Easter Sunday – Rome

The service on Easter Sunday is grand and most imposing, insensibly raising the feelings to a true accord with the scene. There, under the superb dome built by Michael Angelo, the solemn mass is sung in deep silence, amidst the assembly of priests and princes. The morning was serene and lovely, the sun shone clear and bright through the edifice, giving to its imposing dimensions, and noble architecture, a more than usual splendour. At the end of the great cross, terminating in the grand altar, the Pope is seated, supported on either side by his cardinals and bishops, with their attendant priests, presenting a numerous and gorgeous array. The marble balustrade encircling the altar, is lined within by the guards, and spreading out at the further ends, galleries are extended, destined for royal visitors, princes, and ambassadors, on the one hand, and on the other, for strangers of all classes. The vast height of the dome, rising. superbly over-head; the magnificent lower altar of fine bronze,. relieved by a beautiful railing of white marble, and lighted by lamps which burn continually; the fine effect produced by the gigantic statues lessening in the distant vista, as the eye traverses along the immense space of this noble structure, form a coup-d’oeil very striking, and singularly fine. At the conclusion of the service, the Pope advancing to kneel at the lower altar, recited the Pateroster, and then proceeded from the church to the balcony in front of St Peter’s, to perform the benediction. The sacred character of this ceremony receives an added dignity from the fine and commanding aspect of the surrounding scenery. The approach to St Peter’s is very grand, the space within the court immense, and the columns and colonnades most magnificent; while the noble and high buildings of the Vatican are seen towering on the right hand in a broad style of irregular but fine architecture. Large flat steps, ascending to the wide-spreading gates of the church, run to the whole length of the edifice, producing, from their vast extent, one of its most striking features; while over the low, square-roofed, and not unpicturesque buildings, in front of St Peter’s, the eye wanders abroad to the distant prospect, to the blue hills, and far seen glaciers, the effect being altogether solemn, and fine beyond imagination.

The ample steps of St Peter’s were peopled by thou-sands of the peasantry, who crowded from every distant part of the Campagna, mingling with citizens of the lower ranks: those of the higher classes, forming rich and showy groups, were seen on each side, covering the fine flat-roofed colonnades. Below, on the level ground, the whole body of the Papal guards was drawn out in array. Beyond, stood, like a deep dark phalanx, the carriages and innumerable equipages, the vivid tints of the brilliant mid-day sun giving every variety of colour, by deepened shade or added brightness. In the central balcony of the church, awaiting the approach of the Pope, were seated a rich gorgeous throng of cardinals and prelates, overlooking the countless numbers in the space below, covered without spot or interval as with one mass of living beings. Expectation prevailed throughout, till his holiness approached, when, in a moment, all was still; every eye turned from the gay and sunny scene to the dark front of St Peter’s, lying deep in shade, from its massive columns; not a breath, not a sound reached the ear. The deep silence that reigned amid such a con-course was most impressive; the whole scene excited feelings of the deepest interest, as we contemplated the pale, benign, mild countenance and venerable aspect of him, who was now bending forward with anxious zeal to bless the surrounding multitude. The rich deep-toned bell of St Peter’s announced the conclusion of the benediction—solemn sounds, which were instantly answered by the loud pealing cannon of Castle St Angelo, as likewise by the voices of the musicians, and clamorous rejoicings of the people.

When night approaches, and the dome of this magnificent temple is hung with lights, all the grandeur of its architecture is displayed. Each frieze and cornice, arch, and gate, and pillar, is enriched with lines of splendid fires, and every steeple, tower, and bulky dome, glittering with light, seems to hang in a firmament of its own, high in the clear dark sky. The long sweeping colonnade forms, as it were, a golden circle, enclosing the dark mass of people below, filling the spacious basin of the court, while the waters of the superb fountains, sparkling in the partial gleams of light, are heard dashing amid the hum and murmur of the busy throng; when suddenly, in an instant, the form is changed, the red distinct stars are involved in one blaze of splendid flame, as if the vast machine were turned by the hand of some master spirit.

From this object, the spectator is next hurried to view the splendid fire-works of Castle St Angelo, esteemed the finest in the world, and which, for general aspect and effect, are perhaps unequalled. All at first was dark, the deep dense mass of the populace filled the squares and streets, while the carriages, each with its lights reflected from the dark flood of the Tyber, swung slowly and heavily across the bridge. No place or city affords so magnificent a scene, for exhibiting the alternate effects of brilliant illumination and sudden darkness, of utter silence and overwhelming sounds. The vast round tower of the castle rises over the scene, with its bulky cornice and flanking bastions; the bridge, of fine and level form, leads direct to the gate; while the statue of St Michael, big and black, with broad expanded wings, hangs over the tower, and the Tyber, walled in with an amphitheatre of antique houses on the farther shore, sweeps round the castle in deep and eddying pools; and in the distance, as if hung in the air, the vast dome of St Peter’s is seen from afar, striped and adorned with its many thousand lamps, and crowned with rich circles of fire.

All is dark and silent, when the first gun from St Angelo booms along the river, and shakes the ground. Again a stiller silence prevails, when vast flames burst from the centre of the circular tower with an explosion truly magnificent, filling the air with various-coloured fires, which shoot upwards and athwart, with hurried and impetuous motion, involving the whole fabric in clouds and darkness; then all at once, within the dark clouds, appears, in pale and silvery light, the structure, long spread out with glittering columns, frieze, and cornice. The river, gate, and bridge, involved meanwhile in redder fires, when again all is dark and silent. After each pause the guns announce new explosions, while the sound rolls through the city, emptied of its inhabitants, and solitary as the surrounding hills, which again reverberate the sound.

Nor can anything, perhaps, be more striking than the revulsion of feelings caused by the sudden cessation of sound; the change from the most dazzling, and almost fearful light, to utter darkness; from sounds the most astounding to perfect stillness. At the last tremendous explosion, the whole edifice was enveloped in a rush of fire, while the broad brooding statue of St Michael on its pinnacle, hung black and ominous, apparently suspended in the air, and floating on a vast mass of flame. Then again all was still, and deep obscurity prevailed. The moonlight shone faint upon the distant landscape, and the river reflected the solitary and sullen lamps in a degree to give darkness effect, and show imperfectly the forms of the bridge, and the mass of the slow-retiring crowd. During this wonderful exhibition, altogether peculiar to this city, and not unworthy of the occasion, no confusion, no bustle ensued, no noise or clamour; each individual, satisfied with the wonders he had seen, returned quietly to his own abode. This splendid display closes, as with one flash of magnificence, the ceremonies of the Holy Week, and the stranger retiring slowly from the scene, feels as if he had witnessed, not the trivial show of an hour, but some signal phenomenon in the natural world.