Palm Sunday In St. Peter’s – Rome, Italy

Yesterday began Holy Week with the imposing but tedious ceremonies of Palm Sunday at St. Peter’s. At nine o’clock in the morning we were in our places—seats erected for the occasion near the high altar, drest in the costume prescribed by church etiquette—black throughout, with black veils on our heads. At about ten the Pope entered, and the rites, ordinary and extraordinary, the masses and processions, continued until one.

The entrance of the Pope into this his grandest basilica was, as usual, a beautiful and brilliant sight. He came splendidly vested, wearing his miter, and borne in his chair of state under a gorgeous canopy, between the flabelli—two enormous fans of white peacock feathers. He was preceded and followed by cardinals, bishops, archbishops, monsignori, abbots, the apostolic prothonotaries, generals of the religious orders, officers of the state, of the army, of his household, and the Guardia Nobile.

He took his seat on the throne, and received the homage of the cardinals, who, kneeling, kissed his right hand. This is a ceremony which is always gone through with in the most formal, mechanical, business-like manner possible. Some palms, not in natural branches, but cut and wreathed in various strange, fantastic forms, lay on the altar. The Pope’s chief sacristan took one of these, a deacon another, a subdeacon a third, and knelt at the foot of the throne. His Holiness read prayers over them, sprinkled them with holy water, and incensed them three times. One of these is held beside the throne by the prince assistant during the service; another is borne by the Pope when in procession.

After this, multitudes of palms were brought up for the Papal benediction. First came the cardinals, each, as he received his palm from the Pope, kissing it, the right hand and knee of His Holiness; then the bishops, who only kissed the palm and his right knee; then the abbots, who were only entitled to kiss the palm and his foot; then the governor of Rome, the prince assistant, the auditor, the treasurer, the maggiordomo, the secretaries, the chamberlains, the mace bearers, the deacons and sub-deacons, generals of the religious orders and priests in general, masters of the ceremonies, singers, clerks of the Papal chapel, students of Roman colleges, foreign ministers and their attaches, Italian, French, Spanish, Austrian, Russian, Prussian officers, noblemen and gentlemen, all came up in turn, knelt, received blest palms, and kissed the foot of the Sovereign Pontiff.

During the distribution of the palms, anthems were sung by the choir, who were caged up in a sort of trellice workbox at the right of the altar. This long but brilliantly picturesque ceremony through, the Pope, after washing his hands, again mounted into his “sedia gestatoria,” and bearing his palm, preceded and followed by all those to whom he had given palms, passed slowly down the nave of the church, blessing the kneeling and bending multitude right and left. This procession of palms was very striking and gorgeous from the beauty and variety of military arms and uniforms, and more than royal richness of the priestly vestments, the gleam of miters and maces, and of innumerable sacred symbols and insignia.