Basilica di San Clemente, with its relics of the martyr, its thousand-year old history and its famous frescoes, creates a strong impression, one which is also felt in the mitreum. This church is one of the oldest places of Christian worship in Rome, and was the home of St. Clement, disciple of St Peter and fourth Bishop of Rome (88-97).
An ancient residence, far below the modern street level, housed a sanctuary of Mithras in the 2nd century; in 385 a church dedicated to St. Clement, the third bishop of Rome after St. Peter, was constructed above it. After this church was destroyed by the Normans in 1084, construction of a basilica began in the 12th century.
In the upper church, the sequence of gate, vestibule with fountain, area for the congregation and schola cantorum with the high altar and apse is a reference to the old basilica plan. Features of the interior are ancient columns and Cosmatesque work on the marble floors and choir screens, the Easter candelabra, the altar tabernacle and the bishop’s throne. The triumphal arch and apse are covered with magnificent mosaics, which are among the most beautiful in Rome.
Heavenly imagery appears in intertwined biblical scenes with the tree of life and the cross, saints and symbolic flora and fauna such as the twelve sheep (apostles) approaching the Lamb of God. In the small Chapel of St Catherine at the front of the left-hand aisle, Renaissance frescoes by Masolino from the period before 1431 show scenes from the life of St Catherine of Alexandria – the first perspective paintings in the city. The lower church, a 4th-century basilica with columns dividing the nave from the two aisles, is decorated with Romanesque frescoes.
The ascension of Christ in the nave, with Pope Leo IV bearing the square nimbus denoting a living benefactor, is particularly noteworthy. Finally, the excavations with the sanctuary of Mithras should not be missed. An altar with a relief showing the Persian god of light, Mithras, killing a bull, stands in the centre of the elongated room.
Basilica di San Clemente Opening Hours: Mon.-Sat: 9 am-12.30 pm, 3 pm- 6 pm., Sun: 10 am-12.30 pm, 3 pm-6 pm.