La Stanza Gialla

The titulus and the medieval church

 

The existence of a titulus of Prisca, virgin and martyr that lived during the principate of Claudius, is first attested in the 5th century: two funerary inscriptions, now in the cloister of the basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura, mention a praesbyter tituli Priscae named Adeodatus. The signature of a presbyter tituli Priscae appears in the Synod of AD 499 and in the Council of AD 595.

The titulus Sanctae Priscae is further mentioned in the Liber Pontificalis of the 8th century AD, in connection with restorations commissioned by pope Hadrian I and donations by his successor Leo III.

Except for some sculpted elements belonging to the decorative apparatus (now placed in the chapel of the baptistry and in the crypt) no structural evidence of the Paleochristian basilica has been found. The earliest identified masonry, which constitutes the core of the modern church of Santa Prisca, was constructed in AD 1103-1105. This building, resting against the Aventine slope, was constructed on top of pre-existing Roman structures, which were used as foundations for its colonnades and two of its external walls. To this phase belong the apse, part of the perimetric walls, and the columns that originally divided the central nave and around which the Baroque pilasters were later constructed. In the 15th century, pope Callixtus III funded a restoration project, which aimed at strenghtening the structure by turning the colonnades into walls.

La chiesa barocca e la cripta

 

During the pontificate of Clemens VIII Aldobrandini, the cardinal Benedetto Giustiniani, titular head of the church of Santa Prisca in 1589, promoted a radical transformation of the Medieval building.

A tombstone now placed by the main altar commemorates further restorations carried out in 1599-1600 in occasion of the Jubilee Year. The Arretine architect Carlo Lombardi built the new fa├žade, while Domenico Cresti, also known as "il Passignano", re-designed the presbyterial area, the naves, and the crypt. The latter also painted the baptism of Santa Prisca on the altarpiece, while Anastasio Fontebuoni, or one of his disciples, was responsible for two paintings in the presbyterial area: Santa Prisca among the lions and Pope Eutichianus carrying the reliquies of Santa Prisca.

The crypt, located below the presbyterium, is composed of two perpendicular rectangular rooms: a narrow, long vestibule and an altar hall. The altar revetted with slabs of colored marble, was set up in occasion of the AD 1600 Jubilee Year. Three staircases, later walled up, connected the crypt to the storey above.

The walls and ceilings of the crypt and the staircases beside the altar are entirely covered with fresco paintings describing the life of Saint Peter and Santa Prisca, attributed to Anastasio Fontebuoni or his workshop. On the back wall is the Baptisme of Santa Prisca, in which Saint Peter is depicted in the act of drawing holy water contained inside a cavity carved in a large stone capital. Inside the modern church above, in the first chapel of the right nave, is now displayed a sculpted capital, datable on stylistic grounds to the 13th century, which is identical in shape and decoration to that represented in the Baptisme of Santa Prisca.


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