Apart from Ravenna, Rome has some of the most opulent mosaics in Italy, and this church has one of the most striking examples. Commissioned during the papacy of Innocent I, its early 5th-century apse mosaic represents Christ Teaching the Apostles and sits above a Baroque altarpiece surrounded by a bevy of florid 18th-century paintings. The mosaic is remarkable for its iconography; at the center sits Christ Enthroned, shown as an emperor or as a philosopher holding court, surrounded by his apostles. Each apostle faces the spectator, literally rubbing shoulders with his companion (unlike later hieratic styles in which each figure is isolated), and bears an individualized expression. Above these figures and a landscape symbolizing Heavenly Jerusalem float the signs of the four evangelists in a blue sky flecked with the orange of sunset, made from thousands of tesserae (mosaic tiles).
To either side of Christ, Sts. Praxedes and Pudentiana hold wreaths over the heads of Sts.
Peter and Paul. These two women were actually daughters of the Roman senator Pudens (probably the one mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21), whose family befriended both apostles. During the persecutions of Nero, both sisters collected the blood of many martyrs before suffering their fate. Pudentiana transformed her house into a church, but this her namesake church was constructed over a 2nd-century bathhouse. Beyond the sheer beauty of the mosaic work, the size, rich detail, and number of figures make this both the last gasp of ancient Roman art and one of the first monuments of early Christianity.