A Gothic Capital
WTHEN the time was come for building the Valerian Way, almost due eastward from Rome, across the mountains to the Adriatic, if we do not know precisely the measures by which it was brought about, we may guess pretty confidently what was not done. It is hardly likely that a senatusconsultum was lobbied through, granting peculiar privileges to “ The Grand Central Trans-Apennine, Tyrrhene', and Adriatic Valerian Way Company,” with right of way through the Volscian reservations, and liberal grants of the public domain. It does not seem probable that the money-changers’ shops along the Via Sacra were filled with parchments and charts representing the importance of the enterprise : “The Valerian Way a Necessity ! ” “ Growth of the Adriatic Slope ! ” “ Need of more Direct Communication with Illyricum, Epirus, and the East!” — showing the superiority of the proposed route over the Flaminian and the Appian, for directness, facility of construction, gentle gradients, and freedom from obstruction by snow ; — and finally demonstrating that its stock (which was nearly all taken) could hardly pay the holder less than twenty per cent, while its bonds (of which a limited number “are for sale here ”) were a really safer investment than city lots fronting on the Forum, or olive-orchards among the Tiburtine hills. This would have been a more enlightened way of doing it; but the Consul Valerius went about it with a more soldier-like directness. Having determined that the deepest notch in the mountain range was cut by that pass, straight beyond Lake Fucino, which is now called La Forca Caruso, he sent forth his simple mandate, and forthwith the grand thoroughfare began to ascend the steeps with sinuous tourniquets, to twist through the bleak summits of the Apennines, and to find its way downward, on the opposite slope, to the Adrian wave.
Through this pass, along this route, I trudged alone, towards evening, late in March. Not a trace is left of the pavement of broad, smooth stones with which the Consul covered it; not a fragment of the columns marking the increasing distances from the Golden Milestone in the Forum ; and through a principal highway of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies the deep snow which buried the road was broken only by the sharp hoofs of an occasional mule. If the “overseer of highways” of old times was able to keep clear through the winter this road, which almost in April was thus buried, our Pacific Railroad companies might be glad to revive his system as a lost art. It is said that out of such a Roman road-master a Romish saint once happened to be made. The broken milestone, which showed only part of his title of custoS. VIA Rum, was taken for a sepulchral inscription, and Saint Viar was thereupon canonized. If the good man had been in charge of this particular line, much might be said for his claims to the honors, at least, of martyrdom.
From Popoli, the first town beyond the pass, the road descends, at first rapidly, through a narrow valley ; and not until its forty miles of distance to the sea are nearly accomplished do the enclosing mountains recede enough to suffer the torrent, which the road has followed, to disport itself over a sandy plain of no great width, before it is at rest in the Adriatic. Just where this broader opening is entered, salient into it like the bastion of a fort a single mountain springs forward and upward, detached almost from the rugged mass, wearing on its very summit, for a mural crown, the provincial capital, Chieti. Up its steep sides — so steep that the battlements which enclose the city are not half so rigorous a limit to its expansion as is the abrupt plunge of the mountain-sides from the city walls — twists and zigzags a broad road, with splendid engineering, to reach the town with hardly a sharper grade than that over which a horse may trot easily. As I plodded up the circuitous ascent, a squadron of a hundred brilliant Neapolitan lancers came winding down from far above, their red and white pennons fluttering and their weapons sparkling in the afternoon sun, — a long-drawn column as they marched by twos, beautiful to look upon, and their graceful captain quite charming as he returned my salute, but worthless in use, as no doubt this very squadron may have shown itself against Garibaldi a few weeks later. As the summit was neared, a turn in the road brought suddenly into view a vast blue expanse, whose edge was very near; and, looking backward from this first and glorious view of the Sea of Hadria, the majestic range of the Apennines, now quite left behind, presented itself in a coup d'æil more magnificent than any that I know of, excepting the views of the Alps from Turin and from certain points in Lombardy. From the stupendous mass of La Maiella, near the left of the scene, the great chain of snowy peaks stretched away for fifty miles to the northwest, until the tall pyramid of Monte Corno — well deserving its commoner name of The Great Rock of Italy (Gran Sasso d' Italia), and shooting its slender point more than ten thousand feet above the blue sea so*near its base — hides all meaner summits from sight; while all over their lower slopes, and sprinkling the valleys which opened here and there among them, innumerable white towns and villages dotted the green. From Genoa around to Pæstum (what may be farther than Pæstum I cannot say) there is no such view of the Apennines as this from beyond them.
From this hill-city, next morning, by a three-hours’ walk I reached the very shore of the sea, where the odd little walled and bastioned town of Pescara bestrides the shallow river at its mouth. From this point the route was to follow closely the unbending shore to Ravenna. The mountains, crowding with their huge bulk upon the sea,— not sheer cliffs, as sometimes along the Gulf of Genoa, but rugged and broken, and sending down at frequent intervals terrific torrents from their snowy reservoirs,— would suffer a highway almost as well along their summits as a halfmile inland from the water’s edge.
This coast-road, therefore, is the only means of communication between this part of the later Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and its capital, or with the rest of the kingdom and the rest of the world, unless two or three such snow-buried mule-tracks as I had just traced over the mountains, or the open sea at hand, should be reckoned as travelled roads. Nor did the Bourbon-Farnese government fail to recognize the primary importance of the road. The exceedingly minute and accurate map of the Cavaliere Marzolla, of the royal topographical bureau, which was my vade-mecum, distinguishes this by a strong red line as one of the highest rank, — a Strada Regia Postale. Yet of all the violent streams which tear across the road between Pescara and the Pontifical frontier, — streams which after a rain, and especially at the season of this journey, are swollen to such torrents as to be absolutely impassable by anything without wings, — not more than one or two have anything resembling a bridge. At such times, therefore, all communication with the rest of the world is suspended, whatever necessity for it may exist, even for ten or twelve days together.
Near the gate of exit from Pescara an advantageous bargain with the owner of an open wagon *gave me half the seat, of which the other part had already been engaged for five miles’ distance. The elegant Neapolitan officer who soon appeared to take the other place was apparently not overjoyed at the company of a tramp with his knapsack. But that universal passport to a friendly interest -— Civis Americanus sum — instantly conciliated his military dignity, and we were not only friends, but confidants, as long as we were together. We forded a broad, shallow stream, jolting over its stony bottom. “Why don’t they make bridges ?” I asked. Shrugging his shoulders, “Non si sat—Nobody knows!” he answered, at the same time giving me a look and smile which, while unseen by the driver, who might have reported it at the next police station, said plainly enough to me, “ Everybody knows.” Then he must know about my strange travels, alone, and in such humble guise. Had I been at Rome ? So had he — “ in the ’48 ” ; but not then (looking down at his uniform) as a Neapolitan officer: “Faceva la guerra sul conto mio, — I was making war on my own account,” — was making war, that is, under that same Garibaldi for whose coming into what they called “ the kingdom ” king and subjects were looking so anxiously, and who came, sure enough, only six weeks after this, and was not very stoutly opposed. No wonder either, if his Sicilian Majesty’s forces were made up of such as my gentlemanly friend here, or of those unsafe men of whom they arrested two hundred, the newspapers said, in this same army of the Abruzzi only a few weeks before.
Less agreeable was the ride in a rude two-wheeled cart with some stolid clods of peasants, with which the day’s walk was further varied. So long as wheels were available, the question of crossing rivers was easily solved. But in the afternoon I reached, alone and on foot, a flood of portentous width, without bridge, ferry,, or ford apparent, — the river Tordino. Within reach was no man nor habitation ; beyond was a humble house or two. No resource presented itself but that of the captive Hebrews by the rivers of Babylon, — to sit down and weep. But fortunately there came up just then an indigene, in similar case, who leisurely commenced baring his feet and pulling up the garment which was nearest like trousers, sending forth meanwhile one or two vigorous shouts. A speedy result was seen on the opposite bank, in the descent to the water of a muscular native, who proceeded by devious ways to wade across to us, and put himself into an attitude to be mounted. This done, the legs of his passenger well twisted around his neck, he cautiously retraced the perilous path he had come by, the bare feet of the rider dipping at times in the flood that came breast-high, and returned for his next fare. Three or four of these torrents, before the line of the Papal States was reached, could be crossed only in this extraordinary fashion ; — this on a royal post-road of the first class, and the sole connection of these provinces with the capital. The streams north of the Tronto are not different in character from these ; yet on crossing that frontier into the territories of what I had been accustomed, until I was in “ the kingdom,” to regard as the meanest of European despotisms, I found all admirably bridged; some indeed with trestle-work, which presents less surface of resistance to the flood, but several more solidly, and all well. It may not be unreasonable to attribute this, and some other like phenomena of difference which one observes in comparing the Trans-Apennine provinces of the two powers, not so much to the greater beneficence as to the greater weakness of the priestly administration. In these Adriatic possessions of the Holy See there has always been a semblance of local autonomy, of provincial life, which the priestly administration was not strong enough to extinguish as the royal and Bourbon has done, and which does therefore some few things like these for the provinces, in spite of the central government.
It was growing dark as I entered the town of Giulia Nuova, set upon a hill a mile back from the highway. It was necessary to ask for the “inn” the guide-book mentioned ; but the person accosted could only say that there was no such thing, but that a certain good woman was wont to entertain strangers in her private house for a consideration, — and to this he led the way. Seeing that this town of three thousand people close to the frontier was just then crowded with fifteen hundred Neapolitan soldiers, no one, not even the respectable old lady who was glad to give me lodging, had much room to spare. There were no barracks ; there was in her little house, she said, but one spare room besides the one she gave me ; and in the other, for more than a year past, she had had two soldiers quartered, for whom she never had received a farthing, and never should ; and as long as I could listen by the dim lamplight she recounted the various enormities of the rough fellows, who soon came stumbling in to bed. A new significance and value came then upon that half-forgotten and uncared-for article of our Constitution which provides that “ No soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner.”
Part of the next morning’s walk was in the casual company of a gendarme off duty. He, too, like his superior who had ridden with me yesterday, had his questions to ask, — some of them about that great name with which Italy has rung loudly several times since, but which then was not so well known in Southern Italy but that its semivowels were commonly twisted into “ Gallibaldi.” He, too, had seen service in the ’48.” He was at Velletri, where Garibaldi, sallying southward from Rome, had come upon the Neapolitan army for restoring the Pope, and served them shortly as Neapolitans seem always to be served in fight; and where this worthy fellow had received a bullet-wound, of which he showed with much complacency the scar — in the back of his neck! At noon, crossing the bridge of boats over the Tronto, I entered once more the States of the Church, whose frontier I had passed on my southward course at Terrncina. Almost instantly the change already adverted to was not only obvious, but striking. The road was charming, though very hot. Not only were villages frequent, but the hillsides were sprinkled with gentlemen’s country-seats, many of them elegant, and sometimes approaching the stately splendor of the villas with which Rome and Naples are surrounded. Orangegardens loaded the air with their exquisite perfume, while the half-tropical effect of the near scenery, and of the sun’s ardent brilliancy, was heightened by the vistas often opened up by some short valley of the snowy mountains at the left. There was no more borrowing the aid of a cart, or of the friendly shoulders of a coutadino, to cross the mountain streams, — all were well bridged; while everything in the appearance of the country and of the people showed a difference so decided that it might almost be called a contrast with all that was visible south of the frontier.
So, after a day or two of walking and wagon-riding along this pleasant coast, I climbed the steep from which there shone afar the goal of so many other pilgrimages, the holy city of Loreto. It was doubtless rather curiosity than veneration which had made me look forward with some earnestness of desire to this visit ; yet it was a disappointment that it should be so difficult to arouse an enthusiasm of whatever kind, even in the sanctuary itself, which, if its walls did not in very truth enclose the sublime events of the Annunciation and the Incarnation, has yet been for many centuries the object of the ardent faith, the reverent pilgrimage, and the sacrificial offerings of monarchs and pontiffs, and of their subjects by tens of millions.
Facing a broad piazza upon the utmost height of the bill city, flanked by a stately palace and a convent in the magnificent style which marks the date when the Papacy, though in the decline of its strength, was efflorescing in corruption, stands in like profuse splendor the church of the Santa Casa ; and within the church, small, black, and dingy, yet at once the centre and the cause of this assemblage of church, palace, and city, the Holy House itself. Black, I have said ; yet of its outer surface no one can speak but by conjecture or inference ; for though you face the sanctuary, in whatever of the four arms of the cruciform church you stand, if only you look inward from the entrance (for the House is at the intersection of them all), yet so closely incased is it in a glittering crust of sculptured marble, that the undevout visitor may well forget the doubtful miracle within for the sure marvels which are outsideThe architecture of Bramante, and the patient sculpture of such as John of Bologna and Sansovino, and whatever there was greatest in their art through the first full third of the cinque-cento, have hidden from sight the simple structure of Judæan shepherds, while they represent in work almost divine the events of which the House itself was witness, or the wonderful passages of its own later history. That history, too, in minute detail, including the migration from Nazareth to the coast of Dalmatia, and at last, in 1295, to the spot where it now stands, is inscribed on stone tablets in various parts of the church, in different languages, that pilgrims might be built up in the faith that brought them here ; yet the only languages that considerable search discovered were English, Welsh, and what purported to be Scotch. How justly this last is published as a language distinct from the English may be judged from the heading: “ The Storie of the Marvellous Flyitynge of ý Holy House of Our Ladye of Loreto.”
Within, a simple curiosity, not sharpened by faith, is soon sated. A mere cell, or cabin, of rough, irregular brick, less than twenty-eight feet long, not half so high, and narrower still than its height, is black and grimy with the smoke of six centuries’ incense. A single door gives entrance to humanity; one window, to all the light but what is furnished by the silver lamps that hang burning night and day before the shrine. Over a little altar is one, perhaps the most famous one, of those hideous images in black wood of which St. Luke, evangelist, physician, and sculptor, has the unenviable credit, which have been deemed the most precious treasures of more than one Italian town ; and to no one of which can this Lady and Child, of half life size, be reckoned inferior, whether in ugliness of feature or in splendor of vestment. But whatever be one’s incredulity in respect to the cabin and the doll, there is no room to doubt the genuineness of the jewels that adorn the one, or of the treasures, in the form of votive offerings, that fill the other; nor, better yet, of the wide vista over land and sea which the declining sun was touching with a more splendid glory when I left the shrine of superstition, and looked forth from the lofty ramparts of the town.
Charming, but with something other than a true Italian beauty, is the region over which I looked that evening from the walls of Loreto, and through which I walked in the cool and cloudy morning : Il Giardino d’ Italia, as others call it than those who live there ; La Marca, —• the March, or Marquisate, of Ancona. Undulating, and to a degree of irregularity sometimes that one should almost say mountainous, it is yet under high and thorough cultivation to the tops of its highest hills ; while hills and vales and the winding roads and lanes are dotted or shaded by the young foliage of innumerable trees, which would alone have served to dispel the illusion to which I was tempted, to fancy myself in the Massachusetts valley of the Connecticut River. Almond-trees were blossoming in peachy fragrance; blue violets peeped from the grass along the road ; un-Yankee boys in white smocks and caps, from the crowns of which hung gay colored tassels, looked up from their work, and helped to show that this was not New England : but, among them all, the eighteen miles seemed to have been no long walk, when at one o’clock I passed by the town of Ancona, — by houses, on the landward side, in whose walls were imbedded Austrian cannonballs, fired in its twenty-six days’ bombardment in 1849, when revolution was suppressed for the Pope’s benefit, — around to the only entrance of the town, where its north wall joins the port. Along the little strand, within the town, beside which my road led, were many squads of soldiers hard at drill. These, too, were Austrians ; there were fifteen hundred of them here, besides those of other nativity ; their flag was not the Emperor’s, however, but the Pope’s. They were recent volunteers, whom the annexation of the AEmilian provinces, just north, and the threatening movements of “the bloody Piedmontese” upon the receding Papal frontier, had lately impelled to the defence of the few remaining jewels of the tiara. A crowd of young officers of these same dark green fellows spent the next morning, being Sunday, at their breakfast in my hotel, with such enthusiasm of champagne and warlike clamor as to belie the name of the A Ibergo della Pace. It was only a few weeks later that these same blooming fields through which I had just walked were reddened by the blood of the hirelings who were now exercising or carousing about me ; when Lamo"rici£re had collected his twenty thousand mercenaries about that very hill of Castel Fidardo, which I had looked at with its little village on its crest, only to be overwhelmed and routed by Cialdini, and to see this stronghold of Ancona pass for the last time from the hands of the Roman pontiff.
Perhaps this Mount of Ancona, in a nook or “ elbow ” (ancôn) of whose northern base nestles the town, may be set down as the exact point where the Apennine range, pushing down from the northwest, fairly strikes the sea, and from which it presses against the sea, with its lofty side along all that coast over which I had come. From here to the north, the coast road no longer has to struggle for a narrow footing under the base of steep mountains. If it still keeps close to the shore, it is only because the shore is straight, and is the shortest line between the towns upon it. As I set out at noon in the lumbering diligence, the mountains at once receded on the left, and, instead, a range of low, monotonous hills accompanied us at a little distance. At no more rapid rate, including frequent stoppages, than if I had been afoot, the melancholy vehicle trundled along through the afternoon and all the dismal night. Past Sinigallia, where the gloomy palace frowned over the road, where John-Mary Mastai-Ferretti began that life which he was. to end, perhaps, as the last Pope with temporal dominion, and, at all events, after a reign surpassed in duration even now by not more than five of the successors of Peter; past Fano, with its triumphal arch of Augustus ; after night had fallen, through Pesaro, and suffering long delay at the post-station of La Cattolica, which marked for the time the extent of Piedmontese aggression, and where the gray Sardinian uniform looked pleasantly once more under the light of the lanterns by which we were inspected; and in full daylight to Rimini, having accomplished sixty miles in seventeen hours of painful travel. Here were thousands of the new invaders from Cisalpine Gaul, who had crossed the Rubicon but a few miles back, and had passed into Rimini over a noble Roman bridge, and under a magnificent Augustan arch of triumph, on their way toward the Rome at which they arrived, but who were now busy in building great modern earthworks, as if they meant only to keep what they had got. From the ramparts, looking westward, there meets the eye, conspicuous across the plain, a dozen miles off, a long black cliff, the highest, apparently, in sight, its upper outline broken against the sky with towers, its summit and sides streaked all over with snow, which is all the territory of the Republic of San Marino, with its army of forty men, and its population of seven thousand.
If the country was now flat and uninteresting, yet even in such a region the late torment of the diligence was not better than freedom and independence on foot. So in two or three hours next morning I reached the little stream which even now is called Il Rubicone, flowing “ruddy” with clay between high banks, and spanned by a wooden bridge, it may be at the very spot where Cæsar, on his way from Ravenna to seize the important fortress of Rimini, made that plunge upon which the fate of the world was to turn. The sea was near enough to the road, but hidden behind low mounds of sand. There were two or three little towns ; Cervia, surrounded by a turreted wall, a square city of a couple of thousand people, through which, in its precise centre, the highway passes, broad and clean, and just three minutes’ walk from gate to gate. Then, for ten or twelve miles, the road skirts the Pineta, — the grove of umbrella pines stretching along the sea in a narrow belt of wilderness. But at last the Pineta falls into the rear; the land spreads out into an utterly desolate low marsh, without house, stick, or stone to break its monotony, out of the midst of which rises, in solemn isolation, three or four miles before the gates of Ravenna are reached, and quite as far from the sea, the noble basilica of San Apollinare in Classe, — stupendous monument of that Gothic empire and that Arian heresy which came near to universal sway over the souls and bodies of Christendom, and of which Ravenna was the Rome, the glorious metropolis and capital. In this character alone, aside from all other claims, this lonely, half-deserted city, within the ample circuit of whose walls are streets overgrown with weeds and lined with vacant palaces, could never fail to excite the reverent enthusiasm of any one to whom ecclesiastical or simply historical antiquities are of interest, if only he should place himself within the circle of its attraction. Yet this is not all; for before the Goths Ravenna was great; and after orthodoxy had restored the unity of the Western Church, it needed many centuries of combined natural and ecclesiastical and political causes to reduce it from a splendid rank among the cities of Christendom. Before Venice, rose upon the islands that cluster about the head of the Adriatic, but a few miles to the northward, Ravenna was Venice. This inland town, from which the sea is distant by seven miles of dreary marsh, sat like Venice upon its clustered islands ; the sea, as in those of Venice, was
Ebbing and flowing ”;
countless bridges maintained communication between its isolated quarters; like Venice, its walls were impregnable and unattainable by the strong defence of the lagunes that encompassed it; while all the wealth of the East, that afterwards built the palaces of Venice, flowed into its lap, to be distributed by its merchants over all Western Europe. When Rome was shaking under the successive shocks of Northern invasion, the degenerate Caesars fled hither to establish the still splendid court of the Western Empire. But her greatest magnificence was under the sway of that extraordinary people, that blueeyed, fair-haired race whose name is a synonyme for savage brutality, who yet conquered the conquerors of the world, and who from this capital, which they made to rival in splendor the city of Constantine itself, exercised a dominion reaching from the mouths of the Danube to the extremity of the Italian peninsula, and to the Pillars of Hercules and the Bay of Biscay. In that grand process which never ceases, however imperceptible to our vision, by which the mountains are being brought low and the valleys exalted, the Alps and the Apennines have been robbed of their substance to raise these miles upon miles of firm land from the bottom of the sea. No natural landmark points the successive stages of this vast but silent and constant change ; only the names which faithful tradition has kept impressed upon the local topography serve to show how gradually the Adriatic retreated from the steps of the throne of its queen. When Rome was a republic, and Ravenna a town in its province of Cisalpine Gaul, the ships of Alexandria and Joppa discharged their cargoes in her very streets. Two miles from her walls, the lonely church of St a. Maria in Porto shows by its name that at some early time, which cannot be fixed, the harbor had retired so far from the city which had been built upon it; and the square light-house, which then had guided the mariner to his destination, was many centuries ago turned from its ludicrous inutility to pious uses as the bell-tower of the church. At nearly twice that distance from the gates there is nothing but the name of the magnificent church of San Apollinare (in Classe) to show that its site was once that of the suburb where the imperial “ Fleet ” lay moored; while between it and the sea are now four miles of black and dreary moorland, or of
Rooted where once the Adrian wave flowed o’er.”
Thus, when the queenly city had been abandoned by her handmaid the sea, her commercial greatness fled to upstart Venice, or was shared by Venice with Genoa and Pisa ; while, the Gothic sceptre having passed from the giant arm of Theodoric to successors as puny as the latest Caesars, imperial power and ecclesiastical primacy were transported to the Rome which had so lately lost them, or went wandering and divided to Saxony or Franconia, to Paris or Aix-la-Chapelle. But though her dominion is long ago departed from her, Rome herself has not to-day such monuments of the period from Constantine to the death of Justinian, a space of two centuries and a half, as Ravenna possesses in unimpaired magnificence. Compare these dates, for example, of all existing works in mosaic, up to the time last named: in Rome, at Sta. Sabina, but almost wholly destroyed, A. D. 425 ; part of the mosaics at Sta. Maria Maggiore, 432 ; SS. Cosmo and Damian, 530 ; — at Ravenna, at the tomb of Galla Placidia, 440 ; at San Giovanni in Fonte, 451 ; at San Vitale, 547 ; at Sta. Maria in Cosmedin, 553; at San Apollinare in Classe, 567; and at San Apollinare Nuovo, 570; while the superiority of these to the few Roman works is far greater in extent and splendor than in mere number. Something, perhaps, of this inequality is due to the fact that the returning power and wealth of the Roman episcopate made possible a lavishness of reparation and improvement which left little but the name to many a venerable relic of the earlier centuries, while deserted and declining Ravenna had hardly the vigor even to destroy; but it cannot be doubted that the period in question was that which came nearest to a total eclipse of Roman splendor, and during which the heretical supremacy and the barbarian invasions that were oppressing her were building her Trans-Apennine rival into a gorgeous seat of empire.
Of all the monuments of that schismatic faith and that barbaric empire, hardly one is more impressive than this lonely basilica of San Apollinare in that dismal moorland, which was once the busy suburb of the Fleet. More than thirteen hundred years ago, the thin, flat bricks — as Roman in their shape and the fashion of their putting together as if they had not been laid by those Goths whose name imports all that is brutal and destructive-—rose into its arcaded sides and clerestory, and its lofty circular campanile. Within, it is green now with damp and mould, and its lower chapels swamped in water. No worshipper kneels before its altar ; a sickly looking priest or two, caring for the unused utensils of church service, is the only living thing to be seen by the visitor, except the spiritual life of thirteen centuries ago, petrified into the deathless colors that cover the great tribune and the spandrels of the arch before it. Here, with reverent boldness, the sacerdotal artist has essayed the wonderful scene of the Transfiguration. From the apex of the half-dome which roofs the tribune, the hand of the Almighty, issuing from the clouds, points to the head of Christ, in the centre of a great gemmed cross just below. Above the cross are the Greek letters IXɵYC ; near its arms the Alpha and Omega ; and at its foot the words Saties Mundi. Resting on clouds on either side of the cross, and pointing to it, are the figures of Moses and Elias, their names inserted near them in strong Roman characters. Below, on the green earth (and how brilliantly and perennially green that landscape is, after these thirteen centuries, no one who has seen it can ever forget), the apostles Peter, James,, and John gaze upwards in the guise of sheep, surrounded by flowers and rocks and pines and cypresses. Below the cross is the saint under whose invocation the church is dedicated, in his ancient archbishop’s robes, his arms raised in the act of preaching, his congregation symbolized by a flock of sheep surrounding him. Near by, upon another wall of the presbytery, the great mystery of the Atonement appears under its several Hebrew types, —the sacrifices of Abel, Melchizedek, and Abraham. Above the arch of the tribune, upon the broad wall which looks down the nave, are still other and various subjects, — archangels, evangelists, symbols of Christian faith and hope, and the cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, with processions of believers, typified, as before, by flocks of sheep issuing from the open gates.
Such are the themes which, in representations splendid in color and colossal in grandeur, are spread over the whole surface of that altar-end of this deserted church, which alone has preserved its treasures to this day. But if we enter the silent city, its almost vacant streets offer still richer jewels to our gaze. Here is that other church of the same name (San Apollinare Nuovo), which, yet half a century earlier, the great Theodoric himself built as the metropolitan cathedral of the Arian world,— that church which might have been today what St. Peter’s is, had Clovis, instead of Alaric the Visigoth, while its walls were rising, fallen upon the plain of Poitiers, and the world become a universal Gothic empire, and Arian heresy become Catholic orthodoxy. Not merely the extremity of this “ Church of the Golden Roof,” but the walls of its nave from end to end, and up to the gilded ceiling itself, are covered with these pictures in stone whose colors never fade. On one side a single gigantic composition shows the city of Ravenna of that day, in which are conspicuous the structures which still remain to us; opposite, that suburb of the Fleet, with harbor and ships, which now is vanished, — ships, city, and port; both rising from the round arches of the nave, which rest on columns borrowed by the Got,hic king from that Constantinople to which he owed so slight an allegiance, up to the windows of the clerestory ; while every space between those windows, and above them to the roof, contains its separate subject.
If it is thought strange that a period of Gothic domination should be commemorated by such structures as these, how much more marvellous is it that the most gorgeous work of Christian art, though far from being the greatest of the earlier centuries, should have been going steadily on through precisely those years when the struggle of Barbarian and Byzantine for final domination had burst out afresh, and was raging with n fury unknown in the first invasions, and when Ravenna itself, as well as Rome, was held alternately by the contending hosts ! Yet such was the eventful infancy of San Vitale. It is rarely that the date of so ancient a work can be determined so precisely as may that of this singular structure from the marks it bears upon itself. The most brilliant of all historical records in the mosaics covering the chair and tribune, and representing the consecration of the church, fix the time of that event as nearly as may be at the year 547. On opposite walls stand the Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora, “whose vices were not incompatible with devotion,” attended, the former by the consecrating archbishop St. Maximian and a splendid retinue of courtiers and officers, the other by a train of ladies from the Byzantine court, all in such vivid distinctness of costume and feature that one does not think of questioning their likeness, while the identity of every principal figure is established by the bold lettering of a name near it. As the disreputable actress turned empress and devotee died in 548, the limit for the completion of the church is fixed at once. For its commencement this strange, Oriental-looking octagon could have been suggested by no other than that magnificent temple which the same Emperor had begun at Constantinople in 532, and six years later had dedicated to the Eternal Wisdom ; even as San Vitale itself, after two centuries and a half, suggested to Charlemagne the ideal which that greater than Justinian executed in the octagon “ Chapelle ” that gave a name to his capital and afforded himself a sepulchre. Nothing, therefore, seems so probable as that, when Belisarius had recovered the Gothic capital in 539 for his imperial master, he should at once have begun, a votive offering for his success, the gorgeous monument which eight years later was completed. Rarely, in any age, have the arts of architecture, sculpture, and painting (if that may be called so which uses only fragments of colored stone as the vehicle of its expression) combined to make so splendid a memorial of triumph or devotion. Unlike as it is in shape to the basilica or the later church, yet the analogy to the nave, aisles, and side-chapels of the latter is closely maintained. Above the two tiers of circular arches, resting on superb monolithic columns of Grecian marbles whose capitals are cunningly undercut with vine-work and reticulation and strange devices, bespeaking far more the vigorous play of a young and growing art than the decline and corruption of an old art, rises a clerestory and a dome ; while such parts of the inner fabric as are not covered with costly marbles and sculptures blaze with the profuse and varied pictures of the workers in mosaic, as bright and clear and perfect in color, as well as design, as on the day when St. Maximum first read there the prayers of consecration. It would be a wearisome task to reproduce from note-books a catalogue of all the subjects that glitter on the walls of San Vitale, or of anyone of the greater churches of Ravenna ; a sufficient idea of their character and diversity has already been given by examples. Whatever external splendor these structures may have (and some of them are extremely imposing) is in spite of the simplicity of their material ; for this, upon that great alluvial plain, where not so much as a pebble can be found, is almost uniformly the broad, flat, Roman brick, an inch and a half in thickness. But the most distant quarries have contributed their wealth to the adornment of their interiors ; while these mosaics, which glitter in such vast extent upon their inner walls, whether their subjects be historical, symbolical, or dramatic, are not merely inestimable studies of the costume and the whole life of the fifth century, but as works of art are immensely superior, in color, in action, in expression, and even in composition, to those of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries elsewhere in Italy'.
If it had been attempted to give a summary of the attractions of this Gothic capital to a student of early Christian art, it would still be incomplete. Overreaching in antiquity the final Gothic conquest, the mausoleum built by a Roman empress, who had also been a queen of the Goths, as her own sepulchre and that of an emperor who was her brother, and another who was her son, is on some accounts of singular value. Constructed at leastbefore the death of Galla Placidia in . 450, it is with a single exception, also at Ravenna, the sole example remaining in Italy of the Memoria or funeral chapels which once covered the country like the Santons’ tombs in Turkey, the origin of which may be traced, if not to Byzantium itself, to the sepulchral cells of the Catacombs, and which seem to have given place long ago to the mortuary chapels that were annexed to churches and cathedrals. Its three imperial tombs are, perhaps, the earliest specimens of Byzantine sculpture now remaining; the mosaics which cover its cupola are not only peculiarly beautiful, but constitute, with the strict harmony of its architecture and its sculpture, what has been called by one of the most philosophical writers on Christian Art (Lord Lindsay) “by far the most perfect and interesting example ” of the early Byzantine symbolism. Yet this monument, too, the sepulchre of a Gothic queen and of that Roman Emperor who diverted himself with cock-fights behind the walls and ditches of Ravenna while Alaric was taking Rome, helps to remind one of those barbarians under whose rule Ravenna was at its greatest. “ Barbarians ” the world has agreed to call them, and to name “ Gothic ” whatever is base, brutal, unspiritual, and wantonly destructive. Perhaps the world’s nomenclature might have been different, had the fortune of war been other than it was with Belisarius in the East and Clovis in the West. Les vaincus, like les absens, ont toujours tort. Looking back these thirteen hundred years, through the false medium of a literature made by the victors, it is yet not hard to see that these barbarians had in them much of all in the world at that time that was good, that was generous, that was liberal, that protected and promoted art, learning, jurisprudence, and religion. The Code of Justinian, in which culminated twelve centuries of Roman juridical learning and a national life devoted in some measure ■to the arts of peace, is no more remarkable monument of enlightened legislation than that Visigothic code which was struck out by these Teutonic organizers, before Justinian’s century, in the ferment of incessant campaigning and amid the daily clash of arms. Under the undisputed dominion of the East Goths, Saint-Benedict, who was a heretic to them, was suffered to found on the Monte Cassino that monastery which was for centuries the very fountain-head of all manner of learning, and Cassiodorus established, in his graceful retirement at Squillace from the office of prime minister of the Gothic Empire, the first great library in Italy ; while the monarchs themselves invited from all the world whoever excelled in art or science, and promoted the cultivation of science and the arts among their own subjects by a liberal system of rewards. Dio Cassius could no better express the wisdom and refinement of these barbarian rulers than by comparing them favorably with the Greeks themselves. Accustomed, wherever they were subject to orthodox rule, to the relentless persecution by which orthodoxy was sure to vindicate itself, no sooner did these gentle barbarians establish their own domination than they showed to those who had “ despitefully used them and persecuted them ” the new virtue of full toleration for differences of religious opinion ; so that during the great Theodoric’s reign of thirty-three years it was said that no Italian Catholic had adopted, either from compulsion or choice, the religion of his monarch. Then, first and last in all the centuries from the time of Constantine almost to our day, did a Christian government protect even the Jew from the superstitious or avaricious fury of the mob, and, by a refined justice which only our latest American statutes have expressed, levied upon the community responsible for the outrages a proper compensation for the injuries inflicted. What a different Europe it might have been, had barbarism like that controlled it for the past thousand years !
“ But surely the Goths and Vandals pillaged Rome ? ” — Capture Rome no doubt they did. So have British troops in our day taken Pekin and Delhi and Magdala, and, not long ago, Washington. But when we read how our cousins plundered and sacked and desecrated temples, and destroyed public monuments, and call them Goths and Vandals, we do the barbarians a wrong. Their enemies have told their story ; yet their enemies have recorded that Alaric protected the churches of Rome, and all who might take refuge in them, and the consecrated vessels, even in the fury of a capture by assault ; and that even the public edifices suffered rather from the inevitable damage of the occasion than from wanton destructiveness. Augustine compares the moderation of the heretics with the wanton barbarity of the Romans themselves in the wars of Marius and Sylla, as each party in turn gained possession of the imperial city ; and a later historian confidently affirms that the ravages of these barbarians were less destructive than those of Charles V., “ a Catholic prince, who styled himself Emperor of the Romans.” Orthodox piety had already suffered the monuments of paganism to fall to decay ; and it was reserved for the Gothic Theodoric to protect by positive edict, by the appointment of an efficient architectural commission, and the appropriation of large annual revenues, the public edifices, the statues, whatever was valuable for antiquity or art, from the ravages of time and the depredations of Roman citizens. As Rome grew rich and great again, her own princes completed the ruin of her most glorious monuments, content to see their own evil work charged upon the Goths who were their betters ; so that, in a stronger sense than Pasquin meant it, may it be said in Pasquin’s words, “Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecere Barberini.”
It was pleasant to visit now. at the centre of that imperial power of Theodore. the fabric which the hero built for his final resting-place, as if conscious that those who should come after him would be unworthy to make his sepulchre. Beyond the noise of the then busy city, in the midst of fruitful fields a mile without its gates, “upon the sides of the north,” as if the conqueror would return at least so far toward the birthplace of his nation, he built his tomb in his lifetime of massive blocks of Istrian limestone, brought from beyond the sea into this land of clay and bricks. Long ago a pious fervor has expelled and scattered the remains of the great heretic who protected the worship of his Catholic subjects, and the sepulchre is now a chapel of the orthodox Santa A Maria della Rotonda. The sole remaining example, except the mausoleum of Galla Placidia, of the Funeral Chapels of the earlier ages, it rises in two stories, an equal-sided decagon, from a base which. although lately uncovered by excavation, is left by the unceasing rise of the land Several feet below the general level. Each of its ten sides is occupied by a round recessed arch, of which the members are curiously notched and fitted into each other ; and around the whole runs a continuous moulding through the imposts of all the arches, which broughtat once to recollection a similar feature in the Terracina palace. But crowning the structure, as if to exhibit to the feebler races who should come after, and who should use the name of “ Goth ” in scorn or derision, a feat beyond their power to imitate, the mighty architect has placed a roof which the resources of nineteenth-centimy engineering might be inadequate to construct ; — one single block from the Istrian coast, forty feet in its diameter, a rounded dome above and concave vault within, its thickness varying from four feet at the centre to something less at the edges, and its weight two hundred tons. A mountain covered the grave of Theodoric, as a river flowed over that of Alaric. Equidistant about the side of this mass are twelve projections pierced with holes, which the peasants of the neighborhood have called by the names of the twelve apostles, as if they had once furnished support to their statues ; but no statue could have stood upon their downwardsloping tops. Perhaps the great architect left them there to aid our imagination to the method by which this mass of two hundred tons was moved to its position. There, at all events, it stands, and has stood these thirteen centuries and a half, as firm and level as when the Gothic builder lowered it to its place, defying time, defying the puny assaults of modern men. Orthodox fanaticism has availed only to desecrate the tomb and scatter the kingly ashes. No feebler force than the lightning of heaven has rent in two parts, which yet remain unmoved in their places, the work of that hero whose empire was at least coextensive with Charlemagne’s, and whose glory deserves to be no less.