For the Station Mass on the Tuesday of the third week of Lent, the faithful visit a church with a remarkable history.
This basilica, a short distance from St Mary Majors, is dedicated to Pudenziana, sister of Saint Praxedis, whose own basilica is also in close vicinity of the Papal Basilica. Both were daughters of Roman senator and saint, Pudens. He is considered to be the same Pudens mentioned at the end of Paul’s second letter to Timothy and the man who welcomed Peter into his home when the latter arrived in Rome and the first pope used the house as his base for his mission to the Romans, in which the daughters of Pudens assisted him.
The senators house and the adjacent Baths of Novatius were transformed by Pius I in 145 to form a single space of worship, the Oratory of the Holy Pastor which was then developed by Pope St Siricius in the 4th century who dedicated the new church to St Peter. This work transformed the church to a Latin cross layout that it maintains today and saw the completion of the mosaic which still fills the apse today.
The oldest example of early Christian mosaic depicts the Incarnation. At the centre is Christ, he is surrounded by a cityscape and the apostles who appear seated in the lower area. During the addition of a dome the apse was resized and as a result two of the apostles were lost. Amongst the apostles are two women, some scholars suggest they are Praxeis and Pudenziana, whilst others describe the female figures as representations of the Church of the Jews and Gentiles respectively. The two are holding wreaths over the heads of the figures of Peter dressed in the chiton typically worn by philosophers, whilst Paul appears as a Roman senator.
Above the figures are the four figures of the evangelists. Their representation as a winged lion, eagle, man and ox is considered one of the first examples whilst above Christ is a fine jewelled cross.
Behind the impressive apse are several chapels, including one dedicated to St Peter. The sculpture by Giacomo della Porta dates to 1596 and shows Peter receiving the keys from Christ. Slabs in the wall explain that Peter received hospitality in this place and that it was the first place in Rome to witness the offering of bread and wine as a consecration of the Eucharist. The altar in the chapel contains fragments of wood from the table used during this first celebration of the Eucharist by Peter.
At the turn of the 16th century the chapel for the Caetani family was designed by Capriano da Volterra and completed in 1601 by Carlo Maderno. Boniface VIII, the pope who called the first jubilee in 1300 was from this influential family. The floor is decorated with impressive mosaics, the columns are made of rare Lumachella or fire marble, a material normally reserved for jewellery or mosaics. Above the altar is a relief from 1599 showing the Adoration of the Magi, whilst Giovanni Paolo Rossetti painted the image of Sts Praxedes and Pudenziana collecting the Blood of the Martyrs. Just outside the chapel is a square slab of porphyry marking the site of a well that the sisters used to store the relics of martyrs that they had collected. It is said to contain 3,000 relics.
The nave of the church is lined with the original columns that would have formed part of the Roman bath house cum villa complex. In the entrance hall of the church is a marble frieze that was part of an 11th century portal and remains a significant piece of medieval sculpture from Rome. The work shows Pastore, the first church owner along with the sainted family of Pudens, Praxedis and the church patron, Pudenziana.