The Romanesque Abbey Church of San Clemente a Casauria

Generally if you ask people about traditional ecclesiastical architecture they think of gothic and baroque, but another major category is the Romanesque. Romanesque architecture is not as lofty as later medieval gothic forms, nor as playful as the baroque / rococo, but it has its own particular charm and appeal. One might say that while baroque could be considered akin to the Transfiguration in its manifestation of heavenly light and movement, and gothic might be considered akin to the Ascension insofar as its forms lifts you upwards in its vertical thrusts, then Romanesque might be typified as being akin the Incarnation, firmly grounded and anchored as it is to the earth.

The abbey of San Clemente a Casauria is a Romanesque structure located in Abruzzo, Italy, whose patron was the great-grandson of Charlemagne, Emperor Louis II. This ninth century basilica was originally consecrated in the year 872 and for a time housed the relics of Pope St. Clement -- relics now housed in the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome.  Various architectural interventions continued through until the fourteenth century.

The abbey is of typical basilica form, comprised of a single nave and two side naves/aisles, terminating in the raised presbytery with its apsidal arch, altar and ciborium.  The basilica also includes, located approximately halfway down the central nave, an impressive ambo and monumental paschal candlestick. 

At one time the abbey church's treasury included a large, suspended silver crucifix, a precious missal cover made of silver -- used on Sundays and feast days -- and a Eucharistic chalice made of gold used for the same festive occasions.  In this regard we must always recall that what we might see here as rather plain and austere was by no means devoid of other beautiful liturgical ornaments. 

The altar and ciborium are, of course, the primary focal point of the church. The ciborium itself dates to the fifteenth century.

The ciborium is decorated with various scenes, ranging from a depiction of the Madonna and Child, the Annunciation, as well as the symbols of the Evangelists. 

The altar itself is a repurposed, fourth century, paleochristian sarcophagus that includes imagery showing Christ, Ss. Peter and Paul.

The ambo of the church is also particularly impressive, dating to the twelfth century.  Found on it are, aptly, symbols of the evangelists along with various floriated designs and motifs. 

The paschal candlesticks is particularly monumental, coming to a greater height than even the ambo. It has been damaged over the course of its history so in its current configuration it is representative of parts and pieces coming from different centuries.  With its paschal candle in place, it must have been quite a sight to behold. 

Some other elements of interest include a beautiful medieval crucifix and the relic chest which contained the relics of Pope St. Clement. 

The outside is not our particular focus in this instance, and it has suffered much over the centuries, but I would be remiss to not give our readers at least a view of the great main door of the abbey church.  The sculptural programme around the door relates to the abbey's connections and privileges, both imperial and papal, along with scenes of the transfer of the relics of Pope St. Clement to the abbey church. 

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