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The Tree of Life

And to the music and to the spoken and written word may be added the visual tribute of faith that is the magnificent twelfth-century mosaic in the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome. It represents the cross as the Tree of Life from which flow the streams of living water for which the hart longs, from which the tendrils of a vine grow out to encompass all of human life. Here is the Basilicas website.

sClem-Mosaic1

sClem-Mosaic2

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I think that a poorly-marketed feature of S. Clemente is the scavi. The one under S. Peter's is larger and more striking, but S. Clemente is a good close 2nd - and easier to access.

I cannot see any images from San Clemente without thinking of a term paper I wrote on San Clemente and the archaeological work there with another student in the spring of 1962. We were among the initial group of students at the Rome center of Chicago's Loyola University. We were taking a course in early Christianity from the remarkable biblical scholar John L. McKenzie. My collaborator on the paper was one of McKenzie's prized students, both in Rome and back in Chicago, named Margaret O'Brien. Among other things, we interviewed the Dominican in charge of the excavations below the church. I think we got an A. In 2005 we used frequent flyer miles to go back to Rome and of course revisited San Clemente, where much work has been done in the intervening decades. It happened to be the February 14 feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, who are associated for a reason that escapes me now with the church of San Clemente. While I was wandering around a lower-level chamber it was suddenly overrun by a crowd of Slavic-speaking pilgrims accompanied by news reporters and TV cameras. I was trapped behind a group of officials -- I think they had sashes on -- who were being extensively photographed and filmed while I, a foot or so taller, peeked out from behind them. I imagined that I appeared the next day in some Central European newspaper or broadcast, a mysterious Zelig whose unknown face in the background provoked the query, "Who the hell is that?"

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.