series of side chapels; the left aisle had three arches left open, but the right aisle was completely blocked.
The Cistercian monastery was substantial, but has now been demolished. It had its main entrance on the present Via Agostino Depretis north of the junction with the Via Cesare Balbo. There was a large cloister with arcades on all four sides and a fountain in the middle, located to the north of the church and connecting to the far end of its right hand aisle via a passage. A smaller cloister, still with four arcades, was in between this cloister and the street to the east, and was separated from the latter by a screen wall. The monastery had very substantial gardens, including one occupying the street corner to the east of the church.
The Feuillant Congregation had another monastery in the city, at San Bernardo alle Terme.
The Feuillants were suppressed in the French Revolution, and not re-founded. The monastery at San Bernardo remained Cistercian, but this one did not. So, after the French occupation the complex was granted to the Augustinian Canonesses of the Lateran at Santo Spirito ai Monti after that monastery had been demolished. This explains some of the artworks in the church which have an Augustinian theme.
In 1803 Cardinal Lorenzo Litta provided a new high altar, and transferred the relics of St Pudentiana to it. These used to be in a small side-chapel in the left aisle.
In 1870 a restoration was ordered by Cardinal Luciano Bonaparte, great-nephew of Napoleon. The façade was heavily restored, and in the process remains of ancient edifices were found beneath the church and neighbouring buildings. It is possible that one of these houses was the original house-church belonging to Pudens, mentioned above. Unfortunately, this restoration involved the loss of Mannerist frescoes painted on the façade by Niccolò Circignani, Il Pomarancio, in the 16th century. Their replacements were very poor quality technically, and have decayed badly.
The monastery was secularized by the Italian government two years later, and cleared for redevelopment. However, the old convent that it replaced has survived. The Canonesses moved out, and now have their home at Santo Spirito delle Monache Canonichesse in Torre Angela. This was the end of the conventual status of the church.
The last restoration was completed in 1964, when the underground structures were cleared of rubble and consolidated -unfortunately without proper archaeological supervision. The present nave floor dates from this work.
Oratorio Mater Boni Consilii Edit
In the 1960's Cardinal Alberto di Jorio, titular here, oversaw an initiative to set up a refuge for vulnerable and disturbed teenage girls next door to the church under the patronage of Our Lady of Good Counsel. The Oratorio (or Centro Giovinale) Mater Boni Consilii is now a vocations training centre, including a Scuola di Informatica which offers computer studies.
The Oratorio has it own website here.
Filipino chaplaincy Edit
Owing to substantial immigration to Italy from the Philippines, in the 1970's the Italian Bishops' Conference proposed the establishment of a dedicated Filipino Chaplaincy for them. (The Philippines has the largest Catholic population in Asia.) This took a long time to set up. In the 1980's the Bishops' Conference of the Phillippines began negotiating the use of a church in Rome, and finally in 1991 a missio cum cura animarum was finally opened at Santa Pudenziana. This has its own Filipino clergy, helped by Filipina religious sisters.
However, the church is not listed as a national church by the Diocese. This is because the Filipino expatriate community, unlike those expatriates in national churches, has no responsibility for the administration and upkeep of the church itself.
There seems to be an issue concerning the language of worship, which now seems to be Tagalog only. However, only a quarter of the population of the Philippines speak it as a first language. English is preferred by many Filipinos who do not, and it has been observed that many expatriates are worshipping elsewhere -notably at the English national church of San Silvestro in Capite.
The Sentro Pilipino has its own website here.
This is an ancient title, but the first cardinal priest on record was appointed in 1278. A full list of cardinals is here.
Layout and fabricEdit
The church itself is on an overall rectangular basilical plan, having a central nave of seven bays with lower structural side aisles. The central nave is under a pitched and tiled roof. The convent is next to the lower right hand aisle, and the first three bays of the right hand aisle is sequestered as a private chapel for this. The lower left hand aisle is also blocked off; the first two bays to be a custodians' chamber (now the entrance vestibule) and the third to be the first storey of the campanile.
Then comes a transept of the same with as the nave and aisles, with a dome over the crossing and two side roofs with transverse rooflines. The right hand roof of the transept is extended over the sacristy block.
The dome is octagonal, with a pitched and tiled roof of eight sectors above a projecting dentillate cornice. It is crowned by a large torch finial. Every other side of the drum has a vertical elliptical window.
The sacristy has an apse with conch, but this is internal. An ambulatory or walkway runs round the back of it, and over this as a second storey is a separate chapel with its own entrance arrangements.
The Caetani Chapel is a distinct but attached rectangular edifice on the left side, under its own pitched and tiled roof and with an entrance off the fifth bay of the nave.
Main approach Edit
When visitors first see the church from the Via Urbana, it looks as if it is in a hole. However it is actually the street that has been raised, as part of road works ordered by Pope Sixtus V in order to improve access to Santa Maria Maggiore.
The church façade is approached from the street via a gate in a screen made of decorative iron railings, a formal set of two transverse staircases and a small courtyard. These amenities were provided in 1870. The gates are set into a pair of octagonal piers horizontally striped in grey and white stone with spiked ball finials, and the two walls at the ends of the railings are in the same style. The revetting of the staircase walls has geometric patterning, involving lozenges.
If you look at the ball finials mentioned, you will see that they bear a coat-of-arms. This is of Cardinal Luciano Bonaparte, who oversaw the work.
Back end Edit
The next street to the north, the Via Cesare Balbo, is nearer the original ground level of the church and visitors are recommended to take the trouble to go round the block to see the interesting back elevation. It actually sticks out into the street -motorists beware. Here there is a small separate chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which sits on top of the ambulatory running round the back of the apse of the church. There is a separate entrance off the street here for this chapel, the frontage of which displays four unadorned brick arches. The street level here corresponds to the roof of the ambulatory.
The campanile is tucked into the near corner between the church and the Capella Caetani, and is from the early 13th century (some sources give a date of 1160). It is a fine Romanesque work in brick, with five storeys. The bottom storey has two open arches on each face, but the others have arcades of three arches each. The top three storeys have these arches separated by rather spindly marble columns with imposts but no capitals. The top storey is embellished by discs of green stone, which are probably serpentine from Sparta in Greece.
The simple, dignified but artistically very important façade was restored by Antonio Manno in 1870, on orders from Cardinal Luciano Bonaparte, titular of the church. Apparently it was more or less rebuilt, although the previous form was preserved. There are two storeys, rendered in a yellow ochre which now looks shabby. The bottom storey each side of the doorway is plain walling on high limestone dado with a dentillate cornice, bounded by a tripletted rectangular pilaster without a capitals which stand on a plinth matching the dado. The pair of pilasters support the entablature separating the two storeys, which is a delightful piece of work. The architrave is a continuous barley-sugar twist, and above it the frieze is decorated in Cosmatesque style with alternate purple roundels and green squares. The projecting cornice is intricately carved with foliage and putto's heads. Over the tripletted pilasters are matching posts, each with a winged putto's head.
Flanking the central frontage are two narrow zones fronting the structural aisles. These each have a clustered pilaster at the outer corner, a pair of vertical slit windows high up and a pair of little stone archivolts on corbels replacing the frieze and architrave of the entablature. These archivolts have stylized vegetative carving.
The entrance doorway was reconstructed in the 16th century, using medieval materials. It has a finely carved marble doorcase, and is protected by a prothyrum consisting of a pair of ancient spirally fluted columns in white marble supporting an entablature and triangular pediment. The capitals of the columns are very vaguely Corinthian, with the foliage stylized to the point of hardly existing (the same feature occurs with the interior arcade columns, too). The sculptured frieze of the entablature is a spectacular carving from the 11th century, described below. The mural fresco in the tympanum of the pediment, by Antonio Manno, is from the 1870 restoration and depicts Our Lady enthroned with the Child Jesus on her lap.
The upper of the two storeys is framed by a pair of tripletted pilasters like those below, except these are presented as framed recessed panels. They support another highly decorated entablature; the architrave has egg and dart ornamentation, the frieze has patterned polychrome roundels with the chi-rho symbol in the centre and the cornice is doubly dentillated. The crowning triangular pediment has a damaged fresco of Christ in glory enclosed in a mandorla and venerated by angels. There used to be a large coat-of-arms here before the 1870 restoration.
This upper storey used to have a large arched Baroque window, which can be seen in the surviving Vasi engraving of the 18th century (see "Romeartlover" external link below). The 1870 restoration replaced this with a pair of round-headed windows with narrow twisted frames; each window has two narrow arches separated by a column with a rather debased derivative Corinthian capital. Above each pair of arches is a tympanum containing a bust; the two busts face each other and look like SS Peter and Paul.
The wall of the upper storey has seriously damaged and faded frescoes by Pietro Gagliardi depicting St Peter in the centre between SS Pudenziana and Pudens. The latter is dressed as a Roman senator. On the other side of the windows are SS Gregory the Great and Pius I. These frescoes replaced a set executed by Pomarancio.
Before the early 20th century, the façade also had attractive 19th century non-figurative fresco decoration which was disastrously painted over with the (now shabby) yellow ochre. The wall around the entrance had a diapered pattern involving roundels, and the side pilasters with aisle frontages were striped to match the gate piers at the top of the stairs. The pair of pilasters flanking the upper storey had vine-scroll decoration.
The sculptured frieze of the prothyrum is probably from the 11th century. It is undocumented, and scholars have also suggested 8th or 14th century dates. However, the Germanic influence inferred from the style of the carved vine scrolling suggests the period given. As it exists, the work is an architectural palimpsest. There are five tondi separated by the scrollwork; the central one depicts the Lamb of God and the two flanking ones depict St Pudens' daughters carrying either vessels containing the blood of martyrs or liturgical oil lamps (the latter is more likely, given the inscriptions and the fact that there seem to be wicks). St Pudenziana is on the left, and St Praxedes on the right. The outermost pair of tondi depict their father on the left, and and St Pastor on the right.
Before the 16th century restoration, the carving probably occupied a whole doorframe. It is postulated that the two outermost tondi occupied the tops of the jambs, and were below the ones showing the daughters. This would have entailed a narrow door. An examination of the frieze reveals that there are two disjunctive fragments of scrollowork on the outer sides of the daughters, and these would have come from the rest of the jambs (the remainder of which would have been discarded).
The frieze has six inscriptions, one around each tondo and one along the upper edge. They are as follows:
Around the Lamb of God: MORTUUS ET VIVUS IDEM SUM PASTOR ET AGNUS + HIC AGNUS MUNDU[M] RESTAURAT SANGUINE LAPSUM (Dead and alive, I am both shepherd and lamb. This lamb restores with [its] blood the fallen world).
Around St Pastor: SA[N]C[T]E PRECOR PASTOR P[R]O NOBIS ESTO ROGATOR + HIC CUNCTIS VITE PASTOR DAT DOGMATE [SAN]C[T]E (O Saint Pastor, I pray that you be [my] intercessor; this shepherd gives life to all by holy doctrine; read "Vita" for "Vite").
Around St Pudenziana: P[ROT]EGE PRAECLARA NOS VIRGO PUDENQ[U]ETIANA + VIRGO PUDENQ[U]ETIANA CORA[M] STAT LA[M]PADE PLENA (Protect us, illustrious virgin Pudenziana; the virgin Pudenziana stands [before God?] with a full lamp).
Around St Praxedis: NOS PIA PRAXEDIS PRECE S[ANC[T]A S[AN]C[TIS] FER AD [A]EDIS + OCCURRIT SPONSO PRAXEDIS LUMINE CLARO (Pious St Praxedis, make us [go] to the holy temples [of heaven?] by your prayer. Praxedis meets the bridegroom with a bright light).
Around St Pudens: TE ROGO PUDENS [SAN]C[T]E NOS PURGA CRIMINA TRUDENS + ALMUS ET ISTE DOCET PUDENS AD SIDERA CA[E]LES (I ask you holy Pudens, you who pushes [inspires?], purge our offences. This kind and modest [note pun] one teaches [the way] to the heavenly stars).
Along the top edge: AD REQUIEM VITAE CUPIS O TU QUOQUE VENIRE ET IANITOR IDEM GAVIDIA PROMITTENS ET CRIMINA QUAEQUAE REMITTENS (To those desiring the rest [after death] of life: O you also come, and the same gatekeeper [will] produce joys and remit any sort of offence).
At present, entry to the church for visitors is not through the main door but through a side door in the far left hand side of the courtyard. This leads into a rectangular entrance hall occupying the first two bays of the left hand side aisle. The church's custodian is usually on duty here (if it is one of the Filipina sisters, she might speak some English.) The right hand wall of the vestibule is not parallel to the left hand, exterior wall because of an irregularity in the left hand arcade of the church mentioned below. The church itself is entered through a door in this right hand wall.
The church has a basilical plan, with a central nave of seven bays and side aisles. However, the latter have been obscured by having side-chapels built into them. The right hand aisle has its first three bays completely walled in to form the Chapel of St Augustine, then its next three bays are separated into three small chapels by blocking walls. The left hand aisle has also lost three bays, two to the vestibule that you have just passed through and one to the first storey of the campanile which also contains a chapel.
The transept is two bays deep, and the sanctuary occupies the crossing of this. The sides of the transept function as continuations of the aisles, which are connected by an ambulatory running round the back of the apse as a final bay. In the corners of this are two more chapels.
The nave has seven bays, separated by arcade piers. Discerning visitors may notice that the first pair of piers are further apart than the rest, because the left hand pillar is set back slightly. Each pier has a T-shaped plan, with the crossbar facing into the nave, and within each is embedded one of the twelve ancient grey marble (bigio antico) vaguely Corinthian arcade columns from the original basilica -rather like the sausage in a hot-dog. Because of these columns, the arcade piers do not have pilasters. Instead, the semi-circular molded stone archivolts spring from above the piers either side of the columns.
The nave ceiling is barrel-vaulted, and springs from floating Doric imposts set into an unsupported entablature on each side wall. In between the imposts it is incised by triangular lunettes of different sizes (thus, not relating to the arcade below). The ceiling is completely undecorated and is washed in a cream colour, except for a central depiction the coat-of-arms of Cardinal Enrico Caetani within a wreath with eight breeze-blown ribbons.
The lunettes do not have windows. Instead, within them can be seen remains of the original large ancient bath-house windows, blocked up when it was converted into a church. The former plaster on the central nave side walls was scraped off to reveal this ancient brickwork.
The floor was re-laid in the central nave in 1963, and contains the heraldry of Cardinal Alberto di Jorio. Also, it contains some indication of the layout of the ancient remains below.
On the counterfaçade above the main entrance are two paintings: to the right is St Augustine of Hippo by Giacinto Gimignani, and to the left is The Baptism of St Pudens by Avanzino Nucci. The former picture shows the saint with a boy, who has been described as the Christ-child. This is wrong, as he represents the child whom the saint heard in a garden chanting "take and read", meaning the Bible. The incident led to the saint's conversion of life.
The triumphal arch has a large molded semi-circular archivolt on a pair of projecting imposts, themselves supported by a pair of gigantic Doric columns in black-veined white marble. On the keystone of the archivolt is a relief the coat-of-arms of Cardinal Caetani, supported by two angels with red wings and modesty-drapes.
The innovative elliptical crossing dome was designed by Francesco Capriani da Volterra. It is decorated with a fresco by Pomarancio depicting Christ Adored by the Host of Heaven. The bust of Christ occupies the oculus, and is surrounded by two orders of angels. The first, inner order are putti with wreaths, with a large audience in the background. Some of the angels in the second, outer order are playing musical instruments. The dome drum has four elliptical windows, and in between them are depictions of ten saints (three on each of the longer curves, two on the shorter). The pendentives also depict angels by the same artist, and the frieze of the dome entablature has a dedicatory epigraph on a blue background.
The early 19th century high altar is attached to the wall of the apse, and has two Ionic columns in a grey-veined pale yellow marble supporting a horizontal cornice on posts. There is no proper entablature, nor any pediment. The round-headed altarpiece is by Bernardino Nocchi, executed in1803, and depicts The Apotheosis of St Pudenziana. The altar is flanked by a pair of panels with relief frames incorporating a pair of little Corinthian pilasters each, and these contain depictions of St Timothy and St Novatian (the putative brothers of St Pudentiana) by the same artist. Above these fresco panels are two smaller panels containing devices each featuring a wreath with palm and olive branches tied by ribbons.
The mosaic in the conch of the apse, dating from about 390, is the oldest in Rome and is of the first importance. However there is documentary evidence for restorations up to the 19th century, and this is a slight worry to art historians involved in analysis. If you wish to see more of the details, insert a coin in the machine to the right of the sanctuary to turn on an artificial light for a few minutes.
The theme is Christ presiding over his apostles in an arcaded courtyard. Two figures of the apostles have been destroyed; the two nearest Christ are St Peter on the left, and St Paul (replacing Judas) on the right. Only Christ wears a halo, as is expected in mosaics of such an early date. He holds a book inscribed Dominus Conservator Ecclesiae Pudentianae "The Lord, Preserver of the Church of Pudentiana". A comparison of the naturalistic style of the figures with the iconographic tradition of the Byzantine style is instructive. Here we have a precious survival of the more ancient Classical style of painting familiar from the catacomb frescoes; there is no use of anti-perspective, the faces (except for Christ) do not directly face the viewer and the gestures are natural instead of posed. The magisterial figure of Christ, seated on a gilded throne embossed with jewels and cushioned with purple fabric, recalls ancient representations of Jupiter. The apostles are dressed in togas, like Roman senators.
There has been some disagreement about the two female figures behind SS Peter and Paul. Traditionally they were regarded as being SS Pudentiana and Praxedes, but this is certainly false because they are crowning the two foremost apostles with wreaths. Rather they seem to represent Ecclesia and Synagoga, the Gentile and Jewish elements of early Christianity. The former figure is crowning Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, and the latter is crowning St Peter, the Apostle to the Circumcision according to his own statement at the Council of Jerusalem .
The buildings in the background may be the churches built by emperor Constantine at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem rather than a depiction of the Heavenly Jerusalem from the Apocalypse as is also claimed. An indication of this is the gemmed cross, which is probably a depiction of the precious reliquary case containing the True Cross . This was kept in Jerusalem until it was lost by the Crusaders at the battle of the Horns of Hattin. If this interpretation is correct, the round building to the left is the Anastasis which corresponds to the present rotunda at the Holy Sepulchre, and the square building to the right is the Martyrion or the enormous lost basilica to the east of Golgotha. The cross itself is placed on a mount, Golgotha, which Constantine left open to the sky.
Next to the cross on either side are symbols of the Evangelists on a background of a cloud-stippled sky; this is the oldest preserved example of these symbols occurring together.
The colonnaded arcade behind the figures is a puzzle. One suggestion is that it represents the north frontage of the Vicus Patricius as it was rebuilt at the same time as the church, at the end of the 4th century.
The lower part of the mosaic was destroyed in the 1588 or 1598 restoration. Two of the apostles have been lost, as well as a dedicatory epigraph.
The following description of the side chapels is anticlockwise, from the side entrance in the lower left hand corner of the nave.
Chapel of St AugustineEdit
The first three bays of the right hand aisle have been walled off to create a large enclosed chapel, dedicated to St Augustine. This functioned as a private and enclosed convent chapel for the Augustinian Canonesses when they were resident here, and so has two entrances from the convent but only one from the church. It is very rarely to found open. It contains a depiction of St Augustine, of the school of Pietro da Cortona, as well as an Assumption by Ludovico Gimigniani which used to be the main altarpiece of Santa Rita da Cascia alle Vergini.
The church entrance to the chapel is within the first arch on the right. The next arch has an anonymous 17th century canvas showingThe Baptism of St Pudens, with a pair of putti flanking the chi-rho symbol in the tympanum.
Czacki memorial Edit
There follows a memorial to Cardinal Włodzimierz Czacki by Pius Welonski, 1887. The monument is fitted in between two of the ancient columns, and is mediaeval in style. It matches the Bonaparte memorial opposite. A prone effigy in bronze reposes on a plinth in red and white brecciated marble. The backing and the canopy is in grey, the latter supported by a pair of little columns with foliated capitals and forming a semi-circle with a trefoil. On the backing is a bronze relief of the Madonna and Child, flanked by heraldry also in bronze. Above the memorial is a very odd picture of a nun burning her hand with wax from a lit candle. St Margaret Mary Alacoque?
The cardinal was originally buried in the Campo Verano, but the location of the burial was forgotten. Only in 2002 were his remains exhumed and reburied in the church.
Beyond the memorial come three small side chapels, occupying three bays of the right hand aisle.
Chapel of the Crucifix Edit
The Chapel of the Crucifix, the first one, has a bronze crucifix by Achille Tamburlini on the left hand side wall. The altarpiece actually depicts a Guardian Angel, and is by Antiveduto Grammatica. Apparently it came from the church of Sant'Agostino, and belonged to the Canonesses.
Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy Edit
The second chapel is dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy, and has a mid-16th century altarpiece depicting her. This work derives from the Byzantine iconographic tradition of Our Lady of the Sign. The polychrome marble altar has a pair of columns in white-veined black marble.
The canvases on the side walls depicting The Nativity of the Madonna and The Nativity of Christ are by Lazzaro Baldi, and he is also responsible for the wall frescoes showing the Annunciation, the lunette frescoes showing the prophet Jeremiah and the Erythraean Sibyl and the depiction of the Assumption in the oculus of the elliptical cupola.
Chapel of St Bernard Edit
The third chapel is dedicated to St Bernard of Clairvaux, and has an anonymous altarpiece showing him having a vision of Our Lady. The reason for this dedication is that this saint was the founder of the Cistercianmonks.
The side wall canvases are by Michele Cippitelli, and show The Ecstasy of St Catherine of Siena and The Vision of St Benedict. This rather obscure painter of religious subjects was active in Rome around 1700.
The high quality stucco decoration is of the 18th century; the cross-vault has delicate scrollwork, and is worth a look.
The entrance to the sacristy is just beyond the Chapel of St Bernard. It has a ceiling fresco depicting The Conversion of St William of Aquitaine attributed to Filippo Napoletano, and carved wooden panelling of the 18th century. (An alternative attribution on stylistic grounds is to Domenichino.)
The ambulatory running round the back of the apse is part of the ancient bath-house, and here can be seen some ancient walling and flooring together with the original vault. The brickwork in the wall includes decorative bricks with rounded-off corners, which were never made in the Middle Ages.
In the far corners of the ambulatory are two chapels in niches. Three smaller niches are in the far wall of the transverse corridor of the ambulatory between these, containing remnants of frescoes. Above the ambulatory and behind the apse conch is the Marian Oratory, the existence of which is not obvious from inside the church. Its entrance is actually in the left aisle, just on the far side of the Caetani chapel.
Chapel of St Pudens Edit
Straight ahead in the right hand side of the ambulatory, in the corner where the passage turns, is the Chapel of St Pudens. It has a modern statue of the saint, installed in 1980, and seriously damaged vault frescoes by Avanzino Nucci.
On the right hand wall outside the chapel is a memorial to Cardinal Alberto di Jorio 1979, which features a Pietà in mosaic.
Chapel of St Peter Edit
The corresponding chapel in the left hand corner is dedicated to St Peter. Tradition claims that it replaced an oratory in the same site, built in memory of St Peter in the 5th century, but scholars now consider this to have been the Chapel of St Pastor. It has a celebrated altarpiece which is a sculptural group of Christ handing the Keys to St Peter by Giovan Battista della Porta, which was executed in 1594.
The Baroque altar aedicule has a pair of Ionic columns in white-veined black marble, with swagged capitals, which support a segmental pediment. Red, green and white marbles are also used. The altar itself is 19th century, and is obviously stylistically different. It enshrines part of an ancient wooden altar, allegedly used by St Peter. This was arranged by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, English titular of the church, who allegedly ran tests on the relic and its alleged other section under the papal altar at San Giovanni in Laterano. The two sections apparently came from the same piece of wood. His heraldry is on the pair of green marble pillars, in between which is the shrine in the form of a white marble sarcophagus with a red marble panel.
The vault frescoes, almost completely fallen off, are by Giovanni Baglione. The vault is richly decorated in stucco.
Marian Oratory Edit
The walls of this small edifice, reached by the doorway in the left aisle and a walk along the side of the church, rest on those of the ambulatory below. It is mediaeval in date, and contains a very interesting cycle of frescoes dating probably from the late 11th century. These are now damaged, but fortunately drawings were made in the 17th century when they were in better condition, and these are now kept in the Royal Library at Windsor in England.
On the right of the entrance is a Crucifixion of the 17th century. Over the altar is Our Lady and the Child Jesus with SS Praxedis and Pudenziana.The left hand wall has St Paul Preaches, and Baptizes Pudens and his Family, and the right hand wall has The Baptism of Novatus and Timothy. On the wall facing the altar is An Angel Crowning Valerius, Tiburtius and Pope Urban and in the vault is an Agnus Dei surrounded by the symbols of the Evangelists.
Further down the left hand aisle from the Chapel of St Peter, near the entrance to the Cappella Caetani, there is a holy well. The legend alleges that the two holy sisters Pudentiana and Praxedis hid the corpses of three thousand martyrs, mopped up their spilt blood and poured what they had collected into this well. It has a square wellhead and is closed by a porphyry slab which raises to reveal an iron grating. Obviously, the excavations below the church has ensured that the well itself is long gone.
In this aisle nearby are some inscriptions found during the archaeological investigations, including that mentioning the three founding clerics Maximus, Leopardus and Ilicius.
Also, there is a very interesting painting in a shallow round-headed niche which shows the saintly sisters, one sponging the blood from a corpse's chest would and the other draining the blood from a detached head. There is a background scene of carnage, including instruments of torture. This work has been attributed to Agostino Ciampelli in the past, but is now regarded as a work by Antonio Tanari of about 1700.
Off the left aisle is the entrance to the funerary chapel of the Caetani family. The demolition of the ancient Roman and palaeo-Christian oratory dedicated to St Pastor in order to build this was a crass piece of vandalism, but the result is a fine Baroque work.
The rectangular edifice was commissioned by Cardinal Enrico Caetani in 1588, the initial design was by Francesco Volterra and, after his death in 1601, Carlo Maderno completed the project. The altar is in a tiny rectangular apse with a triumphal arch, matched by an arch over the entrance enclosing a lunette fresco, and the side walls also have archivolts enclosing lunettes. These four archivolts delimit the vault, which is in the form of an oval saucer dome with integrated pendentives.
The interior resembles that of the Sistine Chapel at Santa Maria Maggiore in its polychrome richness. The floor has marble inlay work incorporating the family's heraldry, the walls are revetted in polychrome marbles and the vault is fantastically decorated with gilded stucco surrounding fresco panels. The marble work was by Giambattista della Porta. Valsoldo executed the angels in the corners where the archivolts meet, the oval tondi with reliefs showing scenes from the life of St Pudens over these angels and also the pairs of gilded putti holding heraldic devices on the keystones of the archivolts.
The altar has a pair of Composite columns in yellow marble, supporting a triangular pediment with a broken top. The break makes way for a stained glass window depicting the Crucifixion. The altarpiece is a bas-relief depicting the Adoration of the Magi, which is by Pietro Paolo Olivièri -although it had to be completed by Camillo Mariani.
The two matching funerary monuments in the chapel commemorate Cardinal Enrico Caetani (to the left) and Duke Filippo Caetani. Each has a pair of Corinthian columns in verde antico, which support a broken triangular pediment on which a pair of angels sit with heraldry. The angels are by Mariani. Within the columns is a sarcophagus in yellow-veined black brecciated marble, on which is a portrait bust in white marble.
In four niches at the sides of the monuments are statues allegorically depicting the Cardinal Virtues. Prudence is by Claude Adam (1700-59), and is often mistaken for St Pudentiana. Fortitude is by Giovanni Antonio Mari, Justice by Vincenzo Felici and Temperance by Carlo Malavista. These were executed around 1650, except the first if the attribution is correct.
Paolo Rossetti executed the lunette mosaic of SS Praxedes and Pudenziana Collecting the Blood of the Martyrs in 1621, which is above the entrance. The same artist was also responsible for the panels in the ceiling vault and on the side lunettes. The four large panels in the vault show the Evangelists, the four small ones are of angels and there are four sibyls in the side lunettes, a pair of which flanks a window in each. All these were to designs by Federico Zuccari.
A miracle is said to have occurred in the chapel in 1610, when a doubting priest had his faith reaffirmed when blood spilled from a consecrated chalice. If you look to the left of the altar, you will see two little white marble discs inserted into the steps with each protected by miniature bronze railing in the form of a hexagon. The discs bear orange stains, allegedly left by the dripping blood.
Chapel of St Pudentiana Edit
In between the entrance hall and what is left of the left hand aisle is the little former shrine chapel of St Pudentiana, which has its entrance at the bottom of the aisle. It is almost never open, and the relics were transferred to the high altar in 1803 anyway. The walls of this chapel actually support the campanile above, and the chapel itself is the first storey.
Pinaroli writing in 1725 stated that the chapel as it then was had stucco decoration by Leonardo Reti, who was also responsible for statues of SS Pudentiana, Pius and Pastor.
Bonaparte memorial Edit
Finally, on the wall to the left of the entrance is a memorial to Cardinal Luciano Bonaparte, the 19th century restorer of the church. It matches the more recent Czacki memorial opposite, but instead of being vaguely Gothic this one is vaguely neo-Classical. Like its partner, the monument is fitted into a blind arcade arch and has a painting of a nun at the top. The nun here is St Teresa of Ávila, with the Child Jesus. The monument itself is in the form of a triumphal arch in white marble with dark grey detailing, having a pair of pilasters flanking a large bronze epitaph tablet.
The entrance to the underground areas, about nine metres below the floor of the church, is via a doorway in the left hand corner of the Caetani chapel. However, there is no public access.
Curiosity about what was under the church began in the early 18th century, and it is known that excavation was going on by then. Substantial remain were found when the façade was remodelled in 1870, and there was a partial clearance in 1895. This was continued in a sustained campaign lasting two years and finishing in 1964. Unfortunately, this clearance work was done without proper archaeological supervision. The motivation was to try and solve the problem of rising damp affecting the church's fabric, but the result has been that there is regular water ingress into the cleared areas. This explains the lack of public access.
The oldest remains found are in a horizon nine metres below the floor of the church, towards the front. This includes a wall of opus incertum, a technique used between about 200 and 50 BC, which was associated with a floor of opus signinum including fragments of polychrome marble. This building dated to about 175 BC. It was replaced in the last years of the 1st century BC by another edifice with non-figurative mosaic floors in its surviving layout, one rare and interesting example of which having larger fragments of polychrome marble set into the small white tessarae. This structure was obviously a luxurious private dwelling.
In the reign of the emperor Hadrian, according to its brick stamps, a large brick edifice was built on top of this house. The surviving structure has six rooms in two storeys, roofed with cross-vaults and decorated with red frames on a white background. It was discovered in 1870, and interpreted as an insula or ancient apartment block.
When the bath complex was built, a set of large longitudinal galleries were built to support the foundations of the ancient bath house -the present church. These are 1.5 metres below floor level and are each 16 metres long, 4 metres wide and 7 metres high. The fabric is in a type of opus mixtum which consists of bricks laid in a herringbone pattern (opus spicatum) interspersed with bricks laid in a normal manner (opus latericum). A brick stamp was found of the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. In these galleries were several built-in tanks in what is called a mixtilinear shape, that is, with both curved and straight sides. There is also a transverse arcade of three arches resting on two columns.
In one of the galleries was found a 9th century fresco showing St Peter between SS Pudentiana and Praxedis; interestingly, Pudentiana is spelt "Potentiana".
Under the area outside the church to the left of the sanctuary is a set of four other longitudinal galleries, smaller and stopping just at the far side wall of the present Cappella Caetani -which is on the site of the entrance hall of the baths.
The church is advertised as being open (unofficial source):
Daily 8:30 to 12:00, 15:00 to 18:00.
Only those wishing to participate are allowed in the church during liturgical events. As well as the events listed below, marriages are also celebrated here. If you arrive for a visit and find preparations for a marriage going on, a discreet individual visit (don't use the flash on your camera!) will probably pass unremarked.
The underground areas are inaccessible owing to water infiltration.
Mass is celebrated in Italian at 7:30, Monday to Friday. No Sunday Mass is advertised.
The feast of St Pudentiana is celebrated as a Solemnity on 19 May (the cult is now confined to this church), as is that of St Praxedis on 21 July. There should be Mass in their honour on these days.
Mass is celebrated for the Filipino expatriate community:
Sundays 9:00, 10:30, 12:00, 17:00,
Thursdays 17:00 (in honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Help).
Saturdays (for Sunday) at 18:00.
On Thursdays also at 16:00, there is Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Rosary.
The Masses are advertised as being celebrated in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines (in other words, the language of the capital city). Apparently Masses used to be celebrated in English and Cebuano as well, but this seems not to happen regularly now.
Church's website ("under construction")
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