The archaeology and early history of the Basilica of Saint Clement in Rome are consistent with my book, The Two Gospels of Mark: Performance and Text. The archaeology links Pope Clement I to a church that began as a first-century private house. (I proposed that the papal name “Clement I” was a real or imagined freedman of Titus Flavius Clemens. And Clemens was the husband of Mark’s benefactor and the congregation’s patron, Flavia Domitilla.)
Here are two extracts from the Wikipedia article about the Basilica of Saint Clement in Rome. Note the private house, the imperial mint, the insula, and the mithraeum. I will offer comments below:
The Basilica of Saint Clement (Italian: Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano) is a Roman Catholic minor basilica dedicated to Pope Clement I located in Rome, Italy….This ancient church was transformed over the centuries from a private home that was the site of clandestine Christian worship in the 1st century to a grand public basilica by the 6th century, reflecting the emerging Catholic Church’s growing legitimacy and power….
The lowest levels of the present basilica contain remnants of the foundation of a possibly republican era building that might have been destroyed in the Great Fire of 64. An industrial building – probably the imperial mint of Rome from the late 1st century A.D. onwards (because a similar building is represented on a 16th-century drawing of a fragment of the Severan marble plan of the city), was built or remodelled on the same site during the Flavian period. Shortly after an insula, or apartment block, was also built. It was separated from the industrial building by a narrow alleyway. About a hundred years later (c. 200) a mithraeum, a sanctuary of the cult of Mithras, was built in the courtyard of the insula…”
- In Mark’s time, the historical Titus Flavius Clemens and Flavia Domitilla were members of the imperial Flavian family. From the emperor’s point of view, the property of a family member was an excellent, trustworthy location for the imperial mint.
- Whether or not there was a pope who used the name “Clement,” the official history of the Catholic Church places “Pope Clement I” at the time of the life of Titus Flavius Clemens. It was an appropriate name to retroject onto the congregational leader at the time.
- When Clemens and Flavia were killed/exiled in 95 CE, the property passed into the emperor’s hands (Nerva, Trajan). A ‘public purpose’ for the property was more acceptable to the partisans and household of Clemens and Flavia (whose steward had assassinated Domitian) than a real estate grab. A public purpose would explain the subsequent construction of an insula on the property, especially if used for workers in the imperial mint.
- Some decades later, the (male) tenants of the insula built the mithraeum for their own use. (A mithraeum served as their dinner party venue.)
- Tthe Catholic Church leaders in Rome had always known that the property was central to their own history. So when they had the political clout to do so–after Constantine, I would imagine–they obtained the property (which may have still been owned by the state) and built a church there.
- In my opinion, it is likely that the author we know as “Mark” visited the property. It was owned by the patron of his congregation. It may have even been a location where the congregation met. And possibly the wooden theater in which his play was performed c. 95 was constructed nearby!
Published January 16, 2020, slightly revised December 28, 2020