Basilica di San Clemente

Basilica di San Clemente

The Basilica of Saint Clement ("Basilica di San Clemente" in Italian) Rome is a twelfth century Roman Catholic basilica dedicated to Pope Clement I. Archaeologically speaking it is a three -tiered complex of buildings on the site, the lowermost notable as being an archaeological record of a first century insula belonging to T. Flavius Clemens; superposed on it is a second century Roman pagan temple. On the foundations of the fourth-century Christian church is the current one built just before the year 1100 during the height of the Middle Ages.


This ancient church was transformed over the centuries from a private home that was the site of clandestine Christian worship in the first century to a grand public basilica by the sixth century, reflecting the emerging Catholic Church's growing legitimacy and power.

Roman buildings

The house was originally owned by Roman consul and martyr Titus Flavius Clemens, who was one of the first among the Roman senatorial class to convert to Christianity. He allowed his house to be used as a secret gathering place for fellow Christians, the religion being outlawed at the time.

There is evidence of pagan worship on the site. In the second century members of a Mithraic cult built a small temple dedicated to Mithras in an "insula", or apartment complex, on the site. This temple, used for initiation rituals, lasted until about the third century.

The first basilica

Excavations in the 1860s revealed the forgotten ["Abandoned c. 1100 A.D. and forgotten until its existence was rediscovered by archaological excavation in the mid-nineteenth century", remarks John Osborne, in discussing "The 'Particular Judgment': An Early Medieval Wall-Painting in the Lower Church of San Clemente, Rome" "The Burlington Magazine" 123 No. 939 (June 1981:335-341) p 335. ] earlier basilica that underlies the medieval one. St. Jerome writing in 392 attests to a church dedicated to St. Clement. After Christianity became the state religion of Rome in the 390s, the small church underwent expansion, acquiring the adjoining "insula" and other nearby buildings; Architects began work on the complex of rooms and courtyards, building a central nave over the early church site, and an apse over the former Mithraeum. The new church was dedicated to Pope Clement I, a first-century Christian convert and considered by patrologists and ecclesiastical historians to be identical with Titus Flavius Clemens. Restorations were undertaken in the ninth century and ca 1080-99. [Joan E. Barclay Lloyd, "The building history of the medieval church of S. Clemente in Rome" "The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians" 45.3 (September 1986), pp. 197-223.]

Apart from those in Santa Maria Antiqua, the largest collection of Early Medieval wall paintings are to be found in the lower basilica of San Clemente. [tenth-century frescoes discussed in Osborne 1981, and mid-eighth century fragmentary frescos discussed in John Osborne, "Early Medieval Painting in San Clemente, Rome: The Madonna and Child in the Niche" "Gesta" 20.2 (1981:299-310). ] Over the next several centuries, San Clemente became a beacon for church artists and sculptors, benefitting from Imperial largesse. Today, it is one of the most richly adorned churches in Rome.

The last major event that took place in the lower basilica was the election in 1099 of Cardinal Rainerius of St Clemente as Pope Paschal II.

The second basilica

The current basilica was rebuilt in one campaign by Cardinal Anastasius, ca 1099-ca. 1120, after the original church was burned to the ground during the Norman sack of the city under Robert Guiscard in 1084. [ Lloyd 1986|197.]

Irish Dominicans have been the caretakers of San Clemente since 1667, when England outlawed the Irish Catholic Church and expelled the entire clergy. Pope Urban VIII gave them refuge at San Clemente, where they have remained, running a residence for priests studying and teaching in Rome. The Dominicans themselves conducted the excavations in the 1950s in collaboration with Italian archaeology students.

On one wall in the courtyard there is a plaque affixed by Pope Clement XI, who praises San Clemente, declaring, "This ancient church has withstood the ravages of the centuries." Clement undertook restorations to the venerable structure, which he found dilapidated. He selected Carlo Stefano Fontana, nephew of Carlo Fontana as architect, who erected a new facade, completed in 1719. [John Gilmartin, "The Paintings Commissioned by Pope Clement XI for the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome" "The Burlington Magazine" 116 No. 855 (June 1974, pp. 304-312) p 304.] The carved and gilded ceilings of nave and aisles, fitted with paintings, date from this time, as do the frescos.

In one lateral chapel there is a shrine with the tomb of Saint Cyril of the Saints Cyril and Methodius who created the Glagolithic alphabet and christianized the Slavs. Pope John Paul II used to pray there sometimes for Poland and the Slavic countries [] . The chapel also holds a Madonna by Sassoferrato.

Current Cardinal Priest of the "Titulus S. Clementi" is Adrianus Johannes Simonis, archbishop emeritus of Utrecht in the Netherlands. Pope Paschal II (1076-1099) was one of the previous holders of the "titulus".



* [ "San Clemente"] , article by Chris Nyborg.

External links

* [ Official site]
* [] gallery.

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