There’s a somber footnote to Pope Francis’s recent visit to the United States that concerns the so-called “Pope’s Stone.” The cornerstone for the Washington Monument was laid on the Fourth of July in 1848 and the following year states and territories were invited to donate memorial stones to be placed on the interior stair wall. Many foreign leaders also sent stones to Washington and in 1853 Pope Pius IX sent a block of marble on behalf of the Holy See.
That memorial stone came from the Temple of Concord in Rome, with the Latin inscription, “Rome to America.” One night in March 1854, members of the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party stole the stone, broke it up and threw the pieces into the Potomac. It wasn’t until 129 years later, in 1982, that Pope John Paul II sent a replacement stone to be installed on behalf of the Vatican. If there’s a lesson in this it is how bad things used to be, and how long it often takes for history to get it right.
(The editors are grateful to reader Zack Richter for bringing this footnote of history to our attention.)