The dominant feature of Rome is the religious feature, and it is fitting that it should be so, for here the soil was stained with the blood of those who first hearkened to the voice of the Nazarenehere a cruel Nero lighted his garden with human torches, little thinking that the religion of those whom he burned would in time illumine the earth.
The fact that the city is the capital of the Catholic world is ‘apparent everywhere. All interest is centered in the Vatican and St. Peter’s. The civil government of Italy extends to the nation’s borders, but the papal authority of Rome reaches to the remotest corners of the earth. I was anxious to see the man upon whom such vast responsibility rests, and whose words so profoundly influence millions of the human race. Lord Denbigh, of England, had given me a letter of introduction to Cardinal Merry del Val, the papal secretary of state, and armed with this I visited the Vatican. Cardinal del Val is an exceedingly interesting man. He was born of Spanish parents, but one of his grandparents was English, and he is connected by ties of blood with several families of the English nobility. He was educated in England, and speaks that language fluently and without an accent, as he does French, German, Italian and Spanish. His linguistic accomplishments are almost as great as those of the famous Cardinal Mezzofanti. Cardinal del Val is an unusually young man to occupy such an important posthe is not yet forty. He impresses one as a man of rare ability and he possesses extraordinary versatility and a diplomatic training that will make him eminently useful to His Holiness. The papal secretary of state is a tall, slender, distinguished-looking man. His intellectual face is thin and oval ; his eyes are large, dark and brilliant, showing his Spanish birth. He received us in his private apartments in the Vatican. They are among the most interesting of the 1,200 rooms in that great building and were once occupied by that famous pope who was a Borgia. The ceilings and walls down to the floor are painted magnificently, the decoration having been done by the hand of a master artist of Borgia’s reign. For centuries the suite now occupied by Cardinal del Val had been part of the Vatican library. The beautiful walls were once hidden by a coat of rude whitewash, but the paintings were discovered not long ago and restored once more to view.
Before visiting the Vatican I called upon Monsignor Kennedy, the rector of the American college. Monsignor Kennedy is a learned and an exceedingly agreeable American and under his efficient management the number of students in the college has been doubled within a few years. He enabled me to meet Pope Pius’ Maestro di Camera. By the good offices of Cardinal del Val and the Maestro di Camera, it was arranged that I should have a private audience with the Holy Father the following day, Monsignor Kennedy acting as interpreter.
Pope Pius received us in his private room adjoining the public audience chamber, where distinguished Catholics from all over the world were collected and ready to be presented and receive the papal blessing. The private audience room is a rather small apartment, simply, but beautifully furnished and decorated. A throne bearing the papal crown occupied one side of the room. His Holiness greeted us very courteously and cordially. He wore a long white cassock, with a girdle at the waist; the fisherman’s ring was on his finger and he wore a small, closely fitting skull-cap of white. I had an opportunity to study his face. It is a round, strong face, full of kindliness and benevolence, but there are not lacking indications that its possessor has a purpose and will of his own. The face is ruddy and the nose rather longit is straight and not arched. His eyes are large, blue and friendly. The scant hair visible below the skull-cap is white. In stature the Holy Father is about five feet nine or ten inches and his figure is sturdy, but not too heavy. His step is light and gives an impression of strength and good health.
His Holiness has already gained a reputation as a democratic pontiff and enjoys a large and growing popularity with the people. He is an orator and often on Sunday goes into one of the many court yards of the Vatican and preaches to the crowds that gather quite informally. His gestures are said to be graceful and his voice melodious. His manner is earnest and his thoughts are expressed in clear and emphatic language. There is a feeling in Rome that Pius X. is going to be known in history as a reformernot as a reformer of doctrine, but as one who will popularize the church’s doctrine with a view to increasing the heartiness and zeal of the masses in the application of religious truth to everyday life.
I assured his Holiness that I appreciated the opportunity that was his to give impetus to the moral forces of the world, and he replied : “I hope my efforts in that direction will be such as to merit commendation.” Answering my statement that I called to present the good will of many Catholic friends as well as to pay my respects, His Holiness asked me to carry his benediction back to them.
If I may venture an opinion upon such brief observation, it is that heart characteristics will dominate the present pontiff’s course. He is not so renowned a scholar and diplomat as was his predecessor, nor is he so skilled in statecraft, but he is a virile, energetic, practical religious teacher, charitable, abounding in good works and full of brotherly love. I am confident that he will play an important part in the world-wide conflict between man and mammon.
The world has made and is making great progress in education and in industry. The percentage of illiteracy is everywhere steadily de-creasing. The standards of art and taste are rising and the forces of nature are being harnessed to do the work of man. Steam, madly escaping from its prison walls, turns myriad wheels and drags our commerce over land and sea, while electricity, more fleet of foot than Mercury, has become the message-bearer of millions. Even the waves of the air are now obedient to the command of man and intelligence is flashed across the ocean without the of wires. With this dominion over nature man has been able to advance his physical well-being, as well as to enlarge his mental horizon, but has the moral development of the people kept pace with material prosperity? The growing antagonism between capital and labor, the lack of sympathy often manifest between those of the same race and even of the same religion, when enjoying incomes quite unequalthese things would seem to indicate that the heart has lagged behind the head and the purse. The restoration of the equilibrium and the infusing of a feeling of brotherhood that will establish justice and good will must be the aim of those who are sincerely interested in the progress of the race. This is pre-eminently the work of our religious teachers, although it is a work in which the laity as well as the clergy must take part.
After meeting Pius X., late the beloved patriarch of Venice, I feel assured that he is peculiarly fitted to lead his portion of the Christian church in this great endeavor.
The Vatican, which serves as the home and executive offices of the supreme pontiff of the Catholic church, is an enormous building, or rather collection of buildings, for it bears evidence of additions and annexes. One might be easily lost in its maze of corridors. The ceilings of the chief apartments are high and, like the walls of the spacious rooms and halls, are covered with frescoes of priceless value. The Vatican adjoins St. Peter’s cathedral-or basilica as it is called-a description of whose beauties would fill a volume. The basilica is so harmoniously proportioned that one does not appreciate its vastness from a distance, but once within its walls it is easy to credit the statement that fifty thousand persons can be crowded into it. In a crypt just beneath the great dome is the tomb of St. Peter, about which myriad lamps are kept constantly burning. Near the tomb is a crucifix suspended under a canopy supported by four spiral columns that are replicas of a column elsewhere in the cathedral that is said to have been part of Solomon’s temple. Not far from the crucifix is the famous bronze statue of St. Peter, made from a pagan statue of Jupiter. It is mounted upon a pedestal about five feet high and the large toe of the right foot, which projects over the pedestal has been worn smooth by the lips of devout visitors to the basilica.
To me the most remarkable of the splendors of the cathedral were the mosaic pictures, of which there are many of heroic size. These mosaics depict Bible scenes and characters and are done with such marvelous skill that a little way off one can hardly doubt that they are the product of the brush of some great master. The colors, tints and shades are so perfect that it is difficult to believe that the pictures are formed by the piecing together of tiny bits of colored marbles and other stones. The Vatican maintains a staff of artists in mosaic, some of whose work may be purchased by the public. I was shown the masterpiece of Michael Angelo in the cathedral of St. Peter in Vinculoa statue of Moses, seated. In the right knee there is a slight crack visible and it is tradition that, when the great sculptor had finished his work, he struck the knee with his mallet in a burst of enthusiasm and exclaimed, “Now, speak.” St. Paul’s cathedral, which stands outside the ancient wall of the city, is of modern construction and is therefore less interesting to the visitor than the great basilica of St. Peter’s.
Next to the Vatican and the cathedrals in interest are the ruins of ancient Rome. In England and France I had seen buildings many centuries old; in Rome one walks at the foot of walls that for nearly two thousand years have defied the ravages of time. The best pre-served and most stupendous of the relics of “The Eternal City” is the Colosseum. It is built upon a scale that gives some idea of the largeness of Roman conceptions and of the prodigality with which the emperors expended the money and labor of the people. The arena in which the gladiators fought with their fellows and with wild beasts the arena in which many of the Christian martyrs met their deathis slightly oval in form, the longest diameter being about 250 feet. The arena was so arranged that it could be flooded with water and used for aquatic tournaments. The spectators looked down upon the contests from galleries that rose in four tiers to a height of 150 feet. At one end of the arena was the tribune occupied by the emperor and his suite; at the other end the vestal virgins occupied another tribune and it was their privilege to confer either life or death upon the vanquished gladiators by turning the thumb up or downturned up it meant life, turned down, death. The Roman populace gained access to the galleries by 160 doors and stairways. The seating capacity of the Colosseum is estimated to have been fifty thousand.
The Forum is even richer than the Colosseum in historic interest and recent excavations have brought to light what are supposed to be the tomb of Caesar and the tomb of Romulus. The tribune is pointed out from which the Roman orators addressed the multitude. Here Cicero hurled his invectives at Cataline and Mark Antony is by Shakespeare made to plead here for fallen Caesar. The triumphal arch of Constantine stands at one end of the Forum and is in an excellent state of preservation. Among the carvings lately exhumed are some (especially attractive to an agriculturist) showing the forms of the bull, the sheep and the hog. They are so like the best breeds of these animals to-day that one can scarcely believe they were chiseled from stone nearly twenty centuries ago. In Rome, as in Paris, there is a Pantheon in the familiar style of Greek architecture. In the Roman Pantheon is the tomb of Raphael. Cardinal Bembo, in recognition of Raphael’s genius, caused to be placed upon his tomb a Latin epitaph which Hope has translated :
“Living, great nature feared he might outvie Her works, and dying fears herself to die.”
To those who are familiar with Roman history the river Tiber is an object of interest, but here, as is often the case, one feels disappointed in finding that the thing pictured was larger than the reality. The Tiber, yellow as the Missouri, flows through the very heart of Rome and is kept within its channel by a high stone embankment. In and near Rome are many ancient palaces, some of them falling into decay, and some well preserved. One of the most modern of the pal-aces of the Italian nobles was built by American money, the wife being a member of a wealthy New York family. Part of this palace is now occupied by the American ambassador, Mr. Myer, to whom I am indebted for courtesies extended in Rome. Art galleries and museums are numerous in Rome and in the other cities of Italy, and contain many of the works of the great Italian artists like Raphael, Angelo, Titian and others. The palace of King Victor Emmanuel and the public buildings of Rome are imposing, but do not compare in size or magnificence with the ancient palaces of England and France. The journey from Rome to Venice carried us through a very fertile part of Italy. The land is carefully cultivated; the thrifty farmers in some places have set out mulberry trees for the cultivation of the silk worm and have trained grape vines upon the trees.
We passed through the edge of Venice and saw the gondoliers on the Grand Canal waiting to carry passengers into the city. A very intelligent Italian newspaper correspondent whom I met in Rome in-formed me that the northern provinces of Italy were much further advanced in education than the southern provinces, but that the people of the south were mentally very alert and with the addition of instruction would soon reach the intellectual level of the north.
My stay in Italy was all too brief and I left with much reluctance this nursery of early civilizationthis seat of government of the world’s greatest religious organization.