The San Clemente

San Clemente entrance on Via Labicana
entrance on Piazza di S. Clemente
S. Clemente Via Labicana Rome

picture: Kaeru

 San Clemente Giuseppe Vasi Drawing mid-19th century and resent day
floor plan upper and lower church    Youtube  (1.24 minutes)
San Clemente Giuseppe Vasi

Clickable floor plans official website (English):
1. 12th century
2. 7th century
3. 1th century

The San Clemente is typical for Rome. It is a church from the Middle Ages, built atop a Roman 1st century building, which in turn is atop a 1st century BC Mithras  temple. But before we descend to the older parts, we’ll first examine the 12th century building. This one, by the way, is built on top of a 4th century Christian basilisk.

San Clemente from 12th to 4th century
San Clemente from 12th to 4th century Rome

Pope Clement, the person whom this church is named after, was convicted by the Romans for his Christian mission zeal. He was first banished to Crimea, but there too he managed to convert many into Christianity, and so tougher measures were called for. With a heavy anchor attached to his body, Clement was tossed into the ocean. Yet remarkably, at low water a burial chamber would be visible, built for Clement by the angels.

reconstruction original   in its entirety

Every year, when tides would be law, Christian pilgrims would journey towards the location of the tomb. One time, a baby got left behind in all the chaos, dragged along by the sweeping tides to disappear under the water’s surface. One year later, much to their amazement, the pilgrims saw the same child near the tomb again, playing happily. The boy was named after the holy Clement. In the first medieval church, below the church we now stand, the story of the holy Clement was captured by 11th century fresco painters.

entrances Via Labicana and Piazza di S. Clemente
San Clemente Via Labicana Rome

picture: Trish-N-Mike

The enclosed space where the Mass was held, the schola cantorum, dates from the 4th century. The panels from this enclosure still contain the typical depictions from early-Christian times that we’ve also encountered in the small tomb underneath the Sant’Agnese fuori le Mura.

panel of the schola cantorum big format
San Clemente panel of the schola cantorum Rome

picture: HEN-Magonza

Images of the pigeon, the fish and the grapevine can be found here as well. The canopy above the main altar stems from the first church, the one underneath this one from the 74h century. The mosaic from the semi-dome in the apse dates back to the 12th century, showing the triumph of the cross. This church also has a floor that is a prime example of cosmati craftsmanship, similar to what we will encounter in the S. Quattro Coronati later on. Cosmati: mosaic artists belonging to the Roman Cosmati family. They used a lot of marble, glass and gold on floors, walls and columns.

Entrance at the Piazza di S. Clemente courtyard
Entrance at the Piazza di S. Clemente San Clemente

picture: Nata R.

Click here for the map street level 12th century

A. elevated central nave
B. Side aisles
C. Cathedra (bishop seat)
D. Absis
E. Altar
F. Ambons
  G. Choir
H. Transept
I. Narthex or front hall
J. Atrium or court
K. Ascending colonnade
L. Water basin

The interior is divided into three aisles by sixteen Ionian columns.

San Clemente
San Clemente nave Rome

Picture: HEN-Mengonza

Pulpit schola cantorum
San Clemente Pulpit schola cantorum Rome

Picture: HEN-Mengonza

apse mosaic
apse mosaic San Clemente

If we walk towards the courtyard, we see the Cappella di Santa Catherina in the right side-aisle. This is where the 15th century painter Masolino from Florence painted a fresco cycle (five images of Masolino’s fresco cycle and the crucifixion on the wall behind the altar can be found at Web Gallery of Art)

Cappella di Santa Catherina Masolino
front plan
Cappella di Santa Catharina Masolino San Clemente

Cappella di Santa Catherina Masolino

The most recent restoration is over with, so we can admire the fresco’s in all their glory. The restoration uncovered a few signatures, that are now visible on both sides of the door. Once we are there, I will explain why signatures were made.

The story painted by Masolino is about the holy Catherine of Alexandria. It starts at the left wall, showing her dispute with the academics, followed by her missionary work and then the conversion of the wife of Maxentius. The so-called ‘Catherine wheel’ torture is also visible, where an angel intervened and broke the torture device. The story ends with the decapitation of the saint and the angels who carry her body to the mountain in Sinaï. Before we move down to the 4th century building, we have another look in the beautiful courtyard with four old classic Ionian columns.

Courtyard of the San Clemente
courtyard of the San Clemente

Through the sacristy, right side-aisle, we descend to the old and first church. We then first arrive in the narthex, to then enter a long, small corridor with a recess at the end of it that lists another 4th century fresco with Maria and child.

fresco san clemente

picture: hardmaj1

Afterwards, when descending further at the apse, we arrive in a Roman building.

San Clemente Romeins deel

pictures: Sacred Destinations

Descending further still, we arrive in a 1st century BC Mithras. temple.

Mithras-temple San Clemente

pictures: Sacred Destinations

Mithras was a fierce rival of Christian religion for quite some time, but lost out towards the end of the fourth century. We leave the San Clemente, cross the street and take a left in the Via dei Santi Quattro Coronati, where we will visit the church of the same name.

Via dei Santi Quattro Coronati
Via dei Santi Quattro Coronati Rome

picture: bloomjune

The next page.