Welcome to Holy Week! We are in the most exciting liturgical week of the year.. and I'll tell you what, I am sure ready for Resurrection Sunday. These Lenten station churches have been the best prep for Easter that I've ever done; I hope they have been as rewarding for you as they have for me! Like I wrote on Friday, I'll be updating you today and tomorrow, and finishing Wednesday with the Seven Church walk, and then I'll be off the blog for the Triduum celebrations and for Easter week when I go on retreat to Ars.
You would almost surely miss this church if you weren't looking for it, and you might very well miss it even if you were looking for it but didn't know what to expect. From what I was able to see, the outer walls of this church seem to be encased by apartments or a religious house or something, because it is almost completely camouflaged next to the other buildings around it. The entrance to St. Praxedes is from the side of the church on a nondescript wall and, besides a title sign, the lintel isn't exactly the most flashy, church-y architecture you've ever seen. The facade retains an arch over the door, which is gated and inaccessible, but otherwise the rest of it looks like an apartment building from the front.
But when you walk inside the whole thing seems to open right up. I was surprised by the size of it judging from the outside. Rome still has a few tricks up her sleeve, I guess... Well St. Praxedes is traditionally held to be the sister of St. Pudenziana, and together the two of them used to gather the mortal remains of the Christian martyrs. We know that a church in her honor has existed at least from the late fifth century. It was located in a nearby apartment block, but in the ninth century Pope Paschal I replaced it with this current church in order to provide a better place of worship.
Continuing the devotion of the patroness Praxedes, Paschal brought the relics of some 2,300 martyrs from the catacombs around Rome to be laid to rest here. The three large arches in the nave were added in the fourteenth century to mitigate some of the building's structural problems due to age, and Pope Nicholas IV undertook a major renovation the following century.
St. Charles Borromeo, who is the patron saint of seminarians, was the titular cardinal of this church in the sixteenth century; his successor, Cardinal Alessandro Medici, later become Pope Leo XI and commissioned all the frescoes on the walls which you can see below.
One of the chapels along the right wall, dedicated to St. Zeno, was built by Paschal as a place of rest for his mother Theodora, and its mosaic wall art is arguably one of the most stunning works of the medieval period to be found in Rome.