Make your own free website on Tripod.com

List Of Contents | Contents of The Cenci, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
< < Previous Page    

their knees, and worshipped the holy symbol as the others had done.
The march to the scaffold was then resumed.

The two female prisoners followed the last row of penitents in single
file, veiled to the waist, with the distinction that Lucrezia, as a
widow, wore a black veil and high-heeled slippers of the same hue,
with bows of ribbon, as was the fashion; whilst Beatrice, as a young
unmarried girl, wore a silk flat cap to match her corsage, with a
plush hood, which fell over her shoulders and covered her violet
frock; white slippers with high heels, ornamented with gold rosettes
and cherry-coloured fringe.  The arms of both were untrammelled,
except far a thin slack cord which left their hands free to carry a
crucifix and a handkerchief.

During the night a lofty scaffold had been erected on the bridge of
Sant' Angelo, and the plank and block were placed thereon.  Above the
block was hung, from a large cross beam, a ponderous axe, which,
guided by two grooves, fell with its whole weight at the touch of a
spring.

In this formation the procession wended its way towards the bridge of
Sant' Angela.  Lucrezia, the more broken down of the two, wept
bitterly; but Beatrice was firm and unmoved.  On arriving at the open
space before the bridge, the women were led into a chapel, where they
were shortly joined by Giacomo and Bernardo; they remained together
for a few moments, when the brothers were led away to the scaffold,
although one was to be executed last, and the other was pardoned.
But when they had mounted the platform, Bernardo fainted a second
time; and as the executioner was approaching to his assistance, some
of the crowd, supposing that his object was to decapitate him, cried
loudly, "He is pardoned!"  The executioner reassured them by seating
Bernardo near the block, Giacomo kneeling on the other side.

Then the executioner descended, entered tie chapel, and reappeared
leading Lucrezia, who was the first to suffer.  At the foot of the
scaffold he tied her hands behind her back, tore open the top of her
corsage so as to uncover her shoulders, gave her the crucifix to
kiss, and led her to the step ladder, which she ascended with great
difficulty, on account of her extreme stoutness; then, on her
reaching the platform, he removed the veil which covered her head.
On this exposure of her features to the immense crowd, Lucrezia
shuddered from head to foot; then, her eyes full of tears, she cried
with a loud voice--

"O my God, have mercy upon me; and do you, brethren, pray for my
soul!"

Having uttered these words, not knowing what was required of her, she
turned to Alessandro, the chief executioner, and asked what she was
to do; he told her to bestride the plank and lie prone upon it; which
she did with great trouble and timidity; but as she was unable, on
account of the fullness of her bust, to lay her neck upon the block,
this had to be raised by placing a billet of wood underneath it; all
this time the poor woman, suffering even more from shame than from
fear, was kept in suspense; at length, when she was properly
adjusted, the executioner touched.  the spring, the knife fell, and
the decapitated head, falling on the platform of the scaffold,
bounded two or three times in the air, to the general horror; the
executioner then seized it, showed it to the multitude, and wrapping
it in black taffetas, placed it with the body on a bier at the foot
of the scaffold.

Whilst arrangements were being made for the decapitation of Beatrice,
several stands, full of spectators, broke down; some people were
killed by this accident, and still more lamed and injured.

The machine being now rearranged and washed, the executioner returned
to the chapel to take charge of Beatrice, who, on seeing the sacred
crucifix, said some prayers for her soul, and on her hands being
tied, cried out, "God grant that you be binding this body unto
corruption, and loosing this soul unto life eternal!"  She then
arose, proceeded to the platform, where she devoutly kissed the
stigmata; then leaving her slippers at the foot of the scaffold, she
nimbly ascended the ladder, and instructed beforehand, promptly lay
down on the plank, without exposing her naked shoulders.  But her
precautions to shorten the bitterness of death were of no avail, for
the pope, knowing her impetuous disposition, and fearing lest she
might be led into the commission of some sin between absolution and
death, had given orders that the moment Beatrice was extended on the
scaffold a signal gun should be fired from the castle of Sant'
Angelo; which was done, to the great astonishment of everybody,
including Beatrice herself, who, not expecting this explosion, raised
herself almost upright; the pope meanwhile, who was praying at Monte
Cavallo, gave her absolution 'in articulo mortis'.  About five
minutes thus passed, during which the sufferer waited with her head
replaced on the block; at length, when the executioner judged that
the absolution had been given, he released the spring, and the axe
fell.

A gruesome sight was then afforded: whilst the head bounced away on
one side of the block, on the other the body rose erect, as if about
to step backwards; the executioner exhibited the head, and disposed
of it and the body as before.  He wished to place Beatrice's body
with that of her stepmother, but the brotherhood of Mercy took it out
of his hands, and as one of them was attempting to lay it on the
bier, it slipped from him and fell from the scaffold to the ground
below; the dress being partially torn from the body, which was so
besmeared with dust and blood that much time was occupied in washing
it.  Poor Bernardo was so overcome by this horrible scene that he
swooned away for the third time, and it was necessary to revive him
with stimulants to witness the fate of his elder brother.

The turn of Giacomo at length arrived: he had witnessed the death of
his stepmother and his sister, and his clothes were covered with
their blood; the executioner approached him and tore off his cloak,
exposing his bare breast covered with the wounds caused by the grip
of red-hot pincers; in this state, and half-naked, he rose to his
feet, and turning to his brother, said--

"Bernardo, if in my examination I have compromised and accused you, I
have done so falsely, and although I have already disavowed this
declaration, I repeat, at the moment of appearing before God, that
you are innocent, and that it is a cruel abuse of justice to compel
you to witness this frightful spectacle."

The executioner then made him kneel down, bound his legs to one of
the beams erected on the scaffold, and having bandaged his eyes,
shattered his head with a blow of his mallet; then, in the sight
of all, he hacked his body into four quarters.  The official party
then left, taking with them Bernardo, who, being in a state of high
fever, was bled and put to bed.

The corpses of the two ladies were laid out each on its bier under
the statue of St. Paul, at the foot of the bridge, with four torches
of white wax, which burned till four o'clock in the afternoon; then,
along with the remains of Giacomo, they were taken to the church of
San Giovanni Decollato; finally, about nine in the evening, the body
of Beatrice, covered with flowers, and attired in the dress worn at
her execution, was carried to the church of San Pietro in Montorio,
with fifty lighted torches, and followed by the brethren of the order
of the Stigmata and all the Franciscan monks in Rome; there,
agreeably to her wish, it was buried at the foot of the high altar.

The same evening Signora Lucrezia was interred, as she had desired to
be, in the church of San Giorgio di Velobre.

All Rome may be said to have been present at this tragedy, carriages,
horses, foot people, and cars crowding as it were upon one another.
The day was unfortunately so hot, and the sun so scorching, that many
persons fainted, others returned home stricken with fever, and some
even died during the night, owing to sunstroke from exposure during
the three hours occupied by the execution.

The Tuesday following, the 14th of September; being the Feast of the
Holy Cross, the brotherhood of San Marcello, by special licence of
the pope, set at liberty the unhappy Bernardo Cenci, with the
condition of paying within the year two thousand five hundred Roman
crowns to the brotherhood of the most Holy Trinity of Pope Sixtus, as
may be found to-day recorded in their archives.

Having now seen the tomb, if you desire to form a more vivid
impression of the principal actors in this tragedy than can be
derived from a narrative, pay a visit to the Barberini Gallery, where
you will see, with five other masterpieces by Guido, the portrait of
Beatrice, taken, some say the night before her execution, others
during her progress to the scaffold; it is the head of a lovely girl,
wearing a headdress composed of a turban with a lappet.  The hair is
of a rich fair chestnut hue; the dark eyes are moistened with recent
tears; a perfectly farmed nose surmounts an infantile mouth;
unfortunately, the loss of tone in the picture since it was painted
has destroyed the original fair complexion.  The age of the subject
may be twenty, or perhaps twenty-two years.

Near this portrait is that of Lucrezia Petrani the small head
indicates a person below the middle height; the attributes are those
of a Roman matron in her pride; her high complexion, graceful
contour, straight nose, black eyebrows, and expression at the same
time imperious and voluptuous indicate this character to the life; a
smile still seems to linger an the charming dimpled cheeks and
perfect mouth mentioned by the chronicler, and her face is
exquisitely framed by luxuriant curls falling from her forehead in
graceful profusion.

As for Giacomo and Bernardo, as no portraits of them are in
existence, we are obliged to gather an idea of their appearance from
the manuscript which has enabled us to compile this sanguinary
history; they are thus described by the eye-witness of the closing
scene--

Giacomo was short, well-made and strong, with black hair and beard;
he appeared to be about twenty-six years of age.

Poor Bernardo was the image of his sister, so nearly resembling her,
that when he mounted the scaffold his long hair and girlish face led
people to suppose him to be Beatrice herself: he might be fourteen or
fifteen years of age.

The peace of God be with them!






< < Previous Page    



Other sites:

db3nf.com screen-capture.net floresca.net simonova.net flora-source.com flora-source.com sourcecentral.com sourcecentral.com geocities.com