Lent has arrived and an ancient tradition resumes: The Station Churches of Rome

Here in the Eternal City, at the beginning of Lent, an early morning ritual commences once again: Known as the Station Church Pilgrimage, hundreds of faithful make their way to a different church in Rome each day for Holy Mass.  The majority of the group is made up of seminarians and priests from the Pontifical North American College, along with many English-speaking students from the various study abroad programs in Rome.

In order to give us enough to time to journey to the churches for Mass, we have to leave extra early, such as this morning, with a 5:55am departure time!  I've always felt that there is something special about being outdoors and greeting the dawn- but it certainly wasn't easy getting up this morning.  However, walking along the Tiber River and seeing another part of Rome was certainly worth it.

Today, on Ash Wednesday, we visited the ancient hill top church of Santa Sabina.  Constructed in the mid 400's AD, it contains one of the earliest images of the crucifixion (carved into the cypress wood of its main door) and is also known as the headquarters of the Dominican order.

Ash Wednesday: Santa Sabina

"Ascending the Aventine Hill, we leave the noise of the Lungotevere behind us and continue up the small road that leads past stuccoed walls and grassy parks .  The Basilica of St. Sabina is soon seen on the right among the pine trees which surround it.  This church provides an appropriate place to transition into Lent for it itself is a witness to the time of transition in which it was built, during the last days of the Western Roman Empire.  This location is traditionally believed to be near the house of the Roman matron St. Sabina, a widow who was converted to the faith by her slave, Seraphia.  Around the year 126, both Seraphia and Sabina were condemned for being Christians and put to death.  Some remains of earlier buildings have been found next to the church which would be of the correct age to have been either the house of St. Sabina, which some traditions place on this site, or the meeting place of an early Christian community.
The current church was built by the priest Peter the Illyrian during the pontificate of Celestine I (422-432).  It has for the most part conserved its original structure, with the main changes being cosmetic ones to the interior.  The current interior of the basilica is largely a modern reconstruction which gives the church roughly the appearance it would have had after a renovation by Eugene II, who reigned between 824 and 827.  His notable contributions to the church were its chancel screen and schola cantorum.  A few centuries later, a significant event occurred as this basilica was entrusted to the Dominicans by Honorius III.  Since then, Saints Dominic, Thomas Aquinas, Michele Ghislieri (later Pius V), as well as countless other friars, have passed through this sacred space.
Renovations carried out in 1559-60 replaced the original mosaic in the apse, which was heavily damaged, with the current fresco, thought to reproduce the image that had previously been there.  A few decades later, in 1586-87, the sanctuary was renovated, with the chancel screen and schola being removed so as to give the church a more modern arrangement, with a new altar placed further forward in an enlarged sanctuary.  Many of the windows were bricked in, making the church considerably darker than it had previously been.  Although this was a common practice during this period, since the thought of the day was that darker spaces were more conducive to prayer, it took away much of the original character of the church.  Thankfully, nearly all of these changes were reversed during a large restoration between 1914 and 1919.  The ninth century screen and schola were reconstructed from surviving fragments.  Some sections could not be found, which explains the blank or etched panels in the screen.  All of the original windows were reopened and restored to their original appearance as well." -NAC website


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