Friday, December 1, 2017

Santa Prisca

Santa Prisca was built in 499 CE on the site of ancient pagan temple and Christian house church.  Prisca was a young Roman Christian who was tortured and executed sometime in the first century.  The date of her birth and death are uncertain, but she is not believed to be the same Prisca as the wife of Aquila and friend of the Apostle Paul in Corinth. 

According to the legend Prisca was a child of noble birth who grew up on the Aventine and was converted and baptized by Saint Peter.  When she refused to make a sacrifice to the pagan god Apollo, she was accused of being a Christian and arrested.  She was sent to prison, where she was flogged, doused with boiling tallow, imprisoned with a lion, starved, tortured on the rack and thrown on a burning pile. When she miraculously survived all of these trials, she was beheaded and her body was buried in the catacombs. 

A church was built on the site of her home on the Aventine and dedicated to her in 499 CE.  Her relics were transferred to a crypt under the altar. The original building dates back to 95 CE.  After the martyrdom of Saint Prisca, the building was taken over by the Emperor Trajan.  The massive columns are the only visible remains of the original structure. 

The baptismal font is said to be the original one used by Saint Peter to baptize Prisca who was just thirteen years of age when she was martyred.  The church was damaged during the Sack of Rome by the Normans in 1084 CE, but has been restored several times since.

Under the church there is archeological evidence of a Mithraeum, a pagan temple dedicated to the Mithras cult, and of a Christian house church.  Along with the bull slaying scene that is part of the Mithras cult, other paintings depict what appear to be liturgical rituals.  Original frescoes connected with the Mithras cult were covered over with more elaborate paintings in the 3rd century.  Santa Prisca presently serves as the titular church of the Cardinal-priests of Rome.