Lenten Station Churches – Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian

March 7, 2013

Papal Election

Today was a slow news day in Rome up through 7pm as the Cardinals are in a silent period during their Congregation meetings.  [Note: The Cardinals are meeting in the evening and its expected that the last Cardinal-elector will have arrived, so it is possible that they might establish the date for the beginning of the Conclave.]  This quiet day on the media front provided us an opportunity to focus on being a pilgrim in Rome during this holy season of Lent.

One of the most popular and uniquely Roman Lenten practices is to participate in the beautiful ancient tradition of the Roman Station Churches, in which pilgrims will travel to a different Church for each of Lent’s 40 days. This Station Church program dates back to the 4th century; however, it stopped for a while before the Pontifical North American College (NAC) helped revive it in the 1970s.

Each morning, priests and seminarians at the NAC lead a journey of English-speaking Catholics on a walk throughout the city to arrive at the particular Station Church by 7am. Americans who study at the Roman Universities or at the Rome campuses of American colleges also attend the liturgy.

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George Martell and I were pleased to join today’s pilgrimage. We met up with a large group of about 50 seminarians at 6:15 at the bottom of the Janiculum Hall and then made the 35 minute walk to the Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian, which is always the Station Church for the Thursday of the Third Week of Lent. This Basilica is in the ancient part of Rome next to the Roman Forum and the Roman Coliseum.

The interesting part of the journey is that it is silent for the NACers, by rule of the seminary. It was moving to walk through the quiet streets of Rome at that early hour and see most of the seminarians praying the Rosary or participating in another form of silent prayer.

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Today’s Mass was packed, as there were about 40 concelebrating priests, 60 seminarians and more than 60 others in this small but beautiful Basilica, which was consecrated a Church in the year 525. There has been a mass there every day there since – more than 543,000 consecutive days with a Mass!

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According to its guidebook, the Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian is located in the very heart of ancient and modern Rome. It forms part of an imposing archeological complex in the midst of an extensive natural park, which recalls many historical events.

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Some of the walls of the current structure can be traced as far back as 70 A.D. when the building was called Flavian Hall and used as a Lecture Hall & Library for Claudius Galen, the prince of Roman medicine and physician at the courts of Marcus Aurelius and other leaders. For centuries, this began a tradition where the offices of most physicians of Rome were located in this area.

Some time later a secular basilica was built on the site. In 525, Pope Felix IV modified the structure and consecrated it to the patronage of Saints Cosmas and Damian. These holy physicians from the East, twins who were martyred in the year 303, served to “convert” the science of medicine and to respond to the requests of many immigrants coming from the Middle East where they holy brothers were venerated as miracle workers in restoring health.

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The Basilica now contains an Upper Basilica and a Lower Basilica. Underneath the altar within the Lower Basilica relics from the bodies of Saints Cosmas and Damian. They were moved from Asia Minor to this Basilica by Pope St. Gregory the Great around 600 AD.

Since 1503, the Basilica has been under the care of the Franciscan Friars TOR (Third Order Regular). Many Boston-area Catholics are familiar with this particular group of Friars for their work running the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, which has seen many of its alumni locate to the Boston area.

Entering the main Basilica, you see the massive mosaic in the Sanctuary of The Risen Christ, the Lord of History, who appears upon the clouds of heaven with the scroll of the Law. On the left of Christ is the St. Paul the Apostle presenting the martyr St. Damien to the Lord. On the right St. Peter the Apostle is similarly presenting the martyr St. Cosmas. This mosaic is in wonderful condition despite being 1,488 years old!

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There are many other beautiful frescoes and paintings in this Basilica, including the painting of the Madonna della Salute in the center above the altar.

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George put together this audio file of some of the chanted parts of the Mass. As I was hearing these chants, I reflected on the fact that that Catholics have been chanting similar songs for nearly 1,500 years in this very same church – including many saints and many of our 265 Popes!

After the Mass, George and I shot this following video update.

Then we were able to interview Donato Infante, a second-year seminarian at the NAC from the Diocese of Worcester, who George knew from his participation in various LIFT events and the God of this City tour in Boston over recent years. Donato spoke about his enjoyment of participation in the Station Church liturgies. You can listen to this four-minute interview by clicking play below.

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Then Donato suggested we interview Father Norman Tanner, SJ, Donato’s professor of Church History at the Gregorian University in Rome, who spoke of the history of the Station Churches in Rome.

You can listen to this four-minute interview by clicking play below.

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After visiting the relics of Saints Cosmas and Damian in the lower Church, we were able to speak with Franciscan Brother Mark McBride, TOR, who grew up in the San Francisco area about the history of the Basilica, the significance of its location within ancient Rome, and his thoughts on “buzz” about a certain Franciscan from Boston being discussed throughout Italy as someone under consideration to be the next Pope. You can listen to this wonderful eighteen-minute interview by clicking play below.

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One of my takeaways from the visit to this Basilica today is that it is a stunning Church with an amazing history. Yet it is one of over 900 Catholic Churches in Rome and so many are also stunning. What a joy it is, as a Catholic, to be in a place with so many wonderful, old, but living and vibrant Churches to give thanks and glory to God.

Later, George and I gathered with Terry Donilon, Fr. Jonathan Gaspar and Greg Tracy to discuss upcoming events that we think would be good to share with all of you. We were able to take this shot on the Borgo Pio, a charming street in the Vatican area. Terry then joined me for a discussion of the events of the week for Thursday’s show of The Good Catholic Life.

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Thank you for visiting this Blog here on TheGoodCatholicLife.com. We encourage you to share it with others so they can also experience Rome during these weeks leading to the election of a new Pope from a pilgrim’s perspective.

We look forward to our next post tomorrow, where we plan to discuss what it was like to attend Mass at the tomb of Blessed Pope John Paul II for the first time tomorrow at 9am. Tomorrow is also a special day for all of us who serve in Catholic media for the Archdiocese of Boston as we mark the 2nd anniversary of our radio program The Good Catholic Life.

I will once again be bringing prayer intentions to St. Peter’s also tomorrow morning. If you have one you would like to be prayed with St. Peter’s intercession there, please email it to me at PrayerRequests@PilotNewMedia.com.

In Christ,

Scot

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