Saint Martina of Rome

Martina of Rome, one of the patron saints of Rome, was martyred under the reign of the Emperor Alexander Servus and during the Pontificate of Pope Urban 1 in either the year 226 or 228. Her feast day is January 30th. Tradition has it that she was the daughter of an ex Roman consul and was orphaned as a child. As she grew up she became and remained very devout and bore witness to her Christian faith by word and by acts of charity to the poor. She could not escape the attentions of the Emperor Alexander Servus who had her arrested and ordered her to abandon her faith and worship pagan gods. This she refused to do. As a consequence she suffered various forms of torture including scourging and exposure to wild animals in an amphitheatre. She is reputed to have survived all these and was subsequently beheaded. Tradition has it that some of her executioners, so impressed were they by her strength of belief and commitment, were themselves converted to Christianity and also subsequently beheaded.

In the year 625 Pope Honorius 1 commissioned the construction of a church in Rome to the memory of St Martina suggesting that devotion to her was still flourishing at this time. This building, a simple rectangular structure, was situated near to the Forum and the Mamertime prison where the existing church dedicated to her is located today. In 1256 during the pontificate of Pope Alexander 1V the church was restored. In 1588 the church was given to the Academy of St Lucy, the academy of painters, sculptors and architects and was rededicated to St Lucy and St Martina. Minor repairs to the church were undertaken at that time and plans for a new church were prepared.

In 1634 the architect Pietro de Cortona was elected president of the academy. Pope Urban V111 visited the church that same year and the following year the construction of a new church under de Cortona’s direction commenced. During excavations and restoration of the crypt buried remains were found which were attributed to St Martina and are now located in a new chapel dedicated to her. The plan of the new upper church is in the form of a Greek cross with equal arms. The building is crowned by a large dome.. Stairways lead down to the crypt below where the chapel of St Martina is located, situated directly under the high alter in the church above. St Martina’s chapel and alter are richly decorated with colour, marbles and guilt bronze. Architects suggest the design of the chapel reveals the influence of Michelangelo’s design of the Sforza chapel in Basilica of St. Mary Major. Artistic representations of St Martina usually show her in simple Roman garments carrying the palm of martyrdom. At her feet is a pagan statue usually that of a lion. Somewhat different one might add to the statue of her in our church!

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