Saint Sabina: Lent 2023, I

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 IV Cinerum — Statio ad S. Sabinam —

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The station church of Ash Wednesday is Santa Sabina. This church is found on the Aventine Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome. It sits perched above the Tiber, with a particularly beautiful view of St. Peter’s Basilica, and at the base of the hill we find the Circus Maximus. 

The basilica is the oldest extant Roman basilica which has maintained the integrity of its colonnaded rectangular plan and architectural style. It was built near or even upon the site of a temple of Juno — whence come the 24 Proconnesian marble columns with perfectly matched Corinthian capitals and bases.

The most significant aspect of Santa Sabina is the presence of the first Crucifixion scene in Christian art, on a 5th century door.

We can see the parallel between the Crucifixion on the door of the basilica with the later fresco which replaced the apse mosaic in 1559 (which is very similar to the original apse mosaic). In the apse fresco we see Christ flanked by the saints, seated on a hill while lambs drink from a stream at its base. There is only one to whom we can go for the living water, Christ. In these days of Lent, we are reminded intensely to go again and again to the Cross of Christ.

We will see many apse motifs throughout the Lenten journey of the station churches. I’ll try to note the similarities and particularities. The apse of Santa Sabina is just barely a taste of the treasures of the mosaics of some apses in Rome. But even here we see Christ in the light of Glory, and yet His feet touch green earth. The earliest mosaics of Christendom (i.e. Ravenna) often have the glorified Cross of Christ adorned with jewels, yet it is breaking through, touching the earth. That is, NOTHING remains the same in the light of the Cross of Christ. NOTHING! 

Enjoy the YouTube video tour of the Roman Station Church for Ash Wednesday: Santa Sabina, Roma:

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