History's Women: Women of Faith: Práxedes - The Lingering Fragrance of Sacrifice


Práxedes and Pudentiana
The Lingering Fragrance of Sacrifice

Second-century sisters Práxedes and Pudentiana lived out their valiant faith with meekness, tenacity, mercy, and gallantry. Their lives of great devotion continue to inspire, memorialized in an unexpected church on a narrow, side street in Rome.

Beyond the dark veil of fear and persecution, their layered lives reveal the resolve of those committed to the faith. Their rugged journey exemplifies souls unhindered by gender and unrestrained by status. Eyes fixed, faces set, these sisters moved resolutely on mission— notwithstanding the high cost.

History's Women: Women of Faith: Pudentiana - The Lingering Fragrance of Sacrifice


Mounted upon the Esquiline hill, the Basilica of Saint Práxedes stands as a rare jewel set in the mundane. Just three hundred feet across from the heavily-trafficked Basilica of Saint Maria Maggiore, the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome, this ancient fifth-century church, remains, a testament to the faithful remnant.[1] Pope Paschal I rebuilt the Basilica of Saint Práxedes to reflect Saint Peter’s Basilica, though significantly smaller. Once inside, visitors can see and feel the weight of history. On July 20, 819 C.E., on the eve of St. Práxedes’ Feast Day (July 21) and the day before the dedication of the newly reconstructed church, Pope Paschal buried under the altar the bones of over 2300 martyrs.[2]  Visiting pilgrims stand in awe remembering those who sacrificed all for their enduring confession.

History testifies of the legacy carried forward by these sisters, St. Práxedes (Italian: Sta. Prassede) and St. Pudentiana (Italian: Sta. Pudenziana), daughters of the Roman senator Pudens. Their father, a prominent statesman, is sealed in the Scriptures as one greeted by the Apostle Paul in his second letter to Timothy (4:21). Although there is debate surrounding the genealogy of the Pudens clan, some scholars maintain the Apostle Peter was a house guest of the first generation Punicus Pudens (I). Scholars assert Pudens I baptized Peter, during his stay at the senator’s home on the Aventine, at the beginning of his twenty-five year ministry in Rome. [3] It is noteworthy that Pudens’ wife, Priscilla, is the namesake of the infamous cemetery on Via Salaria Nova, known for the art surrounding the catacombs as well as the final resting place of seven popes. Moreover, tradition holds the Apostle Paul baptized Priscilla. If any, or all of this is in fact so, it is reasonable to consider how the familial legacy of devotion and service may have influenced the young, impressionable witnesses, Práxedes and Pudentiana.

For after their father’s and brother’s deaths, the sisters inherited land,  and along with a few faithful, erected a baptistery and formed a house-church. The virgin soon-to-be saints along with the “presbyter Pastor,” established the baptistery on the site of the titulus. This place would serve as a sacred place where newly converted Roman Christians could grow in their faith against the dark backdrop of unyielding persecution.

Resolutely, these sisters labored and served, hiding Christians fleeing persecution.  While all of Rome understood the penalty of concealment, Práxedes and Pudentiana risked everything to bear out their legacy—even death.[4]  Often depicted in paintings holding a sponge, representative of the cleansing and preparation of the faithful for burial, antiquity crowns Práxedes with the title “martyr” as well. During the time of the Apostles, the term “martyr” was generally defined as a “witness,” one known to stand firm in their faith in Christ, their lives marked by a willingness to die for their fearless testimony. As the centuries unfolded, “martyr” grew to refer solely to one whose death was a direct result of their conviction— “blood-witnesses to the faith.”[5] Práxedes and Pudentiana dedicated their lives to serve others by walking in their God-given giftedness of hospitality and servant leadership. Their jagged path exemplifies what transpires when giftedness collides with opportunity, passion, and purpose.

So, what happened to these sacrificial sisters? Though most scholars agree, the eldest sister, Pudentiana, preceded her sister, Práxedes in death, the historical record divides on their last days. According to legend, Pudentiana died at the young of 16, while other accounts attribute this assumption to scribal error, asserting she in fact died after serving faithfully in ministry for 16 years.[6] Práxedes is said to have continued ministering until her mid- eighties, concealing and feeding believers, both physically and spiritually, in her illegal house-church in Rome. The sister’s vita entitled, the “Acts of Pudentiana and Práxedes” maintains that when the emperor learned of the prohibited house-church gatherings, he beheaded twenty-three people, including the presbyter Simmetrius.[7] Many believe, overwhelmed and full of grief, Práxedes, after burying the bodies in Priscilla’s cemetery, asked God to simply bring her home. On July 21, Práxedes died in her revered house-church, on a cobbled side- street, in Rome. Though neither sister’s confession of faith can be linked to their death, in the fourth century, Práxedes and Pudentiana were venerated as martyrs. Today, their lives, marked by service and sacrifice still speak, testifying of dutiful valor and selfless servitude. Though initially buried in the Priscilla cemetery, the sisters’ remains now fittingly rest alongside the 2,300 martyrs buried under the altar at the Basilica of St. Práxedes, high atop the Esquiline hill, the largest of the Seven Hills of Rome.[8]


StacieNicole is a project manager in the International department at Insight for Living Ministries. She holds an undergraduate degree in literature, earned a master’s degree in History from American University, has been a teacher in DC and Texas, and is currently an adjunct professor at Bellevue University in Nebraska.

As both teacher and student, StacieNicole enjoys being a ThM candidate at Dallas Theological Seminary and is passionate about developing leaders with One in Christ Jesus International Ministries (oneinchristjesus.org) alongside her husband, Evan. Together they enjoy reading, writing, international travel and as much time as possible with their six adult children and twelve grandchildren.

[1] Mary M. author Schaefer, and Joyce Louise editor of compilation Rilett Wood, Women in Pastoral Office: The Story of Santa Prassede, Rome. 5.
[2] Schaefer, and Rilett Wood, Women in Pastoral Office: The Story of Santa Prassede, Rome. 1.
[3] Schaefer, and Rilett Wood, Women in Pastoral Office: The Story of Santa Prassede, Rome. 14.
[4] Schaefer, and Rilett Wood, Women in Pastoral Office: The Story of Santa Prassede, Rome. 5, 16.
[5] Schaefer, and Rilett Wood, Women in Pastoral Office: The Story of Santa Prassede, Rome. 2.
[6] Schaefer, and Rilett Wood, Women in Pastoral Office: The Story of Santa Prassede, Rome. 11.
[7] Schaefer, and Rilett Wood, Women in Pastoral Office: The Story of Santa Prassede, Rome. 10-13.
[8] Gallio, The Basilica of Saint Praxedes, B.N. Marconi; Genova. 2.