In an affluent suburb of Rome on the Aventine Hill is our final station church: The small, but culturally rich, Saint Prisca.
The first recorded church on this site can be traced back to the synod of 499AD which names the Titulus Priscae. The dedication of this church to the 1st century martyr who was involved in the missionary work of Paul, and is mentioned in his writings to the Romans and Corinthians, can also be linked to the fact that the house church she held with her husband, Aquila, would have been in this area of the well to do neighbourhood of the Aventine Hill.
Saint Prisca’s 1660 façade is modest and unimposing, discreet even, as if evoking the house church from which it stems. However, the Roman neighbourhood at the time of Prisca would have been a hotbed of Christian activity given the mix of cultures that were present in it. Such was the range of people and beliefs in this area that St Prisca had an interesting neighbour. Below the present day church is an ancient Mitheraeum temple that was only rediscovered in 1934. The archaeological remains present a vast array of intact artwork. It was established at the same time as the church and the space, developed from the remains of Trajan’s villa, was clearly divided but shared by both religions.
Following the Norman Sack of Rome, Pope Paschal set about restoring the 5th century church, that work, in turn, being largely lost in the renovating work of Pope Callistus III during the 15th century. It was during the work of Pope Callistus that the inscription to the left of the altar was added. The writing talks of the development of the church describing its growth from a temple to Hercules into a home to St Peter who “brought many to God through baptism”.
Of the original church, now only the columns remain intact and a baptismal font that is said to have been used by Saint Peter, who it is also considered to have dedicated the altar in the crypt which holds the remains of Saint Prisca. The underground crypt had been closed off until the titular Cardinal, Benedetto Giustiniani, reopened it during his Jubilee Year renovations of 1600.
Giustiniani’s works included the decoration of the nave by Anastasio Fontebuono. The Florentine artist was considered ahead of his time, as his design of angels bearing the instruments of the Passion, significantly predated the decoration of Bernini’s Ponte Sant’Angelo over the Tiber, famed for a similar depiction of angels and the tools of the Passion. Between the angels are Sts Peter, Paul, John and Andrew. Domenico Cresti decorated the apse with a series of frescos that portray events from the life of St Prisca, including her martyrdom and the procession of her relics by Pope Eutyches. Above the altar is the scene of St Prisca’s baptism by St Peter.
The church has also hosted various religious orders over its long history. Remnants of the various residences include a chancel screen which can be seen in the baptistery. This is all that remains of the Greek monks who lived in the church compound in the 7th century. Benedictines were in residence from the 11th century whilst the Franciscans left their 15th century mark with the installation of an altar to St Anthony. The altars in memory of Sts Augustine, Monica and Rita of Cascia are the legacy of the Augustinian friars, who still care for the church today.