The practice of early Roman Christians of visiting the tombs of the martyrs became the Lenten “statio” of processing and gathering at a different church each day. This gives us the name “Stational church”
— Feria V post Cineres — Statio ad S. Giorgium —
San Giorgio in Velabro is the station church for the Thursday after Ash Wednesday. The current church building, dedicated firstly to Saint Sebastian, was built in the 7th century. Unlike Santa Sabina (yesterday’s station), the columns supporting the springing arches are randomly arranged, as they come from a multitude of former Roman temples.
The church is located in what was the Greek neighborhood of Rome. Pope Zachary (741-752), of Greek origin and the last Pope of the Byzantine papacy, moved the relic of St. George from Cappadocia to this church. On account of this, the cult of St. George has arrived in the West well before the later influence of Crusaders returning from the East.
It is believed that there was a schola cantorum from the 9th century on (in a restoration completed by Pope Gregory IV). You can see an example of a schola cantorum in the image of Santa Sabina. The most popular schola cantorum in Rome is at San Clemente. We will see this later in the Lenten season. The schola cantorum (school or group of singers) designates the actual presence of a papal choir, but also the space before the apse and sanctuary dedicated for them and their service in the liturgy — to sing the sacred chants.
What we see today is largely the result of a restoration in the 1920s. The apse was restored, the ancient windows of the clerestory were reopened allowing light to enter the nave of the Church (the whole purpose of the Roman Basilica architecture — more on this in the future), and the removal of “accretions.”
A wonderful thing of note is that, from 1879-1890, Saint John Henry Newman was the Cardinal-Deacon of San Giorgio (Saint George being a huge part of the devotion of the British Isles).
The apse (1300) of San Giorgio is Christ in the Second Coming and He is holding a scroll. It reminded me of what the Holy Father said in his audience for Ash Wednesday. He spoke of the Word of God and the necessity to go into the desert, where silence envelops us: “It is the absence of words in order to make room for another Word, the Word of God, which caresses our hearts like a gentle breeze.”
Lent is the journey to the heart of our faith: the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. This journey is arduous for us, possibly more difficult for some than for others. But what consolation do we have as we await that second coming of Christ, as we struggle in this exile: the Word of God will caress our hearts like a gentle breeze. That is, in peace.