Saints Praxedes and Pudentiana: The Iconography
JULY 21, MAY 19
Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century paintings often show Praxedes or Pudentiana squeezing blood from a sponge into a small urn, as at right. This refers to an old belief that before burying Christian martyrs the two women preserved their blood in a well in what is now the church of Santa Pudenziana.1

Except for the images with the sponge, the two saints do not have a consistent iconography, nor is there any consistency in the portraiture. In the 11th-century frieze above the main portal at Santa Pudenziana they wear crowns and carry flaming lamps, an allusion to the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).

In a fresco in the same church they wear small white scarves and present their crowns to the Virgin and Child. Crowns also appear in the 9th-century apse at Santa Prassede, where the two saints are twice shown offering their crowns to Christ and also joining the procession of martyrs who bring their crowns to the Heavenly Jerusalem. Apparently their crowns speak to their diligence in caring for the bodies of the martyrs: In most Christian iconography only martyrs bear crowns.

Prepared in 2015 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University

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Vermeer, Saint Praxedes, 1655 (See description page)

DATES

  • The Catholic Church suppressed the feast days for these saints in 1969.
  • The Acta Sanctorum (May vol. 4, 297) estimates that St. Praxedes died in 159 and St. Pudentiana

NAMES

  • Praxedes is also spelled Praxedis or Prassede
  • Pudentiana is also spelled Pudenziana

HAGIOGRAPHY

  • Acta Sanctorum, May vol. 4, 296-301
  • The saints get a very brief mention in the Golden Legend. See Ryan, I, 374.

NOTES

1 See Ugoni, 165; Acta Sanctorum, May vol. 4, 299.