Santa Pudenziana, apse mosaic. Pen on paper.
Santa Pudenziana
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dedication: St. Pudentia
built: c. 380 ad.
principle interventions: 1870
the church
A christian prayer house (titulus) is said to have stood here since the 2nd century ad., making it the oldest christian place of worship in Rome. Excavations have revealed a 3rd century spa complex built over a private residence. It was briefly the residence of the bishop of Rome until the building of San Giovanni in Laterano.
Pudenziana was the daughter of Pudens and sister of Praxedes, although some believe that she never existed and the name of the church derives from Pudens himself. A third etymological possibility is in the moral virtue of pudor, pudentia in latin, the legend of the saintly virgin being developed later to humanize this abstract value, and to create a connection with the early church by giving a daughter to the biblically attested Pudens. Pudentia would have been a credible choice to make as a moral figurehead for a Christian community living in the midst of the most reknowned moral sinkhole of ancient Rome, the Suburra.
in the years between 290(?) and 312 Christianity throughout the Roman Empire suffered perhaps the most severe clampdown of it's history. Diocletian was determined to stamp out what he saw as a mortal danger to the stability of the state. Church buildings and property were closed and confiscated, Christian leaders were ordered to swear alliegance to the gods of Rome, and many who refused were sentenced to hard labour,torture or death. Immediately after this the movement's darkest hour, the Christian's fortunes were clamorously overturned. Constantine became Emperor and everything changed, Christians were appointed to high office, money poured into the movement, Christian buildings sprung up across the empire.
When the apse mosaic of Santa Pudenziana was created all these events were just about within living memory. Parents, grandparents, and even some of the older Roman Christians, had lived through the persecution, the joy of victory, and the transformation of their world. And now, in the heart of Rome, they looked up at a rich mosaic with Christ shown in imperial robes of gold and seated on a throne surrounded by saints. Rome had become Christian, or rather Christ had become Roman, considering the transformation in his image that this mosaic represents. Where he had been a philosopher, dressed in simple clothes, and a teacher, he was now all-powerful, the ruler of the Universe, a heavenly emperor. The mosaic sets this imperial court with a backdrop which would become central in Christian imagery, the four beasts of the Apocalypse fly aobve the scene showing that this is the day of Judgement, the moment when Christ will return to judge the Earth, ressurect the dead, and initiate a new Era under his rule.