Today we take another walk down past the Circus Maximus to a little church on the side of the Aventine hill, near the ancient Roman baths of Caracalla. It is named after the daughter of Quirinus, a tribune of the Roman army in the early second century. Her statue is among the 140 saints that line the top of St. Peter's colonnade.
Balbina and her father converted to Christianity after Pope Alexander I prayed for a miraculous cure from illness on her behalf. The cure came after she followed Alexander's directive to find and kiss with devotion the chains of St. Peter. Balbina and Quirinus were both martyred later on for their conversions; one account puts their martyrdom together in 116 under Trajan, others put hers much later in 130 by Emperor Hadrian.
This church is located over the home of Lucius Felix Cilonus, a wealthy Roman of the early fourth century. His residential complex came into Christian hands and the large hall on his property was converted into a church. Its wall were raised in 370 to give it the basic shape it still has today.
The layout has remained quite simple and austere, as it was from the beginning. Its apse was rebuilt in the medieval period, and the exterior porch was added in the late sixteenth century. The baroque fresco in the apse depicts St. Balbina (bottom center, I believe) in the glory of heaven, whose relics, by the way, are held in the marble casket underneath the main altar. The other cool thing in this church is in the fourth side-chapel on the right, which contains an image of the Crucifixion. This image was saved during the demolition of the original St. Peter's basilica (built by the Emperor Constantine) and brought here.
On an unrelated note, I put together a map of the station churches in Rome we've visited thus far. I'll be updating it and reposting it every week or two so you can follow the progress. You can take a look below. Today's church is the southern-most marker on the map -- a nice little walk!
- The light blue markers are the churches we've seen in these blog posts.
- The orange markers are the Saturday / Sunday station churches.
- The gray lines are my walking paths from the College to the day's station.
- The orange line is the approximate layout of the ancient Aurelian walls of Rome, for perspective.
- The black line is approximately 1 km, also for perspective.