Santa Prisca

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thumb Santa Prisca is a titular church in Rome, devoted to Saint Prisca, a 1st-century martyr, on the Aventine Hill. It was built in the 4th or 5th century over a temple of Mithras, and is recorded as the Titulus Priscae in the acts of the 499 synod.

Damaged in the Norman Sack of Rome, the church was restored several times. The current aspect is due to the 1660 restoration, which included a new facade by Carlo Lombardi.

In the interior, the columns are the only visible remains of the ancient church. Also a baptismal font allegedly used by Saint Peter is conserved. The altar in the crypt contains the relics of Saint Prisca; the frescoes in the crypt are by Antonio Tempesta. Anastasio Fontebuoni frescoed the walls of the nave with Saints and angels with the instruments of passion. In the sacristy, is a painting of the Immaculate conception with angels by Giovanni Odazzi, and on the main altar a Baptism of Santa Prisca by Domenico Passignano.

Titular priests

The Cardinal Priest of the Titulus S. Priscae is Justin Francis Rigali, Cardinal Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia (US). Previous Cardinal-Priests include:

  • Giovanni Colonna the Elder (1192)
  • Zbigniew Ole?nicki (1449)
  • Juan de Castro (1496–1506)
  • Francesco Adriano Ceva (1643–1655)
  • Adeodato Giovanni Piazza (1937)
  • Angelo Roncalli (1953) later Pope John XXIII
  • Giovanni Urbani (1958)
  • José da Costa Nunes (1962)
  • Giovanni Benelli (1977)
  • Alfonso López Trujillo (1983).


The Mithraeum under Santa Prisca was first excavated in 1952-59 through Dutch excavations. The original building was erected ca 95 and served as Trajan’s town house until his death. One hundred years later, a member of the imperial family took over the building and built a Mithraeum in one part of the basement while a Christian meeting place was established in the other part.

The original Mithrauem had a central aisle, a niche and side benches. Fine fresoces were found on the Mithraeum walls as well as a stucco Mithras the Bull Slayer, one of the main images of the Mithras cult. Renovations in 220 yielded a larger central cult room and the addition of new ones while the frescoes were covered with new, more elaborate paintings.

These paintings were important to the development of understanding the Mithraic cult. Along with the typical bull slaying scene so common amongst the cult, other paintings depicted different cult rituals. For example, one painting shows a procession of figures wearing masks and different colored tunics holding what has been presumed to be a piece of liturgical equipment. These paintings have been incorporated in the long standing debate about the admittance of women into the cult.

Around 400, the Christians took over the Mithraeum, destroyed it and built Santa Prisca on top of it.




  • M.J. Vermaseren and C. C. Van Essen. The Excavations in the Mithraeum of the Church of Santa Prisca in Rome. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1965.
  • Griffith, Alison. “Completing the Picture: Women and the Female Principle in the Mithraic Cult.” Numen Vol. 53, No. 1. Brill: 2006
  • David, Jonathan (2000). "The Exclusion of Women in the Mithraic Mysteries: Ancient or Modern?". Numen 47 (2): 121–141. doi:10.1163/156852700511469

External links