“Death is not the end of the story.” These words, delivered to us by our tour guide Robert White, could not have been more true when speaking of the first century pope, Saint Clement. While little is known about our fourth pope, the third successor to Peter, his name and story live on in the towering 12th century basilica of San Clemente.
In fact, the only record we have about Clement’s life is that he wrote a letter to the Corinthians in the year 96, which was considered so important that it was read alongside Paul’s letters to the same community during the early years of the Church.
But being pope in the early Church was not an easy or cushy job. Saint Clement was exiled from Rome due to his role in allowing early Christians to worship within his apartment space. Clement would not be beat down over this, however, and preceded to convert not just the other exiles in the Crimean salt mine he was sentenced to, but also those who stood guard over them. He was a force to be reckoned with, and this led to his martyrdom. Tied to an anchor and thrown into the Black Sea, Saint Clement met his end at the hands of the Roman Empire.
While Clement may have died in the first century, his legacy did not end here. His remains were visited each year in Crimea until the eighth century, a product of their miraculous preservation in an underwater cave in the Black Sea. At the end of the eighth century, Clement’s remains were returned to Rome via Saints Cyril and Methodius. They now lie beneath the altar in the 12th century basilica, a startling testament to the two centuries of history the sacred site contains and a bringing home of the man who started it all. – Heather Marsh