24 November 2012

The Patronal Feast of the Basilica of San Clemente

By tradition, ordained by St. Peter himself, Flavius Clemens of Rome is generally reckoned the 3rd Pope after Peter, although some ancient lists of Popes have a different order.  The house on the site of the Basilica here is associated with the family of Clemens, although there is some dispute as to whether it is the same Clement.  Some ancient historians of the Church (e.g., Eusebius), thought he was the co-worker of Paul mentioned in Paul's letter to the Phillipians.  Of the writings attributed to Pope Clement I, scholars today are confident of only one having been written by Clement, his Epistle to the Corinthians.

Pope Clement was a first century Christian, and likely died before the year 100.  He is a great source of the faith and practice of the early Church in Rome, and his Epistle is definitely worth reading.  An interesting aspect of the letter is that it reveals a Bishop who is not an Apostle involving himself in the business of another Church.  This is often seen as an early sign of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

Pope Clement was a successful Pope, a bit too much for the Roman Emperor.  It is said that Clement was converting too many of Rome's noble families to the faith.  He was banished by the Emperor Trajan to what was essentially a penal colony in the Crimea.  He was a bit too successful there, as well.  He worked to bring the faith to many in that area.  Once, the prisoners there were suffering because of a lack of water.  St. Clement prayed near a grotto.  When he finished praying, he saw a lamb, symbolizing the lamb of God.  He stuck the spot on the ground, and out poured water for the thirsty people.  It is a symbol of baptism, that Pope Clement provided first the spiritual water (of baptism) to the people, but also this miraculous water from the spring.

The Martyrdom of St. Clement from a fresco in
the sacristy of the Basilica of St. John Lateran
This was a bit too much for his Roman overseers, so he was sentenced to death.  In a sort of warped irony, they decided that the man who made the miraculous water, would also die by water.  A large anchor was tied around him, and he was thrown into the Black Sea.

Many centuries later, around the year 868, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the great apostles to the slavic people, were travelling near the Crimea.  There they came across his burial place, recognizable from the anchor with the body.  The relics were returned to Rome, where they were placed under the altar of St Clement's church, where they remain today.  His feast for many centuries has been celebrated on November 23.

His Basilica of St. Clement, where I live, has been a place of Christian worship since the first century.  The first site was likely Clement's home.  Eventually in the 4th century the first Basilica was built.  That lasted until the end of the 11th/beginning of the 12th century.  (The church had been damaged by recent Norman invasions.).  The current basilica dates to the beginning of the 12th century, but is largely modeled on the previous 4th century basilica.  So, although it was built much later, it is an excellent example of a much early Christian style of architecture.

Apse mosaic of San Clemente
The most striking feature is the apse mosaic, which depicts an image of Christ in the cross as the tree of life.  Crisis Magazine, an online Catholic journal, recently had a wonderful article on the mosaic, here:
A Sign of Contradiction: The Apse Mosaic of San Clemente | Crisis Magazine:

The feast of St. Clement is a big neighborhood party--complete with fireworks!  The evening begins with a procession around the block with the relics of St. Clement.  We are led by a local band through the streets.  People gather on the side of the roads, and many look down from the apartments in the buildings above.   It is an interesting collection of the faithful, the curious, and the tourists.  After the procession is Mass.  The Mass this year was celebrated by His Eminence Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, the Prefect for the Congregation for Clergy.  After Mass is a reception for guests in the Priory.  The evening concludes with fireworks from the park across the street.

Below are my photos from the event.  I will post a video of the fireworks and the military band a bit later.