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Which is the oldest church in Rome?

Two churches on contend for the title of oldest churches in the capital: Santa Prisca and Santa Pudenziana, both linked to the first Christians and to the figure of Peter.

It must be said that the first basilicas built by Constantine are San Pietro and San Giovanni in Laterano, even if their present appearance has nothing to do with the structures built by the first Christian Emperor. Lately, however, the idea based on specific studies has been spreading that the oldest Christian church is precisely that of Santa Pudenziana, which houses one of the most beautiful and ancient mosaics in Rome.

If the dates hypothesized by historians were true, the basilica would have been built around 380 AD. The mosaic immediately after: between 410 and 417 under the pontificate of Innocent I (pontiff from 401 to 417). Therefore, it would be the oldest mosaic made inside a Christian church in Rome.

The mosaics of the Mausoleum of Santa Costanza, in fact, although they are older, were not made in a church but in a mausoleum. Furthermore, they do not represent themes directly linked to the Christian faith (such as those of Santa Pudenziana).

The basilica of Santa Pudenziana is still a Catholic place of worship in the city which is located in via Urbana in the Monti district.
The church is dedicated to Santa Pudenziana, sister of Santa Prassede and daughter of the Roman senator Pudente; it is the national church of the Filipinos and the seat of the cardinal’s title of the same name.

Rome Churches history

The church would have been built on the domus of Senator Pudente, which is located nine meters below the basilica. Pudente, with his two daughters Pudenziana and Praxedes, would have been converted by the apostle Peter who would have lived in his friend’s house for seven years. Origin and dating of the church, although very ancient, are still under discussion.

The body of the present basilica is largely the result of a 16th century restoration. At the end of the fourth century the building had been transformed into a church with a portico. The Romanesque bell tower was added in the 13th century and a compartment in the left side aisle was closed for construction. The restoration work completed in 1588 changed the structure of the church by demolishing the portico, removing the medieval choir and building some pillars to strengthen the columns.
The facade was restored in 1870 by the will of the titular cardinal Lucien-Louis-Joseph-Napoléon Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon.

The mosaic in the apse, depicting Christ surrounded by the apostles, dates back to around 390. Part of the mosaic was destroyed during the renovation work by Francesco Capriani known as Volterra, who sacrificed part of the lower area by affecting the figures of some apostles.

In the mosaic Christ is represented enthroned surrounded by the apostles (there are ten left) and by two women who offer him a crown each, whose identity is the subject of discussion: according to some they are the saints Pudenziana and Praxedes, daughters of Pudente; according to others they would represent the “Church” and the “Synagogue”, that is, the temples of Christians and Jews.

Discover the Secret of the Roman Churches. Click next, St. Peter’s Basilca