On the Thursday of the First week of Lent, the Station Church is Saint Lawrence of Panisperna, dedicated to one of the patrons of the city.
Built on the site of the martyrdom of the secondary patron of Rome, the church of Saint Lawrence of Panisperna commemorates one of seven deacons of the city martyred during the persecution of Valerian in 258.
The church is not unique in Rome in being dedicated to St. Lawrence. He is commemorated in 31 other churches around the city as well as numerous individual altars. Lawrence comes after Jesus Christ, Mary, John the Baptist and St. Peter for devotional intentions in the city.
Today’s church stands high above the modern day street in a quiet courtyard that, when you first enter it, seems far away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. This area, and the large entrance doors, date back to the 17th century. Inside, the church is kindly described as “a squat nave.” To the side are six altars, however the construction of the church is such that they do not distract from the principal sanctuary.
Above the main altar is a large fresco of the martyrdom of Lawrence. In the image he is stretched out on the grill with his focus firmly on heaven, from where an angel is descending bearing his crown. The artwork is impressive for the way it uses perspective – to look at it, your eye is drawn to the figure of Lawrence and not those executing him, the crowds of (or?) the emperor. Valerian is barely noticeable in the background.
Elsewhere in the church, the oven St Lawrence was killed upon can be found in the portico along with an image of him in glory. Amongst the chapels in the church, one is dedicated to the roman Saints Crispin and his brother Crispinian, who carried out missionary work in France before being caught and tortured by the area’s governor. Just like Lawrence they were tortured with beatings and fire before being beheaded. Their relics were later repatriated to the church.
Other notable pieces of artwork include the Stigmata of St. Francis by famed Italian painter, Niccolò Lapiccola and the painting of St. Clare of Assisi which are both from the 18th century. The church also has a link to St. Bridget of Sweden. After her death in 1373 she was buried at a side altar before being returned to Sweden in the early part of the 15th century. The crucifix she prayed to can be seen on the high altar now and is also shown in another 18th century addition to the church, the painting of Bridget praying before the crucifix, an image which was completed in 1757.
If you know Rome well, you will be aware that the church sits next to the Via Panisperna, a small, but important road between Largo Angelicum at the foot of Via Nazionale to Via Santa Maria Maggiore. However, the church does not take its full name from the road. Instead, the Panisperna part comes from the annual distribution of bread and ham or pane et pernis on the 10th August, the feast of St. Lawrence.