Sunday, March 2, 2008
3rd Week of Lent: San Marco
For the third week of Lent I visited the Basilica of San Marco, dating from the 4th Century and restored or rebuilt in 792, 833, 1460, and 1750. It is the national church of the Venitians living in Rome and is dedicated to their patron, St. Mark. According to tradition, Mark wrote his gospel in Rome. I approached the church by walking across the Piazza San Marco, which is really a small public garden next to Piazza Venezia.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
I was surprised to find, after going through the front door, that I had to walk down several steps to enter the church. Blessed are the meek... I was immediately confronted with a lectern holding a book, opened to the gospel for the Third Sunday in Lent. I stood there and read the Italian text, line by line. I probably comprehended less than 50% of the Italian sentences, but I was able to fill in the unintelligable parts with my knowledge of the gospel narrative. It was the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.
After reading, I sat in the church to take in all that the church contained. The nave was flanked by rows of beautiful marble columns and above was a magnificent Renaissance ceiling. The apse was covered with a mosaic depicting Christ standing in the center. Amidst all of this grandeur I was drawn to the twelve humble sheep at the bottom of the mosaic, representing the apostles, with the Lamb of God in the center. Blessed are the meek...
Some exploring in the church took me behind the main altar and down some stairs where I discovered a simple stone chapel with the remains of Pope St. Mark (336 AD) and Saints Abdon and Sennen. I had never heard of these saints, yet here wertheir remains, in the lower level of a magnificent basilica and next to the remains of a 4th Century Pope. Blessed are the meek... When I got home, I found references to legends saying they were Persians martyred by the Roman Emperor Decius in the middle of the 3rd Century.
The words of the gospel that I read when I first entered the basilica came back to me when I left the church and noticed a modest water fountain in a corner of the Piazza San Marco. It is composed of a pine cone with water flowing from faucets below it, offering refreshment to all who stop. Blessed are the meek... While I watched, a homeless woman came to drink, some tourists filled water bottles, a young Asian couple took pictures of each other as they drank, and a mother with a stroller stopped to fill her child's plastic cup.
What water do I need to quench my thirst and desires? How will I let God satisfy my thirst?
Jesus answered and said to her,
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;
but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst;
the water I shall give will become in him
a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
John 4: 13-14