To visit the little church of Ss. Marcellinus and Peter, sitting at the corner of two busy Roman streets, is to encounter a long tradition of devotion at this site. The saints after whom this church is named present a contrast in personalities, brought together in the service of the Gospel. Peter was an exorcist who, because of his outspoken defense of the Faith during the Diocletian persecutions, was imprisoned. There, the peace he exhibited despite his impending death attracted the interest of his jailer, with the martyr’s witness eventually bringing about the conversion of the jailer and his family. Following this, many conversions followed, for which Peter sought the assistance of the priest Marcellinus to administer Baptism. This priest, although of a quieter nature than the exorcist, nevertheless did not hesitate in coming out to celebrate the sacrament. Although the persecution briefly waned after this, upon its renewal both Marcellinus and Peter were arrested and judged guilty. After a few days of further rough treatment both were brought to a deserted place outside the city called the silva nigra, “black forest,” on account of its remote location. There they were to be beheaded, where nobody would find their remains to venerate them. However, after their martyrdom a bright light was seen to shine in the place, so that the area was now called the silva candida, “white forest.” After appearing to two Christian women, the bodies of the saints were brought to the catacombs, where they lay for several centuries. In the ninth century their relics were brought to Germany for use in new churches then being built there; they now rest in the city of Seligenstadt.
The first records of a church built in their honor are from the late sixth century, although it is possible that the church was built as early as the late fourth century by Pope Siricius (r. 384-399). After being modified several times over the succeeding centuries, a decision was arrived at to rebuild this church in the mid-eighteenth century, and demolition of the ancient structure began in 1750. The construction of the current church began soon thereafter, concluding in 1754. The new church stands somewhat forward of the location of the one previous. Since this rebuilding some minor cosmetic changes have taken place, but the overall appearance of the church remains the same.
Address: via Merulana, 162
Directions: Take bus 571 from the Acciaioli stop (in front of S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini) to St. John Lateran; or, take bus 64/40 to Piazza Venezia, then bus 117 (infrequent) or 85 or 850 to St. John Lateran.
Then walk north on via Merulana to the church (on your left).