List Of Contents | Contents of Saunterings, by Charles Dudley Warner
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Raised seats are built up about the high altar under the dome in St.
Peter's, which will accommodate a thousand, and perhaps more, ladies;
and for these tickets are issued without numbers, and for twice as
many as they will seat.  Gentlemen who are in evening dress are
admitted to stand in the reserved places inside the lines of
soldiers.  For the Miserere in the Sistine Chapel tickets are also
issued.  As there is only room for about four hundred ladies, and a
thousand and more tickets are given out, you may imagine the
scramble.  Ladies go for hours before the singing begins, and make a
grand rush when the doors are open.  I do not know any sight so
unseemly and cruel as a crowd of women intent on getting in to such a
ceremony: they are perfectly rude and unmerciful to each other.  They
push and trample one another under foot; veils and dresses are torn;
ladies faint away in the scrimmage, and only the strongest and most
unscrupulous get in.  I have heard some say, who have been in the
pellmell, that, not content with elbowing and pushing and pounding,
some women even stick pins into those who are in the way.  I hope
this latter is not true; but it is certain that the conduct of most
of the women is brutal.  A weak or modest or timid woman stands no
more chance than she would in a herd of infuriated Campagna cattle.
The same scenes are enacted in the efforts to see the pope wash feet,
and serve at the table.  For the possession of the seats under the
dome on Palm Sunday and Easter there is a like crush.  The ceremonies
do not begin until half-past nine; but ladies go between five and six
o'clock in the morning, and when the passages are open they make a
grand rush.  The seats, except those saved for the nobility, are soon
all taken, and the ladies who come after seven are lucky if they can
get within the charmed circle, and find a spot to sit down on a
campstool.  They can then see only a part of the proceedings, and
have a weary, exhausting time of it for hours.  This year Rome is
more crowded than ever before.  There are American ladies enough to
fill all the reserved places; and I fear they are energetic enough to
get their share of them.

It rained Sunday; but there was a steady stream of people and
carriages all the morning pouring over the Bridge of St. Angelo, and
discharging into the piazza of St. Peter's.  It was after nine when I
arrived on the ground.  There was a crowd of carriages under the
colonnades, and a heavy fringe in front of them; but the hundreds of
people moving over the piazza, and up the steps to the entrances,
made only the impression of dozens in the vast space.  I do not know
if there are people enough in Rome to fill St. Peter's; certainly
there was no appearance of a crowd as we entered, although they had
been pouring in all the morning, and still thronged the doors.  I
heard a traveler say that he followed ten thousand soldiers into the
church, and then lost them from sight: they disappeared in the side
chapels.  He did not make his affidavit as to the number of soldiers.
The interior area of the building is not much greater than the square
of St. Mark in Venice.  To go into the great edifice is almost like
going outdoors.  Lines of soldiers kept a wide passage clear from the
front door away down to the high altar; and there was a good mass of
spectators on the outside.  The tribunes for the ladies, built up
under the dome, were of course, filled with masses of ladies in
solemn black; and there was more or less of a press of people surging
about in that vicinity.  Thousands of people were also roaming about
in the great spaces of the edifice; but there was nowhere else
anything like a crowd.  It had very much the appearance of a large
fair-ground, with little crowds about favorite booths.  Gentlemen in
dress-coats were admitted to the circle under the dome.  The pope's
choir was stationed in a gallery there opposite the high altar.  Back
of the altar was a wide space for the dignitaries; seats were there,
also, for ambassadors and those born to the purple; and the pope's
seat was on a raised dais at the end.  Outsiders could see nothing of
what went on within there; and the ladies under the dome could only
partially see, in the seats they had fought so gallantly to obtain.

St. Peter's is a good place for grand processions and ceremonies; but
it is a poor one for viewing them.  A procession which moves down the
nave is hidden by the soldiers who stand on either side, or is
visible only by sections as it passes: there is no good place to get
the grand effect of the masses of color, and the total of the
gorgeous pageantry.  I should like to see the display upon a grand
stage, and enjoy it in a coup d,oeil.  It is a fine study of color
and effect, and the groupings are admirable; but the whole affair is
nearly lost to the mass of spectators.  It must be a sublime feeling
to one in the procession to walk about in such monstrous fine
clothes; but what would his emotions be if more people could see him!
The grand altar stuck up under the dome not only breaks the effect of
what would be the fine sweep of the nave back to the apse, but it
cuts off all view of the celebration of the mass behind it, and, in
effect, reduces what should be the great point of display in the
church to a mere chapel.  And when you add to that the temporary
tribunes erected under the dome for seating the ladies, the entire
nave is shut off from a view of the gorgeous ceremony of high mass.
The effect would be incomparable if one could stand in the door, or
anywhere in the nave, and, as in other churches, look down to the end
upon a great platform) with the high altar and all the sublime
spectacle in full view, with the blaze of candles and the clouds of
incense rising in the distance.

At half-past nine the great doors opened, and the procession began,
in slow and stately moving fashion, to enter.  One saw a throng of
ecclesiastics in robes and ermine; the white plumes of the Guard
Noble; the pages and chamberlains in scarlet; other pages, or what
not, in black short-clothes, short swords, gold chains, cloak hanging
from the shoulder, and stiff white ruffs; thirty-six cardinals in
violet robes, with high miter-shaped white silk hats, that looked not
unlike the pasteboard "trainer-caps" that boys wear when they play
soldier; crucifixes, and a blazoned banner here and there; and, at
last, the pope, in his red chair, borne on the shoulders of red
lackeys, heaving along in a sea-sicky motion, clad in scarlet and
gold, with a silver miter on his head, feebly making the papal
benediction with two upraised fingers, and moving his lips in
blessing.  As the pope came in, a supplementary choir of men and
soprano hybrids, stationed near the door, set up a high, welcoming
song, or chant, which echoed rather finely through the building.  All
the music of the day is vocal.

The procession having reached its destination, and disappeared behind
the altar of the dome, the pope dismounted, and took his seat on his
throne.  The blessing of the palms began, the cardinals first
approaching, and afterwards the members of the diplomatic corps, the
archbishops and bishops, the heads of the religious orders, and such
private persons as have had permission to do so.  I had previously
seen the palms carried in by servants in great baskets.  It is,
perhaps, not necessary to say that they are not the poetical green
waving palms, but stiff sort of wands, woven out of dry, yellow,
split palm-leaves, sometimes four or five feet in length, braided
into the semblance of a crown on top,--a kind of rough basket-work.
The palms having been blessed, a procession was again formed down the
nave and out the door, all in it "carrying palms in their hands," the
yellow color of which added a new element of picturesqueness to the
splendid pageant.  The pope was carried as before, and bore in his
hand a short braided palm, with gold woven in, flowers added, and the
monogram "I. H. S." worked in the top.  It is the pope's custom to
give this away when the ceremony is over.  Last year he presented it
to an American lady, whose devotion attracted him; this year I saw it
go away in a gilded coach in the hands of an ecclesiastic.  The
procession disappeared through the great portal into the vestibule,
and the door closed.  In a moment somebody knocked three times on the
door: it opened, and the procession returned, and moved again to the
rear of the altar, the singers marching with it and chanting.  The
cardinals then changed their violet for scarlet robes; and high mass,
for an hour, was celebrated by a cardinal priest: and I was told that
it was the pope's voice that we heard, high and clear, singing the
passion.  The choir made the responses, and performed at intervals.
The singing was not without a certain power; indeed, it was marvelous
how some of the voices really filled the vast spaces of the edifice,
and the choruses rolled in solemn waves of sound through the arches.
The singing, with the male sopranos, is not to my taste; but it
cannot be denied that it had a wild and strange effect.

While this was going on behind the altar, the people outside were
wandering about, looking at each other, and on the watch not to miss
any of the shows of the day.  People were talking, chattering, and
greeting each other as they might do in the street.  Here and there
somebody was kneeling on the pavement, unheeding the passing throng.
At several of the chapels, services were being conducted; and there
was a large congregation, an ordinary church full, about each of
them.  But the most of those present seemed to regard it as a
spectacle only; and as a display of dress, costumes, and
nationalities it was almost unsurpassed.  There are few more
wonderful sights in this world than an Englishwoman in what she
considers full dress.  An English dandy is also a pleasing object.
For my part, as I have hinted, I like almost as well as anything the
big footmen,--those in scarlet breeches and blue gold-embroidered
coats.  I stood in front of one of the fine creations for some time,

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