Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday of Second Week: San Clemente

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!  It's fitting that today we visit this particular station church, because its caretakers are the Irish Dominicans.

So during the 40 days of Lent, the priest always wears purple vestments.  I was hoping that we might just be able to substitute them for green vestments in honor of everyone being Irish today.  But alas, no such luck!  If only St. Patrick's Day were on April 1...

On the other hand, today's station church is one of my favorites in the whole city of Rome!  Actually it tends to be on many people's short lists, given its history and its interior beauty.  Amidst the several hundred churches you will find in Rome, this would be one of those particularly worth seeing. 
Basilica of San Clemente

Saint Clement's basilica has a long-standing history.  It is named after Saint Clement of Rome, the fourth pope (92 - 99 AD) who was martyred by order of Emperor Trajan.  He was first banished to present-day Crimea, Ukraine for converting over 400 Romans of official rank.  So Clement merely continued his evangelization work in exile, converting the locals and shooting fire from his fingertips.  For this Trajan sentenced Clement to death and he was thrown into the sea with an anchor around his neck.  Perhaps the Black Sea?  I'm not sure, but that's why in Christian art you often see St. Clement posing with an anchor.

In the following years, a major recession of the tide and a lowering of the water table level allowed his relics with the anchor to be recovered and buried nearby, where they would be later found by St. Cyril in 867.  This is the Cyril we talked about earlier, the one who made the Cyrillic alphabet and converted the Slavic people to Christianity.  Cyril returned these relics to Rome, where they were laid in this basilica next to St. Ignatius of Antioch under the high altar by Pope Adrian II (Ignatius was martyred 107 AD by being fed to wild nice).  He (Cyril) died two years later in 869 and his own relics were enshrined in St. Clement's basilica as well.

The church on this site actually began as a 'home' church in the 3rd century because Christianity was still illegal at that point (the home itself was built in the 1st century).  About 100 years later in 390, after Christianity has been legalized, an official basilica was built over the house, which was later renovated in 533-35.  The stone half-walled-in thing you see on the central floor area in the second picture (called a schola cantorum), all that part comes from the sixth century renovation and has survived to today.  We know this because you can find on it the monogram of its donor, Pope John II (reigned 533-35).

The 390 basilica was sacked and ruined by the Norman invasion of 1084 (though not everything was lost, like the schola cantorum), and so the rubble was spread out over the floor and a new church built on top of it.  That's the church you see today, which was rededicated upon its completion in May of 1128.  The beautiful gold-looking mosaic apse you see is from the 12th century; the fresco of the Apostles below it and other frescoes were added in the 15th century, and further renovations would happen in the 18th century, including the coffered ceiling you see in the second photo.  So this church is Exhibit A of 1400 years of church art and architecture.

Excavations of the foundations and crypt were started in 1857 and much of the history of this basilica was rediscovered.  Today you can walk down into the 4th century basilica, and then walk down again into the 1st century Roman house.  Which, by the way, certainly gives all-new meaning to the term 'underground church'.  Lol.  On that note, a corny joke is the best way to end a blog post.  See you tomorrow!

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