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List Of Contents | Contents of Saunterings, by Charles Dudley Warner
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story is partly under water.  The green grass of the inclosure in
which it stands is damp enough for frogs.  An old woman opened the
iron gate to let us in.  Whether she was any relation of the ancient
proprietor, I did not inquire; but she had so much trouble in,
turning the key in the rusty lock, and letting us in, that I presume
we were the only visitors she has had for some centuries.

Old women abound in Ravenna; at least, she was not young who showed
us the mausoleum of Galla Placidia.  Placidia was also prudent and
foreseeing, and built this once magnificent sepulcher for her own
occupation.  It is in the form of a Latin cross, forty-six feet in
length by about forty in width.  The floor is paved with rich
marbles; the cupola is covered with mosaics of the time of the
empress; and in the arch over the door is a fine representation of
the Good Shepherd.  Behind the altar is the massive sarcophagus of
marble (its cover of silver plates was long ago torn off) in which
are literally the ashes of the empress.  She was immured in it as a
mummy, in a sitting position, clothed in imperial robes; and there
the ghastly corpse sat in a cypress-wood chair, to be looked at by
anybody who chose to peep through the aperture, for more than eleven
hundred years, till one day, in 1577, some children introduced a
lighted candle, perhaps out of compassion for her who sat so long in
darkness, when her clothes caught fire, and she was burned up,--a
warning to all children not to play with a dead and dry empress.  In
this resting-place are also the tombs of Honorius II., her brother,
of Constantius III., her second husband, and of Honoria, her
daughter.

There are no other undisturbed tombs of the Caesars in existence.
Hers is almost the last, and the very small last, of a great
succession.  What thoughts of a great empire in ruins do not force
themselves on one in the confined walls of this little chamber!
What a woman was she whose ashes lie there!  She saw and aided the
ruin of the empire; but it may be said of her, that her vices were
greater than her misfortunes.  And what a story is her life!  Born to
the purple, educated in the palace at Constantinople, accomplished
but not handsome, at the age of twenty she was in Rome when Alaric
besieged it.  Carried off captive by the Goths, she became the not
unwilling object of the passion of King Adolphus, who at length
married her at Narbonne.  At the nuptials the king, in a Roman habit,
occupied a seat lower than hers, while she sat on a throne habited as
a Roman empress, and received homage.  Fifty handsome youths bore to
her in each hand a dish of gold, one filled with coin, and the other
with precious stones,--a small part only, these hundred vessels of
treasure, of the spoils the Goths brought from her country.  When
Adolphus, who never abated his fondness for his Roman bride, was
assassinated at Barcelona, she was treated like a slave by his
assassins, and driven twelve miles on foot before the horse of his
murderer.  Ransomed at length for six hundred thousand measures of
wheat by her brother Honorius, who handed her over struggling to
Constantius, one of his generals.  But, once married, her reluctance
ceased; and she set herself to advance the interests of herself and
husband, ruling him as she had done the first one.  Her purpose was
accomplished when he was declared joint emperor with Honorius.  He
died shortly after; and scandalous stories of her intimacy with her
brother caused her removal to Constantinople; but she came back
again, and reigned long as the regent of her son, Valentinian III.,--
a feeble youth, who never grew to have either passions or talents,
and was very likely, as was said, enervated by his mother in
dissolute indulgence, so that she might be supreme.  But she died at
Rome in 450, much praised for her orthodoxy and her devotion to the
Trinity.  And there was her daughter, Honoria, who ran off with a
chamberlain, and afterward offered to throw herself into the arms of
Attila who wouldn't take her as a gift at first, but afterward
demanded her, and fought to win her and her supposed inheritance.
But they were a bad lot altogether; and it is no credit to a
Christian of the nineteenth century to stay in this tomb so long.

Near this mausoleum is the magnificent Basilica of St. Vitale, built
in the reign of Justinian, and consecrated in 547, I was interested
to see it because it was erected in confessed imitation of St. Sophia
at Constantinople, is in the octagonal form, and has all the
accessories of Eastern splendor, according to the architectural
authorities.  Its effect is really rich and splendid; and it rather
dazzled us with its maze of pillars, its upper and lower columns, its
galleries, complicated capitals, arches on arches, and Byzantine
intricacies.  To the student of the very early ecclesiastical art, it
must be an object of more interest than even of wonder.  But what I
cared most to see were the mosaics in the choir, executed in the time
of Justinian, and as fresh and beautiful as on the day they were
made.  The mosaics and the exquisite arabesques on the roof of the
choir, taken together, are certainly unequaled by any other early
church decoration I have seen; and they are as interesting as they
are beautiful.  Any description of them is impossible; but mention
may be made of two characteristic groups, remarkable for execution,
and having yet a deeper interest.

In one compartment of the tribune is the figure of the Emperor
Justinian, holding a vase with consecrated offerings, and surrounded
by courtiers and soldiers.  Opposite is the figure of the Empress
Theodora, holding a similar vase, and attended by ladies of her
court.  There is a refinement and an elegance about the empress, a
grace and sweet dignity, that is fascinating.  This is royalty,--
stately and cold perhaps: even the mouth may be a little cruel, I
begin to perceive, as I think of her; but she wears the purple by
divine right.  I have not seen on any walls any figure walking out of
history so captivating as this lady, who would seem to have been
worthy of apotheosis in a Christian edifice.  Can there be any doubt
that this lovely woman was orthodox?  She, also, has a story, which
you doubtless have been recalling as you read.  Is it worth while to
repeat even its outlines?  This charming regal woman was the daughter
of the keeper of the bears in the circus at Constantinople; and she
early went upon the stage as a pantomimist and buffoon.  She was
beautiful, with regular features, a little pale, but with a tinge of
natural color, vivacious eyes, and an easy motion that displayed to
advantage the graces of her small but elegant figure.  I can see all
that in the mosaic.  But she sold her charms to whoever cared to buy
them in Constantinople; she led a life of dissipation that cannot be
even hinted at in these days; she went off to Egypt as the concubine
of a general; was deserted, and destitute even to misery in Cairo;
wandered about a vagabond in many Eastern cities, and won the
reputation everywhere of the most beautiful courtesan of her time;
reappeared in Constantinople; and, having, it is said, a vision of
her future, suddenly took to a pretension of virtue and plain sewing;
contrived to gain the notice of Justinian, to inflame his passions as
she did those of all the world besides, to captivate him into first
an alliance, and at length a marriage.  The emperor raised her to an
equal seat with himself on his throne; and she was worshiped as
empress in that city where she had been admired as harlot.  And on
the throne she was a wise woman, courageous and chaste; and had her
palaces on the Bosphorus; and took good care of her beauty, and
indulged in the pleasures of a good table; had ministers who kissed
her feet; a crowd of women and eunuchs in her secret chambers, whose
passions she indulged; was avaricious and sometimes cruel; and
founded a convent for the irreclaimably bad of her own sex, some of
whom liked it, and some of whom threw themselves into the sea in
despair; and when she died was an irreparable loss to her emperor.
So that it seems to me it is a pity that the historian should say
that she was devout, but a little heretic.




A HIGH DAY IN ROME



PALM SUNDAY IN ST. PETER'S

The splendid and tiresome ceremonies of Holy Week set in; also the
rain, which held up for two days.  Rome without the sun, and with
rain and the bone-penetrating damp cold of the season, is a wretched
place.  Squalor and ruins and cheap splendor need the sun; the
galleries need it; the black old masters in the dark corners of the
gaudy churches need it; I think scarcely anything of a cardinal's
big, blazing footman, unless the sun shines on him, and radiates from
his broad back and his splendid calves; the models, who get up in
theatrical costumes, and get put into pictures, and pass the world
over for Roman peasants (and beautiful many of them are), can't sit
on the Spanish Stairs in indolent pose when it rains; the streets are
slimy and horrible; the carriages try to run over you, and stand a
very good chance of succeeding, where there are no sidewalks, and you
are limping along on the slippery round cobble-stones; you can't get
into the country, which is the best part of Rome: but when the sun
shines all this is changed; the dear old dirty town exercises, its
fascinations on you then, and you speedily forget your recent misery.

Holy Week is a vexation to most people.  All the world crowds here to
see its exhibitions and theatrical shows, and works hard to catch a
glimpse of them, and is tired out, if not disgusted, at the end.  The
things to see and hear are Palm Sunday in St. Peter's; singing of the
Miserere by the pope's choir on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in
the Sistine Chapel; washing of the pilgrims' feet in a chapel of St.
Peter's, and serving the apostles at table by the pope on Thursday,
with a papal benediction from the balcony afterwards; Easter Sunday,
with the illumination of St. Peter's in the evening; and fireworks
(this year in front of St. Peter's in Montorio) Monday evening.

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