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Lower Manhattan News

Everyone will be there: "Anniversary of WTC Attack To Prompt Rallies Amid Holy Days" Let's seewhat the NYPD has to say. the developer speaks: "Islamic Center Also Challenges a Young Builder"

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Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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What would Constantine do? The first Christian emperor confronted land use problems in Rome not unlike those in lower Manhattan. He shrewdly located his monumental church buildings on the outskirts of 4th century Rome. Even though the number of Christians or Christian sympathisizers may have represented one third of the total population at the time, he was wary of challenging the pagan upper classes. He wasnt afraid of building secular monuments in the center of the city, e.g., the Arch of Constantine, the four-sided Arch of Janus, the completed Basilica of Maxentius and others now lost. And there were small churches (tituli) in centrally located tenements and houses that predated his reign. But the Lateran Basilica and Santa Croce in Gerusalemme at his instigation were confined to what was practically the countryside. Likewise with the shrine of St. Peter on the Vatican hill. Many of the other large churches of this era were built over cemeteries outside the walls (cf. the seven pilgrimage churches of Rome).Richard Krautheimer the pre-eminent student of early Christian architecture and topography in the city of Rome explains the pattern: Constantine kept Christianity away from the center of the city, away from the pomerium, the legal pagan religious boundary within which were crowded the temples of the old gods and the administrative buildings, both largely maintained by the old aristocracy...He shunned the latent conflict with pagan forces, still powerful in Rome...As time went on, the empire under his guidance became, indeed, more and more Christian. Yet led by the Senatorial aristocracy, Rome resisted. The grand church buildings, Constantines monuments to the new faith, never reached the core of the city...He went in search of a new capital, and in 330 he set it up in the East: Constantinople. And of course erected Hagia Sophia in the center of that city. See the fine first chapters of Krautheimer, Rome: Profile of a City, 312 - 1308.Several powrful Roman families long controlled land use, some of them for centuries, and it was not until the Barberini era that central Rome could be thoroughly remade. If Constantine and the likes of Boniface VIII ran into trouble with early NIMBYs the odds that Imam Rauf will easily succeed must be pretty low. In a democratic age its not the aristocracy that resists new gods but popular forces that are even harder to overcome. And Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama are no Constantines.

Whatever Constantine did, the NYPD will probably have to develop other tactics to keep the frenzied protestors from cutting one another's throats.

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