On my tours, I often ask the group to name the cathedral of Rome. Many know the correct answer is Saint John Lateran. Some, understandably, think that Saint Peter’s Basilica is the cathedral.
Now, if I were to ask where is the first cathedral of Rome, what would you say? Before you answer, let’s take a look at the word cathedral, or in Latin cathedra. It means seat, or chair, as in bishop’s chair. Who was Rome’s first bishop? Technically that would be Peter, the first Pope, right?
When Peter came to Rome, tradition tells us that he stayed at the home of Senator Pudens. The house is now known as the church of Santa Pudenziana. He not only lived in this house for several years, but also celebrated Mass here, baptized the newly converted here and even ran the Church from here. So, it was here that Peter sat in his bishop’s chair. And if this is where Peter’s first bishop’s chair was located, wouldn’t this also be the first cathedral of Rome?
A stretch? Maybe, but I’m not the first to say it.
As for the actual chair, it’s thought to be the chair that’s now inside Bernini’s sculpture located in Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Chapel of the Cathedra. Some argue that the chair inside the sculpture comes from another house church which we’ll visit near the end of Lent, Santa Prisca.
Senator, and Saint, Pudens was the father to Saint Pudentiana and Saint Praxedes. As he allowed the sacraments celebrated in his home, this was one of the very first parish churches of Rome, known as Titulus Pudentiana. The first chapel built here dates to about A.D. 140. It’s been built over several times and the current structure dates to the fourth century with modifications from 1588. The façade was built in 1870 and several Roman houses were found during construction. It is thought that one is from the original house church.
Inside is a well that is said to contain relics from 3,000 martyrs, many which were brought here and hidden by Saints Pudentiana and Praxedes. A piece of Saint Peter’s altar table is located inside the Chapel of Saint Peter. The rest of the altar is in the papal altar at Saint John Lateran, the current cathedral of Rome.