St Clement(s)

Out and about in the wilderness populated by dragons that is north Cambridge a few days ago, I visited (as well as Kettle’s Yard – Ai Weiwei, do go!) St Peter’s church, and, on my way back down, St Clement’s. I was surprised to find the latter open, as in my experience it used not to be (but as I said, I don’t go to those parts all that often), and was also delighted to receive a very warm welcome.

The font in St Peter’s church is protected by double-tailed mermen …

What I chiefly remembered from previous visits, decades ago, were the gravestones (that of Mr Wildbore had stuck in my mind) and the panel behind the altar and the ceiling paintings carried out by F.R. Leach (1837–1904). The altar panel, in plaster and badly in need of restoration, depicts Christ in Glory, surrounded by saints, including St Etheldreda, and – delightfully – Fra Angelico, believed to be a self-portrait of Leach. I was so busy talking to my patient guide (who, I later realised, I had kept on site for long after his appointed time) that I forgot to take any photographs – though I will be going back.

This picture of the exterior of the church from the Magdalene side was taken in 2009. Today, the railings are festooned (like those of Great St Mary’s, Little St Mary’s and indeed any other building with railings) with laminated posters attached by those plastic lock-strips which the baddies use to restrain their victims in films. Has the student body nor heard of the problem of single-use plastic?

Nor indeed had I intended to write a blog – but when I started to look up more about St Clement (as I had thought: day, 23 November; emblem anchor; patron of metal-workers, blacksmiths and mariners), I was surprised to see how many there are – and, inter alia, that the Church Father Clement of Alexandria is also revered as a saint in some areas of Christianity, though he was apparently excluded from the Roman Martyrology by Pope Sixtus V, another of whose claims to fame was the excommunication of Elizabeth I.

St Clement of Rome, eleventh-century mosaic in the church of Sta Sophia of Kyiv. May it be spared.

Pope Saint Clement is believed to have been the third pope, after St Peter and St Cletus (or possibly St Linus); to have been consecrated as a priest by St Peter himself; and to have been martyred in the reign of the emperor Trajan, so some time after 98 CE. Exiled by the emperor to the Chersonese, he was forced to work in a stone quarry, where there was no water for the labourers. After praying, he saw a lamb on the hillside above, and dug there with his pickaxe, causing a stream of pure water to flow. As with St Pantalon and St Dorothy, this caused many local conversions to Christianity and did not go down well with the authorities; consequently, he was taken out to sea, tied to an anchor and thrown overboard.

St Clement, inappropriately dressed for rock-breaking, by the Sienese painter Bernardino Fungai (1460–1516)
The martyrdom, also by Fungai. (I have been unable to find out where these two pictures, which are all over the web, can actually be found.)

Miraculously, the saint’s body was revealed because the Black Sea tides suddenly ebbed in a manner never seen before, and he was buried in the Crimea before Sts Cyril and Methodius (see below) translated him to Rome.

A fresco in the church of San Clemente, Rome, showing the return of the uncorrupted body.
The gorgeous interior of San Clemente.

The invaluable John Brand records that in ‘Dr Plott’s’ History of Staffordshire, describing a local almanac: ‘a pot is marked against the 23d of November, for the Feast of St Clement, from the ancient custom of going about that night to beg drink to make merry with’. Further investigation reveals that ‘Dr Plott’ is in fact Robert Plot (1640–96), the (quite) well known Oxford polymath, and that the title of the book (dedicated to James II) is in fact thus:

following up from his hugely successful The Natural History of Oxfordshire, being an Essay toward the Natural History of England (1676, dedicated to Charles II). The so-called ‘clog-almanac’ is in fact illustrated, and it is possible to see the little pot in the right-hand column, immediately above the wheel for the feast of St Catharine on 25 November.

The image is dedicated to Elias Ashmole (1617–92), a Staffordshire man, astrologer, alchemist and founder of a museum to which he donated the collection he had acquired (some say illegally) from the Tradescants.

St Clement’s day appears to have been celebrated widely around England, especially by blacksmiths and ironworkers, and apparently started with the firing of gunpowder in a hole in an anvil by hammering it. (If the anvil exploded, it was a good joke, and it had to be recast.) The blacksmiths then went from house to house, demanding ale or money for the alehouse, and a good time was had by all. Dickens, in Great Expectations, has Pip sing a blacksmithing song about ‘Old Clem’, which he had learned from Joe Gargery, to Miss Havisham:

It seems likely that St Clement, associated with metalwork because of the anchor of his martyrdom, may have had some of the features of the pagan Wayland the Smith attributed to him (see also St Dunstan)? But Pope St Clement of Rome, Apostolic Father,  was also the author of a letter now classed among the New Testament Apocrypha, telling off the church of Corinth for deposing some of its presbyters – interesting in as much as it seems to confirm the authority of the bishop of Rome over the other churches at this early period. (A second letter, known 2 Clement, appears to date from much later.) There is also a reputed prayer of St Clement, which can be seen here.

The letter I Clement, from the Codex Tchacos. (This Wikipedia link gives an overview of a complex and contentious topic.)

Meanwhile, what of the other St Clements? Chronologically, the next one is St Clement of Metz, first bishop of the city, now in the Moselle department of France, formerly part of the Holy Roman Empire. It was St Peter himself who sent Clement to the Gallo-Roman city of Divodurum Mediomatricorum, along with two companions, Celestius and Felix, who respectively succeeded him as bishop. His first task was to rid the city of a giant snake, or dragon, called Graoully, who had taken up residence, along with many companions, in the Roman amphitheatre, and was polluting the city with his foul breath.  The inhabitants agreed to convert to Christianity as a quid pro quo if Clement succeeded, which he duly did, making the sign of the cross, then leading Graoully along the bank of the river Seille and telling him to go to somewhere where he would trouble neither man nor beast.

St Clement leads Graoully away from the city.

The local ruler, Orius, did not join in the mass conversion, but later, Clement raised his daughter from the dead, which convinced him. Whether St Clement of Metz ever existed (the first recorded bishop was Hesperus, in 535) is moot – the direct association with St Peter would obviously be a prestigious foundation legend for the see, and indeed in one version the bishop is claimed to be the uncle of Pope St Clement (whose feast day he shares). As it is, he is one of the many early saints – male and female – who overcame a dragon, presumably symbolising the pagan opposition they encountered. A Graoully procession was held in Metz until the nineteenth century, and there are many images of the beast still in the city.

The Graoully procession in Metz in 1872; a print by Horace Castelli (1825–89). (Credit: Bibliothèques Médiathèques de Metz)

Next comes St Clement of Ireland, who lived from about 750 to 818. He travelled with a companion, Ailbe, to the coast of Gaul on a trading boat about 771, and set up as a ‘seller of learning’. Summoned to the court of Charlemagne, Ailbe was sent as abbot to the monastery of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro near Pavia (resting place of the remains of St Augustine of Hippo), while Clement became regent of the palace school for boys in Paris, founded and supported by Charlemagne, and has therefore been credited as one of the founders of the University of Paris; at the death of Alcuin in 796, he also became rector of the School of the Palace at Aachen. He is believed to have died at Auxerre and is buried in the church of St Amator. Sadly, I couldn’t find any images of him. His feast day is 20 March.

The Palace at Aachen today. (Credit: Bjorn Troch)

St Clement of Ohrid (c. 840–916) was a disciple of Sts Cyril and Methodius (who brought the remains of Pope St Clement back to Rome), and, as well as assisting them with the creation of the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets, is claimed to have been the first bishop of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and one of its Seven Apostles. Some argue that he was a Slav from southern Macedonia, others than he was born in Greater Moravia, but he was the founder, on the orders of Boris I of Bulgaria, of the Ohrid literary school, one of two major cultural centres of the Bulgarian empire, intended to provide tuition for priests in the Old Church Slavonic language, rather than the Greek brought to the region by Byzantine missionaries. As well as teaching, he translated biblical texts into OCS, wrote a hagiography of Cyril and Methodius, and has a life of St Clement of Rome attributed to him. He was buried in the church of St Pantaleimon in Ohrid, of which he was the founder and is now the joint dedicatee. His feast day is 27 July.

St Clement of Ohrid, from the church of St Athanasius in Kastoria, northern Greece.
The tomb of St Clement in the church of Sts Clement and Pantaleimon, Ohrid.

Since there is no such thing as coincidence, you will not be surprised to learn that (so far) the last St Clement is St Clement Mary (Clemens Maria) Hofbauer (1751–1820), canonised in 1909 by Pope Pius X (feast day: 15 March). He was born into a poor family in what was formerly Moravia and is now the Czech Republic, became a baker’s apprentice and ended up working for the Premonstratensian monastery at Brück, until 1775, when he became a hermit at the institution. Joseph II then abolished hermitages, so he left for Vienna and took up baking again, but after a pilgrimage to Rome and a period as a hermit near Tivoli, he determined to become a priest, and returned to Vienna, studying at the university with the support of friends.

The modern plaque on the house in Znojmo, Czech Republic, where Hofbauer was a baker’s apprentice. (Credit: Michal Maňas)

Joseph II frustrated his efforts at ordination, by forbidding religious communities to accept new candidates, so he went, with a companion, back to Italy, where he decided to enter the Redemptorist Order, founded by St Alphonsus Liguori (1696–1787) who will be remembered by devoted readers as the author of a life of St Pantaleimon. Ordained at last, he was sent back to Austria, to establish the Order there – but this was not possible inside the Holy Roman Empire. So he went to Poland, took over a church in Warsaw, and started to work to assist the poor and needy, starting schools for boys, and later girls, and raising funds by reverting to his skills as a baker.

St Benno’s church in Warsaw, the centre of Hofbauer’s activities, was completely destroyed in 1944 and rebuilt in 1955–8.

His Redemptorist foundation went from strength to strength, but as a foreign Order, it was regarded with suspicion during the upheavals and partitions of Poland at the end of the eighteenth century, and in 1808 he and the other priests of the Order were first imprisoned by the French military and then expelled from Poland. He returned to Vienna just in time for the attack on the city by Napoleon in 1809. He served as a hospital chaplain, was made a parish priest, and in 1813 was appointed chaplain to an Ursuline nunnery. His reputation as a preacher and confessor grew, but he later got into trouble for communicating with the Superior of his Order in Rome. Attempts to expel him from Austria were frustrated by Francis II, the last Holy Roman Emperor, who, on the advice of Pope Pius VII, instead allowed him to set up the first formal Redemptorist church in Austria – but before this could happen, Hofbauer died, in March 1820.

The tomb of Hofbauer, at St Maria am Gestade in Vienna. (Credit: Andreas Praefcke)

He is now one of the patron saints of the city of Vienna, and is also known as its Apostle – one assumes that Joseph II would not have been too pleased.

So, five St Clements so far over two millennia – will there be more?


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2 Responses to St Clement(s)

  1. Eleanor Flynn says:

    Hi Caroline

    Love all the Saint Clements, I won’t get confused about them again. When we all go to Rome for the extended family trip we can have lots of fun at San Clemente

    I’m safely home in Melbourne, I hope you are fully recovered

    Love Eleanor



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