|English name:||St Clement's|
|Latin name:||Sanctus Clemens|
|Dedication:||Clement I, Pope|
|Address:|| Via di San Giovanni in Laterano / Piazza San Clemente|
|Phone:||06 70 45 10 18|
San Clemente is an ancient church dedicated to Pope St Clement I.
Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons. 
The oldest level is thought to be the Titulus Clementis, one of the first parish churches in Rome, and probably belonged to the family of Titus Flavius Clemens, consul and martyr and a contemporary of Pope St Clement. The church was set right next to a pagan temple, a Mithraeum or Temple of Mithras, which is also preserved.
A proper church was built after the Edict of Milan was passed in 313, allowing Christians to practise their religion openly. The first written evidence of this church comes from the pontificate of Pope Siricius (384–399), when a church dedicated to St Clement is mentioned. The older buildings were filled in, and a church occupying about half that area was built. The Mithraeum continued to exist until 395, when all pagan cults were outlawed. The property was taken over by the clergy of San Clemente, who filled it in as a foundation for an apse to the church.
Pope John II (533–535) was a great benefactor of the church - he had been cardinal priest of San Clemente from c. 532 until his election as pope in 533. His name can be seen inscribed on several slabs in the church.
The church was severely damaged by the Normans under Robert Guiscard in 1084. It became unsafe, and the titular priest of the church, Cardinal Anastasius, filled it in and had a new church built on top.
The first excavation of the lower church was carried out by Fr. Joseph Mullooly O.P. 1857–1870, with the cooperation of Giovanni Battista de Rossi. Fr. Louis Nolan O.P. carried out further excavations 1912–1914, and since then work has been going on more or less continuously. .
It has been erroneously assumed that a Benedictine community existed at San Clemente from the 6th century, but this is a result of a misreading of the Dialogues of Pope St Gregory the Great. The church was originally served by Roman diocesan priests.
In 1403 Pope Boniface IX handed the church over to the newly founded Augustinian Congregation of St Ambrose, also known as the Ambrosians. They continued to serve the church until the congregation was suppressed by Pope Urban VIII in 1643. Dominicans from San Sisto Vecchio took over in 1645.
In 1667 Irish Dominicans took over, after the Catholic Church had been banned in Ireland by the English and the clergy was expelled. The church was granted to the Dominicans in perpetuity by Cardinal Francis Maidalchini.
The main door is not always open. If it is, enter the atrium and see the façade of the church. It was restored in the early 18th century by Carlo Fontana.
In the atrium, St Servulus begged for alms in the 6th century, and he also died here. Pope Gregory the Great met him here, and preached a sermon about him. Servulus is buried beneath the altar of the Blessed Sacrament, to the left of the high altar.
The excavations below the church are accessed through a door on the right, where you'll find a small shop and the ticket booth. The mosaics are among the finest in Rome. They are from the 12th century, but the style is one of earlier days. The foliage that dominates the apse mosaic is a symbol of the living Church, with its roots in the Garden of Paradise and its fruit, the Cross of Christ (more information below). Postcards with details of the mosaics are sold in the shop. Some find it a good idea to browse through the postcards to identify motifs, and then go back into the church to take another look at the mosaics - this should help you understand them better.
The gilded ceiling and the rectangular windows are from the 18th century.
Beneath the high altar are the tombs of St Clement (moved here in 868) and St Ignatius of Antioch (believed to have been thrown to the beasts in the Colosseum). The inscription on the front of the altar mentions Saint Clement: SANCTUS CLEMENS MARTYR HIC FELICITER EST TUMULATUS; "Saint Clement, martyr, is happily buried here". Below the altar is the inscription: "HIC REQUIESCUNT CORPORA SS. CLEMENTIS PAPÆ ET IGNATII" (Here lie the bodies of Saints Clement and Ignatius).
Behind the altar is an ancient throne. The back was once part of the tomb of a martyr - the word MARTYR is inscribed on it.
The chapel of St John the Baptist has a 16th century statue. The altar is modern.
The chapel of St Catherine of Alexandria is in the Gothic style, an unusual style in Rome. The paintings are probably by Masolino da Panicale, made 1428–1431 - older guidebooks will tell you that they are attributed to Massaccio, but this now seems unlikely. The subjects include the Crucifixion and scenes from the lives of St Ambrose and St Catherine.
On the right-hand side of the apse is an early 14th century tabernacle in a combination of the French Gothic style and Cosmatesque decoration. It is placed rather high on the wall, so that it can be seen by all; in addition, it is "out of reach of profane hands", as the Lateran Council in 1215 had decreed. The tabernacle was commissioned by Cardinal Giacomo Tomasi Caetani, titular priest of the church, in 1299. Above the tabernacle door, Cardinal Caetani is depicted in a relief kneeling before the Blessed Virgin and the Child Jesus, with his patron St James the Apostle (Giacomo is the Italian form of James) directing him toward the divine presence. At the top of the canopy is a medallion with the Lamb of God in relief.
The apse is richly decorated with frescoes and mosaics. Starting from the bottom, there is a strip with purely decorative motifs, followed by a border with floral decoration.
Christ and the Apostles are depicted in mosaic in the form of the Lamb of God flanked by a flock of twelve lambs.
An inscriptions follows, explaining the meaning of the main mosaic at the top:
ECCLESIAM CRISTI VITI SIMILABIMUS ISTI
DE LIGNO CRUCIS JACOBI DENS IGNATII(ue):
IN SUPRASCRIPTI REQUIESCUNT CORPORE CRISTI
QUAM LEX ARENTEM SET CRUS FACIT E(ss)E VIRENTE(m).
The line divisions here refer to the crosses placed between verses in the inscription. It is not easy to penetrate the inscription at first glance; one must take the first and last lines together as one part of it, and then the second and third line. The first and last line reads "This vine shall be a symbol of the Church of Christ, which the Law makes wither but the cross brings to life." The second and third lines say: "The remains of the Cross of wood and of Jabob and Ignatius rest above the writing in the body of Christ". It might seem like a mystic code, but it simply refers to three relics, a splinter of the True Cross and relics of St James the Apostle and St Ignatius of Antioch, which were placed inside the body of Christ in the mosaic itself when it was made.
Directly above the inscription are several animals advancing towards a river which is branching into four streams; this is a reference to the description of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2, 9-10.
Then two pairs of tendrils shoot up from the ground. They form a spiral pattern of foliage on the sides, and turn into the cross with Christ crucified in the middle. This is a reference to the ancient legend that the wood in the True Cross came from the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden; the legend was probably meant as a cathecetical tool, as it underlines the idea of Christ as the new and faultless Adam. The Blessed Virgin and St John the Evangelist are depicted at the foot of the cross, mourning at the death of Christ. The uppermost tendrils of the tree are withered. Among the animals in the lower part of this mosaic are a stag and a serpent; they too refer to the Fall of Man. The serpent is obviously the serpent that tempted Eve, and the stag was in ancient stories referred to as the serpent's natural enemy, drawing out snakes from the ground and stamping them to death. The sum total is that the mosaic depicts the Tree of Life, which has withered after sin entered the world but then turns into the new Tree of Life, the Cross of Christ which is the ultimate symbol of Christ's victory over sin. To give the mosaic a more powerful impact, a splinter of the True Cross was as mentioned incorporated in it.
There are many other symbols in the mosaic, such as the chickens being fed at the bottom; as chickens must be fed by humans to survive, we must be tended by the Church to reach Heaven. Within the cross, there are twelve doves, which refer to the Prophets, the Apostles or both. Sheep are tended, referring to the Church tending its flock.
The apsidal arch is also decorated with mosaics. At the top is Christ Pantokrator (All-ruler), flanked by symbols of the four Evangelists. Directly below Christ, in the transition between apse and arch, is the Chi-Rho symbol with Alpha and Omega.
To the sides, a bit lower than Christ, are four persons. On the left, St Lawrence receiving instruction from St Paul. St Lawrence is sitting with his feet on an iron grille, the instrument of his martyrdom. Paul is identified with an inscription, AGIOS PAULUS. This curious blend of Greek (Agios = saint) and Latin (Paulus rather than Greek Paulos) refers to his Eastern origins. The inscription below them says DE CRUCE LAURENTI PAULO FAMULARE DOCENTI, "The servant Lawrence is taught of the cross by Paul".
On the right are Sts Peter and Clement. This refers to the succession of Bishops of Rome; Peter declares Christ's presence to his later successor. The inscription says: RESPICE P(ro)MISSU(m) CLEMENS A ME TIBI CH(rist)UM, "Behold, Clement, Christ as he was promised to you by me".
Below these figures are two prophets. On the left, Isaiah ios hold a scroll saying VIDI DOMINUM SEDENTEM SUP(er) SOLIUM, "I saw the Lord seated on a throne". On the right, Jeremiah is also holding a scroll, saying: HIC EST D(eu)S N(oste)R ET N(on) ESTIMABIT(ur) ALIUS ABSQ(ue) ILLO, "This is our God, there is none to compare with him".
Along the lower edge is another inscription, saying: GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO SEDENTI SUP(er) THRONUM ET IN TERRA PAX HOMINIBUS BONAE VOLUNTATIS, "Glory to God in the highest, seated on the throne, and on earth peace to men of good will". Taken together with the scroll held by Isaiah, two elements of Mass are referred to. The verse held by Isaiah is connected to the preface given before Sanctus, and the other text of course refers to the Gloria.
The 4th century churchEdit
There is a fee to enter the excavations. They are extensive, interesting and well described in the many signs down there, so it's worth the money. The entrance is through the shop, where you also pay the fee.
In the narthex, which is the first room you enter, you can see columns embedded in the wall. They originally formed part of an open colonnade, but after an earthquake in the 9th century the supporting walls were added. Two paintings with scenes from the life of Clement were made it this time, one of them showing a legend from Crimea, the site of his martyrdom. He was thrown into the sea with an anchor tied to his neck. Every year, there was an exceptionally low tide as pilgrims visited the site, and a little chapel emerged from the waters. One year a child was left behind by accident, and was thought to have perished as the water rose. The next year, he was found in the chapel, in good health. This is one of the stories depicted in the paintings. The family that gave the painting is also included, and among them is a boy named after the saint - you can see the inscription Puerulus Clemens, "The little boy Clement" next to him. The other painting shows the return of St Clement's relics to Rome.
Opposite the paintings is a hinged marble slab. It was originally a pagan memorial, which was later reused by Christians. The pagan epitaph is for a child: "Marcus Aurelius Sabinus, also known as 'the little rover', a most beloved child. He had no equal among the young men of his own rank and time."
A deep cavity here was thought to have been a baptismal font. Further examination shows that it may instead have been part of a forge where church bells were made.
After entering the nave, you'll find a 9th century painting on the left. It depicts either the Assumption of Our Lady or the Ascension of Our Lord. Pope Leo IV (847–855) is depicted with a square halo, which means that it was made while he was still alive.
On the left side of the nave there are two other paintings. One tells the Legend of St Alexis, a 4th century hermit. Alexis went to the East to live as a hermit, but returned to Rome. His parents did not recognize him, and he took a job as their servant, and lived under the stairs. After his death, it was noticed that he clutched a piece of paper in his hand. It was impossible to open his hand, and in the end the Pope came and succeeded. The paper proved who he was, and in the picture you can see his parents struck with grief and his wife kissing him.
The other picture shows St Clement at Mass, and the Legend of Sisinnius, the husband of a Christian woman. He was disrespectful in church, and was struck blind. At the prayer of Clement, his sight returned, but he still ordered his guards to arrest the pope. They started hallucinating, and instead grabbed a column lying on the ground. The most interesting thing about the painting is not the pictures, but the text in the lower part. It's one of the oldest surviving examples of a written Italian language, distinct from the Latin used elsewhere. Incidentally, what is written is Sisinnius' comment on the matter, so the first written Italian we have is an expression rather unfitting for a church, Fili dele pute, meaning "Son of a whore".
There are other paintings as well, such as one of the empress Theodora (died 548). At a later time, probably in the 9th century, it was turned into a painting of the Madonna and Child through the addition of the Holy Child and a throne. Signs by the paintings provide explanations for them.
At the entry to the stairs leading to the Roman house below the church, there is an altar to St Cyril, probably over the remains of a shrine containing his relics. St Cyril is the inventor of the Cyrillic alphabet, and there are many plaques donated by Eastern national Churches in gratitude to their apostle.
House below the churchesEdit
According to tradition, one of the excavated houses belonged to St Clement. From the ancient church, you can look down a stairwell and see the narrow alley between the two houses. Entering the house, you'll find that there is little left of the decorations, but it is possible to see some stucco on the walls and ceiling. The floor has a herring-bone pattern typical of Roman buildings.
In one of the rooms worshippers of Mithras, a Persian god adopted into the Roman pantheon, built a shrine. This was probably done after Christians had started worshipping in the same building complex. The shrine is a well preserved example of a Mithraeum, with the altar preserved in the middle. A copy of the altar is placed at the entrance to the ancient church, allowing visitors to study the relief more closely.
After passing the Mithraeum, you can hear water rushing by. The sound comes from water rushing into the Cloaca Maxima, the great sewer that helped Rome grow into a huge city. Funnily enough, some tourists drop coins into it, mistaking the ancient sewer for a wishing well. There is not much more to see in the house, but it is fascinating to walk through a Roman house, and especially one in which we know that early Christians worshipped.