Friday, 13 June 2008

Church of Santa Prassede

This week my good friend Fr Stephen Brown from the diocese of Leeds was visiting me here in Rome. I would study in the mornings and then we would do something in the afternoon. One day we made a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Maria Maggiore - Mary Major's or the Greater St Mary's, as a friend of mine dubs it. Afterwards we went to one of my favourite churches in Rome, across the street from the Basilica - Santa Prassede. Saint Praxedes was the sister of St Pudenziana - whose story I recounted briefly in my posting of 27th February. The mosaics in Santa Prassede are wonderful - dating back to around 822 when it was put together during the reign of Pope St Paschal I. The Pope is actually shown on the mosaic with a square nimbus behind his head, rather than a round halo - a sign that he was alive when the depiction was made. I forgot to take some photographs of this but I did take some of the chapel of St Zeno. This is the ceiling inside - showing Christ in glory surrounded by four angels:

The chapel was built by Pope st Paschal for his mother, Theodora, as a mausoleum. He was a thoughtful son: she is even depicted inside the chapel and the square nimbus behind her head indicates that she was alive while her mausoleum was being prepared...

Such a thoughtful boy was Paschal! The writing above and around her says, "Theodora Episcopa." This does not mean in this context "woman bishop" but "bishop's mum"! I want to clarify that for budding women priest dissenters out there.

Notice above them the Lamb of God on a small hill with four rivers flowing from Him, from the Temple, and deer drinking in life from those fountains.

Also inside the chapel, to the right of the mosaic above, is this vivid depiction of the harrowing of hell.

Christ in glory (pace Hans Urs von Balthasar) goes down to hell and leads Adam and Eve out of the infernal regions to share in His divinity. I cannot make out who the two others are depicted here - one with a halo and the other with what seems like a beard. Any ideas?

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