Postcard from Rome, Italy: Glittering mosaics crown basilica full of saintly remains

Pope Paschal I (?-824) was partial to preserving saintly remains; you were introduced to him earlier as the pope who found Santa Cecilia’s remains and moved them to Trastevere. A round slab in the Basilica of Santa Pressede purportedly covers a well where he deposited the remains of 2,000 early Christian martyrs.

Among the relics housed in the church are those of sisters, Saints Pressede and Pudenziana, known for sheltering and caring for persecuted Christians. The sponge Pressede used to cleanse the wounds of bleeding martyrs is believed entombed there as well.

Pope Paschal I openly welcomed monks exiled from Byzantium because of their opposition to practices endorsed by church leaders in Constantinople. He also extended invitations to dissatisfied Byzantine mosaic artists. The results of their refuge in Rome are most clearly visible in the apse and chapels of Santa Pressede.

A later addition to the church is housed In one of the basilica’s most ornate chapels – a portion of a black granite column reputed to be that to which Jesus was bound as he was flogged by Roman soldiers.

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