Yesterday and this morning the two station churches were a little closer to home, little more than a skip and a hop from the Casa. The first church was that of Santa Maria in Via Lata, an old favourite of mine, and the site of a very old church (though rebuilt many times) going back to the 5th century, having beeen built over what was most probably a warehouse: the remains of this are in the crypt area (not presently open) and it appears the building was a very large one - around 750 feet long! The church is decorated with very fine baroque and the sancturary enshrines the beautiful 13th century ikon of the Vergine Avvocata. There is Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament here each day where the sisters pray for peace in families, among Christians and in the world. I know too that the church has some link with St Ignatius and the early Jesuits but I think I may have to read up a little more on that before daring to say anything.
Another likeable thing about the church is that Blessed Pius IX was once a Canon of the church and in one of the aisles this lovely monument can be found which commemorates the surpassing in 1871 by Pius of the duration of St Peter's pontificate. There is a monument that commemorates the same event too at St Peter's: the observant pilgrim can see it above the seated statue of St Peter in the nave of the Basilica.
This morning we rolled over to the church of San Marcello, like yesterday's church situated on the Via del Corso. The church has links with the the great but shortlived pontificate of its namesake. The brutal persecution of Diocletian (284-305) left the Church in Rome in disarray, with dissensions caused by impenitent apostates who demanded a return to the Church but without penance, the absence of Church property caused by confiscation and the absence of a Bishop or Pope, the previous Pope Marcellinus having died in 304 (it is not clear if he died a natural death or was a martyr).
Pope Marcellus was elected in May or June of 308 but only reigned until 309. In that time he appears to have managed to create some order for the disrupted life of the Church: he organised Rome into 25 districts (tituli) - the 25 titular churches of the 7th century are based on this reorganisation. Each of these was to be led by a priest who would ensure that the ordinary life of the Church continued in its preparation of catechumens for Baptism, the celebration of the Eucharist and the commemoration of the great martyrs, the fair administration of the sacrament of Penance and the burial of the dead. The crisis of apostates however ended up causing more divisions, even bloodshed, and as a result, according to Pope St Damasus, the Emperor Maxentius had the Pope sent into exile by the end of 308 or even the beginning of 309. He died soon afterwards and was instantly venerated as a martyr - in 309 probably on his feast day 16th January. Some stories have him ending up as a stable boy by order of Maxentius, but this account of his end seems to originate in the 5th century. The church is meant to be one of the 25 original parishes of Rome and reputedly Macellus used the house of a lady called Lucina which stood on this spot as some kind of oratory. St Marcellus was buried at the catacombs of St Priscilla and his relics later moved to this fine church.
The church houses the Crucifix of St Marcellus which survived a conflagration that destroyed the old church here in 1519. It is highly venerated in Rome as miraculous and is carried through the streets in times of trial and anxiety, and also in anticipation of major events - it was carried through Rome in preparation for the Second Vatican Council.
At the back of the church is this wonderful frescoe of the Crucifixion painted in 1613 by Giovanni Battista Ricci:
And there is also this interesting painting of the conversion of St Paul. Notice the way in which Christ is directly above the fallen Saul, reaching down to him: all the rest of the painting appears to fade into the background beside these two figures, one in the dpths of the earth, the Other reaching with the depths of love into the depths of sin.