The Roman station church pilgrimage of Lent, an ancient Christian tradition, was revived in the late 20th century by Anglophone believers living in Rome and led by the seminarians and student-priests of the Pontifical North American College. The pilgrimage winds its way through the city from Ash Wednesday through the Octave of Easter: a specific church is assigned as the “station” of each day, in a sequence first formalised by Pope St Gregory the Great in the late sixth century.
Along the pathways of the station churches, pilgrims encounter typically unexplored sites, such as the Basilica of St Praxedes, with its magnificent St Zeno Chapel, and the Basilica of St Apollinaris, in which a golden crab nestles at the feet of St Francis Xavier. Familiar magnificent treasures also abound: the dome of St Peter’s and the apse mosaic of the Basilica of St Mary Major, depicting Christ’s enthonement of his Blessed Mother in heaven.
Both unfamiliar and well-known Roman venues resonate with new meaning when encountered along a pilgrim route that traverses multiple layers of Western history while summoning up memories of the great spirits who walked this itinerarium of faith, doubt and controversy over the centuries: Peter and Paul; Bridget of Sweden and Martin Luther; Ignatius Loyola, Philip Neri, and John Henry Newman; and John Paul II, as student and pope.