Station Ash Wednesday: Statio ad St Sabinam

Grant, O Lord, that Your faithful people may, with true piety, undertake the time-honored custom of fasting and may carry it out with unwavering devotion.
through Our Lord…

There is a centuries-old Roman tradition of celebrating Mass at what are known as Lenten station or stational churches. The practice of station churches had its origins in the first centuries of Christianity when most of the early Popes celebrated the liturgy on special days at special churches in the Eternal City. This eventually became principally a Lenten devotion.
In his liturgical reform, Pope St. Gregory the Great, who reigned from 590 to 604, established a station church for each day of Lent, thus making the whole season a pilgrimage on the path to conversion while preparing for Easter.
The first Station Church every year is always St. Sabina where the Pope celebrates Ash Wednesday Mass.
Not far from Circus Maximus, Santa Sabina is located up on Aventine Hill. Why this church was chosen for the start of Lent is not exactly known. One thought is that because of it’s location, one had to make a strong climb uphill to reach the church, this climb was symbolic of the efforts necessary to climb to spiritual perfection. It could also be that Gregory the Great fell in love with the church when he sought refuge here during the plague, he called it “the gem of the Aventine.”
Santa Sabina is one of Rome’s domus ecclesiae, or house churches. During the persecutions, Christians had to meet secretly to celebrate the sacraments. Often they would do so in the homes of the wealthy as they were the one’s who were able to accommodate the faithful. These homes were given the title, or titulus, of the owner. In this case Titulus Sabina. Once Christianity was legal, the houses were converted into churches and most of these churches kept the original name. The former property owners were often saints, Sabina was a martyr, so the Titulus changed to Santa, and now we have Santa Sabina.
Santa Sabina was built by Priest Petrus of Illyria, a Dalmatian priest, between 422 and 432 on the site of the house of the Roman matron Sabina, who was later declared a canonized Christian saint. It was originally near to a temple of Juno.
Pope Honorius III, a member of the Savelli family, approved in 1216 the Order of Preachers, now commonly known as the Dominicans. At that time the church and associated buildings formed part of the holdings of the Savelli family. In 1219, Pope Honorius III gave his family church to Saint Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers. Since then, it has been their headquarters. The church and convent of Santa Sabina on the Aventine hill in Rome have been home to the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) since the church was given to the Order in perpetuity on June 5, 1222.
According to her Passio, which was composed probably in the sixth century, Sabina was a widow who was converted to the Christian faith by her servant, Serapia, a girl from Syria. Serapia was martyred under Hadrian (117-13 on July 29, and her mistress received her crown a month later. A competing tradition, however, claims that Sabina belonged to a group of Umbrian martyrs who died in the Vesparian persecution (69-70) and whose remains were brought to Rome in the fifth century or later, for fear of barbarian invasions.
A priest named Peter of Illyria built the Basilica of Santa Sabina between 422 and 432 over the site of a Roman house. Gregory the Great (590-604) made this domus Dei, “the gem of the Aventine,” the scene of the Lenten Station for Ash Wednesday after he sought refuge here on the hilltop during a great plague. The basilica had to be considerably rebuilt in 834 under the reign of Eugenius II (824-827). After a skillful restoration from 1914 to 1919 by Antonio Muñoz (1884-1960), the basilica largely returned to its fifth-century appearance.
Under the altar are the remains of Saints Sabina, Eventius, Theodulus, and Pope Saint Alexander. Note also the following: the fifth-century great wooden door (at sixteen centuries old, such a wooden object is extremely rare), carved with scenes from the Old and New Testaments; the silenite windows; the twenty-four fluted Corinthian columns taken from a nearby temple; the flat wooden ceiling, reminiscent of that from the fifth-century; the “devil stone” on top of the low pillar at the bottom of the nave; the schola cantorum; and the cloister. Over the ancient cypress doors is a fifth-century Ravenna-style mosaic showing allegories of the “Church from the Circumcision” and the “Church from the Nations.” Between the figures is a text recording the building of the church by Peter the Illyrian.
In 1218, the church was entrusted to the Dominicans by Pope Honorius III, who had approved the foundation of the Order. St. Dominic lived in the adjacent monastery for a short period before his death in 1221. Other former residents include St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope Saint Pius V. Dominicans still serve the church, though since 1370 Santa Maria Sopra Minerva has been their principal church in Rome. To this day, however, Santa Sabina is the headquarters of the Master General of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans).

Look graciously O Lord, upon those who bow down before Your divine majesty, that they, being fed by Your holy gift, may always be nourished by help from heaven.
through Our Lord…

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