It is chilly in Rome, now. For three months of the year, low temperatures are in the mid 30’s Fahrenheit. It must have been winter when Paul was in Rome in the mid 60’s and asked Timothy to bring the coat that he left in Troas (2 Tim 4:13). Paul was taken out of the city and beheaded in 67 AD. Prior to that, he was under house arrest in his rented accommodations. The church of Santa Maria in Lata has been built over his apartment. Very likely, Paul celebrated the Eucharist in his apartment since he was allowed guests and his guards were sympathetic towards him.
The Acts of the Apostles notes that at Pentecost there were visitors from Rome (2:10). Perhaps they took the good news with them when they returned home. Peter was in Rome from 42 AD and is believed to have been crucified in 64 AD in Nero’s Circus. Paul wrote a letter to the Romans in the late 50’s. So there was a Christian community in Rome at that time. In legend, Saint Plautilla was said to have been baptized by St. Peter and to have witnessed the execution of St. Paul. There is a nice story about Plautilla in the central bronze door of Saint Peter’s Basilica: she loaned Paul her scarf when he was being taken out of the city for his execution. As he had promised, he returned it to her afterwards (miraculously). This story is not in the Bible but it has been passed down from generation to generation. It is a nice story, so I wanted to pass it along.
The earliest churches based on Roman traditions seem to be in the homes of Aquilla and Prisca on the Aventine Hill and the Ecclesia Pudentianae on the Viminal Hill. Prisca was martyred in the first century and there is a Santa Prisca Church in the Aventine area. Whether Prisca’s home was at this location is unknown. The location was reported to be one of the homes of Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD). Prisca was martyred under Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD). Her home could have been at the same location as Trajan’s home. In any case, it was interesting reading about her steadfast faith and martyrdom (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Prisca). Ecclesia Pudentianae is now the church of Santa Pudenziana, which was formerly the home of Saint Pudens. Supposedly, Pudens had daughters Pudentiana and Praxedes, but this is questioned and they have been removed from the calendar of saints. Saint Pudens is mentioned in Paul’s second letter to Timothy (2 Tim 4:21). Saint Pudens lodged Saint Peter, was baptized by him, and was martyred during Nero’s persecution (64-68 AD) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Pudens). There is an inscription on a stone indicating that this was a gathering place for Christians to celebrate the mass.
There were no church marquees between 42 and 313, but there were lots of churches in Rome. They were house churches. A house church was called a titulus or domus ecclesia or oratory. Pope Marcellus (308-309) lists 28 titulus churches in Rome that were centers of administration and distribution of sacraments. Pope Evaristus (99-107, the fourth successor of Saint Peter as Bishop of Rome) also made a list of titulus churches in Rome and assigned priests to them, though less is known about his list. Church buildings were built after Christianity was legalized in 313 AD. Twenty-three major churches were built in the 4th century. Almost all of them were built over the titulus churches that had existed for many years prior to the 4th century.
The church where we normally attend Sunday services, Santa Susanna was one of these house churches. Mass has been celebrated in this church regularly since 285 (Wikipedia says “about 280”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Susanna). The building has been reconditioned many times, but the church has been there since 285. It was originally the home of Gabinus and his daughter Susanna. Gabinus became a priest after he was widowed. They and their friends celebrated mass in their home. Both were martyred for their faith, Susanna in 293 and Gabinus in 296. A church building was built over their home in 330 AD.
Santa Cecilia in Trastevere was built over the Titulus Caecili, the church that met in Santa Cecilia’s home. This was one of the titulus churches in the list by Pope Marcellus.
Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome. The first sanctuary was built by Pope Callixtus (217-222). Based on the materials available, this church may have been constructed as a church building by Callixtus.
Santi Quattro Coronati: Pope Miltiades (311-314) built the church over titulus Aemilianae in honor of five stone-cutters of Panonia martyred for refusing to carve idols and four Roman soldiers (Severus, Severian, Carpoforo, Victorinus) martyred for refusing to execute the stone-cutters. The remains of the four Roman soldiers are kept in the crypt of this church.
It has been very interesting for us to learn about church history and about the saints.