Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Rome 3 - Basilica San Clemente

Before my first visit to Rome in 1999, I had read about Basilica San Clemente and put it on my "must see" list. It was not a disappointment and a return visit definitely a requirement of my recent trip. In the late 1600s the basilica was granted to the Irish Dominican order because of religious persecution in Ireland, and this still seems to be a Roman pilgrimage site for the Irish to this day. Further information on the basilica and its history can be found here. The upper level, "modern" church is beautiful and has an outside garden area. There are several frescoes or beginnings of frescoes -- elegant line drawings on a wall towards the back of the church. Photography is not allowed in the church and my postcard of one of these drawings will not show up in a scan. I was unable to find images of these under drawings online  (there are 2) so please do take my word for it!


Below the newer basilica is the older 4th century basilica! It is very thrilling to walk back through time by walking downstairs. Much of this hallway was familiar to me from my previous visit, but I was amazed at how much had been newly excavated in 16 years.


I love the walls where finds were placed willy-nilly after excavations in the 1800s. I am sure this earlier way of dealing with finds horrifies contemporary archaeologists, but I think it makes for a fascinating display.


In 2005 apparently, a number of frescoes were restored in the old basilica so they were totally new to me. There is now better lighting (still atmospherically dim), footpaths and didactics to explain what is on view. This is a depiction of the Descent of Christ into Limbo/The Harrowing of Hell and is believed to be a portrait (left) of St Cyril. The tomb with which this fresco is associated is believed to be St Cyril's tomb.


The didactic to this fresco told a very complicated and funny story of a Christian visiting a home and the master of the house (who was later converted and became a saint) was infuriated at this religious transgression and called the Roman guards to remove him from his home. Everyone got confused and the soldiers struggled to arrest a column. The master of the house told them to "put their backs into it" while the Christian made his escape. There was another fresco with an equally amusing story of a hermit who returned home to work as a servant for his family who did not recognise him till he died. Meanwhile, he made his home with them for many years, living under the stairs.


On the level below the old basilica lies the Mithraeum. One is not allowed in this room so viewing is from a window structure. It would be nice to get a closer look at the altar and the sculpture behind it. The Mithraic temple's footprint is smaller than the basilica, but there is also wall evidence of other buildings and in one of the "rooms" one can hear the water running from a still-working Roman aqueduct.