The Basilica of San Clemente is one of the oldest places of worship in Rome. It’s true the present functional church dates back to approximately the 12th century, but the history of this sacred and beloved religious site of the capital goes back to the 4th century, which means that by entering the basilica, visitors don’t only get to step into one of the most venerable churches of Rome, but they will also enjoy a delightful encounter with the city’s history.

The current church was built, as said, in the early 12th century, on top of 4th century venue used by the early Christians as a meeting place which, at its turn, was erected above a chamber where Mithraists would come and carry on their specific rites. The existence of this Mithraic cult chamber is documented since the 1st century BC. The history has left its clear dramatic print on the edifice, since the basilica still keeps the vestiges of the preceding worship places.

Thus, the lower level of the basilica consists of the traces of the republican house originally owned by Titus Flavius Clemens (Roman consul, later martyred for his involvement in the newly emerging Christian belief) where, until the 4th century, the outlawed Christians met in secrecy and worship their god. It is on this level that the Mithraic cult chamber is located, together with other chambers populated by monuments and inscriptions indicative both of the ancient pagan rites and of the Christian ones. The 4th century basilica, also referred to as the lower or the early basilica, is also filled of history, having been the site of several councils and other important medieval ecclesiastical events (such as the election of Pope Paschal II in 1099). But the historical background aside, the lower basilica is also home to one of the largest collection of religious murals from the early Middle Ages.

History, however, did not let the early basilica untouched. It was pillaged and burned in a fire set up by the Normans in the late 11th century, but rebuilt subsequently to the barbarians’ attack. Its importance for the religious life of Rome is proven, amongst others, by the fact the basilica has come to be one of the richest decorated churches in Rome. Since the second half of the 17th century (1667), the church was bestowed to the order of Irish Dominican monks. The excavation works carried out in the mid 20th century (excavations which brought to light the ancient vestiges of the republican house and of the Mithraic chamber) were executed by the Dominicans.

The inner highlights of the basilica don’t refer exclusively to the these vestiges (though the Mithraic altar on the lower level, decorated with a relief which depicts the great Mithras killing a bull is truly exceptional), but also to elements like the Chapel of Saint Catherine of Alexandria (embellished with frescoes by Masolino), to a triumphal arch and to the apse covered with 12th century mosaics of incredible decorative intricacy: floral and animal motifs, figures of saints, as well as paradigmatic scenes inspired from the Old and the New Testament, the Tree of Life and the Cross.

Thus, the basilica is not only a respected pilgrimage destination of Rome, it is also a notable sightseeing objective. The sightseeing tours organized by the authorities of the Basilica of San Clemente are, of course, structured according to the three historical layers of the edifice: the pre-Christian site, the 4th century church and the current place of worship.

Basilica of San Clemente (Basilica di San Clemente)
95, Via Labicana, 00184, Rome, Italy
0039 06 7740021
0039 06 77400201