"No, no he wasn't."
"Just look at this place. It's ridiculous."
"It's a church, and not a new one built in America."
"You're just defending everything pre-Vatican II."
Such an exchange took place five years ago in the basilica that commemorates today's miracle, the "Lady of Snows," when the Virgin answered the prayers of Pope St. Liberius and drew the foundations of a church in her honor.
St. Mary's has more in common with the Lateran Cathedral than with either St. Paul Outside the Wall or St. Peter's Basilica. It is a pivot point, itself fundamentally unchanged and still while the Christian world has turned around it, each age leaving a part of itself as it passes: a basilica constructed in the most Romanesque sense, enhanced by the mosaic styles of the first millennium, the floor and altars contributions of the middle ages, the ceiling of the Renaissance, and the chapels and statuary thoroughly baroque. There is a tremendous amount of what my conversant, one time a Dominican novice, deemed excessively ornamental. Most of these superfluous items, effigies of dead princes and likenesses of nobles, came through patronage of St. Mary's by the Spanish court and ruling classes, who held a close association with the church until recent times.
Some of St. Mary's chapels near decadence, but the church is generally beautiful and beauty, said death bed penitent Oscar Wilde, is "useless." To Wilde something was "useless" if it was good, it required no functional purpose for its existence other than its own categorical virtue. Some baroque churches accomplish this architectural feat better than others (baroque is very expensive and difficult to do well); the medieval, uniquely born in the Christian age, best exemplifies beauty for the sake of the Divine alone, although Roman and Byzantine styles can also reach Edmund Burke's concept of the "sublime," a kind of haunting beauty that incites fear within our vulnerable instincts.
Our poor conversant was reared in the religion of large "folk Masses" in churches built after the styles of dormant Detroit warehouses melded with a singularly Wojtylan interest in the Divine Mercy chaplet and family issues, and apostasy was a lesser sin than sniffing within a mile of a Lefebvre-derived Mass. He was devout, the best American Catholicism had to offer in the 1990s. To him a church could never be "useless" for God nor a pivot point in history, through which we are merely passing per omnia saecla saeculorum on our way to the vitam venturi saeculi. Would that there be more churches as uselessly beautiful as St. Mary's!
Upon learning that both Ss. Jerome and Pius V rest within the Liberian basilica this soon-to-be Preacher changed his mind about the Roman basilicas. When we arrived at St. Peter's he pondered aloud, affirmatively, as to whether or not "the Reformation was worth it".