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San Clemente

San Clemente (14)

The Basilica di San Clemente was founded in the 4th century in honour of the martyr Saint Clement, who died dragged through the sea while tied to an anchor. 

If you visit this church, you will be surprised to see that it is a building with three different levels, each of them from a different historical period. 

To start with, its entrance and first floor are in baroque style and belong to the 12th century. Pay special attention to the gilded ceiling and the schola cantorum, the section built for the choir. Also highly attractive are the coloured flooring and the spectacular mosaic of the apse. This mosaic is known as “Triumph of the Cross” and shows Mary and Saint John around a large cross, from which comes a tree with birds, flowers and other symbols on its leaves. 

You should also se the Chapel of Santa Catalina, which contains some famous frescos by Masolino da Panicale, possibly assisted by his pupil Masacio. These frescos date from 1430, and show scenes from the life and martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. 

You can then go down a stairway to what was once the entrance portico. Here there are other frescos commissioned by the Rapiza family. One of them tells the story of one of the miracles of Saint Clement. It seems that each year the saint removed the waters of the Black Sea so that the faithful could pray where he had drowned. The legend tells that one year a mother left her son there, who was swallowed up by the water, and, when returning the next year, found the boy still there safe and sound. 

If you go to the basilica on the lower floor, built in the 4th century, in the central nave you will come across a fresco that represents another legend: that of Siricius. These frescos are particularly important because of the texts they contain, since it appears they are the first written examples of the vernacular language that Italian comes from.

By the stairway at the back of the left-hand nave you will go down to the 3rd-century Oriental temple. There you will see the old Mithraeum, a temple dedicated to Mithras. You will notice that the ceiling simulates a grotto, but this is due to the belief that the God Mithras was born in one.  

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