Puslapio vaizdai
[graphic][merged small][merged small]

ginning of St. Peter's Church. But Anacletus died a martyr too, and the bishops after him all perished in the same way up to Eutychianus, whose name means something like «the fortunate one» in barbarous GreekLatin, and who was indeed fortunate, for he died a natural death. But in the mean time certain Greeks had tried to steal the holy body, so that the Roman Christians carried it away for nineteen months to the catacombs of St. Sebastian, after which they brought it back again and laid it in its place. And again after that, when the new circus was built by Elagabalus, they took it once more to the same catacombs, where it remained in safety for a long time.

Now came Constantine, in love with religion and inclined to think Christianity best, and made a famous edict in Milan. And it is said that he laid the deep foundations of the old Church of St. Peter's, which afterward stood more than eleven hundred years. He built it over the little oratory of Anacletus, whose chapel stood where the saint's body had lain, under the nearest left-hand pillar of the canopy that covers the high altar as you go up from the door. Constantine's church was founded on the south side, within the lines of Nero's circus, outside of it on the north side, and parallel with its length. Most churches are built with the apse to the east, but Constantine's, like the present basil

ica, looked west, because from time immemorial the bishop of Rome, when consecrating, stood on the farther side of the altar from the people, facing them over it. And the church was consecrated by Pope Sylvester I, in the year 326.

Constantine built his church as a memorial, and not as a tomb, because at that time St. Peter's body lay in the catacombs, where it had been taken in the year 219, under Elagabalus. But at last, in the days of Honorius, disestablisher of heathen worship, the body was brought back for the last time, with great concourse and ceremony, and laid, where it or its dust still lies, in a brazen sarcophagus.

Then came Alaric and the Vandals and the Goths. But they respected the church and the saint's body, though they respected Rome very little. And Odoacer extinguished the flickering light of the Western Empire, and Dietrich of Bern, or Theodoric of Verona, founded the Gothic kingdom, and left his name in the Nibelungenlied and elsewhere. At last arose Charles, who was first called "the Great» on account of his size, and afterward on account of his conquests, which exceeded those of Julius Cæsar in extent; and this Charlemagne came to Rome, and marched up into the church of Constantine, and bowed his enormous height for Leo III to set upon it the crown of the new empire, which was ever afterward called the Holy

Roman Empire, until Napoleon wiped out its name in Vienna, having girt on Charlemagne's sword, and founded an empire of his own, which lasted a dozen years instead of a thousand.

So the ages slipped along till the church was in bad repair and in danger of falling, when Nicholas V was pope, in 1450. He called Alberti and the great Bramante, who made the first plan, and his successor, the great Julius II, laid the first stone of the present basilica under the northeast pillar of the dome, where the statue of St. Veronica now stands. The plan was changed many times, and it was not until 1626, on the thirteen hundredth anniversary of St. Sylvester's consecration, that Urban VIII consecrated what we now call the Church of St. Peter.


WE who have known St. Peter's since the old days cannot go in under the portico without recalling vividly the splendid pageants we have seen pass in and out by the same gate. Even before reaching it we glance up from the vast square to the high balcony, remembering how from there Pius IX used to chant out the pontifical benediction to the city and the world, while in the silence below one could hear the breathing of a hundred thousand human beings. That is all in ghost

land now, and will soon be beyond the reach of memory. In the coach-houses behind the Vatican the old state coaches are moldering; and the Pope in his great sedia gestatoria, the bearers, the fan-men, the princes, the cardinals, the guards, and the people, will not in our time be again seen together under the Roman sky. Old-fashioned persons sigh for the pageantry of those days when they go up the steps into the church.

The heavy leathern curtain falls by its own weight, and the air is suddenly changed. A hushed, half-rhythmic sound, as of a world breathing in its sleep, makes the silence alive. The light is not dim or ineffectual, but very soft and high, and it is as rich as floating gold-dust in the far distance and in the apse, an eighth of a mile from the door. There is a blue and hazy atmospheric distance, as painters call it, up in the lantern of the cupola, a twelfth of a mile above the pavement.

It is all very big. The longest ship that crosses the ocean could lie in the nave between the door and the apse, and her masts would scarcely top the canopy of the high altar, which looks so small under the superpossible vastness of the immense dome. We unconsciously measure dwellings made with hands by our own bodily stature. But there is a limit to that. No man standing for the first time upon the pavement of St. Peter's

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

can make even a wide guess at the size of what he sees unless he knows the dimensions of some one object. It is literally too "great and wonderful.»

Close to Filarete's central bronze door a round disk of porphyry is sunk in the pavement. That is the spot where the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire were crowned in the old church; Charlemagne, Frederick Barbarossa, and many others received the crown, the chrism, and the blessing here, before Constantine's ancient basilica was torn down lest it should fall of itself. For he did not build as Agrippa built-if, indeed, the old church was built by him at all.

A man may well cast detail of history to the winds, and let his mind stand free to the tremendous traditions of the place, since so much of them is truth beyond all question. Standing where Charles the Great was crowned eleven hundred years ago, he stands not a hundred yards from the grave where the chief apostle was first buried. There he has lain now for fifteen hundred years, since the religion of the fathers » was "disestablished,» as we should say, by Honorius, and since the popes became the pontifices maximi of the new faith. This was the place of Nero's circus long before the Colosseum was dreamed of, and the foundations of Christendom's cathedral are laid in earth wet with blood of many thousand martyrs. During two hundred and fifty years every bishop of Rome died a martyr, to the number of thirty consecutive popes. It is really and truly holy ground, and it is meet that the air once rent by the death-cries of Christ's innocent folk should be inclosed in the world's most sacred place, and be ever musical with holy song and sweet with incense.

It needs fifty thousand persons to make a crowd in St. Peter's. It is believed that at least that number have been present in the church several times within modern memory; but it is thought that the building would hold eighty thousand-as many as could be seated on the tiers in the Colosseum. Such a concourse was there at the opening of the Ecumenical Council in December, 1869, and at the two jubilees celebrated by Leo XIII; and on all three occasions there was plenty of room in the aisles, besides the broad spaces which were required for the functions themselves. To feel one's own smallness and realize it, one need only go and stand beside the marble cherubs that support the holy-water basins. against the first pillar. They look small, if not graceful; but they are of heroic size, and the bowls are as big as baths. Everything

in the place is vast; all the statues are colossal, all the pictures enormous; the smallest detail of the ornamentation would dwarf any other building in the world, and anywhere else even the chapels would be churches. The eye strains at everything, and at first the mind is shocked out of its power of comparison.

But the strangest, most extravagant, most incomprehensible, most disturbing sight of all is to be seen from the upper gallery in the cupola looking down to the church below. Hanging in mid air, with nothing under one's feet, one sees the church projected in perspective within a huge circle. It is as though one saw it upside down and inside out. Few men could bear to stand there without that bit of iron railing between them and the hideous fall, and the inevitable slight dizziness which the strongest head feels may make one doubt for a moment whether what is really the floor below may not be in reality a ceiling above, and whether one's sense of gravitation be not inverted in an extraordinary dream. At that distance human beings look no bigger than flies, and the canopy of the high altar might be an ordinary table.

And thence, climbing up between the double domes, one may emerge from the almost terrible perspective to the open air, and suddenly see all Rome at one's feet, and all the Roman mountains stretched out to south and east, in perfect grace of restful outline, shoulder to shoulder, like shadowy women lying side by side and holding hands.

And the broken symmetry of streets and squares ranges below, cut by the winding ribbon of the yellow Tiber; to the right the low Aventine, with the dark cypresses of the Protestant cemetery beyond, and the Palatine, crested with trees and ruins; the Pincian on the left, with its high gardens, and the mass of foliage of the Villa Medici behind it; the lofty tower of the Capitol in the midst of the city; and the sun clasping all to its heart of gold, the just and the unjust, the new and the old alike, past and present, youth, age, and decay,-generous as only the sun can be in this sordid and miserly world, where bread is but another name for blood, and a rood of growing corn means a pound of human flesh. The sun is the only good thing in nature that always gives itself to man for nothing but the mere trouble of sitting in the sunshine; and Rome without sunlight is a very grim and gloomy town to-day.

It is worth the effort of climbing so high. Four hundred feet in the air, you look down on what ruled half the world by force for ages, and on what rules the other half to-day



VOL. LII.-42.

by faith-the greatest center of conquest and of discord and of religion which the world has ever seen. A thousand volumes have been written about it by a thousand wise men. A word will tell what it has been -the heart of the world. Hither was drawn the world's blood by all the roads that lead to Rome, and hence it was forced out again along the mighty arteries of the Cæsars' roads to be spilled in the Cæsars' battlesto redden the world with the Roman name. Blood, blood, and more blood,—that was the history of old Rome, -the blood of brothers, the blood of foes, the blood of martyrs without end. It flowed and ebbed in varying tide at the will of the just and the unjust, but there was always more to shed, and there were always more hands to shed it. And so it may be again hereafter; for the name of Rome has a heart-stirring ring, and there has always been as much blood spilled for the names of things as for the things themselves. It is wonderful to stand there and realize what every foot means, beneath that narrow standing room on the gallery outside the lantern, counting from the top downward as one counts the years of certain trees by the branches. For every division there is a pope and an architect: Sixtus V and Giacomo della Porta, Paul III and Michelangelo, Baldassare l'eruzzi and Leo X, Julius II and Bramante, Nicholas V and Alberti. Then the old church of Constantine, and then the little oratory built over St. Peter's grave by St. Anacletus, the fourth bishop of Rome; then, even before that, Nero's circus, which was either altogether destroyed, or had gone to ruins before Anacletus built his chapel.


AND far below all are buried the great of the earth, deep down in the crypt. There lies the chief apostle, and there lie many martyred bishops side by side: men who came from far lands to die the holy death in Rome-from Athens, from Bethlehem, from Syria, from Africa. There lie the last of the Stuarts, with their pitiful kingly names, James III, Charles III, and Henry IX; the Emperor Otho II has lain there a thousand years; Pope Boniface VIII of the Caetani, whom Sciarra Colonna struck in the face at Anagni, is there, and Rodrigo Borgia; Alexander VI lay there awhile, and Agnese Colonna, and Queen Christina of Sweden, and the Great Countess, and many more besides, both good and bad-even to Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, of romantic memory.

In the high, clear air above, it chills one to think of the death silence down there in the crypt; but when you enter the church again after the long descent, and feel once more the quick change of atmosphere by which a blind man could tell that he was in St. Peter's, you feel also the spell of the place and its ancient enchantment; you do not regret the high view you left above, and the dead under your feet seem all at once near and friendly.

It is not an exaggeration or a misuse of a word to call it magic. Magic is supposed to be a means of communication with beings of another world. It is scarcely a metaphor to say that St. Peter's does that. It is the mere truth and no more, and you can feel that it is if you will stand, with half-closed eyes, against one of the great pillars, just within hearing of the voices that sing solemn music in the chapel of the choir, and make yourself a day-dream of the people that go up the nave by seeing them a little indistinctly. If you will but remember how much humanity is like humanity in all ages, you can see the old life again as it was a hundred years, two, three, five, ten hundred years before that. If you are fortunate, just then, a score of German seminary students may pass you, in their scarlet cloth gowns, marching two and two in order, till they wheel by the right and go down upon their knees with military precision before the gate of the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament. Or, if it be the day and hour, a procession crosses the church, with lights and song and rich vestments, and a canopy over the Sacred Host, which the Cardinal Archpriest himself is carrying reverently before him with upraised hands, while the censers swing high to right and left. Or the singers from the choir go by, in purple silk and lace, hurrying along the inner south aisle to the door of the sacristy, where heavy yellow marble cherubs support marble draperies under the monument of Pius VIII. If you stand by your pillar a little while, something will surely happen to help your dream and sweep you back a century or two.

And if not, and if you have a little imagination of your own which can stir itself without help from outside, you can call up the figures of those that lie dead below, and of those who in ages gone have walked in the dim aisles of the ancient church. Up the long nave stalks Pelagius, Justinian's pope, with Narses by his side, to swear by holy cross and sacred gospel that he has not slain Vigilius, pope before him; and that Narses, smooth-faced, passionless, thoughtful, is the conqueror of the Goths, and, having con

« AnkstesnisTęsti »