Rome, S Pudenziana, apse mosaic

Era 4AD - 5AD
Location Via Urbana, 160, 00184 Roma RM, Italy

Sta Pudenziana is very close to Sta Maria Maggiore in Rome - down the hill and round the corner - but it's not on the main tourist trail. It's a small basilica church (rectangle with an apse at the east end). It's down a flight of stairs, which shows how high ground levels have risen since the church was built, and once inside, the exposed brickwork makes it easy to see how the church has been remodelled. You can see filled-in windows and how the south aisle has been converted into a series of side chapels. The mosaic is in the apse and again, you can see how this end of the church has been redesigned with a dome above the altar - look how the mosaic has been cut into below by a foul and huge painting in an elaborate frame behind the altar and how the curve up to the dome chops into the mosaic to either side and above. Bits of mosaic to top and bottom have clearly been lost.

This is the earliest surviving church (as opposed to mausoleum) apse mosaic in Rome . This church itself is said to be one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in Rome. It was believed to have been the house of that Pudens who sheltered St Peter and to whom St Paul referred in his second Letter to Timothy; its dedication is to one of Pudens’ two daughters, Pudentiana, sister of the Praxedis we shall encounter in the ninth-century church of the same name about 500 metres away. It's built over a second-century house, At some point in the fourth century - between c390 and c415, , the building was transformed into a three-aisled basilica church and the central apse was mosaicked.

The mosaic has been heavily restored (look at the male figures at the furthest right as you look at the mosaic and also at the woman on the right -hand side - these are NOT fourth-century mosaics!) but it is believed that the scene has not been changed by the restorations. So, in the centre is seated a bearded and rather heavily-built Christ in gold robes. He holds a book with the inscription: ‘[I am] the Lord, the preserver of the church of Pudentiana’. Peter and Paul are immediately recognisable to Christ’s left and right respectively - Paul, dark beard, balding; Peter, grey beard and curly-ish grey hair.. They are in the process of being crowned with wreaths by two women. No idea who they are; lots of suggestions from assorted of the women named as Christ's disciples to a suggestion (more plausible I think) that they represent the ‘church of the Gentiles’ championed by Paul and the ‘church of the Jews’ looked after by Peter;. Note that Paul is on the more important side, Christ’s right hand.. The men are likely to have originally been twelve in number (with peter and Paul) and to have been the Apostles. The setting is a cityscape with porticoes, basilicas and temples, and in the sky above, an enormous jewelled cross is flanked by the Four Beasts of the Apocalypse. These come from the Book of Revelations and were related to the Evangelists: Matthew the symbol of the man (just visible far left), Mark the lion, Luke the ox and John the eagle, cut off by the arch.. The cross might (I stress MIGHT) have reminded people of Christ's crucifixion or it might (again, MIGHT) have reminded them of the gift of a great jewelled cross made by Constantine the Great to Jerusalem. The cityscape might be Jerusalem, it might be Rome, it might be the Heavenly Jerusalem, it might be imaginary in every way. It might be about the Second Coming;. It is all about Christian Triumph. I like the mass of fluffy pink and blue clouds best.


A sixteenth-century drawing indicates that there was once a further register below the apostles depicting a dove swooping down on a lamb (representing Christ, the Lamb of God) at the centre on a hill with the four rivers of paradise below, and conceivably six sheep on either side trotting towards the lamb. The image of Christ with a book derives from the sorts of image used in the period to show a teacher among his disciples or the philosopher and his class or a group of nobles, His golden robe most certainly reminded viewers of his divinity and the huge throne, as well as Christ's appearance, may have reminded fourth-century viewers of Roman statues of Jupiter, Best and Greatest,

select image to view full-screen