Basilica di San Clemente


There are churches and monasteries in the world which steal our attention and create a magic circle around any visitor.

That’s why, everywhere I went, I looked for these religious sites.

And it’s not so much the architecture that gets me, but the people who built that place, their stories and the natural location where they chose to build. For example, the Ostrog Monastery from Montenegro has been built at 2000 meters altitude.

These places remain unchanged over time and life continues without great interventions from outside, in some cases for thousands of years. For me, the story behind the place is more important than the religious or cultural aspects, even though many times these elements come together and cannot be separated.

Basilica di San Clemente is one of the most interesting churches you can see. I couldn’t imagine that you can find, one above the other, 3 churches from different periods of time that preserved so well and which illustrate so clearly the religious evolution of society in a geographic region.

The present church is a Catholic church, built in the 12th century, the one below is a Christian church from the 4th century and then, at the last level, we can find the buildings used by those following the Cult of Mithra. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any pictures inside, so you must believe me this place MUST be seen, especially when it is so close to the Colosseum.

As soon as you access the location, you notice a typical Catholic church, without anything special. Then, as you descent at the level below, you see a large room and a typical Christian altar, from the beginnings of this religion.

The visit doesn’t end up here. We descent one more time to see the oldest religious site, which belonged to those believing in the Cult of Mithra. This is the name of a deity from Persia (Iran nowadays). According to this religion, the god Mithra fought the Sun and captured the divine bull. The blood of the bull gave birth to the animals and plants useful to man. The cult was addressed solely to men and the Roman soldiers are the ones who apparently brought this religion around 100 A.D.

All of a sudden, your imagination plays tricks on you and you see the Christians of Rome wandering from one side to the other, with candles, incense and holy water in their hands in a religious service similar to the one we can see today in the Orthodox churches.

You come to understand there were people living there and your eyes see, at the same time, all those spaces full of life. The Roman soldiers bring sacrifices to Mithra, Christians from the next level keep their evening service, the scent of incense fills the air and you understand what it means to believe.

You walk on the dark corridors and hear the noise of an underground river which surrounds you and you don’t know where that water comes from, but you come to think it’s a good place to hide for a while in case of danger.

You run and you don’t know if you are one of the Roman soldiers praying to Mithra or a Christian hiding from a Roman soldier. The answer is not important, your religion is alive and the present is all there is.


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