9 November, Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica
I remember, a long time ago, taking a certain amount of spiritually highbrow discomfort in this odd memorial – not of a saint or, perhaps better put given the context, a ‘living stone’, but of mute ones, plain old ones…cold, dead stones.
Older and maybe fractionally wiser or, maybe, with a slightly better trained spiritual imagination, what seemed incongruous now makes perfect sense. Any old building has many interesting stories to tell if one has an ear practiced in listening and the curiosity to do so. How much more so the rambling rectangle that is the Mother Church of Latin Christendom that has sat there – through more than one incarnation – as a posh business establishment of the Laterani clan in ancient times, Constantinian spin on a Church made newly respectable (and a lot wealthier and more influential; good news for some, bad news for others) a little later, to a bishop’s cathedral whose ‘diocese’ spans the globe. I’d say that’s worth more than a nod.
It also helps things along as the elegant old lady has still managed to maintain her beauty. And so, on any given day, one can witness the wide-eyed throngs there for a multitude of reasons, and, of course, pay one’s respects to the bronze Poverello in the piazza outside; ever-vigilant and ready to lend a shoulder if the walls should begin to buckle. If one is lucky enough (as I have been) to be there on Mayday…well, the Poverello remains at his post but is swallowed by a crowd of seventy thousand or so hopped up Italians come for a long evening of free rock and roll. The old embraced by the new with a wink (I imagine) if not a whisper.