Rome, Italy: Basilica of Saint Praxedes: Chapel of San Zeno: Mosaic of Women

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Sheppard, Beth M.
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Italy , Rome , Basilica di Santa Prassede all Esquilino , Basilica of Saint Praxedes , Byzantine Art , Mosaics , Women in Art , Women Saints in Art , Saint Praxedes in Art , Saint Pudenziana in Art , Virgin Mary in Art , Halos in Art
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The Basilica of Saint Praxedes (in Italian: Basilica di Santa Prassede, commonly known as Santa Prassede) is a Catholic basilica located in the Rione Esquilino (or district of Esquiline). Esquiline is the name of a Roman hill, one of seven on which the ancient city was built. The church was rebuilt by Pope Pasquale I in 822 CE and was restored multiple times since then. It was built principally as a resting place for the relics of Roman martyrs and was dedicated to the second-century Saint Praxedes, who was the daughter of a Roman senator. Along with her sister, Praxedes provided comfort and care to Christians persecuted in the Roman Empire. The sisters were murdered for burying early Christian martyrs, which defied Roman law. The church is known for being the most important example of early Christian Byzantine art in Rome because of the mosaics decorating its apse and side chapels. The photograph shows a mosaic decoration in the right lateral Chapel of Saint Zeno (Cappella di San Zenone) within the Basilica. Pope Paschal built the funerary chapel for his mother, Theodora. Along the left side of the chapel walls, mosaics depict female figures identified from left to right as Theodora (Pasquale's mother), Prassede, the Virgin Mary dressed in blue, and Pudenziana (Praxede's sister). The square nimbus above Theodora's head indicates that the person was still living when the artwork was created, whereas the other female saints have round haloes. The mosaic art in the lunette above the women depicts the agnus dei: the lamb of God (representing Christ) standing on the source of four rivers and flanked by four stags who drink from the springs. According to "The stag is a symbol for Christ, who tramples and destroys the devil. As the stags crossing a river help each other, so should the Christian crossing from the worldly life to the spiritual life help others who grow weak or tired. As the stag is renewed and sheds its horns after drinking from the spring, so those who drink from the spring of the spirit are renewed and shed their sins."
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