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San Clemente In Rome Is A Basilica With Layers Of History

San Clemente in Rome, Italy is a basilica near the Colosseum that is worth a visit because of the unique layers of history that have lasted for centuries.

San Clemente In Rome - The Basilica

The Basilica of Saint Clement

The 3 Layers Of San Clemente In Rome

The top (present) level is the Roman basilica of San Clemente and it was built in the year 1100 AD. The next level down, on which the basilica was built, is a 4th century basilica built in a home that had previously been a church as well. This had been built on top of a villa from the times of the Roman Republic and had been destroyed during the Great Fire of Rome that occurred in 64 AD. There are varying accounts of this fire because although there were motivations and accusations that Emperor Nero had started the fires so that he could rebuild Rome in his image, he accused the Christian community, which was at the time a religious minority that was in conflict with Roman paganism. This would lead to an increase in persecution of Christians.

Who Was San Clemente?

Regarding San Clemente himself, little is known about him. According to ancient documents, San Clemente was the third in succession after Saint Peter. San Clemente is honored as a martyr based on documents from the fourth century that tell how he, during the reign of emperor Trajan, was sentenced to exile in the Crimea and forced to labor in the mines.

Recovering History From San Clemente In Rome

San Clemente In Rome - Bust of Fr. Joseph Mullooly

Bust of Fr. Joseph Mullooly

Fr. Joseph Mullooly was born in Ireland and in 1840 he left for Italy where he took the Dominican habit, and in the following three years he was ordained a priest. He was assigned to the basilica of San Clemente in 1846, where he remained for the rest of his life. In 1857 he began excavations under the basilica and within ten years he discovered an early Christian basilica (level 2) and then the ancient level 3, which dates back almost to the time of San Clemente himself. In June of 1880, Fr. Mullooly collapsed and died five days later in San Clemente. He was originally buried elsewhere, but in 1912 his remains were brought back to San Clemente where they remain under the altar of the basilica that he himself had excavated.

St. Cyril (San Cirillo) had found in 861 AD the relics of what he believed were of Pope Clement, along with an anchor, which was known to be symbolic of his martyrdom. The two brothers, St. Cyril and Methodius, at the invitation of the Pope, came to Rome in 867 bringing with them these remains. In the year 869 AD, St. Cyril died and his body was brought back from Crimea and buried in the Basilica of San Clemente.

The Tomb of St. Cyril was discovered in 1863 and for historical reasons, the relics were moved from the basilica and later, their traces were lost. In the 1960s, Dominican priests from Ireland managed to find a fragment of these relics and Pope Paul VI personally placed this fragment in the Basilica of San Clemente in the hope that the fragment would help strengthen the bonds between the Roman Catholic church and other Christian communities around the world.

San Clemente In Rome Frescoes and Mosaics

The Particular Judgment (Il Giudizio Particolare)

San Clemente In Rome - A Mithraic Altar

A Mithraic Altar

In this fresco, Jesus is in the act of blessing in the way of the Byzantine rite. He is surrounded by archangels and Apostles, with two figures kneeling and undergoing judgment. They are most likely the brothers Cyril and Methodius. The style of the fresco is from the Byzantine age, without being updated as was common.

Transfer Of The Relics Of San Clemente (Traslazione delle reliquie di San Clemente)

This fresco details the transfer of St. Clements remains from St. Peter to St. Clement’s Basilica , which the brothers Cyril and Methodius had brought back from Crimea. The two brothers accompany the saint’s body with Pope Adrian II, who received the missionaries. The Central Institute for Restoration (Istituto Centrale per il Restauro), financed by the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities (Ministero della Cultura), oversaw the restoration of the fresco.

Miracle Of The Sea Of Azov (Il Miracolo del Mar d’Azov)

San Clemente In Rome - Descent Into Limbo

Descent Into Limbo

Tied to an anchor and thrown into the Black Sea, the body of St. Clement was recovered from his underwater tomb and then buried on an island. Once a year, due to the ebb of the tide, this tomb reappeared to the population. As depicted in this fresco,  a child was swallowed by the rising tide, but only to be found by his mother, safe and sound in the grave when it resurfaced the following year. Similar to above, the Central Institute for Restoration (Istituto Centrale per il Restauro), financed by the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities (Ministero della Cultura), oversaw the restoration of the fresco.

Descent To Limbo (Discesa al Limbo)

This fresco of Christ’s descent into Limbo was discovered in 1868, and it was the last fresco found by Fr. Mullooly during his excavations. It depicts Jesus after his death as he descends into the Underworld while trampling on a demon. The fresco appears to have been part of the funeral monument of this monk who was buried here.


This is the scene of the first major archaeological discoveries of Fr. Mullooly in 1857. On the back wall of this niche a fresco of a Madonna and child was found. After a few days this fresco collapsed, revealing the current Madonna now visible. The Madonna herself is crowned by a more complex royal-styled diadem with Byzantine inspiration. The iconography in this fresco is typically Western and specifically Roman.

San Clemente In Rome - The Madonna

The Madonna

How To Visit The Basilica

The Basilica can be found at:

Basilica San Clemente

Is Basilica di San Clemente Free?

Tickets can be booked online and the costs are:

  • Adult – €10.00
  • Student Up To 26 Years Old (With Student Card) – €5.00
  • School Groups Students Up To 26 Years Old – €5.00
  • Disabled And Caregivers – €0.00
  • Student Up To 16 Years Old Entering With Parents – €0.00
San Clemente In Rome - Courtyard

Courtyard Heading Into Basilica

More Information On Other Amazing Churches In Rome, Italy

If you enjoyed this post about San Clemente in Rome, then I have some other posts about religious sites around Rome that you may also find interesting. Check these out:

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