We are looking somewhat south of east here, and there on our extreme left is the substantial building on the Caelian Hill. Now we can see the Aventine Hill, the last of the seven hills on the south. The little dark wood of cypress directly before us, about half a mile distant, marks the northern limit of this hill and its southern limit is farther to the right than we can yet see. In the distance to the right, about twelve miles away, dimly outlined against the sky, are the Alban Hills. The general map of Italy gives their location. It was near the summit of those hills, by the side of a small lake, we remember, that the very first beginnings of Roman history were made. As we find in our ” Story of Rome,” the earliest traditions go back to that place as the political and religious center of the Latin League. The more or less level tract of land all about Rome has been known for centuries as the Campagna or ” country.” The Latins inhabited all the sections of this Campagna which stretches to those hills before us and to the sea twenty miles away on our right. The spur of hills to our left is an offshoot of the main chain of the Apennines.
They are called the Sabine hills from the people who inhabited them in the early history of Rome. The sides of all those hills in the distance have been dotted since the most ancient times with the homes of wealthy Romans. Tivoli out among the Sabine hills was the favorite summer resort in the time of Augustus and Horace, while visitors have been going out to the country homes and summer resorts on the north and northeast slope of the Alban Hills for centuries. Cato was born in that section, Cicero and Pompey had favorite residences there.
But again we want to examine this special part of Rome before us more in detail. Human life, from whatever standpoint it may be viewed, shows an in-finite and wonderful variety; and yet, even where all is interesting, there are certain phases which admit of special mention and demand special attention. So it is in this strangely human and almost immortal city that lies at our fet. Almost every one of these structures sown so thickly over plain and hillside has a charm of its own, but we can consider only a few of the most important, the historical and architectural jewels, as it were.
But in our admiration for the historic and the sub-lime, we cannot afford to overlook altogether the beau-ties of what is modern and commonplace. There-fore it will repay us first of all to fix our eyes on those low, shingled roofs just below us; and then on these great, ponderous chimneys, some of which are covered with slightly raised slabs of stone to keep out the wind and rain – chimneys that never would draw and yet are most capacious. We shall feel nearer to’ the people living down in those houses after noticing the very roofs and chimneys above them. The houses with the flat, parapet roofs are modern and, together with the wide, spacious streets, give an air of beauty and solidity to this part of the city.
Now observe that nearly in the center of our field of vision is a noble building surmounted by a clock tower which has a window just above the clock and a flag-staff on the top. The structure looks imposing enough to be an art gallery or a palace. It is a government institution, although neither a postoffice nor a custom house, but rather a tobacco factory, for in Italy the government has a monopoly of the tobacco business and derives a large part of its revenue from this source. In fact, while there are several others, this is the only large and successful manufactory in Rome. In this age, characterized as it is by an enormous and unparalleled productive energy, Italy is sadly behind the other great nations. For this state of things, there seem to be at least two causes. One is that Italy is practically without coal, and this is a great element in her industrial weakness. Another reason may be found in the temperament of the people. The Italian is not ostentatious like the Englishman and American in his receptions and in his sumptuous repasts ; in his eyes a fine fluted column is worth more than fifty grand dinners. After he has acquired a-fortune by a life of frugality, his idea of self-display is to build some grand public building, so beautiful and majestic, that, for all the years to come, it will be a dream or prayer or mighty oratorio in stone, perpetuating his memory in its faultless lines and imposing walls.
Yet it is to be regretted that, with all their intellectual refinement, they are not more practical. Have you heard the story of the shoemaker, who was summoned to the house of a French general, during the time of the French occupancy of the city, when Paris was several days distant? It illustrates the impracticability to which we have referred. ” My man,” said the general, ” I want a fine pair of new boots but I fear that I cannot get what I want nearer than Paris.” The shoemaker bowed, took the measure and left; eight days after, he furnished the general with an admirable boot as soft and well-fitting as a glove. ” Peste ! ” exclaimed the general, “you are a capital fellow, the proof fits well enough, now let me try the other.” “The other?” answered the work-man, “you will have to get that made in Paris.”
They boast, however, of an artistic industry that is not surpassed elsewhere. Near the fountain of Trevi, off in the northern part of the city, is the establishment of the jeweler Castellani, whose collection of Etruscan jewels is very famous. This Roman goldsmith traveled through Europe and Asia in search of the art of soldering which enabled the ancients to incorporate microscopic ornaments on an enameled surface by an invisible juncture. But all his efforts were unsuccessful. One day, during the Roman Carnival, he noticed a peasant girl on the Corso, who wore earrings like those found in Etruscan tombs. He stopped the girl and questioned her as to where she procured them, and found that they had been made by a village jeweler out among the fastnesses of the Sabine Hills; and strange to say, it was in the workshop of this obscure mountain-bred craftsman that the lost art of Etruscan soldering was discovered, thus perpetuated in those almost inaccessible wilds for over two thousand years. The man was brought to Rome, and a famous establishment took its rise from this curious beginning.
Back of this clear, bright array of city-houses, there are some more ancient and important structures. We shall be able to pick out in the landscape before us some of the most notable of the early Christian churches. Several of them take us back through the time of United Italy and the long period of the Papacy, to the last centuries of the Empire. You see the tall black chimney to the left and in the distance? Well, now look to the left of that chimney beyond the dark trees on the Caelian Hill, and you will see the form of a huge building. That magnificent structure is the celebrated Church of St. John Lateran, wonderful in its architecture and in the glory of its situation. It is built on the site of two more ancient churches, the first being erected by Constantine the Great and consecrated in 324. It is said that the Emperor labored with his own hands in the building of the early church.
The name Lateranus was unfortunately prominent in the days of Claudius and Nero, for Plautius Lateranus was deprived of his rank as Senator because of his being one of the lovers of Messalina, and was put to death by Nero for having taken part in the conspiracy of Piso, and his estates were confiscated. The Lateran Palace was occupied by Constantine, whose wife Fausta belonged to the Lateran family. Constantine transferred it, with the church he had founded within it, to Sylvester, the bishop of Rome (314-337) as his episcopal residence. Nevertheless, the old heathen name still clung to it. The inscription on each side of the entrance shows that it was considered to be the Mother and Head of all the churches of the city and of the world. It was the principal church of Rome after the time of Constantine the Great.
At the Basilica of St. Peter’s, the Pope is the spiritual sovereign of the Catholic Church ; at St. John Lateran, he is the bishop, the Lateran church being the Cathedral of Rome, and hence in all things ecclesiastical, this church has the pre-eminence. In the august procession which marches through the nave of St. Peter’s on great occasions, the clergy of the Vatican take a second place and those of St. John Lateran the first.
It is interesting to observe that that Cathedral Church has no doors, but curtains, so that it is never closed, in order that the people may find refuge there at any hour.
Notwithstanding the ecclesiastical pre-eminence of this church, St. Peter’s and the Vatican, the world-center of the great Catholic faith, have been more famous. St. John Lateran, as it is today, is little more than a place consecrated by great memories. Earthquakes have devastated the spot and fires have swept over it, but the church has always been rebuilt in a more spacious and impressive manner. The present structure is adorned by costly marble and rich mosaics and precious stones. Splendid oriental columns of red granite support the great organ ; but the most remarkable are the fluted columns of gilded bronze which support the canopy of the Altar of the Sacrament. They are eight and a half feet in circumference. On their enormous capitals rests an en-tablature of bronze. These columns are unrivaled in the perfection of their line and the precision of their flutings and in the play of the light on their bouquets of golden leafage. Nothing in Rome approaches them. Where they came from is the question that confronts the historian, for they evidently were not designed for this structure. Some believe that they belonged originally to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, others that they were brought to Rome by Titus from the Temple at Jerusalem, and that they are hollow and are filled with earth from Palestine.
The nave, over four hundred feet long, is marked by twelve niches formed by pilasters which are placed over the ancient columns, and in these niches there are twelve colossal statues, representing the apostles, by Bernini.
Our guide was hardly within the bounds of historical accuracy, however, when, pointing to the high altar, he said impressively, ” On this altar S. Peter said mass!”
Beside the church is the Lateran Palace. That, and a more ancient structure on the same site which was destroyed by fire in 1308, formed the residence of the Popes from the time of Constantine down to the migration to Avignon. On the return of the Pope to Rome in 1377, the Papal remidence was established in the Vatican near St. Peter’s, where it has remained ever since. In 1843, principally because men could not live in the damp and cheerless rooms, Gregory XVI set apart the palace for the reception of heathen and Christian antiquities, the Capitoline and Vatican museums no longer being large enough.
The Piazza del Laterano in front of the church and palace is grass-grown to-day; silence and solitude are supreme. The obelisk of Thotmes IV, the greatest of all monoliths, stands in grim loneliness in the middle of the great square, but its extended shadow rarely falls on any human being. A beautiful baptistery, two hospitals, and some convent buildings, together with the church and palace and a little building enclosing the Scala Sancta, the stairs to Pilate’s house up which Christ is supposed to have walked when he was brought to trial, all circle about the Piazza.
Starting once again with our low-shingled roofs here at our feet, look just beyond to the white chimney that rears itself as majestically as a marble column. Just to the right of the top of the chimney note the building with six windows. Over the left-hand corner of the roof of this house, fix your attention upon a dark brick tower, having three rows of windows and three windows in each row; that is the bell tower of the convent and church of St. Caecilia, one of the most interesting buildings in Rome. It is said that originally the dwelling-house of the saint stood there. It was built before the fifth century, some say by Urban I in 230 A. D., and was rebuilt by Paschal I because of a dream through which he discovered the body of the saint. Cæcilia was a rich and noble Roman lady who lived in the reign of Alexander Severus. Her husband and brother suffered martyrdom for refusing to sacrifice to idols, and Cæcilia herself was condemned to death for the same reason.
The story that has come down to us is that she was first shut up in the hot chamber of her own bath which was heated more than usual in the hope that she would be suffocated; but we are assured that when the bath was opened she was found unharmed, God having sent a cooling shower into the room which preserved the life of the Saint. After this, an executioner was sent to behead her, but in his fear and haste he showed but little skill, for he found it necessary to strike three blows, and even this did not sever the head from the body. His victim lived several days, exhorting believers to faithfulness, and even ministering to the poor; and, as the result of her eloquence and self-sacrifice, four hundred pagans were converted. Then, blessing God for the privilege of being counted worthy to be numbered with the glorious company of martyrs, she fell asleep. She was buried in the catacombs of St. Calixtus, about five miles beyond the city toward the Alban Hills, and afterwards the body was removed to this church by Paschal I. Beneath the high altar is a marble reclining statue, by Stefano Maderna, representing her body in a tomb. The inscription is as follows : “Behold the body of the most holy virgin, Caecilia, whom I myself saw lying uncorrupt in her tomb. I have, in this marble, expressed for thee the same saint in the same posture of body.- Stefano Maderna.”
When Cardinal Sfondrato restored the church in 1590, he asserts that he found her body in the tomb, just as it had been deposited there eight hundred years before, after being found in the catacombs by Paschal I. The feast of St. Cæcilia is observed in this church on November 22d, when most exquisite music is rendered by the world-famed papal choir in honor of
“Rapt Caecilia, seraph-haunted queen of harmony.”
The association of this saint with music was the result of the tradition that when her husband, Valerianus, who had been a heathen, returned from his baptism, he found her singing hymns of praise and gladness because of his conversion; and that when they opened the door of the sudatorium of her bath, she was singing praises to God. She sang with such ravishing sweetness that even the angels descended from heaven to listen to her, or to join their voices with hers.
Over the summit of the tower of St. Caecilia and slightly to the right can be seen the round roof of the Church of St. Stefano Rotondo, outlined above the other buildings against the haze of the distant hills. That famous church was erected by Pope Simplicius (468-483). It was constructed on the site of an ancient circular building belonging to the great victual market (Macellum Magnum) erected by Nero. It is the largest circular church in the world. The building is one hundred and thirty-three feet in diameter, with a double circle of granite columns, thirty-six in the outer and twenty in the inner circle, and these enclose two massive yet graceful Corinthian columns which support a cross wall. The walls of the building represent in frescoes every conceivable form of human agony, and that in the most shocking manner, thus portraying the martyrdoms of the Church.
Now, come back again to the tobacco factory and over the top of that tall chimney to the right of the clock tower you will observe still another large and ancient church, that of S. Sabina, on the Aventine Hill. The edifice was erected on the site of the house of the saint after whom the church is called, and the house was built on the foundation of the temple of Juno Regina which once stood there. The twenty-four Corinthian pillars of snowy marble which now support the nave of the sacred edifice belonged to the old temple. The church is said to have been built by Peter, a priest of Illyria A. D. 425, ” rich for the poor and poor for myself,” as may be read in the inscription in-side the principal entrance. The church has been several times restored.
It was in that church that St. Hyacinth, hearing the preaching of St. Dominic, who was founder of the Dominican order, gave himself as a missionary; and it was hither that St. Thomas Aquinas came when he was followed to the very door of the convent by his mother, who begged him to abandon his desires for a monastic life and return home with her.
An interesting story of this place is told by a recent writer : it suggests a host of dramatic experiences.
In the garden of the convent important excavations were made, some years ago, and remains of the wall of Servius Tullius, built of gigantic blocks of peperino, and of an ancient Roman house, were found there. The rooms were paved with mosaics, and on the walls were painted figures, representing a sacrifice being offered before a statue of a god in a shrine. The walls of the house seemed to have been strengthened and the place used as a prison, judging by the rude scratching on the stones by those who were incarcerated there, one inmate inscribing curses on his captors, and an-other, more reverently inclined, imploring the aid of the gods to enable him to regain his freedom.
To the right of the S. Sabina are the celebrated Hieronymite church and monastery of St. Alessio.
The monastery is visible to the right of the church.
The story is that Alexis, to whom the church is dedicated, was forced by his parents, when a young man, into marriage, notwithstanding the fact that he had taken the vow of celibacy. Stung by remorse, he fled from his home, but returned and lived unrecognized for seventeen years as a poor beggar, sleeping every night under the steps that led to his father’s house. His autobiography made clear his self-denial, and the Pope and Senators gave him a glorious burial. The wooden stairs under which Alexis lived are still shown.
There are few places in the world from which we could see in one field of view so many of the earlier churches of the Christian religion. Perhaps because of the pagan opposition, the earliest Roman churches were those built over the tombs of martyrs and so were founded outside of the city. Churches in the city were pagan temples converted to the use of the Christians. After the law of Honorius in 408, which deprived the ancient religion of all its temporal possessions, the Christian places of worship increased rapidly. The most famous remains recalling the Christians, which date back to the first years of the great change from Pagan to Christian Rome, from Rome as the political head of the world to Rome as the spiritual head, are the Catacombs, the earliest burial places of the Christians.
These subterranean passages, excavated from twenty-five to seventy-five feet below the surface of the earth, and which if placed in a continuous line would extend about five hundred and fifty miles, are found ranged around the city at a distance therefrom of from one to three miles. A large proportion of them lie in the plain that stretches ‘away be-fore us to the Alban and Sabine Hills.
From our present position we are able to point out few if any remains of any character that have come down to us from the early Empire, the Republic or the time of the Kings. During the Republic, among other temples in this section was one to Diana on the Aventine, one to Ceres at its base near the Tiber, another to Mercury on the side toward the northeast. During the Empire the temples increased considerably in number, and one of the most magnificent structures of that period was that of the Baths of Caracalla on the farther side of the Aventine. We are to see the enormous ruins of those Baths later.
We will now leave our position on the Janiculum Hill where we have been for some time, and take our stand in the dome of St. Peter’s on the Vatican Hill. This means we are to move to what has been the great center of Rome’s religious power ever since the return of the Pope from France in 1377. We are not, how-ever, to study that place as a church center at first, but rather to utilize St. Peter’s great dome as a point of view from which to see the whole northern part of Rome. We should look at the general map again to get our next position more clearly in mind. We find St. Peter’s (Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano) in the upper left-hand portion of the map to the west of the Tiber. The heavy black lines give the outline of the main body of the church, and the dotted lines, ex-tending to the right, enclosing in semicircular form the Piazza di San Pietro, show the position of the grand colonnade. Note carefully the two red lines which start from the black plan of the church and extend toward the right or east to the map margins with the number 4 at the end of each. We are to stand then at the point from which these lines start and look out over all that part of the city which the lines include. We ought to see the great colonnade of St. Peter’s, the Castle of St. Angelo, the Tiber, and practically the whole northern part of the city.