A few days ago one of the priests in my parish brought my attention to a relatively new book on the subject of the station churches of Rome. It is called Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches and is written by theologian and biographer George Weigel, in collaboration with art historian Elizabeth Lev, with photographs by Weigel’s son, Stephen.
The title reminds us of an ancient practice in Rome, recently revived. In the early and medieval Roman church, the practice developed of a pilgrimage from an assembly church to the station church on each day during Lent. During the move from the church of assembly to the designated church of the day people would pray the litany of the saints. Mass at the station church for the day would be offered as the high point of the pilgrimage.
|Crucifixion from Wooden Doors of Santa Sabina, the station|
church for the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday.
The doors are 5th century and this image of the Crucifixion is
the earliest known image.
Rome, Santa Sabina, 430-432
The practice fell out of use during the period of the Avignon papacy in the fourteenth century. This is the period in which the papacy was hijacked by the French monarchy and was based in Avignon in southern France. Through the hard work of saints such as Catherine of Siena and others Pope Gregory XI returned to Rome in 1377. However, the practice did not resume with this return, although the stations themselves were remembered in the Roman Missal, each day in Lent bearing the notation of the church that had been the station for that particular day.
|Interior of St.John Lateran, the station church for several of the days:|
the First Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Easter Vigil
and Saturday within the Octave of Easter.
Originally built by Constantine in 324, St. John Lateran is the mother
church of Christianity and the cathedral seat of the Popes.
|Story of Joshua, Mosaic from St. Mary Major|
the station church for Wednesday of the First
Week of Lent and for Wednesday of Holy Week
Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore, ca. early 5th century
On the whole the book is a very worthwhile Lenten aid, offering intelligent meditations and a great deal of information on history and art in Rome and its implications for the wider, universal Church.
The book is available in hardcover and also as an ebook from both Amazon and the iTunes store. I have the hardcover edition, but one con surmise that the ebook version for color readers might be of some value if it permits you to zoom into the photographs.