Monday, July 02, 2007

The Basilica of St Clement, The Relics of St Cyril, and a Temple of Mithras

Posted by Picasa

Although not heard much about, I think this may have been the most interesting thing I saw in Rome.

Located between St John Lateran and the Colosseum (10-minute walk to either), the current basilica dates to around 1100 and houses the relics of St Clement, one of the first bishops of Rome (ca. 100).

St Clement is the author of the famous letter to the Church at Corinth known as 1 Clement, which was widely acknowledged by the early church as being divinely inspired. It appears along with the books of the New Testament in one of the three oldest surviving manuscripts (4th century) from Alexandria (Codex A). Read 1 Clement here.

The second photo is from the apse of the current church. The beautiful mosaics and frescos date to the 12th century.

The really interesting part of this church comes below. Underneath the 12th century church is the original 4th century basilica. And underneath the 4th century church is a 1st century Roman house which was used as a meeting place by the earliest Christians. In the 2nd century, a temple to Mithras was added to the house (not, obviously, by the Christians).

First, we descended the steps to the 4th century basilica. Unfortunately, no photos or videos were allowed in these underground areas, so I bought two postcards (the third and fourth photos) to show you what we saw. The 4th century church contained the original resting place of St Cyril of Thessaloniki, the 9th century Apostle to the Slavs (along with St Methodios). The third photo is of an icon of him, painted above his tomb in the early church.

The 4th century church was destroyed in 1084 during the Norman sack of Rome, and rebuilt 10-20 years later in its current form. During excavations, a small relic of St Cyril was discovered, which is housed in the current, above-ground church (see the top photo). The top photo also shows a mosaic donated by the Archbishop of Athens in commemoration of the lifting of the anathemas.

After exploring the 4th century basilica, we descended again to the 1st century Roman house.

According to the Wikipedia entry: “The house was originally owned by Roman consul and martyr Titus Flavius Clemens who was one of the first among the Roman nobility to convert to Christianity. He allowed his house to be used as a secret gathering place for fellow Christians, the religion being outlawed at the time.

There is evidence of pagan worship on the site. In the 2nd century members of a Mithraic cult built a small temple dedicated to Mithras in an insula, or apartment complex, on the site. This temple, used for initiation rituals, lasted until about the 3rd century, by which time Christianity had largely supplanted pagan worship in Rome.”

Mithraism was one of the biggest early rivals to Christians, and was especially popular in the Roman army. Before St Constantine, it was one of the most popular religions in the Empire. The bottom photo is of the temple, which was mainly used to host the religion’s common meals (not unlike the Christian practice). If you are interested in reading more about this fascinating religion (and other mystery cults of the time), check out this well done and very accessible book.

No comments: