10 Dec 2016

Basilica di S. Prassede, Rome

Our time in Italy in November continued...
Not far from the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore on the Esquiline Hill and up a narrow side-street off the Piazza di S. Maria Maggiore is the Basilica di Santa Prassede.  I had the opportunity to visit the church on the day we travelled back to the UK as it's only a short walk from the main train station where we take a break before taking a second train to get to the airport.  Churches are open at an early hour for a service and morning prayer which means that visitors and those working in the city can enter to spend a time of quiet contemplation.  I arrived just after 9 o'clock and already the dim interior was punctuated by the lights of votive candles and spot lighting. The mosaics decorating the walls surrounding the High Altar, the sanctuary and the side chapels gleamed and glittered whilst the frescoes in the nave were lit by the natural light coming in from the windows above.  

This 9th century church is dedicated to S. Prassede. It was built on a site where there was a 2nd century oratory and where, according to legend, a holy woman sheltered Christians on the run from persecution, collected the remains of those who had been martyred and placed them in a well for safe-keeping.  A red porphyry disc in the floor of the nave marks the spot where the well was located and where S. Prassede was buried.  It was thought that she was the daughter of a Roman senator, Pudens, who had been converted to Christianity.  Another church in the area is dedicated to her sister, Pudenziana, who also cared for victims of persecution and according to legend is the site where Pudens and his family lived. There is little evidence to confirm these stories although these smaller churches certainly received the remains of  some of the early Christians from the catacombs in later times.
Furthermore, the basilica is also well-known because it is decorated with the 9th century mosaics done by artists who came from Byzantium under the patronage of Pope Paschal I (817-824) who was later interred in the church. The small Chapel of St Zeno is the only chapel in Rome entirely covered in such mosaic decoration.  It was built as a future mausoleum for Pope Paschal's mother, Theodora. It contains the relics of St. Zeno, martyr, taken from one of the catacombs on the Appian Way. 
It was quite an experience to enter this small box-like room (a cubiculum) based on ones to be found in the catacombs. It was in darkness except for light coming in from a window in the ceiling. It's possible to put a coin in a machine before going into it. The chapel is then lit up for five minutes. I didn't do this and as I was concentrating mainly on the cross vaulted ceiling I missed much of the detail on the walls. (Flash photography is not allowed in the church). However, the iconography I saw was very meaningful as the light from the window focused on Christ Pantocrator ("all powerful"). On the walls are angels, figures such as John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary, John the Evangelist, St. James and Andrew. 

a side chapel

the High Altar

Mosaics inside the apse show Christ among the clouds being blessed by the hand of God the Father. SS Peter and Paul have their arms around the shoulders of SS Prassede and Pudenziana as they are being presented to God. They are shown as Byzantine ladies, be-jewelled, dressed in cloth-of-gold and wearing red shoes indicating their status as heavenly princesses. On the far left one figure with the church building in his hands is Pope Paschal I. He has a square halo (a nimbus) which indicates that he was living at the time the mosaics were done. 
The theme of the Triumphal Arch mosaics high above the sanctuary is the Second Coming of Christ and the End of Time based on the description in St. John the Apostle's Book of Revelation.

        Archangel Gabriel (left) and  St. Matthew (right)            

The Chapel of St. Zeno

Next to the side entrance, which is the usual one for visitors to enter and leave the church, is a 13th century icon, the Madonna della Salute.

Going back out into the streets and the world of the 21st century was a strange experience although I needed to get back to my husband who was waiting with the hand luggage in the Termini train station. There were wonderful buildings to see along the way such as the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore which I featured on a blog post in April.  The high security presence of police vans, soldiers, check-in tents with x-ray machines outside for visitors who wished to visit the basilica was still there.

a detail of the fountain at the base of 
 the Column of Peace, in Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore

the back of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and the Piazza dell'Esquilino

The granite obelisk in the piazza was taken from the entrance to the Mausoleum of Augustus.

Hotels and shops were getting ready for Christmas with their decorations.


  1. I love the first photo, the building and the light on it. just beautiful. amazing inside to... I love love the brilliant bus

  2. A lovely way to conclude your trip to Italy by visiting such a beautiful church, but a post tinged with much sadness for you. It is always difficult to receive upsetting news even more so when it is unexpected and particularly at this time of year too.

  3. So sorry to hear your life is tinged with sadness at the moment. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos of the church you visited it was well worth the effort to go inside and see all those glorious details. Have a peaceful weekend:)

  4. Whether some stories of the past are true or not, and no matter the religion one practices, no one can contest the fact that the history and beauty of these old buildings is truly amazing. Sorry to hear of your recent losses. It definitely is a time for reflection when these unexpected deaths happen. I've been in a reflective mood for a while now. Best wishes, Tammy

  5. Such an interesting place with so much history, and so beautifully decorated. I'm so sorry to hear your sad news, I think it knocks you for six whenever it happens but even more so at this time of year.

  6. désolée pour les mauvaises nouvelles
    elles sont d'autant plus tragique dans une période de fêtes
    je viens de faire une jolie visite en Italie
    prenez soins de vous
    toute ma tendresse

  7. Sincere condolences, such sadness. You certainly took us on a delightful tour, a real feast for the eyes.

  8. Sorry for your losses and sadness. We attended a memorial service for a friend of ours who died suddenly a little over a week ago. Your photo tour was beautiful.

  9. I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your loved ones Linda. May your heart be a peace as you remember them. You photos of the basilica are so lovely. I am continually amazed and comforted at the thought of all those who dedicated their lives and talents in the creation of such monuments to the glory of God our Father, Savior and Lord.

  10. Thank you everyone for your thoughtful comments in response to my visit to the basilica and for your kind words on the loss of our granddaughter's friend and my husband's cousin. They are very much appreciated.

  11. Hi Linda, The Basilica is AMAZING.. WOW--how gorgeous... Reading about all of the police presence makes me sad--thinking about today's world...

    Sorry to hear about the sadness in your lives recently... Life is SO precious.

    How are you feeling? I have you in my prayers...

    I published a post yesterday --so check it out (if you haven't already).

    Hugs and Merry Christmas,

  12. What a gem of a church, utterly beautiful. I loved it, the colours are so rich, warm and vibrant, I could easily have spent hours in there.
    So sorry to hear your sad news Linda, it's always such a shock to lose a close relative, and hearing about your granddaughter's friend must have shook you up. Take it easy and come back when your feeling better. I know exactly how you feel, only time helps I suppose. Take good care of you.xxx

  13. Dear Linda,

    First let me say how very sorry to hear your very sad news and sending my sincere condolences.
    The Basilica is so grand and wonderful and must have been lovely actually going there for a visit.
    Sending love and best wishes, you will be looking forward to your daughter coming home for Christmas.

  14. The Basilica is gorgeous. How I would love sitting there in quiet contemplation. I am so sorry for the loss of your husband's cousin and your granddaughter's friend. Loss no matter what age is hard. I can appreciate your desire for quiet solitude. We are well and send best wishes to you.

  15. So very sorry to hear such sad news. My thoughts are with you and your friends. Hugs, good thoughts and prayers to you all.

  16. So sorry for your losses, Linda! I know how important family is to you so I can imagine the hole in your lives you are feeling with the loss of Mr. P's cousin.


Thank you for your kind comment which is much appreciated. Have a lovely day.