Seven Hours in Rome

WHEN the minstrels woke me yesterday afternoon, playing under my window, I opened my eyes, and for a moment hardly knew where I was; but the light coming drowsily through the shutters, and the cheery crackle of the fire beside my bed, soon reassured me, and I went quickly to the salon to find Jack and rejoice with him that we were truly alive and well. He was sound asleep in his easy chair before the fire. He, too, had slept over two hours without realizing it.

As all the world knows, ‘yesterday,’ Sunday, February the twelfth, was the day of the Pope’s coronation. We were wakened at five-thirty, and hurriedly made a fire in the salon while we dressed; first Jack tried, then I did; and it went out, as we had no kindling. I could find nothing but the wastebasket and the back of the bookcase that would do; so we took the bookcase, anti it gave us a warm flame in a short time. We had a copper kettle of strong broth, and some rolls which had been sent up the night before, and they were soon piping hot and ready for our early breakfast. I never was more excited in my life, or in greater haste to be off.

The motor had not come, but we found a carriage with an aged horse, who took us to St. Peter’s as fast as he could go. He, too, seemed to feel the excitement, for he did not walk a step, but, from the jerking of the carriage, I should think he cantered. It was dark, but we could dimly see the immense crowd before the entrance to the steps as we approached. We drove past the fountains of the courtyard, which sprinkled us with their spray, as if they, too, wished a tiny bit of themselves to go with us into the church, to whose approach they had added charm by their spiritual beauty for so many hundreds of years.

There was but one tiny entrance, in the middle of the steps, the rest being barred by high fences. We tried to enter the small end of the wedge at the left, instead of the broad crowd in front. Soon we were in the crush, which became almost unbearable just at the gate. I was turned completely around and tossed in, back to; no one could have told if I had a ticket or not, and no one could have stopped me, for everyone ran up to the doors, and in, as if they were sheep being driven into their respective pens.

This was exactly six-thirty, and the doors had opened only half an hour before, but the church was crowded; we have heard since that many spent the whole night there in the square. We could get only half-way up the aisle between the tomb of St. Peter and the entrance, far at one side; and as we stood wondering if it were best to stay there, or to go further back, we were swept to the front, and a huge mass poured in on top of us, so that in three minutes we could not move. We could not raise a hand, or move an inch, unless the entire mass moved us. We looked at each other, but said no word, except that we prayed that we might be able to keep together. We had pictured ourselves as sitting on our comfortable camp-stools during the three hours’ wait which was before us; had we known how it was to be, we should never have gone. We were crushed to such an extent that we thought we could bear no more, and then, behold, we were crushed again and again.

For an hour and a half I had a dear brown monk behind me — a young man with one of the most spiritual faces that I have ever seen. He had come from France, we surmised, for he used French in the few words we spoke together. His face showed a calm peacefulness such as I never remember to have seen before. Twice his breathing became so quick and hard that I thought he was being overcome; then he did as I had done, and had urged Jack to do also: he looked above the crowd, at two saintly figures which stood high over head in niches. One held a huge book, and must have learned much from its pages; for the statue expressed perfect poise and assurance, as it put one foot forward and leaned from the niche to watch the mass below, as if to reassure us, and to bring to our attention the fact that, in the ages that it had stood there, it had witnessed just such things before, and that they had not spoiled its trust and faith that all would be well in the end. The lower one stood firmly on a prostrate figure, which writhed in its futile attempt to get away. It helped give courage, for if he could feel such conviction of victory over evil in such a live form as he had under foot, we could surely have faith that a bit of crushing would not be too much for us.

We watched the light of day silently creep into the church, and dim the candle-light. Once I was able to get my arm up, but there was nowhere to put it, for the place where it had been was squeezed tight; so I draped it around a strange man in front of me.

He said it made his neck hot, and wished I would take it away; but I only laughed. A man behind me had a hat which he got up from depths below, and finding nowhere to put it, landed it on the back of my head, where it stayed until I was able to shake it off upon my shoulder. I wore Aunt Clara’s Spanish lace scarf, and Beatrice’s black fur coat. Someone fainted, behind us, and had to take the place of two as she doubled up, with the result that the whole crowd pushed an added push to accomplish the feat. Something had to give way, for there was no such space there. Somehow or other I was the thing chosen to give up my place on earth. I was completely taken off my feet and carried up in the air above the crowd.

I shall never forget the expression of absolute helplessness on Jack’s face; for the wave that had taken me up had driven him the other way, and we were far apart. Something happened, I know not what, and I found my feet once more coming down, until the tip of one toe touched the pavement. It was a long time until I found a place for the other foot to come alongside. Three or four times such waves came when people were taken ill or fainted — we had no means of knowing which, for we could only hear the murmur of the crowd; we could not turn to see. One man was lifted over the railing in front, and carried off by the soldiers.

At half-past eight, we heard dim sounds of music and cheering, and knew that the procession had entered the chapel behind us, where the Pope was to change his robes. It took one more hour before the silver trumpets sounded, and we could see the high waving white ostrich fans which were held above the Pope. He was carried high on his golden throne, and stopped just in front of us for at least five minutes. He looked the sickest man I have ever seen: his face was perfectly gray, his head went to one side, and I feared he could not sit erect again. I had seen him near to on Monday, when he was rosy and smiling and the picture of health. An intimate friend of his has since told me that he was so ill the day before, from the fatigue of the ceremonies, that they feared the coronation must be postponed.

He waved his right hand from time to time, on which was the most enormous ring I have ever seen, worn over his white glove. I think the regular fisherman’s ring is one colored stone engraved; but this was clearly a diamond or crystal, I should think an inch square. He finally pulled himself together and sat straight, as they turned the corner and took him down toward the chapel opposite us. He wore a gold mitre, and gold robes then; when he came out and was carried up to the high altar, he had changed, and wore white, encrusted with gold and precious stones. He sat more erect, and blessed constantly as he went; but always with the gray deathlike mask of a face, which never smiled or changed expression.

When he had passed us, the crowd loosened, and we were able, by throwing our entire weight and strength ahead, to get out from it into the back of the church; there we found an improvised hospital, where we saw them carrying unconscious people in, feet first. We sank down on our campstools and, half-choking with excitement, managed to swallow down a bit of chocolate.

After we had sufficiently recovered to look about, we were amazed at the sights before us. The confessionals were full of people, who had climbed up outside and were sitting and hanging from the tiny roofs. One most respectable tailor-made woman, with a well-fitting suit and mannish hat, stood on top of one of the highest roofs, leaning forward, looking through lorgnettes as if she were gazing into a shop window on Broadway. On one peaked roof balanced a young girl, beautifully dressed in velvet and feathers. The popes’ tombs, which have their figures in stone on top, were overrun with men. One brown monk, with his knotted-rope girdle, was struggling over the back of a crouching cherub and trying to reach the hand of an angel, whose stomach he wanted to stand on at the time. Some young boys had reached the angel’s head and were firmly seated there, laughing at the monk’s efforts to get a footing. A nun, with white winged capends which hung down either side of her face, clung by one hand to the side of a coping, above an altar, and with a field-glass watched the Pope at High Mass, taking his communion. The altars at the sides were full of people.

We found a nice airy place at the side of the altar where, by standing, we could see the Mass distinctly. I sat quietly on my stool most of the time, however, listening to the Sistine Choir, and the silver trumpets as they played. The singing was restful and beautiful, and I closed my eyes and enjoyed as much as I could, surrounded as I was by a bevy of noisy schoolgirls who jumped up and down like monkeys, fearing they would lose something of the show. The Mass lasted an hour and a half, and as the Pope read, we could hear his voice distinctly, clear and sweet as it had been on Monday from the balcony. That lasted from half-past ten until twelve. They took his crown from the altar and went away with it, and the next thing we knew they had put him once more on his throne, and he was being taken down the main aisle, with his gold canopy over his head, and the white plumes waving in front. We thought it all over, and were much disappointed that he was not to be crowned after all; so took our stools and wandered down the side aisle parallel to him.

Jack decided that he would mount his stool and take one last good look, as we were then quite near the throne; and, behold, the Pope too stopped, just in front of the tomb of St. Peter, and almost beside his statue, and the coronation ceremony began. It was most lovely. We could not have had a better place to see. The choir-boys in their white laces lined the steps of the altar behind the throne, and the candles burned above them, under the canopy which rises just beneath the dome. The pillars were hung with crimson brocade and gold; the statue of St. Peter wore garments of solid gold, a jeweled crown sat on his head, just like that the new Pope was to wear, and on his finger he wore the huge jeweled ring. He had a special guard of honor all to himself.

After the Pope’s throne had been let down on a raised platform, and he had been kissed by some of the cardinals, a book was brought, and the ceremony was read by Cardinal Vanutelli, who stood straight and tall with his snowwhite hair and thin figure, a great contrast to all others. All the Cardinals had taken off their hats and red undercaps. After the reading, the Pope’s cap was removed, and he brushed his hand over his thick black hair before the crown was lowered to his head. It was very broad and sat over a head’s height above his head; it was of gold, studded with huge precious stones, and must have weighed very heavily on him. He was able to read the few lines of blessing to the multitude, and absolution for all sins — or, at least, he should have read it; but there was some mistake and a fearful commotion when it was discovered that they had the wrong book; and before the right one came to hand, the Pope had said his blessing, and forgiven all sins in his own words, pronounced clearly and sweetly. Then a vellum scroll was handed, and the attendant was too nervous, by that time, to hold it, and it fell and had to be picked up and presented a second time. Then Cardinal Vanutelli came forward and kissed the Pope’s ring, and descended the five very steep stairs of the platform. They tried to assist him, but he shook them off in a most peremptory manner. He is eighty-five years old, and is at his desk each morning at five, we hear. Indeed, he needed no helping.

The Pope seemed to feel better, and bowed his head and waved his blessing several times on the way out.

We went to the altar, to watch the forty-two thousand persons moving toward the door, and found that people were taking the flowers from the edge of the crypt — lilies and begonias. When we reached the front of the church, we found the entire square packed. People had stood there for three hours, it seems, to have a sight of the Pope; and sure enough, soon the Cardinals appeared on the balcony and the papal banner was hung out, and the Pope, fans, crown, and all, came out and blessed once more his people, the city, and the world. The fountains played, the cavalry lined up, the soldiers at attention, the sky all blue and gold — a picture long to be remembered.

We found a carriage, which brought us home for luncheon, at half-past one, just seven hours since we had left our cozy fireside; but historical hours, which would fill many leisure minutes in times to come with memories of a day in Rome.