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Who Was St. Claudius?

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Four representations of him from the same church:
will the real San Claudio please stand up?

When you're a guest in someone's house, it's good to know who they are. As I write several thousand miles and several months away from the church of S. Claudio, I'm kicking myself for not having asked the obvious question: who was he?

In addition to just plain curiosity, the question is historically important: why does he have a church here? Was he someone locally important, someone to whom in some way the modern town of Spello owes a part of its identity?

Saints are always a problem to identify; there are usually several by the same name, some lived a very long time ago, and records are poor. In turn, some of the multiple candidates may have already been conflated centuries ago in the popular mind; and very occasionally, the reverse happens, where one saint splits into two, as it were.

No exception here. Just the most preliminary sort of digging around yields an Egyptian, a Syrian, a Spaniard and a bishop of Besançon, some of whom may in fact have been the same person. I've collected these unsatisfactory results, some of them quite interesting, on a separate page.

Now one of the reasons those other saints are unsatisfactory candidates to my mind, is that not one of them shows any hint of having been a builder — which is just about all we think we know about ours: represented as young, he is always given a mason's square and sometimes a pick-axe. (Each of the images above opens up to a larger image of the complete fresco.)

Looking a bit closer:

Very tentatively, I'm concluding that this Claudius — bearer of a name common thruout the Imperial and Late Antique period — was very early and local, one of those countless thousands not accorded universal veneration by the Church of Rome. He may just have been the owner of a house on this spot in ancient times.

I find it particularly interesting that he is associated with building, precisely when one of the few historical questions that repeatedly arise in connection with his church concerns the actual material of which it was built.

Are we looking at a dim memory of the man who, maybe back in the days of Felix, the first bishop of Hispellum, built a first church here, maybe using a few stones from the Roman amphitheater?

Or are we possibly just looking at the patron saint of the builders' guild who would have got so much of their construction material from the adjacent amphitheatre?

The present church, dating to the early 12c, would of course be a successor. No one knows what it replaced, or indeed, why there is a church here at all, so close to the amphitheatre. Among the theories is that of a paleochristian cemetery; might there have been a martyrium here, the shrine and record of the martyrdom of a young Roman named Claudius?

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Page updated: 21 Nov 03