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By Stephen Schmalhofer, First Things, 7 . 15 . 19

When historian Henry Adams and his fellow Americans—including Augustus St. Gaudens, Dorothy Chanler, Willa Cather, and Edith Wharton—traveled from the New World to our old home in Europe, they found the Mother of the Word Incarnate waiting for them. As their lives demonstrate, the Virgin has influenced the art and culture of America—though the nation has never quite come home to her.

When Adams received the news of Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, he was in Rome, and went to meditate on the steps of the Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. When his wife Clover committed suicide, he commissioned Augustus St. Gaudens to sculpt a Roman-influenced meditation on her life and death. St. Gaudens credited his career to immersion in Rome’s classical art. Back in America, Rome-sick in his dingy studio in a New York office building, he would let the faucet run all night while imagining the plash of Piazza Navona’s fountains.

When Italian troops walked through the breach in the Aurelian Wall at Porta Pia on September 20, 1870, they closed the last door to the eighth century. ….

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