The tradition surrounding today’s church states that during the reign of Emperor Maxentius, Pope Saint Marcellus was arrested. He was freed by the faithful and hidden in the home of a Roman woman named Lucina. While here, the Holy Father built a small chapel in her house. But, he was soon rearrested and the emperor turned the property into a stable and forced the pope to work as a stable hand.
Due to the exhausting work and lack of provisions, Pope Marcellus eventually died. He was buried in the catacombs of Saint Priscilla.
Emperor Maxentius continued his rule until October 28, 312, when he went to battle with his brother-in-law, Constantine. This was the battle that led to the legalization of Christianity. The night before the battle, Constantine had a vision of the cross and heard, “in hoc signo vinces”, in this sign you will conquer. He ordered his men to mark their shields with the sign of the cross. The next day, the two armies met at the Milvian Bridge. Constantine defeated Maxentius and became the first Christian Emperor of Rome.
A church was built over Lucina’s home and dedicated as Titulus Marcelli, one of the first twenty-five parishes of Rome. The remains of Pope Saint Marcellus were transfered to this church from the catacombs. In the year 418 a papal election was held here and Pope Boniface I was consecrated as the pope.
In the sixteenth century a fire destroyed much of the church. Only the outer walls and the wooden crucifix from the altar survived. During some celebrations, the crucifix is carried in procession through the streets of Rome.
Also of note here is the fourth or fifth century baptismal font. There was a time in the early Church when baptisms were allowed only at the cathedral. In fact, there was a time when baptisms had to take place outside the church, usually in a separate building known as a baptistry. As the demand for baptism increased, other churches were given the right to confer baptism. The baptismal font here is one of the oldest as it was built into the original church. They keep it locked away, though. So, if you want to see it, you must ask the sacristan.