Bear in mind that the Vatican is more than simply the residence of the Pope, the supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church ; it is the administrative center of the whole Roman Catholic Church.
Besides the Pope a number of cardinals live here all the time, and, in a way, they constitute the Pope’s cabinet.
Chief among them is Cardinal Merry del Val, the present Secretary of State ; then comes the Prefect of the Holy Apostolic Palaces, who controls everything connected with the Vatican and adjoining buildings; the Maggiordomo, who is the manager of the museums and galleries ; the Maestro di Camera, who is the master of ceremonies and has the over-sight of all audiences ; the Dispenser or Papal Commissioner of all church charities; the Publishing Secretary, who has charge of the issuing of all books printed at the Vatican; a chief Steward and the Chief of the Vatican police. All of these dignitaries are cardinals. Besides these, the pope has four secretaries, and his private preacher, and his confessor, the last two being always Capuchin monks, according to a very ancient custom.
In the days of Pope Pius IX, two thousand three hundred and forty-eight persons lived in the Vatican.
” Did you go to see the Pope when you were in Rome?” asked an American of a companion he happened to meet on the steamer.
” No, he didn’t call on me,” was the reply.
And while it is true that the Pope is not in the habit of making calls, yet it is also a well-known fact in Rome that strangers who come well introduced, even Protestants, find it easier to gain an audience than do the Italians themselves ; and this is especially true of those who desire to hear the Pope say mass.
” Where are you going, brother, looking so fine with your black dress and sword? ” asked one Italian of another.
” To the Sistine Chapel to hear the Pope say the Miserere.”
” The Swiss guard will turn you out ! ”
” No danger; I turned heretic yesterday.”
When George Eliot was in Rome she had a special audience with the Pope, and when, afterwards, she was asked if she kneeled before him, she replied, ” I most certainly did.”
” Why!” exclaimed a by-stander, I did not know that you were a Roman Catholic.”
” I am not,” replied the great writer, ” but I have never known any one injured by an old man’s blessing.”
The pillars of the colonnade are seen to fine advantage from this point. Between the obelisk and the fountain nearer to us is a round slab of stone which indicates the center of the semi-circular colonnade, and from this point each series appears as one column. There is a similar stone between the obelisk and the farther fountain, standing upon which, one gets the same result.
Did you ever see a nobler shaft of stone than that stately obelisk, the only one in Rome that has never been overthrown? Pliny tells us that, in order to bring it from Egypt, Caligula sent to sea the greatest ship that ever existed in ancient times. When the obelisk reached Rome, he set it up in the Circus of Caligula at the base of the Vatican Hill. The word Vatican comes from vates, a soothsayer, or vaticinium, divination, for it was once the seat of divination under the care of the Etruscans. The obelisk, as it now stands, was erected by Sixtus V in 1586, and, therefore, is not far from its original location.
Here, on the Vatican Hill, also was the scene of the first martyrdoms, and out here the Christians stole by night to dig graves for their brethren who had sacrificed their lives for their faith. But now, overshadowing all this hallowed ground, is the majestic obelisk, once a symbol of the very heathenism that destroyed the martyrs, now standing at the portals of this world-famed church and palace, as a silent and eternal tribute to the fact that Christianity conquered paganism.
When Sixtus V in 1586 moved the obelisk to its present position, he placed the work in the care of Domenico Fontana. As the stone weighed about a million Roman pounds, he employed nine hundred workmen and thirty-five cranes. Two horses and ten men labored at each crane. The story is told that Sixtus commanded silence during the execution of the work under pain of death. When one of the ropes stretched and there was a probability of the obelisk resting in the wrong place, a workman exclaimed, ” Acqua aile funi,” i.e., water on the ropes. This being done, the obelisk was placed correctly. The man, named Bresca, although violating the command, was honored by the Pope, and the people of his native village, S. Remo, were granted the privilege of sending the palms to Rome for Palm Sunday.
On the summit of the obelisk is the gilded bronze cross, which is prevented from swaying in the high winds by four chains fastened to the corners of the shaft and which we can plainly see, in spite of the great height, the distance to the top of the cross being one hundred and thirty-two feet.
For some time past, while we have been looking at that obelisk and catching occasional glimpses of the darkening sky beyond, I have fancied it was raining, when it was only the play of those splendid fountains. These fountains are forty-five feet in height, and when they are in full play, as we see them now, they add materially to the beauty of their surroundings.
The last time I stood in this Piazza of St. Peter’s the day was far spent, I remember, and the gentle sweetness of a Roman evening was stealing over the city, giving a poetic loveliness to the obelisk and colonnades. To me the mystic murmur of the great fountains blended with the music of the long past, which never seemed altogether to’ die away beneath the soft and sacred shadows flung by palace and by dome.
The way into the Vatican is by a bronze door beneath the colonnade, directly back of this nearest fountain. Entering that door, at which are always stationed some of the Swiss guards wearing their picturesque costume, we walk along a great corridor toward the left and ascend a broad flight of marble steps which lead to the Sala Regia, a sumptuous apartment which we referred to when we were looking at the Vatican from the Dome of St. Peter’s. Passing through this hall we turn to the left again and enter the Sistine Chapel, one of the choicest and certainly the most noted building in all the Vatican group. The red lines connected with the number 14 on the map give our position.