Monday, March 1, 2010

Station Church: San Clemente

This first Monday of March we headed down the hill and across to the other side of town to the Basilica of San Clemente (St. Clement) which is located near the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

photo by Michael Tinkler

This location has been a site of worship for the Church in Rome for a long time, going back to the 1st century. It is named after St. Clement who is believed to be the fourth Pope. He was either a freed slave or the son of a free slave who had been a member of the Imperial household. Tradition holds that he was banished to Crimea by Emperor Trajan where he continued to preach the Gospel. Therefore he was sentenced to death by being tied to an anchor and thrown in the sea.

This was one of the original house churches in Rome where Christians gathered before the legalization of Christianity. Eventually it would be replaced by a larger basilica around 390. In 867, St. Cyril and Methodius, the Apostles to the Slavs, brought St. Clement's relics back to Rome and Pope Adrian II placed them here. When two years later St. Cyril died in Rome, he would likewise by buried here. Relics of St. Ignatius of Antioch also rest here under the altar.

photo by tanguera75

The Norman attack in 1084 reduced the church to ruins and when rebuilding finally took place, the rubble was spread out and the level of the ground was raised several feet. It was only in 1857 that the remains of the older basilica and even older remains from the classical period were found.

One of the best pieces of art in San Clemente is the mosaic in the apse. In the center is a crucifixion scene with the cross of Christ represented as a tree that branches out in all directions. There are twelve doves on the tree representing the 12 apostles. In each curl of the branches are different scenes and figures. Below this there is a line of 12 lambs that are coming out of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, representing the Jews and the Gentiles. On the arch there are two major prophets, Jeremiah and Isaiah, reading their prophecies concerning the Messiah. I actually had my liturgy exam based off this mosaic. That's how much theology is tied into this mosaic.

photo by paullew

Today's readings call to mind God's mercy that has bestowed on us despite our sinful ways. As we look upon this mosaic, where Christ's cross shows forth God's never-ending love and mercy, may we be reminded that God reaches out to us no matter how far away we have run and calls us today, as he does everyday, to return to him with our whole hearts.

For more info about this church check out pnac, wiki, or sacred destinations.


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