In keeping with one of our two themes for this year’s visit to Roma, the layers beneath the Basilica of San Clemente was our next stop.
With our pre-plotted route, we found it without trouble. The Basilica of San Clemente is really three churches in one, each level constructed over the other. A walk down, and down again, is also a walk through time.
The streetside level of the church was built in 1108. Under the care of Irish Dominicans since 1667 when England ousted the entire clergy of the Irish Catholic Church, the upper level is a rich explosion of light and color.
But we had come for the dark and dank bowels beneath this sparkling celebration of Christianity.
Descending one layer down, we entered the 4th century church, electric torches casting eerie shadows throughout the darkened stone hallways. Thick pilasters and arches bolstered the basilica above. Faded frescoes adorned the gray walls, contrasting with the memory of the brilliant bling one level up.
The existence of this lower-level church was unknown until a certain Father Mullooly broke through the centuries of crust and rubble during excavations.
Down we went, one level more, to the 3rd century Mithraic Temple built in honor of the god Mithras, deity of a mysterious religion of unknown origin, although speculations fly. Possibly a sun god, it is odd that his temples were located underground in small, cave-like spaces. Sharing the ground with this particular temple to Mithra was an ancient Roman home once used as a gathering place for the clandestine practice of an outlawed religion: Christianity.
At this lowest level, the air was humid and close. We kept hearing the sound of rushing water and followed it to its source. Either from a lost spring or a first century aquaduct, this cold rushing water provided “indoor plumbing” to the ancient Roman mansion.
Plodding upwards, through time and space, we re-entered the present, but glad we had sought out this archaeological jewel. We tracked down a taxi and were back at the corner of Via dei Cartari in a Roman flash.