Saint Clement: The Iconography

The natal day Not his birthday but the day he died and was "born again" into Heaven of St. Clement I, Pope and Martyr. He was the third person after blessed Peter the Apostle to hold the pontificate. During the persecution of Trajan he was sent to Chersonesus. There an anchor was tied onto his neck and he was thrown into the sea and crowned with martyrdom. His body now lies in honor in the church that had been built in his name, carried there by the brothers SS. Cyril and Methodius. – Roman Martyrology for 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. A window in the Church of St. Kunibert, Cologne, pairs a scene of Peter as Pope baptizing Clement with one of a nearly identical Pope Clement saying Mass (Whiteside, 72).

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 what he believed to be the bones of the saint were transfered from the Crimea to the Basilica of St. Clement, in Rome (image).2

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

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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)


Detail of the apse mosaic at San Clemente, Rome: St. Clement holds the anchor that is his attribute. (See the description page.)


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

ATTRIBUTES

  • Anchor
  • Papal tiara

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DATES

  • Feast day: November 23
  • Died circa 100

BIOGRAPHY

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.

2 Roman Breviary, IV, 764.

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