Academic journal article Theological Studies

Women in Pastoral Office: The Story of Santa Prassede, Rome

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Women in Pastoral Office: The Story of Santa Prassede, Rome

Article excerpt

Women in Pastoral Office: The Story of Santa Prassede, Rome. By Mary M. Schaefer. New York: Oxford University, 2013. Pp. xxi + 469. $74.

Pope Paschal 1 (r. 817-824) desired to recover the bones of martyrs from the Roman catacombs and move them to new churches he was building. His memorial chapel for his mother, Theodora Episcopa, is the crown jewel of the church of Santa Prassede, in the shadow of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, but as the late Mary Schaefer demonstrates, there is far more to note in this ninth-century church. In a wealth of historical and archeological study, she documents the reliable historical sources and the legends surrounding the sisters Praxedes and Pudentiana, whose names adorn this church and another a few blocks away.

These heroines of first- and later second-century persecutions--according to the Roman martyrology both were buried in the catacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria--by the ninth century were part of the legendary family of senator Pudens (2 Tim 4:21), sometimes associated with Peter in Rome. The name of Pudentiana is even less sure than that of Praxedes: the inscription in the apse mosaic of Santa Pudentiana, Dominus conservator ecclesiae pudentianae (ca. 402 if original but later if restored), probably refers to the titulus Pudentis rather than to the female saint. The identification of the two female figures in the mosaic holding crowns over the heads of Peter and Paul is disputed. Are they two sister saints, or do they represent the ecclesia ex circumcisione and the ecclesia ex gentibus, which are clearly identified in the surviving dedicatory inscription in the church of Santa Sabina, completed just a few years later?

One long chapter of the book is devoted to tracing the many aspects of these traditions. Also involved are the Acta of the two saints, also known as the Acts of Pastor and Timothy, a legendary text probably arising in the fifth or sixth century and placed in the third generation under Antoninus Pius (138-161); the Pastor of the title is possibly meant to be the author of the Shepherd of Hermas, dated to this period by reference in the Muratorian Canon. All of this is to say that there are many legendary features to take into account.

Another long chapter of the book studies the decorative motifs of the splendid mosaics of Paschal's church, inspired principally by scenes from Revelation and Hebrews. …

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