This is one of Michelangelo’s earliest works, and while it lacks the bold heroic stroke and balanced pro-portions that characterize his later achievements as a sculptor, it reveals, as in a prophecy, those unrivaled powers which have won the admiration of the world of art.
As a matter of criticism, the form of the Saviour, as compared with that of the Virgin Mary, is much too small; and yet the requirements of the posture of our Lord probably account for this, as well as for the fact that the artist conceived of the body as greatly emaciated, although, if this be so, he has not brought it out very clearly in his work, except in the shoulder. and arm of the dead Christ. And then, those two tawdry bronze cherubs do not add to the dignity and sublimity of the group.
In our limited view, shutting out all else but the statuary itself, we see it to far better advantage than we should if we beheld it dwarfed and greatly over-shadowed by the massive architecture above and around it.
But criticise it as you will, it yet remains the greatest work of art in St. Peter’s, and one of the most exquisite and touching in all the world, expressing in the lifeless form the terrible suffering through which the Saviour passed, and the complete rest that followed death. It speaks, too, and that in a marvelous way, of the soul-wrenching grief of the mother – for a sadder face was never cut in stone, not lighted even by the hope of resurrection or the coming of future glory – just such a grief as many a mother has felt over the loss of her own. .
The walls of this chapel are faced with slabs of colored marble, taken from the earlier church, but the workmanship, as you can see by examining the wall to the left of the statue, is not good and the marble is sadly in need of repair. As in all the other chapels, so here, there is an altar with its bronze crucifix and candles.
In this same chapel stands a curiously wrought column, which is protected by an iron cage. It is called the Colonna Santa, the holy pillar, and it is said to be the one against which Christ used to lean when, in the temple court at Jerusalem, he taught the people. It is of Roman origin and belongs to the third century. In the middle ages it was known as the Colonna degli Spiritati, and to it were bound persons believed to be possessed with evil spirits, which were exorcised by prayers and holy water.
A witty story is told in connection with this pillar, how one of the servants of the Vatican cheated a poor fisherman, and when he was pursued to the very doors of St. Peter’s by the outraged man, whose indignation was great and who gave full vent to his anger, the servant turned and handed him over to the sacristan of the church to be bound to the pillar and cured of his supposed possession by wearisome prayers and by a copious application of holy water.
We now leave the church, and before entering the Vatican, shall stop on the south side of the spacious area where the two magnificent fountains are in action and look up to the Pope’s home. On the map our position and field of vision are given by the number 13 in a circle on the southern side of the Piazza di S. Pietro and the two lines which extend toward the northwest.