Laganà told CNA he has had a fascination with the column since his childhood, when he attended a Mass at the cathedral for the 19th centenary of the coming of St. Paul, celebrated in 1961.
When St. Paul departed from Reggio, he left behind Stephen of Nicea as the first bishop of the brand-new Christian community. It is believed St. Stephen of Nicea was martyred during the persecution of Christians by Emperor Nero.
"With the persecution by the Romans in that period, it was not very easy to carry on the Church in Reggio," Laganà said. He explained that the foundation of an ancient temple became the first Christian church, and St. Stephen of Nicea was first buried there.
Later, however, the saint's remains were brought to a place outside the city, now unknown, to protect them from desecration, he said.
Over the many centuries, different churches were built and destroyed, both by violence and earthquakes, and the miraculous column was carried from place to place. Existing documents from the 18th century onward trace its movements and the construction of the city's various cathedrals.
The section of stone column has been in a chapel on the right side of the nave of the cathedral basilica since the church was rebuilt after a devastating earthquake razed the city in 1908.
The marble relic was also damaged in one of the 24 Allied air raids carried out on Reggio Calabria in 1943. When the cathedral was hit by bombs, a fire started which left the column with visible black marks.
The city's archbishop at the time, Enrico Montalbetti, was also killed in one of the raids.
Laganà said through all this, the city's devotion to St. Paul never waned. One of Reggio Calabria's traditional annual processions, in which an image of Our Lady of Consolation is carried through the city, always includes a moment of prayer at the spot believed to be where St. Paul preached.
The legend has also been the subject of many paintings and sculptures which can be found in the city's churches.
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These recurring images are a sign that "the miracle of the burning column is really part of the structure of the faith of Reggio Calabria," Laganà said.
"And, naturally, St. Paul is the patron of the Archdiocese of Reggio Calabria," he added.
"So, it is an attention which remains..." he continued. "Even if many people do not understand, it is our task to help them understand, to explain, to carry forward this part of the tradition, which can help increase the faith in our population."
He noted that "clearly Rome, with the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul, became the center of Christianity," but added that "Reggio, with the miracle of St. Paul, has tried to call just a little attention to the establishment [of Christianity] and continue what is at the core of the message St. Paul had."
Photo credits: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA.