|STATIONS OF ROME
As early as the third century, there was a practice of celebrating a pontifical Mass (an unusually elaborate ritual) at an appointed church within the diocese (the community of parish churches under the authority of a bishop). A set schedule of days was established so that all the parish churches would be visited at some point during the year. This practice was begun as a way to celebrate the unity of the diocesan community, since the community as a whole was too large to meet consistently as a whole for the celebration of the Mass. Delegations from each ecclesiastical section of the city were present as well as the clergy of these parishes. The celebration of liturgical stations was not exclusive to Rome. Other large cities such as Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem also practiced this devotion (See John F. Baldovin, S.J., The Urban Character of Christian Worship: The Orgins, Development, and Meaning of Stational Liturgy, Pont. Institutum Studiorum Orientalium: Rome, 1987).
The mobile service is the primary characteristic of the Stations. For that day, the Stational Liturgy at the designated church is the primary worship service in the city. The Roman system of a circuit of Stational Churches is closely connected to the development of the practice of a Lenten season of 40 days, and appears to have been in place by the 480s. Some centuries later the practice of liturgical processions from church to church appears to have been added to the tradition of simply attending service.
The popularity of this devotion plummeted when the popes took up residence in Avignon in 1305. Upon their return in 1377, the practice was renewed, although it never again experienced comparable popularity. During Kempe's visit from August of 1414 through April of 1415, she was exposed to these traditions, although the pope was not in residence. She was undoubtedly primed for her experience from instruction in her native land. In the later Middle Ages a number of descriptions of the Stations of Rome appeared in English. A manuscript of 1370 praises Rome as the center of remission of sins: "Who would his soul heal, listen to me and I will teach pardon. For thy soul's good. At great Rome, ther is the Roote (lines 1-4). The writer later suggests (lines 285-293) that if pilgrims only knew these spiritual rewards they'd not go to the Holy Land or St Catherine's in Mt. Sinai, for in Rome pardoun ther is with-outen ende (The Stacions of Rome (Vernon Ms) Frederick J. Furnivall, ed., Early English Text Society: London, 1867, 1, 10).
Kempe remained in Rome though the Lenten season, the time when Roman devotions of the Stational Liturgy were the most intense. Characteristically, she comments on these practices only to excuse when she did not fulfill them, stating that Christ had told her to avoid heavy weather: And sumtyme, whan this creatur wolde a gon the Stacyownys, our Lord warnyd hir on the nyght beyng in hir bed that sche schulde not gon owte fer fro hir ostel, for he schulde sendyn gret tempestys that day of levenys and thunderys (lines 2240-43).
John Capgrave, an Austin Friar from Lynn, Kempe’s own town, visited Rome between 1447 and 1452 (about 35 years after Kempe's stay in Rome). Capgrave records the order of the Stations in his book. Kempe would undoubtedly have visited many of the 41 Stationary churches he names as well as the many other described by Capgrave, whether in separate chapters, as below, or in references within the text. Capgrave’s outline:
* signifies a church mentioned specifically by Book of MK
Capgrave, John, Ye Solace of Pilgrimes: A Description of Rome circa A.D. 1450 by John Capgrave, an Austin Friar of King's Lynn, ed. C. A. Milles, London: Oxford University Press, 1911.
Gnoli, Umberto, Topopgrafia e Toponomastica di Roma Medioevale e Moderna. Foligno, 1984 (2nd ed.).