A Night in St. Peter's
A CARNIVAL afternoon in St. Peter’s, when I had the church all to myself, so far as not having to share it with any save the proper haunters and denizens thereof, inspired me with a bolder conception. that of having the mighty basilica absolutely and altogether my own for a while! This was not a difficult matter to accomplish. It was but to determine to “make a night of it,” to borrow a phrase from the jolly-dog vocabulary, which its proper owners would be rather surprised to meet with in its present connection. It was only needed to decide, as I say, upon passing the night in the place, and the object was attained, To elude the observation of the vergers — or those, by whatsoever other name they may call themselves, who make a perfunctory perlustration of the building before closing the doors at night-fall — is the easiest thing in the world. It would be very far from an easy thing really to assure one’s self that no living soul remained in the whole place, the facilities for concealment are so many, the space so vast, and so complete the impossibility of bringing the different parts of it under the observation of the eye at the same time.
No; that was not the difficult part of the matter. The difficulty was to make up one’s own mind to the feat. My notion is that a man ought not to venture on printing a capital “ I ” unless he has made up his mind to be candid; and — candidly — T was very much afraid of the adventure I proposed to myself. What was I afraid of? Ay, that was just the rub! What was I afraid of? I certainly was not afraid of being discovered by the verger, and by him ignominiously handed over to the “ secular arm ” for punishment, or perhaps being excommunicated and cursed “ with bell, book, and candle ” by the “ spiritual arm ” acting in its own behoof. I certainly was not afraid that any sort of evil or harm would, might, or could happen to my person or its belongings from the hand of any human being. It was quite certain that in no spot of all Home could one pass the night in such absolute immunity from any such danger as within the walls of St. Peter’s. If id I believe that the spiritual arm would take the matter so immediately into its own hand as to punish the heretic intruder by some terrible buffet, inflicted after the fashion of that described in Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel, or that perhaps a colossal Pope might stretch out, as the clock struck the witching hour of the night, a huge stone hand and arm, like those of the Commendatore in Don Giovanni, and thus wreak the vengeance of the church upon me? I cannot say that I had any decided belief that any such event was at all likely to happen; and yet these latter suppositions more nearly “harped my fear aright” than any others. In fact, I was afraid of the tricks my own imagination might play me. I knew that if it was once suffered to get the bit between its teeth, there was no saying what a night’s dance it might not lead me. Yes, I confess I was afraid of those gigantic marble men who would share my vigil with me. The mosaic-work pictures, for some reason, gave me no alarm. There did not seem to he any greater probability of their moving or playing tricks by night than by day. But with that terrible population in bronze and marble the case appeared to be otherwise. Yes, honestly, I was afraid, and not a little afraid. Nevertheless, when the idea had once presented itself to my mind, the temptation to put it into execution was strong, and I determined to attempt the enterprise. It. was far on in the spring, and I had nothing to fear from cold during the night’s vigil I proposed to myself. Not, indeed, that there would be much to fear in that respect at any time of the year, for one of the remarkable specialties of the huge church is the singular equability of its temperature at all seasons. It is never much too cold or too hot in St. Peter’s. It is too much a world by itself to take great heed of the alternations of the seasons that are going on on the outside of its enormously thick walls.
So the plan was conceived, and so it was executed, some five and thirty years ago, when Gregory XVI. was Pope, before the suicidal idea of a Vatican Council had been thought of, and before the snow had fallen on my beard; . . . also before that singular event, which happened a few years afterwards, the robbery of the jeweled head of St. Andrew from the church; which, when it did happen, caused me to reflect that had I been found lurking so unwarrantably in the church at undue hours, it was possible that I might have been supposed to be actuated by some more generally intelligible motive than a desire to pass an evening in the very select society to be found there.
I had taken care to have a pair of shoes on which rendered my footfall as noiseless as that of a cat; and sauntering down towards the western door, as the light was fading and the last straggling devotees seemed to be leaving the church, I placed myself in a dark corner of one of the colossal pilasters, and watched till the door should be shut, — not without some little palpitation of the heart, I confess. It seemed to me that I waited an interminable time, and I began to think that possibly the doors were left open all night. But at last an old sacristan, accompanied by a boy, wandered down the nave very slowly, and went first to the door at the end of the north side aisle, whereas I had posted myself near to that on the southern side of the west front. I heard a grating sound and a dull bang that wakened very little echo. The echoes in this vast building seem to live all too far off to be easily disturbed. And then the old man and his boy lounged across and performed the same operation on my side. A score or a couple of scores of people might have remained in the church as easily as a single individual, for aught that the old sacristan did to prevent them. The depth of shadow was so profound, the jutting corners and receding nooks were so many and so dark, the distances so great, as to have made it the easiest thing in the world to have dodged round the huge pier unperceived, if the sacristan had made any demonstration of coming in that direction. But he did nothing of the sort. As soon as he had closed the doors, he wandered back towards the eastern end of the church, and when he came near the great faldstool, which stands in the centre of the nave, he turned towards the northern side. Then, cautiously advancing from one pier to another, I contrived to keep hint in view till I saw him pass through the small door under the monument to Pius VII., in the northern transept, which leads to the sacristy. I t bought that he did not close that door behind him; and possibly enough he or some other official may have been in the sacristy all night. But that apartment is at a considerable distance from the body of the church, being separated from it by a long corridor, — a distance quite sufficient to prevent any save a very great noise in the church from being heard there.
So here I was in the full enjoyment of having St. Peter’s absolutely and entirely all to myself. All to myself! At any rate, I and a pretty considerable party of Popes, saints, and martyrs had it to ourselves amongst us. It was Leo XII. who had been looking down on me in my hiding-place. while I watched the old sacristan shutting the doors; Leo XII., an easy-going sort of Pope, and not far enough off from our own days to have much of romantic or mysterious interest attached to him. I was not afraid of him! Besides, he does not look awful, at all, but rather lumpy and sleepy us he sits up on his tomb there, much as he looked, I fancy, when sitting on a softer seat, before he " passed over to the majority.”Christina, whilom queen of Sweden, lay in her curved marble sarcophagus, just over my head. And though her majesty might well be suspected of being fantastic enough to be up to any frisky doings during the small hours, there is not enough of the awful connected with her memory to render her, either, a very dread-inspiring neighbor. Besides, she and I and Leo XII. were all in a snug corner there by ourselves. I felt the solid marble behind me, as I stood, and was open to no surprises from the rear. It was the being out in the open space that was the awful thing, with your shoulders and blade-bones exposed to any mean advantage a ghost, might he disposed to take of you behind your back. It seems to me that no part of one’s organism is so sensitive to supernatural terrors as one’s blade-bones. One feels a constant necessity of looking over one’s shoulder to see that no awful presence is creeping upon one from behind.
In fact, I did not venture out into the vast empty spaces for a while, but remained, after I had watched the sacristan into his sacristy, near the great western door, gazing in a sort of dreamy reverie right up the nave to where the lamps around the shrine of St. Peter were burning brightly, — burning always, by night as well us by day. The twinkling and pulsing of the circular mass of light made it seem as if it were a living thing, the only tiling that moved in all that world of stone. I waited there at the western door thus looking at, the light in the far distance for a long time, I know not how long. I knew that I had many hours before me, and felt in no hurry to commence my wanderings over the great spaces that surely must be spirit-haunted if ever spot on earth were so.
There was a strange, weird sort of light in the church, and more of it than I should have expected. It was a perfectly clear night and the moon was at the full; and an abundant white flood of her pale beams streamed through the plain glass panes of the ugly rectangular windows high up aloft, —ugly enough to be an unfailing eye-sore in the day-time, but well adapted for the admission of all the light the heavens could give. I have seen many a glorious Gothic church on the northern side of the Alps darker at midday than this Roman building under a Roman sky was by the moonlight. Yet the light came from so far above and from so many windows that the effect was not that of the usual strongly marked white stripes of moonlight distinctly contrasting with black masses of shadow, though there were plenty of such in the remoter corners of the church, but rather that of a generally diffused, strange, unlife-like luminousness, the pale, dim ghost of a dead day rather than live moonlight. At last I determined to start on my long journey towards the pulsing lamps that looked so far — oh, so very far — away from me.
I do not expect anybody to believe in the exceeding awfulness of that walk up the seemingly interminable nave, amid the terrible weight of the silence that environed me; but let any reader make trial of the same experience, and he will, I am very sure, understand what I mean by the aufulness of it. And the vastness of the deadly silent spaces seemed to become more arid more oppressive the farther I got out into the middle of the empty nave. Pausing every now and then to turn shrinkingly round and peer into the obscure shadows under the great arches on all sides, I got at last to the faldstool in the middle of the church. By that time the mass of light around the shrine of St. Peter had resolved itself into its component parts of individual lamps, each flickering and pulsing and being sociable with its neighbor, and wholly refusing to take any cognizance of the flesh-and-blood intruder who was spying on their hour of privacy.
I hardly know what motive induced me to kneel, as I did, at the great central faldstool, exactly in the middle of it. It certainly was done with no idea of prayer in my mind. I think I was actuated by a dreamy sort of notion of acting my part in the play; of taking possession of the marble world of which T was, for the nonce, sole lord; of fancying how one of the real masters of the place, one of the Popes of Ihe day when Popes were mighty, might have felt and acted. One! Ay, hut which of the two hundred and sixty-two successors of St. Peter?
What a procession of figures, trooping with their triple crowns and trailing long garments of priestly magnificence across the wondrous stage of the ages, does the thought picture to the eye of the mind! Two hundred and sixty-three, from St. Peter, so ready to draw the sword, to the feeble old man still busy there in the Vatican with the long, never-accomplished, never-abandoned fight for the subjection of man — his mind, his body, his thought, his goods — to the power of the priesthood! In this, and in this alone, all the individuals of that far-stretching line have been alike consistent, persistent, unchanging. Their vaunted semper et ubique is at least so far true. Always in every age, universally in every clime, this object, the subjection of mankind, has been unceasingly pursued by this wondrous line of crowned priests: virtuously, and wickedly; with thoughts of the loftiest transcendental spiritualism, and with schemes of the lowest mundane cunning; by the means of asceticism and prayer, and by the unflinching ruthlessness of persecution; by noble appeals to all that is highest in human nature, and by eorruptest connivance with and use of all that is basest in it; by skillful manipulation of the passions of the multitudes. and by crafty molding of the minds of kings; by awakening human hopes and ambitions, and by playing on human fears; by truth, and by falsehood; by humility, and by arrogance; by brazentougued assertion at one time, and by veiled reticences at another.
The power of the keys! Only think what it means! Think what the meaning of those keys in the hand of that grim old bronze Idol wlio sits there a few yards from the spot where I am kneeling, and does duty for St. Peter, is to the minds of the simpletons who daily crowd to place their foreheads beneath his outstretched foot!
I rose from the faldstool, as the thought passed through my mind, and approached the stiff, stolidly sitting figure on its high pedestal. Artistic merit it has none, unless that peculiar expression of immense and changeless perdurance which this figure possesses in common with the well-known sitting statues of Egyptian idols be attributed as a merit to the artist. Them, standing with my back to the pedestal, and looking along the nave garrisoned by its colossal figures of saints and martyrs in their niches on either side, I gave the rein to my imagination, and pictured to myself this wondrous line of pontiffs passing up from the great western doors towards the dusky shadows at the eastern end of the church in long, silent procession.
Of the first thirty in the line, occupying the first three centuries and nine years more, all save two are recorded by the church to have died a martyr’s death. They are still bad in remembrance as mere names, and very shadowy names. Strange names, too, most of them! Not the well-known papal names with which we are all so familiar. There is a Clement I., a Sixtus I. and II., an Alexander I., a Pius I., and an Urban I., but all the rest are strange, unfamiliar names; dim figures, of whom little can be known or guessed, save that in those semi-barbarous and mostly fierce features tlie arrogant pride of the churchman may be traced, — the churchman who, though he was ready to die a martyr to his belief in his creed, was equally ready to make, any dissident from it a martyr to his unbelief!
A hundred and sixty-one little known though all tiara-wearing ghosts have passed before there approaches one well known through every succeeding age, serous seroooum Dei, but holding his proud head superbly aloft, while the interest arrogance flashes from his eye and his every stop is planted on the stones as if it trod the necks of prostrate princes: Hildebrand, Pope Gregory VII. There is no mistaking him ! One hundred and seventy-fourth in the line came Adrian IV the English Pope, peasant born and convent bred, who denied to Frederick Barbarossa the kiss of peace and the imperial crown, because the emperor refused (though he had kissed his foot) to perform the menial office of stirrup-holder for him, — denied, nor would abate one jot of his pretension till the proud emperor had bent his pride to the prouder Pope ! One hundred and eightyfirst in the mitred line there came a majestic figure, Innocent III., the great reformer and high-handed controller of princes. His conception of the nature of a papacy and of the duties and privileges of the Pope was a grand and noble one. He was a man better fitted to rule men than any other existing at that time on earth. And to be ruled by him was good, but woe to the human being, or king or bishop, peer or peasant, who opposed him !
Then with the two hundredth in the line, after a long alternation of Gregorys, Urbans, Innocents, and Alexanders, came the first of a hand of seven, all Frenchmen, the Popes of the time of “the Babylonian captivity,” semi-barbarian barons who carried away the Holy See to Avignon. It was easy, methought, to note the breach in the line caused by the appearance of these stranger Popes! With all the diversity visible among Lhe individuals of the other parts of the procession, there was common to almost all of them a certain grace of carriage and majesty of demeanor. But these French Popes had nothing of the sort. They seemed to be strangers to the place, and walked with a-self-conscious, aggressive, theatrical strut, that strove to compensate for the total absence of personal dignity. With the two hundred and seventh, Urban VI., the line resumed its previous Italian character, and more Innocents and Gregorys followed. Most of them were buried here, or rather in the old church which occupied this storied ground before Nicholas V., at the beginning of the second half of the fifteenth century, began the work of erecting the present fabric, which the menacing condition of the ancient basilica of Constantine, then in the eleventh century of its existence, rendered necessary. Most, of them were buried in this their cathedral church; but in comparatively few cases were their mortal remains allowed to rest where they were at first placed. In most instances they were removed, after a longer or shorter interval, to other churches within the city. Nicholas was buried here, but the progress of the works he had himself commenced soon turned him out of his grave; and it seems rather hard that he is not one of the Popes who have been honored by a monument in St. Peter’s.
Indeed, the blindest hap-hazard seems to have decided which individuals of the long line of pontiffs should be thus commemorated. The remains of several of them still rest in the crypt, or “grotte” of St. Peter’s As they are usually called; and to some few of these there are monuments in those subterranean vaults. But putting these aside, the pontiffs who have monuments in St. Peter’s are only twenty in number; and it cannot he said that they are in any point of view the greatest, or best, or most celebrated of the line. They are not even those whose pontificates were long ones.
Next to Nicholas V. walked the Spaniard, Calixtus III., who bore a name marked, perhaps, by more widely notorious infamy than that of any other on the roll of history: the Borgia, whose nepotism was responsible for eternally disgracing the papacy by the promotion of his nephew Roderick to the cardinality, who afterwards became Pope, under the name of Alexander VI., by means of the purchased votes of a college of cardinals which must have been utterly and shamelessly corrupt. Between the Spanish uncle and nephew there come four Popes: Pius II., Paul II., Sixtus IV., and Innocent VIII. Of these the two last are the earliest of the series who have monuments in the existing church of St. Peter. Sixtus IV., one of the first of the pontiffs who carried the audacious and scandalous nepotism which has filled Rome with the palaces and names we now see there to a pitch of cynical church-pillage surpassing even that of his predecessor Calixtus, is the earliest Pope of the twenty whose monuments adorn the great basilica, and his tomb, in an artistic point, is perhaps the best in the whole church. It belongs to a period when the art of the architect and the sculptor had not yet prostituted themselves to mere flattery of the vulgar vanity and ostentation of the great, and it is the work of artists who belonged to a community not thus corrupted till a somewhat later age. This monument to Sixtus IV., which is also that of his nephew, Julius II., the warrior Pope, differs wholly in conception from every other in the church, and quite as markedly in style of art from every other except one, that of Innocent VIII., the next in succession of time, which is the work of the same great artist. the Florentine Antonio Pollajuolo. Both these monuments are of bronze; but that of Sixtus and his nephew is a low but very large altar tomb, standing isolated on the floor of the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament; while that of Innocent VIII. is, singularly enough, composed of two bronze figures of the Pope, very nearly identical, of which one is recumbent on an urn, while the other is seated, with a lance in his hand, in memory of the “Sacred Lance ” —that is, the lance that pierced our Saviour’s side on the cross — which was given to Innocent by Bajazet II. This repetition of the figure to be commemorated, one representation being that of the living man, and one that of the same man dead, is, as far as my recollection serves, unique. There is nothing very grand about the work, but it is at least free from the offensively bumptious glorification which marks so many of the series, and from the exceeding lumpishness which is the main characteristic of some of the more recent ones. The altar tomb of the Della Rovere uncle and nephew, Sixtus IV. and Julius II., is in truth a very fine work, simple and noble in conception, and very exquisite in skillful execution.
After Innocent VIII. there comes the portentous Borgia, Alexander VI. ! Methought that the neighboring Popes in the ghostly procession along the aisle shrank from the man who had so indelibly and irretrievably disgraced their church and the dogmas of it. Irretrievably! Because it is to ire remembered that this miserable, crapulous old man, branded with crime and stained by vices, was as personally infallible as any one of his predecessors or successors. Pius IX. cannot have caused to be true that which he has declared to be true. If it, is true now that the pontiff is infallible, it cannot have begun to be true when Pius IX. so declared it. It must have been equally true before; and the wretched Borgia must have been as infallible as any of the line! But the infallibility is predicated only of the Pope’s declarations of moral and religious truth. Be it so! Alexander VI.’s declarations and definitions of moral truth! Only those who have explored the darker recesses of ecclesiastical history can form any notion of what this “ vicegerent of God upon earth” really was. He had committed again and again, while on the papal throne, crimes of the most detestable kind, such as consign felons who are not God’s vicegerents upon earth to death on the gallows; and he was steeped to the eyes in vices to which no decent page can more than distantly allude. He died at last by poison, from having had served to him, by a servant’s mistake, wine which had been drugged by his directions for the purpose of poisoning several cardinals invited to share his hospitality, the motive of the crime being to obtain the opportunity of making more cardinals and pocketing the price to he paid for their promotion! This felon Pope was duly buried in St. Peter’s, in the tomb of his uncle, Calixtus III., but both were subsequently turned out, and found a definitive resting place in the Aragonese church of our Lady of Montserrat,
Julius II. there is no mistaking, as be marches on with martial stride, evidently finding his long pontifical mantle much in his way. He wears even the triregno with an air of crânerie, which tells plainly enough that casque and mail would he more congenial wear for him than priestly trappings.
He is followed by a man as great a contrast to him as one Pope can well offer to another, both being as little fitted to be priests—let alone Popes — as any mortal could well be. Thanks to Raffael’s limning, there is no mistaking him either,—the fat, sensual-faced, heavy-jowled, thick-lipped Leo X., the jovial bon-vicant, whose words, when his election was made known to him, were, “ Then, since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it! ” which after his own fashion he proceeded to do, the dilettante, cultured, pagan-minded Medici! It was a cardinal friend of his who wrote to a literary bishop (one of the group of scholars who made that age famous) hedging him for the love of heaven not to dream of reading the Vulgate Bible; for that, as sure as fate, if he did, the detestable latinity would spoil his Ciceronian style! And the anecdote is thoroughly illustrative of the spirit and complexion of the times in Italy among the hierarchy of the church under Leo X.
The next is a contrast to his predecessor again. As the jovial Medici rolls onward, with a twinkle in his eye, he is followed by a humble, meek-eyed, ascetic-looking figure, who moves wearily beneath the great pontifical mantle, evidently finding it much too heavy for him. This is poor Adrian IV., the Flemish professor, to whom Home, and its pagan papacy was so strange, while he, with his one crown a day for daily expenses was so very strange and unsatisfactory to it,! Poor Flemish Adrian, with his notions of priestly duty, in Leo X.’s Borne! Less than two years of it was enough for him, and a great deal too much for the purple princes of the church, who have never since his day tried the experiment of electing a nonItalian Pope.
Then we get back to a Medici again, — Clement VII.; and again we know the handsome, bad — thoroughly bad — face well, Raffael having immortalized it also. A different man, this, from the other Medici, and probably a worse, though more of a decent Pope. Cruel, hypocritical, sly, faithless, and only in secret debauched, he has vices of a more ecclesiastical character than those of the first Medici Pope. He gathers up his long train cautiously as he walks in the line, allowing his footsteps to make no sound, glancing from under handsome brows to right and left, and tacking as he goes, to avoid the long trailing train of the orthodox ecclesiastical vestments of his predecessor in the procession.
Next to him conies one of the most remarkable—at least remarkable-looking — men in the whole line, Paul III., the Farncsc, the handsome, majestic,venerable-looking old man, to all outward seeming the very ideal model of a Pope, decent in life, with a very good notion, too, of the duties of a sovereign. Nobody ever heard of the Fames! before him; but the world will never cease hearing of them any more now, since that masterful old man used the whole power of the papacy for the placing of his family among the princes of the earth. Truly a superb old man. admirably got up for his part! But God’s vicar upon earth! At all events he confined his views and thoughts very strictly to the limits of his vicariate!
He is the fourth of the twenty who have monuments in the church as it stands at the present day; and that which has been erected to him is, as becomes him, one of the most remarkable in the building, and occupies one of the most prominent sites in it,—on the right hand of the altar at the east end of the church, thus commanding the whole of the great nave. The monument is by Guglielmo della Porta, and consists of a very majestic colossal figure of the Pope, in bronze, sitting on an urn, with two not badly-conceived female figures in reclining attitudes beneath. One, under the character of Prudence, represents Giovanella Caetani, the mother of the pontiff; and the other, a figure of great beauty, under the name of Justice, immortalizes the celebrated loveliness of his daughter, Costanza Farnese. Justice was nude; and in those highly artistic-minded and very little ecclesiastically-minded days, nobody dreamed of objecting to this; but in later days, when the spirit of the times had become changed, it was found that this undraped figure was “not congruous with the sanctity of the place,” and Bernini received and executed an order to drape — and artistically destroy — the statue by a superimposed drapery of bronze painted, as near as possible, stone-color.
Paul III. may he considered as marking a turning-point in the spirit of the times, and, consequently, of the church. If not the last Pope who made the foundation of a princely family the main object of his papacy, he was the last who aimed at using his power for the establishment of his kin in the position of sovereigns. The history of the church, especially since the commencement of the fifteenth century, may be divided off into periods, notably under the influence of different tendencies. But the differences have always been at bottom dependent on the one great difference between a church triumphant and a church militant, between a church in prosperity and a church in adversity, between a church feeling itself safe and a church in danger. To the old cynical proverb which places spaniels, wives, and walnut-trees in the same category, as objects always improved by castigation, a church may unquestionably be added: “the more you beat it, the better it will be!” After Paul III. the church begau to be “beaten,” and a marked improvement was the result. Sixtus, the ambitious and greedy monk; Alexander, the infamous, crime-stained Borgia; Julius, the mailed man of violence, masquerading in priestly vestments; Leo, the pagan-minded voluptuary; Clement, the shuffling, faithless, trimming politician; and Paul, the carver of principalities from out of the patrimony of the church, had sown the whirlwind, and their successors had to reap the storm. And accordingly they were better, or at least more popely Popes.
There walks, two hundred and thirtyfirst of the line, the tall, slender figure of Paul IV., the Neapolitan Caraffa, every inch a priest, every inch a Pope, and every inch a bigot. Who can doubt it to look at. the man, and the gait and carriage of him ! Upright as a lance, and with his fast-extenuated body not upheld by bodily strength but sustained by intensity of will and boundless pride of place; with deep-set fiery eye, looking not so much upwards as anxiously, eagerly, pressingly forwards; with hollow cheeks, the evidence of his macerations, he walks with firm and haughty step, a man merciless to himself and to all others “for the glory of God,” a Christian priest with the principles and passions and methods of a fanatic follower of the prophet striding over infidel hosts with the sword in one hand and the Koran in the other.
The stout large man with florid face and light-blue eye who follows him is Pius IV., a Medici, not of the Florentine stock, hut belonging to a Milanese family, very distantly, if at all, connected with it. A decent Pope, who thought a good deal more of this world than of the next, and of his city of Home than of the universal church, he looks around him, as he walks, with lively interest at the completion and beautification of the great church, accomplished since his day.
He is followed by a more remarkable man, — one indeed of the noticeable figures in the long, long line, — another of the Caraffa sort, such a Pope as the church produces in times of difficulty and danger, the slern Dominican monk and proud inquisitor, Ghislieri, Pope Pius V., the only pontiff of modern times whom the church has canonized. To find another saint among the successors of St. Peter, the seeker must go back to the thirteenth century. To the ruthless, indefatigable, searching persecution of this Dominican monk-Pope was due the total extinction of the last glimmer of the Reformation in Italy. The work was so thoroughly and completely done that of large and numerous editions of certain books, known to have been extensively circulated among all classes of the people, not one copy can now be found in existence. From all sorts of obscure hiding-places, from the corner of the merchant’s private desk, from beneath the linen store in his wife’s cupboard, they were all successfully hunted out and burned.
Ghislieri is in turn followed by a very grand-looking old figure of a man, carrying an hour-glass in his hand, Gregory XIII., the reformer of the calendar. The Romans loved him as much as they had hated his fierce predecessor. He was an open-handed, liberal man, and showed himself much to Ids subjects, riding frequently about the city and its neighborhood; being “of such extraordinary agility that he used to mount his horse without assistance.” He made a league with Philip II. of Spain against Elizabeth of England, which there could be no objection to his doing, seeing it probably amused him, and certainly could not hurt her. He is the fifth Pope who has a monument in the present church.
This Gregory was succeeded by one of the really most remarkable men in the whole series, Sixtus V., the peasant’s son. This was the Pope who astonished the cardinals who had elected him, under the impression that he was a tottering, bent, old man, by throwing away his crutch, raising himself to his full height, and “intoning” a hymn in. a strong bass voice as soon as he was elected. His reply to some one who ventured to speak to him of his greatly changed appearance from the days when be was a cardinal is well known: “Ay! Then I was looking for the keys of Paradise, and sought them with bent back and downward look. But now that I have found them I look heavenwards, and have no more need of anything on earth.” And on that same day of his elevation, when it had been the habit of previous Popes to throw open the prisons, be refused to do so, saying that there were more than enough malefactors at large, and caused two brothers, caught in doing a little highway robbery as they returned from Rome, where they had been to see the ceremony of his installation, to be forthwith hung. In a very short time he made it safe to walk the streets of Rome with a pocket full of gold at any hour, whereas the city and the environs had been before so overrun by bandits of every sort that robbery in the streets of the city was a daily occurrence. He made himself respected, if not loved, by the Romans and the sacred College, and must always be reckoned as one of the great Popes.
After him come three mere names of Popes; Urban VII, who reigned only thirteen days; Gregory XIV., who reigned a little over ten months (but who, nevertheless, has a monument in St. Peter’s, being the sixth of the twenty Popes so honored); and Innocent IX., who reigned only two months.
Then came Aldobrandini, the Florentine, who, though he reigned over thirteen years, has left no great mark. The history of his pontificate is an indication that a gradual change was coming over Europe and over the church, the result of which was to confine the doings of the Popes to the proper care of their ecclesiastical office and the rule of their own little principality, to a much greater degree than had heretofore been the case.
Next to him came Leo XI, a third Medicean Pope, who, though he reigned over the church only twenty-seven days, yet has one of the most sumptuous monuments in St. Peter’s, the result of Florentine wealth. He had been sent, when cardinal, to France by Clement VIII., to impart the solemn papal absolution to Henry IV., when that “vert galant ” had discovered that Paris was well worth a mass. And a large bas-relief on the urn, on which the figure of the Pope is seated, represents this ceremony. Two statues of Fortitude and Abundance, the first by Ferrata and the second by Peroni, are one on either side of the urn. The bases of these are adorned with groups of roses, with the legend “ Sic florui,” in reference to the very transitory nature of his greatness.
Paul V., the Borghese Pope, follows, whose name is mainly remembered from the still extant results of the immense riches which he heaped on his family. Then, after the short and unimportant reign of Gregory XV., conies another of the great family-founding Popes: Barberini, or Urban VIII. The enormous and magnificent bronze erection over the great central altar of the church is one monument to this Pope; and he has another opposite to that of Paul III., at the east end of the building, this and that to Paul the Farnese occupying the two most commanding positions in the church. But the principal monument by which this Barberini Pope is remembered and will be remembered is the wellknown pasquinade, “ Quod non feeerunt Barbari, id fecere Barberini,” — that which the barbarians abstained from doing, the Barberini did; that is, the monuments of ancient Rome which the hand of the barbarian invader had spared, the greed of the Barberini destroyed; pillaging bronze from the Parthenon, and marbles front the Coliseum, for the erection of their boastful edifices to their own vainglory. All over Rome may be seen the bees of the Barberini arms, marking the enormous greed with which, like some all devouring Marquis of Carabas, they put their paw upon everything they could clutch ! The father of Urban V1II. was a well-to-do peasant in Tuscany, not far from the pleasant little town of Colle, between Siena and Florence. The name of his small possession— still held by his descendants—is La Tafania, not very flatteringly named from tafana, a horse-fly. But as three horse-flies were not an agreeable suggestion, they were changed into three bees. How the Popes of that age had learned, in the words of Leo X., to “enjoy the papacy ” may be seen to the present day by whoso views the enormous pile of the Barberini palace, looking over Rome from its pleasant hill. Urban VIII. is the eighth of the twenty Popes whose monuments are now in St. Peter’s.
The others are, Alexander VII, Chigi, ob. 1667; Clement X., Altieri, ob. 1676; Innocent XI., Odescalchi, ob. 1689; Alexander VIII., Ottoboni, ob. 1691; Innocent XII., Pignatelli, ob. 1700; Clement XI., Albani, ob. 1721; Benedict XIV., Lambertini, ob. 1758. the correspondent of Voltaire; Clement XIII, Rezzonico, ob. 1769, whose monument by Canova is the finest in the church; Pius VI., Brasehi, ob. 1799, the victim of Napoleon, whose kneeling statue, also by Canova, is one of the best pieces of sculpture in St. Peter’s; Pius VII., Chiaramonti, ob. 1823, whose monument by Thorwaldsen is not a favoraable specimen of that great sculptor’s genius; Leo XII., Della Genga, ob. 1829; and lastly Pius VIII., Saverio, ob. 1830.
It was curious to observe, as the latter part of this long procession followed the steps of its predecessors into the darkness beyond the altar at the east end of the church, how accurately the appearance of the seventeenth and eighteenth century Popes corresponded to the history of their times. They were no longer the martyr Popes of the first part of the vast line; no longer the mailed baron Popes who succeeded to them; no longer the monstrously profligate, criminal, or voluptuary Popes of the Renaissance; no longer the fanatic bigot Popes who followed when the time of struggle came to the church, but quiet, easy-going, oldgentleman Popes, whose main care was handsomely to feather their own nests and those of their kin. If you could look to the bottom of their hearts, you would probably find that they did really, truly, and practically believe that a Pope at Rome was a necessary, most important, and God-ordained portion of the cosmogony; that this was somehow clearly shown to be so from the venerable antiquity of the institution; and that they, each man of them, were performing a lofty and virtuous duty in dragging that long tail of a mantle decorously behind him, and making at due intervals certain signs and movements with their fingers. As for all the rest, for all the mass of “ doctrines,” you would find that they really and truly did believe that it was good and useful that they should be believed. Upon the whole, though the unity of the general aim of these two hundred and sixty men through nearly nineteen centuries is a wonderful phenomenon to contemplate, yet the differences, not between man and man but between different parts of the processional line, were perhaps yet more striking. Truly the church is semper et ubique the same as regards what it wants of mankind and of the world; but it is truly Protean as regards the means and methods by which it seeks to obtain this, in the characters of the instruments it employs, and in the words and professions it addresses urbi et orbi.
The line my “ thick-coming fancies ” had thus taken had not been of a nature to fool the imagination with vain affright. The historical phantasmagory which my mind, quite as much willingly active as passively acted on by the genius loci, had conjured up was of too concrete, real, and genuine a sort to ally itself with the “airy voices” and vague terrors which often make such situations terrible to persons, who are none the less utterly ashamed of their terrors. And when I pictured to myself the last of the procession, poor old good-natured, bottle-nosed Gregory, the worst scandal against whom consisted of somewhat spiteful hints of an overfondness for a glass of champagne, bringing up the rear with shambling gait, — a rather “ lame and impotent conclusion ” of such a mighty line, — and vanishing in his turn into the darkness, I sat myself down very tranquilly at the base of the bronze old idol, a Jupiter turned into a St. Peter, and fell to meditating on the probabilities of future extension of the line I had been mentally looking at.
No, it is not over yet. The vain, weak man whom the strange circumstances of his time were leading to play such fantastic tricks as would make the gravest of those predecessors of his assuredly laugh, this poor Pio Nono, would not be the last of the wonderful series. The church, in whatever strangely changed circumstances, would still be semper et ubique the same, in the essential of a neverwavering determination to dominate mankind by virtue of man’s, and yet more of woman’s, ignorance and superstitious fears, — his spiritual ignorance and its necessary resulting spiritual fear. And it may be feared that the world has yet some way to make before these materials of church domination will be found wanting to priestly hands.
Thus meditating tranquilly enough, I fell into a sound sleep, sitting at the foot of St. Peter’s pedestal, till I was startled into sudden wakefulness and no little alarm by a loud bang in a distant part of the edifice. It was occasioned by the opening of the great door at the west end of the church. The sacristan had fortunately, in coming from the sacristy for the purpose, passed down the northern aisle of the church, without observing in the faint, morning light the figure crouched at the foot of the pedestal on the other side of the huge nave, scarcely more than a speck amid the immensities around; and I had no difficulty in dodging behind the immense piers on my way to the western door, whence I escaped into the piazza none the worse for my night in St. Peter’s.
T. Adolphus Trollope.