Rome – The great Pontifical Palace, the Vatican

Here then is the Vatican, the Palace of the Popes. Off to our right, we know, is the great, broad city of Rome, with its mass of buildings and ruins collected there during all the long centuries. Farther than we can see on our left are the Tuscan Hills, which we have already seen from the Cosmedin church (Position I), and winding down before us in the distance is the old Tiber; but here, at our feet, in the midst of these most venerable surroundings, established upon the ruins of an empire, is this remarkable palace in perfect repair. First, it is the greatest palace in the world in its material proportions. The enormous ex-tent of its mass of building may be better estimated, perhaps, by noticing those specks of human forms in the square beyond the palace to the right. It is only in some such way that we can hope to appreciate the statement that the palace is eleven hundred and fifty-one feet long, seven hundred and sixty-seven feet wide, that it contains eight grand staircases, two hundred smaller ones, and twenty courts which occupy about half of the entire area.

But far more than material greatness distinguishes this place. ” There is no palace in the world which approaches the Vatican in interest, whether we regard its prominent position in the history of the church, or the influence exercised by its collections on the learning and taste of Christendom for nearly three hundred years.” Speaking alone of the manuscripts and books carefully preserved beneath those tiled roofs, another writer says: ” No other library has the history, or the value of the famous collection of the Vatican. To no other spot do the longings of classical and historical scholars, of librarians and photographers go out as to that secluded and long-forbidden reading-room in the east arm of the Palace of the Popes.”

Before we proceed to familiarize ourselves with the chief departments in this storehouse of treasure, let us go back and think briefly of its great past. We might cast only a glance or so at these sturdy buildings, bathed in the sun, and turn away with the thought that it was not worth our while to spend any more time upon them. But that would be a reflection on ourselves, not on the historic palace.

We are reminded here of what was so well said by Miss Anna Brackett in regard to great art works, in her book, The Technique of Rest.

” It is never to be forgotten that it is the rest of the world and not you that holds the great share of the world’s wealth, and that you must allow yourself to be acted upon by the world if you would become a sharer in the gain of all the ages to your infinite advantage. Many lose all the possible benefits to be won by travel because they have not the necessary passivity. You should go to the picture galleries and museums of sculpture to be acted upon, and not to express or try to form your own perfectly futile opinion. It makes no difference to you or to the world what you may think of any great work of art. This is not the question ; the point is how it affects you. The picture is the judge of your capacity, not you of its excellence. The world has, long ago, perhaps, passed upon it, and now it is for the work to estimate you. If, without knowing that a certain picture is from the hand of a great master, you find yourself wonderfully attracted by it, and drawn to it over and over again, you may be glad that its verdict upon you is favorable.”

So, then, if it is our wish to become a sharer in the gain of all the ages to our infinite advantage, we must try with a wise passivity and with an inquiring mind to open ourselves to the wondrous things such a place as the one before us has seen and known. As we now stop for only a brief look over the past, we shall be reminded of the limits of our own small capacity and more and more of the infinite wealth of interest attaching to this palace.

It is probable that a residence for some of the Church Fathers was established here in the early centuries after Christ. Constantine the Great, after the defeat of Maxentius, caused a Basilica to be erected over the tomb of St. Peter, and it was the church of Constantine that stood here until the present Basilica of St. Peter’s, upon which we are standing, was begun in 15o6, under Julius II. It was in connection, too, with the church of Constantine, it is believed, that the first home for a church official was built, down where these nearer Vatican buildings stand. The first Vatican Palace was built by Pope Symmachus (498-514), and some say it was used by Charlemagne at his coronation, but a new Church residence was begun in 1150 by Eugene III. A surrounding wall was built by Innocent III, some fifty years later. In 1278, the building was enlarged by Nicholas III. For nearly one thousand years after Emperor Constantine presented the Lateran Palace on the Caelian Hill to St. Sylvester, the bishop of Rome, early in the 4th century, the Popes had resided there. On the return of Gregory XI from Avignon in 1377, he chose this place as his residence, and here the Papal residence has been ever since. From that time until to-day, then, this has been the center of the great Roman Catholic Church, which meant, until the Reformation, the center of the Christian religion. All the offices of the Papal government and the residences of many Cardinals have been located here. One Pope after another has tried to outdo his predecessor in making this palace the largest and most beautiful in the world and in every way worthy of its position at the head of the Christian Church. In accomplishing so great a purpose, the political power, the learning, and the artistic genius of the race have been laid under tribute.

When the Popes came back from Avignon in 1377, their power in temporal matters, we remember, had been greatly lessened. Under Innocent III (1198–1216) they had possessed the greatest political as well as spiritual power in all Europe. From that time down to 1377 the extent of their authority as temporal rulers began to wane, and it continued to decrease until 1870, when the State and Church became entirely separated. Victor Emmanuel centered all the political control of Italy in himself as King while the Pope retained his absolute authority in religious matters. It is very difficult for us to conceive of the power over the many activities of man which even then centered in this small plot of land. Kings and earthly potentates still continued to bow to the power of the Church, as thousands of the most costly gifts treasured within those walls declare.

In this Palace of the Vatican we are impressed with the fact that art has done much to add glory to the Christian faith. Art, which had grown through many vicissitudes to a marvelous perfection in Greece and had made its way to Italy in the time of the Republic and the Empire, which languished in the times of corruption that followed, which was stirred into life again in Florence during the 16th century, in the “Great Awakening “- art was seized upon by this great religious power, was deflected to this palace, and beneath those roofs and amid these surroundings it attained its most sublime achievements. Michelangelo, Raphael, Bramante, ” everlasting beacons in the path of art,” all worked here to exalt Christianity. Michelangelo set himself to show in his great paintings how salvation came into the world, how it was proclaimed, and then as the final scene, the Last Judgment. Raphael devoted his surpassing genius to the struggles and successes of the early Church. Bramante applied himself to the plans for St. Peter’s, the most magnificent building in all the world, as a monument to the faith of the Nazarene. And not alone art but learning performed its part in the same cause. Beginning with Nicholas V, 1447, the choicest products of the world’s scholarship were from time to time brought to this center of religious power, until as we have said, no library in the world is its equal in value or renown.

In the first coming of the Christian faith, governments, students of art and learning, all ignored it, then ridiculed it, and finally persecuted it; but in the strange irony of history, as the centuries went on, here in this Vatican were found the powers of government, the noblest art, and the evidences of the greatest learning of all the world. Throughout the future whoever would trace the history of these great activities of man must pass this way.

Surely we shall want to get in mind the main compartments in these historic buildings before we descend from our lofty position. Indeed, this is the only place from which it is possible to get a clear conception of the general plan of the Vatican buildings. Being able to stand here first, we shall have a wonderful advantage over the average tourist who remembers the Vatican only as a confused jumble of rooms, corridors and galleries, never having seen different rooms in their relations to the building as a whole, and never having a true conception of the points of the compass in all his aimless wanderings. When he is about to leave the palace, he admits that he is ” completely turned about ” in all his ideas of the place, and, in fact, he would find it impossible to give friends at home any accurate description of the vast structure or the relation of its various parts. This confused and disappointing impression is partly occasioned by the fact that visitors are only admitted to a portion of the palace, and their knowledge there-fore must be partial and superficial. It is otherwise, however, when at the very outset you can look down upon it all as we are doing and fix in your minds the general scheme of the entire structure. You can see that the palace, as a whole, extends due north and south, though we are looking somewhat east of north. It is built, as you observe, about two great courtyards, with a smaller one intervening into which, on account of the height of the south transverse building, we cannot look. The large courtyard nearest us is called the Court of the Belvedere, and is adorned with shrubs and flowers ; the large courtyard at the further end of the palace is called the Garden of the Pigna, and contains some interesting relics to which we shall refer later. Beginning at the building nearest us down on the right (it is part of St. Peter’s great dome which juts out at our feet), our eyes immediately rest upon that peaked, tiled roof, set as it were upon another roof beneath. That is the roof of the Sistine Chapel, beneath which we shall presently stand and contemplate some of the greatest paintings in the world, masterpieces of Michelangelo. That chapel is considerably older than the present Church of St. Peter’s, having been built in 1473, by Sixtus IV, hence its name.

The nearest corner of the main palace, whose roof is slightly raised above that of the long building attached to it, contains the Picture Galleries. But be-fore designating other portions of the palace we might as well stop at this point to fix clearly in mind the plan of the palace in respect to its different stories. So far as the interest of the public is concerned, we need consider only two stories in certain parts of the Vatican before us, and in others only one story. This long left-hand or western portion appears to have four stories in the end nearest us, and three stories farther away. If we look to the extreme end of this western portion, however, we find only two stories. These two stories, extending clear across the building toward us, are of interest to the public. The top floor and the lowest floor at the end nearest us are closed to visitors. In the eastern portion of the palace to the right of the nearest courtyard, we find four stories again, one extending only part way. Looking now to the north end of this eastern portion of the palace which is built on higher ground along the Garden of the Pigna, we find only one story. And, surprising as it may seem at first, if this story is traced back toward us, we see that its continuation is the third story facing the nearest courtyard. The other floors are all closed to the public.

Coming back now to this corner nearest us we can say that the Galleries of Pictures are on the second and third floors. Among the many great paintings found in these rooms is Raphael’s Transfiguration. The roof of the building with the peak facing us, which joins on to the Gallery of Paintings at its longer or right-hand extremity, their eaves just touching, covers on its second floor from the top the Stanze of Raphael, which consists of four magnificent salons, containing the immortal frescoes of the great master, a magnificent work which was undertaken by Raphael when he was only twenty-five years of age. To the right of the Stanze of Raphael and the Sistine Chapel, outside the limits of our vision, is a group of irregular buildings containing the Sala Regia, which was built as an entrance hall to the Sistine Chapel and used, at one time, as a reception hall for foreign ambassadors; the Sala Ducale ; the Pauline Chapel ; the Loggia of Raphael ; the Papal residence, including the Pope’s apartments and those of the seven cardinals who make up his official cabinet. The windows of the latter building we shall see when we take our next position in front of St. Peter’s.

Coming back again to this southwest corner nearest us it may interest you to learn that that small three-story wing jutting out to the left, is one of the en-trances into the Vatican Gardens, some of the trees of which we see below us. That long, left-hand portion of the palace contains on the lower one of its two main floors, which we have pointed out, the Biblioteca, or Gallery of the Library, filled with many pieces of sculpture and closed cabinets stored with manuscripts. That is the longest room in the world, extending nearly the entire length of the palace, a distance of over a thousand feet. When we go down into the palace we shall stand in the corridor at the farther end and look back in this direction. The floor above the gallery of the library is divided into three sections ; the section nearest us extending the length of the first great court is the Gallery of Maps, the second section, bordering on the middle court, is the Gallery of the Arazzi, sometimes called Raphael’s Bible, for the room contains tapestries executed from cartoons by Raphael representing New Testament scenes. The third section is the Gallery of the Candelabra, filled mostly with fragments of sculpture.

The transverse building at the extreme end of the farther courtyard, or the Garden of Pigna, which forms the northern end of the palace, contains many beautiful halls. On the lower floor is the Egyptian Museum; the charming hall of the Greek Cross; the Rotunda, which is paved with mosaics from the Baths at Otricoli, and in the center of its circular floor is a grand porphyry vase found in front of the Baths of Titus and presented to Pope Julius III. Besides these, it contains a bust of Jupiter, which is the finest pre-served from the ruins of antiquity. Next to the Rotunda is the noble Hall of Muses, so called because of the statues of the Muses preserved there. From the Rotunda a corridor leads into the Hall of the Animals, containing statues of marble and alabaster, of which Two Greyhounds Playing is famous. To the north of this hall is a door opening into the Gallery of Statues, once a summer-house of the Popes. On our way through the palace we shall see this most interesting gallery as well as the Court of the Belvedere, which, as our map shows, is in the eastern part of that group of buildings. In the center of the Court of the Belvedere is a fountain, and around it are fa, mous statues, the most illustrious of which are the Apollo Belvedere, found nearly four hundred years ago, near Crota Ferrata, and from which the court is named ; the noted Mercury, considered one of the most beautiful statues in the world; and the renowned Laocoön. The last of these we will see later on. The upper floor of that transverse section forming the extreme northern end of the palace is occupied by the Etruscan Museum and the Hall of the Biga. The great semicircular niche seen in that group of buildings is known as the Semicircle of the Pigna, from a gigantic statue of a huge fir cone which it contains, and from which also the courtyard is named. That fir cone, eleven feet high, to which Dante likened Nimrod’s head seen by him through the mist in his vision of hell, formerly adorned the summit of Hadrian’s tomb, now the Castle of St. Angelo. On either side of this Pigna are two magnificent peacocks, which stood on either side of the entrance to Hadrian’s tomb. In the center of the Garden of the Pigna is the pedestal of the column of Antoninus Pius, which was found nearly two hundred years ago on Mount Citorio, not far from the Pantheon. This is adorned with reliefs showing the apotheosis of the Emperor and his wife Faustina. In that place also stands a pillar surmounted by a bronze statue of St. Peter, which was placed there in 1886 to commemorate the Council of 1870.

Now we will give our attention to the long eastern building of the palace, whose northern portion, forming the right-hand boundary of the Pigna Garden, is the Chiaramonti Museum. This museum is divided into thirty sections containing more than three hundred marble sculptures. The southern portion of that floor of the palace, which borders on the garden which is nearest us, that is, on the east, is the Galleria Lapidaria, or Gallery of Inscriptions, where there are more than five thousand pagan and early Christian inscriptions. The Greek and Latin pagan inscriptions are ranged along this western side of the gallery, while the inscriptions of the early Christians are placed on the eastern side. The two collections of inscriptions present a striking contrast to each other. On the Christian side, instead of vain prayers to the gods and invocations to the earth to rest lightly on the dead, we find inspiring Christian symbols, such as the vine, the dove with the olive branch, the anchor of hope, the palm and the ship, touching expressions of pure faith, and allusions to everlasting rest in eternal life.

There are only two sections of the palace left for us to consider, the two middle transverse buildings in-closing the center courtyard. The more distant of these buildings is the Braccio Nuovo, which you observe is roofed with tunnel vaulting, being thus lighted from above. It is a fine hall two hundred and fifty feet long, and filled with gems of sculpture. The nearer building contains on its upper floor the Library of the Vatican. We shall soon enjoy a visit to this splendid hall. We are to stand in the western end of the Library, and look toward the east. The famous reading room is located beneath the roof seen on the east side of the center court, and between the Braccio Nuovo and the Library. There for many years Father Ehrle has presided over the readers with kindly interest and unfailing courtesy. The Library is closed on Sundays and Thursdays and all feast days, and from the end of June to the middle of October. The hours are from 9 to 1 in the fall and winter, and 8 to 12 in the spring. In that room during these hours you can see representatives of all the nations of Europe, men of all professions, priests, famous editors and professors. During the recess of the German universities the place is crowded.

Now leaving the Pontifical Palace, notice that to the left of the mass of buildings the larger gardens of the Vatican begin; the dark foliage of some of its lofty trees can be seen.

The Pope, in order to reach these gardens, walks along the Galleria Lapidaria, crosses the Braccio Nuovo, turns into the Corridor of the Library, and passes out into the gardens by a door at the northwest corner of the courtyard of the Pigna.

By and by we shall enter the Vatican Gardens and look along the shady roads and paths, and then we shall understand, as we cannot now, how it is that in the hot, stifling days of the long Italian summer the Pope finds rest and vigor in this enchanting spot.

Before we leave our position above this stupendous dome, which is a vantage-ground of wide and far distant vision, you, no doubt, have a question you would like to ask about the rows of buildings beyond the pal-ace, back of which is the broad, level field through which flows the Tiber.

In order to answer this question clearly, we will begin off to the right. The low row of cottages seen over the southeastern corner of the Vatican are occupied by laborers, a small army of whom are employed about the palace. Those long rows of buildings, some of which are near the open field, and others still farther to the right, constructed with mathematical regularity, and perforated with countless windows, the whole being altogether devoid of ornamentation, are barracks for the Italian soldiers and police. I can count seven of these huge structures. The general map of Rome gives the plan of this military community. The open field is used as a parade and drill ground, known as the Champ de Mars.

The rows of fine, modern houses between the barracks and the palace, with parapeted roofs, were for a considerable time almost entirely uninhabited, their construction being the result of the building craze which swept over Rome some twenty years ago. New thoroughfares were opened up all over the city, and wherever these went, there followed an unprecedented boom in real estate. Old streets were widened and straightened, and many an ancient structure was leveled to the ground. There was about the whole undertaking a recklessness, prodigality and stupidity such as no city in the world has ever witnessed. So high did the delirium run, that buying and building were without limit. There seemed to be a universal determination to make modern Rome outrival the city of the Cæsars. New sections of the city sprang up in mushroom growth, even though there was no one who would live in the buildings. With a population of half a million inhabitants in the city, they confidently expected a million and built for them, but they never came.

These buildings were not homes for laborers, modest flats for people having small means, but, as you can see,-and these houses before us are but a fair sample of the rest-they were fine structures, lofty and spacious. The money to build these houses had been borrowed at high rates of interest from Italian bankers who had procured the funds from French banking houses. Afterward, France, learning of Italy’s alliance with Germany, withdrew her loans, amounting to over eight hundred millions of francs, and the disaster which followed nearly ruined the Roman people. If the Government had not compelled the Italian banks to be lenient with the people, famine and revolution would have shaken the kingdom into ruins. Forty thousand men were thrown out of employment, rows of empty and half-finished houses lined the grass-grown streets and millions of dollars were lost.

Is this building craze in the very atmosphere here, so that whoever possesses the city must build and build, without regard to size or utility? Is this the spirit – proving either a blessing or a curse – which for all the ages has held sway here in Rome, to which the existence of the Colosseum and the Quirinal, and those deserted buildings yonder, and even St. Peter’s and this vast Vatican, may be attributed?

Turning to the general map of Rome, we find that our next position is to be on a house-roof in front of St. Peter’s colonnade. From that point we are to look back west to the great church and the dome beneath us. On the map entitled ” St. Peter’s and the Vatican,” our position is given in the lower margin from which point two red lines extend toward the western argin of the map, showing the limits of our next field of vision.