It has been suggested that there was no such person as Pudentiana, the name having originated as an adjective used to describe the house of Pudens, Domus Pudentiana. St. Paul refers to Pudens (2 Timothy 4:21), however, so it appears that there was a real person with this name.
The church of Santa Pudenziana is recognized as the oldest place of Christian worship in Rome. It was built over a 2nd-century house, probably during the pontificate of Pius I in 140–155 AD, and re-uses part of a bath facility still visible in the structure of the apse. This church was the residence of the Pope until, in 313, Emperor Constantine I offered the Lateran Palace in its stead. In the 4th century, during the pontificate of Pope Siricius, the building was transformed into a three-naved church. In the acts of the synod of 499, the church bears the titulus Pudentis, indicating that the administration of the sacraments was allowed.
The church is situated at a lower level. One enters through wrought iron gates. Steps (added in the 19th century) spring down to the square courtyard from both sides of the entrance. The architrave of the entrance hall of the faded façade (1870) contains a marble frieze that used to belong to a portal from the 11th century. It is a significant work of medieval sculpture in Rome. It shows (from left to right) Pastore (the first church owner), Pudenziana, Prassede and their father Pudens. The columns in the nave were part of the original basilica structure.
The Romanesque belltower was added in the early 13th century. Restorations of 1588 by Francesco da Volterra, on orders from cardinal Enrico Caetani, Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, transformed the three naves into one and a dome was added, also designed by Francesco da Volterra. The painting of Angels and Saints before the Saviour on the dome is a fresco by the painter Pomarancio. During these last restorations some fragments of a Laocoön group were found that were larger than those in the Vatican. As no one was willing to pay extra for this find, they filled up the hole in the ground. These fragments were never recovered. The façade was renewed in 1870 and frescoes were added by Pietro Gagliardi.
The right side of the present basilica was part of a Roman bath house dating from the reign of emperor Hadrian (117–138).
The mosaics in the apse are late Roman art. They date from around the end of the 4th century; they are regarded by different groups of scholars as dating from either the reign of Pope Siricius (384–399) or the pontificate of Innocent I (401–417). They were heavily restored in the 16th century. They are among the oldest Christian mosaics in Rome and one of the most striking mosaics outside of Ravenna. They were deemed the most beautiful mosaics in Rome by the 19th-century historian Ferdinand Gregorovius.
This mosaic is remarkable for its iconography. Christ is represented as a human figure rather than as a symbol, such as lamb or the good shepherd, as he was in very early Christian images. The regal nature of this representation prefigures the majestic bearing of Christ as depicted in Byzantine mosaics. Christ sits on a jewel encrusted throne, wearing a golden toga with a purple trim (a sign of imperial authority and emphasizing the authority of Christ and his church). He poses as a classical Roman teacher with his right hand extended. Christ wears a halo and holds in his left hand the text: "Dominus conservator ecclesiae Pudentianae" (The Lord is the preserver of the church of Pudenziana). He sits among his apostles, two of which were removed during restoration. The apostles wear senatorial togas. They all have individual expressions and face the spectator. The lower part of the mosaic was removed during the restoration in the late 16th century. The mosaics of the apostles on the right side have been lost in the course of time and are replaced by new, but rather blank, mosaics. Two female figures (representing "Church" and "Synagogue") hold a wreath above the head of St. Peter and Paul. Above them the roofs and domes of heavenly Jerusalem (or, in another interpretation, the churches built by the emperor Constantine in Jerusalem) are depicted. Above Christ stands a large jewel encrusted cross on a hill (Golgotha), as a sign of the triumph of Christ, amidst the Christian symbols of the Four Evangelists. These iconographic symbols (angel, lion, ox and eagle) are the oldest still existing representations of the Evangelists. The backdrop is a blue sky with an orange sunset.
One scholar has suggested that the enthroned figure in the center of the apse mosaic normally regarded as Christ, in fact represents God the Father, which would be an extremely unusual depiction of God the Father in art at this date.
- The Peter chapel, on the left side of the apse, contains a part of the table at which Saint Peter would have held the celebration of the Eucharist in the house of Saint Pudens. The rest of the table is embedded in the papal altar of St. John Lateran. The sculpture on the altar depicts Christ delivering the keys of Heaven to St. Peter (1594) by the architect and sculptor Giacomo della Porta. In the same chapel there are two bronze slabs in the wall, explaining that here St. Peter was given hospitality and that St. Peter offered for the first time in Rome bread and wine as a consecration of the Eucharist. The pavement is ancient. A door opens into a cortile with a small chapel that contains frescoes from the 11th century.
- Chapel of the Crucifix: contains a bronze crucifix by Achille Tamburini.
- Chapel of the Madonna of Mercy: contains the painting The Nativity of the Madonna by Lazarro Baldi
- Chapel of St. Bernard: contains a painting of St Benedict and St Catherine of Siena
- Caetani chapel: This chapel for Caetani family (family of pope Boniface VIII) was designed by Capriano da Volterra in 1588 and, after his death in 1601, completed by Carlo Maderno. The mosaics on the floor are notable. The columns of Lumachella marble. The relief (1599) above the altar is by Pier Paolo Olivieri and depicts Adoration of the Magi. Giovanni Paolo Rossetti painted St Praxedes and Pudenziana collecting the Blood of the Martyrs in 1621. He also painted the fresco of the Evangelist in the ceiling, to a design by Federico Zuccari.
The statue of St Pudenziana (c. 1650) in a niche is by Claude Adam. The sisters’ well stands just outside the Caetani chapel in the left aisle, which is said to contain the relics of 3,000 early martyrs, many of which were brought here and hidden by Saints Pudentiana and Praxedes. This is marked by a square porphyry slab in the floor.
Following the decline of popular piety ushered by the ecclesiastical reforms of the Second Vatican Council in 1969, the names of Pudentiana and her sister Praxedes were removed from the General Roman Calendar.
The church's cardinalate status is vacant with the 2017 death of Cardinal Joachim Meisner, thereby meaning that the Titulus S. Pudentianae is vacant until a new cardinal is appointed. One of the former Cardinal-Priests of this basilica was Cardinal Luciano Bonaparte, great-nephew of the emperor Napoleon I.
- Kleinbauer, 940
- Some Recent Finds at Alahan (Koja Kalessi), Michael Gough, Anatolian Studies, Vol. 5, (1955), 121.JSTOR
- Suggestion by F.W. Sclatter, see Kleinbauer, 940
- "Santa Pudenziana", katolsk.no.
- Fredric W. Schlatter, The Text in the Mosaic of Santa Pudenziana, Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 43, No. 2 (Jun., 1989), pp. 155–165
- Review by W. Eugene Kleinbauer of The Clash of Gods: A Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art, by Thomas F. Mathews, Speculum, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Oct., 1995), pp. 937–941, Medieval Academy of America, JSTOR
- (in Italian) Antonietta Cozzi Beccarini, "La cappella Caetani nella basilica di Santa Pudenziana in Roma", Quaderni dell'Istituto di Storia dell'Architettura, 22, 1975, pp. 143–158
- Matilda Webb, The churches and catacombs of early Christian Rome: a comprehensive guide, Sussex Academic Press (February 2002), ISBN 1-902210-58-1