Saint Clement: The Iconography
NOVEMBER 23
St. Clement was the fourth bishop of Rome. The Golden Legend account begins with a story in the style of the "Greek novel" genre taken from the Itinerarium Clementis.1 Young Clement's parents and siblings are separated from each other by a series of misfortunes. Then, through a chance encounter with St. Peter, their luck changes and all are reunited and converted to Christianity.

In the second part of the account, Pope Clement converts the wife of the courtier Sissinius, who is struck blind when he tries to spy on the Mass. After Clement cures the blindness Sisinnius nevertheless orders the pope bound with ropes, but the ropes are tied around a stone column instead (image).

The emperor Trajan then has Clement exiled to a marble quarry in the Crimea, where he converts thousands after a water miracle similar to those of Moses and St. Peter (image). A general sent by the emperor then orders him drowned with an anchor fastened to his neck, hoping to forestall any post-mortem cult of the saint.

The Legend simply says he is thrown into the sea. Most images have him like Jonah, thrown over the side of a ship – on the open sea, as at right, or within sight of the shore as in this example. One image has the principals standing "at the water's edge" while the general orders the anchor secured to Clement's neck and a mariner reaches to pull the man and the anchor into his boat.

Trajan's intentions notwithstanding, Clement's resting place does become a site for cult. Angels immediately build an underwater temple in which they place his body and the anchor. Once a year the sea recedes three miles so people can come and pray in the temple, a phenomenon that continues for many years. The Legend tells of one miracle at the temple: a boy left behind when the sea swept back over the temple was still alive when it receded again the following year; he thought he had been asleep for a single night (image).

In the 9th century St. Cyril "translated" what he believed to be the bones of the saint to the Basilica of St. Clement, in Rome (image).

St. Clement's attributes are the anchor and his papal tiara. (example).

Prepared in 2015 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University, revised 2015-10-20.

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The anchor that is Cle­ment's at­tri­bute is seen in this manu­script il­lus­tra­tion of his drown­ing at sea. (See the de­scrip­tion page)


In this 6th-cen­tury mo­sa­ic in Ra­venna Cle­ment leads the mar­tyrs in the pro­ces­sion bring­ing their crowns to the throne of Christ. His crown is his only at­tri­bute. (See the de­scrip­tion page)

DATES

  • Died circa 100

HAGIOGRAPHY

ALSO SEE

NOTES

1 Among historians the Itinerarium is commonly called The Recognitions of Clement. It was condemned as apocryphal by the Decretals of Pope Gelasius in 496.