Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wednesday of Fifth Week: San Marcello

Today's stational church takes us, happily, across the street and north about 30 yards from yesterday's church.  Which is really funny because for the life of me I have never noticed that a church was there.  Although in my defense it is set back from the road somewhat and blocked from view by the building to its right, so I never see it on my walk to school.  But I guess you learn new things about your city every day!

San Marcello

The church of San Marcello is named after Pope Marcellus, the 30th in the line of St. Peter who shepherded the Church between 308 and 309.  These were the years which immediately preceded the legalization of Christianity, and so there were questions about how to treat those who apostatized from the faith in order to avoid persecution.  Many apostates banded together and insisted that they be able to re-enter the Church without performing the prescribed penance for their guilt.  The pope said, that's a no-no, you'll need to truly amend your lives and do penance like everyone else.  So the leader of the group, Maxentius, had the pope arrested and sent into exile.  He died shortly thereafter and his remains were brought back to Rome.

A church on this site was first built in the late fourth and early fifth centuries as part of a program to replace house churches with larger structures.  A fifth century baptismal font was also built onsite sometime soon after, which is significant because the ordinary place of baptism at this time would have been the Lateran basilica.  So we know this church was of some importance very early on.  Pope Adrian I undertook renovations in the eighth century, but the church was demolished in the twelfth century to build a new one.

In 1519 this church was almost completely destroyed by fire with the notable exception of a life-size wooden crucifix, which has been especially venerated ever since.  It was this crucifix which was processed through the city of Rome before the opening of the Second Vatican Council and also before the opening of the Great Jubilee year of 2000.  The burned church underwent reconstruction for the next 70 years, during which time its orientation was reversed so that the entrance faced the Via del Corso.  The end of the 1600s saw some final modifications, including the facade designed by Carlo Fontana, and another restoration in the 1860s brings us to its current appearance.
Besides St. Marcellus, there are relics of several other saints in here as well, including Ss. Degna and Merita, John, Blaise, Diogenes, and Longinus, Cosmas, Damien, and Felicity and her children.  The chapel with the fifteenth century crucifix is in that side chapel on the right, second from the front; a reliquary in this chapel also contains a fragment of the True Cross.

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