Tuscan Strongholds – The Spanish Praesidia, Orbetello

IN the present chapter I have to deal with a subject that is very difficult indeed to write about. I have to speak of history of the most complex order, a mere tissue of minute and most evasive detail; of natural marvels such as nature offers no otherwhither; of an industry that exists but here, and not elsewhere, in the Italian Peninsula; of a people that by a fortuitous admixture of blood has no parallel to it in the Universe; of a Saint of the Church who, born but six weeks before Voltaire, did yet revive in his person all the marvels of legendary Christianity; of a Religious Order that, founded in the eighteenth century, resembles no other, and yet contains within itself all the essential elements of every Religious Order that had gone before it, and of every Religious Congregation that has come after it. In short, I have to speak of the Spanish Praesidia, what that State was, what its territories have become, what still may be seen there of its past glory and importance, what is doing there now in the days of its aggregation to Modern Italy. And all this in a chapter which must be brief, not in a volume which should be solid and well-reasoned and very detailed, as befits the serious treatment due to even the tiniest of the Italian States.

Orbetello, the capital of this singular State, was very well known to the hungry traveller on the road to Rome. At Orbetello Station, the Rome express would wait twenty minutes, and there the traveller could have a hasty and not ill-cooked meal. But the restaurant car has come in since: there is no reason now for the Orbetello refreshment-room, and it has been closed and relegated in a reduced form to Grosseto, the capital of the Province—but so recently that this news may still be news to some few travellers.

The natural situation of Orbetello is remarkable. I know of no other district in Italy that looks so singular upon the map. A glance at the map alone suffices to arouse all our curiosity, and of itself makes us desire to know something of this strange-looking corner of the earth. The station of Orbetello is situated at the base of a narrow tongue of land, two miles in length and never more than half a mile in breadth, which shoots forth into a vast salt-water lake, and on the very tip of this tongue lies, closely packed, the town of Orbetello itself. To the north and to the south of the town, and forming the boundaries of this lake, run narrowest strips of sandbank, two great arms which connect Monte Argentario, once an island, with the mainland. I must be more precise: the southern strip, called the Tombolo della Feniglia, has now a narrow canal—the canal of Ansedonia—cut in its continental base; the north-ern strip, called the Tombolo della Gianella, has never been suffered to join the mountain, and through a narrow shallow channel, navigable only by row-boats, all the fish of the sea rush into the inland lake to become the easy prey of the fisher-man. Look again at the map and note that the Feniglia is broader than the Gianella. This is caused by the boisterous libeccio or south-west wind, which beats here in its full force and is for-ever casting up the sand of the sea, and likewise whirling clouds of the sand of the earth into the shallow bottom of the lake. The northern strip is inhabited and cultivated; the southern strip a wilderness of sand. Another glance at the map: there is a straight line running through the middle of the lake from the town to the mountain. That is a fine road, three-quarters of a mile in length, called the diga, made by the Grand Duke Leopold II. in 1842, and giving comfortable access from the mainland to the ocean mountain. Before that date the people of Orbetello used to go over to Monte Argentario by boat, seldom enough by the road on the Feniglia, for that was far from the town.’ The great lake is of a superficies of about 10 square miles; its average depth not more than 3 feet, and it is very full of fish. There are no restrictions upon fishing in the southern half; fishing in the northern half is reserved to the Municipality, which adds quite 50,000 livres a year to the town revenues from this source. Much of the fishing is done at night-time, and by the primitive process of spearing. It is a pretty sight at night to see some threescore boats, each with a flaming brazier in the bows to attract the gullible fish, and it is exciting to watch the neat spearing of the expert fishermen. The lake abounds in capitoni, a fat tasty eel, which can be bought cheaply enough until Christmas is coming on; then the capitoni can scarce be had for love or money, for no self-respecting Roman or Neapolitan passes the vigil of Christmas eve without eating of this fish, and the capitoni of the lake of Orbetello all go—sometimes’ in the tanks of sailing ships—to the markets of Rome and Naples. The two sides of the lake communicate with one another by little tunnels under the causeway. A good high-road runs round Monte Argentario as far as Porto Santo Stefano on the northern side, and as far as Port’Ercole on the southern. There is no road on the seaward side of the mountain, and only mountain paths over the mountain itself. Seawards, on the summit, is a modern fort, of which nothing is visible save the top of a slender conning-tower, from which the gunnery officer can deal death and destruction by mathematical rule.

We are in the dreaded malarial Maremma, but the climate of Orbetello is sweet and healthy. The citizens of Grosseto flock here, and to Santo Stefano, and Port’Ercole, in the summer months, for their own city has become dangerous. It is easy to understand the salubrity of Santo Stefano and Port’Ercole, for they are far away out at sea; but Orbetello lies low in the midst of a shallow lake, and should be sufficiently malarial. Be that as it may, Orbetello is said to be healthier than either, and I certainly noticed a quality of salubrious softness in the air which I have never felt in any other part of Tuscany. The lake is growing shallower, and that will assuredly be-come a danger to the health of the town. The citizens are well aware that it should be deepened, but alas! we are in Italy, worried by a financial problem, and where is the money to come from? I would myself dredge the lake to a depth of seven feet all over, if I might, in return, have the fishing rights for seven years to come.

There is 45000 a year to be made out of the Orbetello fisheries, well managed. The Municipality make £2000 a year out of half the lake, with but primitive and slender resources at their disposal. And if only the lake were dredged to take line-of-battle ships, and the Monte were properly fortified, what a safe shelter, what a dread inexpugnable position it would become!

Everything about this singular place is singular and unique. One of its many unique features is that it contains the only Manganese Iron Ore Mine in Italy. The mine is situated about half a mile to the south of the diga, on the road to Port’Ercole. It is active, rich and productive, yields at least 30,000 tons in the year, employs 250 men, and works night and day. What is singular, too, is that it is worked by Englishmen, the Messrs. Rae of Leghorn and London: there seems to be no corner of Italy which does not bear traces of English influence and English capital, but on Monte Argentario, so removed and remote does it seem from the busy world, English influence comes as something of a surprise. There are nine kilometres of tunnels in the mountain-side, and galleries many storeys high: the bowels of the earth are here all ready prepared for the comfortable inspection of the geologist, but the mine has been working for twenty-five years, and I learned with astonishment that not a single man of science had been near the place to study the secrets of the earth which have here so conveniently been laid bare for him. As the mine faces the shallow lake, loading there would be impossible even if there were a proper outlet to the sea, and the ore is taken round by a light railway to the Scalo di Santa Liberata in the Bay of Santo Stefano. Here it is transported by lighters to British ships, which lie out in the roadstead, safe behind the shelter of the lofty Monte Argentario.

At Santa Liberata it is well to ask for the loan of a boat and go out into the sea, and see beneath the sea the huge remnants of what I take to have been a vast Roman piscina, once rising high above the water’s edge. There are great walls 01 masonry ten feet thick, marking out in well-defined spaces large enclosures or tanks. On the rocky coast are the elaborate ruins of arches —possibly the cellarage of a Roman villa?—and several manifest aqueducts; higher up the hill is a Roman reservoir. Signor Adolfo del Rosso, late Syndic of Orbetello, has endeavoured to reconstruct the place and explain its object. He considers that these tanks built into the sea were filled with fresh water from the mountain, and used for catching fish. The Muggine, he says, cannot be caught for stocking with a net; if its scales are touched it soon dies. The Emperors insisted upon having Muggine at all times, and therefore stocks had somehow to be found and kept. Signor del Rosso opines that it was done on this wise: the Muggine is a great glutton of fresh water; a strong jet of such water was shot from the tank through a hole below the sea-level; it attracted the Muggine, who immediately followed up the fresh water track into the tanks, and could not get out again. Signor del Rosso may be quite right; I know nothing whatsoever about the matter; I do but call attention to a spot that may be well worth the careful study of experts, for I doubt if there be similar ruins, equally well-preserved and complete, in any other part of Italy.

The history of Orbetello and Monte Argentario is as curious, as fantastic, as surprising as any in the dazzling mosaic of historic States which went to make up the many-tinted whole of the Italian Peninsula. When the Republic of Siena came to an end in the middle of the sixteenth century it had a seaboard. This embraced the whole of the modern Province of Grosseto: Orbetello was one of its forts, and Telamone, Santo Stefano, and Port’Ercole were among its ports. Charles V. interfered in the affairs of the Republic, for it was a fief of the Holy Roman Empire. For disloyalty (and incompetence) he treated it as a lapsed fief, and gave it to his son Philip. In 1557, the astute Cosimo, Grand Duke of Tuscany, succeeded in obtaining from Philip, now King of Spain, the investiture of the Sienese State as a fief. But Philip II., who had a keen eye for the natural advantages of a place that lent itself to fortification, reserved to himself the littoral of the old Republic, embracing Orbetello, Telamone, Monte Argentario with Porto Santo Stefano and Port’Ercole, and the little island of Giannutri. From 1557 to 1713 this important corner of Italian soil remained a purely Spanish State, governed by a Spanish Governor and garrisoned by Spanish soldiery. Philip gave to it the name of the States of the Praesidia, or Reali Stati dei Presidii as it was called in Italian. And since I have said that its history is unique, look what differentiated it from every other State in the Peninsula. In Italy there were but two absolute sovereignties, the States of the Church and the Republic of Venice: all the other States were fiefs holding either from the Pope, the Emperor, or the King of Spain. Philip II. himself held Naples and Sicily from the Pope; the Re-publics of Genoa and Lucca, the Duke of Savoy and the Duke of Modena held from the Emperor; the Grand Duke of Tuscany held Florence from the Emperor, Siena from the King of Spain, and Radicofani from the Pope. And so on through the whole list. But the State of the Spanish Praesidia was neither absolute sovereignty nor fief: it was a possession of the House of the Spanish Hapsburgs, and there was no other corner of Italian soil which had a precisely similar status. In 1738, when by the Treaty of Vienna Charles, the son of Philip V. of Spain, was recognised as King of the Two Sicilies, the Praesidia became an appanage of the Neapolitan King, but while he continued to hold his Kingdom from the Pope, the Praesidia remained a possession of his House. From 1713 to 1738 the State had passed by Treaty to the Emperor, and was mainly garrisoned by Neapolitan and German soldiers. In 1801 it was added to the new Kingdom of Etruria, and not until 1814 was it absorbed by the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. I must not forget to mention that in 1602 the Spanish King, Philip III., obtained Porto Lon-gone in the Island of Elba on the same terms, and it became part of the Stati dei Presidii, a fine shelter for the Spanish Fleet, and an important base for operations in defence of the Spanish mainland possessions.

Such, briefly outlined, are the dry bones of the history of this noteworthy State, but the dry bones become clothed with vividest realities ere you have been twenty-four hours in Orbetello. For on all sides of you Spanish memories and Spanish influences spring into life. Over the outer gate of the town stands the ecu complet of Spain, and an inscription of 1692 bearing the name of Charles II., King of Spain, King of the Two Sicilies, King of all the Indies; over the inner gate are the arms of the same monarch and another inscription (1697); the Spanish arms are on a solid Spanish powder-magazine just within the walls; the Spanish arms are over the Municipal building; the former residence of the Governor is surmounted by a tower and wrought-ironwork of unmistakably Spanish craftsmanship; the Church of San Francesco is full of epitaphs writ in pure Castilian; half the archives of the Municipality are in the same language; the very men and women have many of them a Spanish rather than an Italian cast. I came across Diaz de Palma, and Nunez (now writ Nugnes), and Sanchez (now spelled Sances), and Velasco which must assuredly have been Velasquez. Spain seemed to live in every corner, but that I could trace no Iberian corruptions in the very excellent Tuscan spoken by the natives. Orbetello from the land side—and who could get at it from the sea?’—was heavily fortified. The Spanish fortifications still survive in all their glory. These were the kind of fortifications that my Uncle Toby sat down before at Namur, where he got the wound in his groin; these were the kind of fortifications that he and Corporal Trim set up in miniature in the bowling green. Stevinus has described them, and so has the Count de Pagan, and the Chevalier de Ville, and the Marshal Vauban. Here are the escarps and counterscarps, the horn-works and demi-bastions, the saps, mines, blinds, palisadoes, ravelins, half-moons, and ” such trumpery,” which filled my dear Uncle Toby’s brains, and drew from my father, Mr. Walter Shandy, that hasty and unkind rebuke which lives and will forever live in the choicest pages of English pathos. The right-conditioned man is not long in Orbetello without communing with the shade of my Uncle Toby.

Orbetello has, besides its fortifications, some few other objects of interest. The Collegiate Church of the Assumption is interesting, and its simple Gothic facade, added to in baroque days, is rather striking. There are the Cyclopean walls and Spanish tower which I have mentioned. The traveller acquainted with Tuscan and Castilian, can pass some exciting hours at the Municipality in turning over the pages of the ” Libro d’Oro,” and studying the “statuti ” of the old State. Note another peculiarity of Orbetello: it is in no diocese, but draws its spiritual jurisdiction direct from the Titular Abbot of the Tre Fontane at Rome. The population of the city is about 4000.

Port’Ercole is well worth a visit. The Gothic entrance-gate is surmounted by a Spanish tower and ironwork, like the one at Orbetello. The Spanish arms which stood over the entrance have been removed to a neighbouring house. There are perhaps not more than 400 people in this once important strategical position; they are busily engaged in fishing, and have a fine sheltered harbour. High above the steeply-placed, crumb-ling old village is the Rocca, once a terror to the enemies of Spain, now a large convict prison. It is an interesting study as a bit of seventeenth-century fortification, and likewise as the model of a well-ordered modern prison. On the lofty hill at the opposite side of the bay stands Forte Filippo, yet another powerful fort, built by order of Philip II. of Spain. Between the cross-fire from these two deadly eminences, no enemy could ever hope to enter the harbour and live. Here, too, there are convicts, some eighty or ninety; here, too, the order is perfect, and the contented cheerfulness quite surprising. I succeeded in obtaining leave from Rome to visit both establishments, and had the further good fortune of the personal chaperon-age of the kindly and courteous Director. The system is not cellular in these prisons: the convicts live in wards and seem very sociable, and yet thoroughly under discipline. As we entered, the ward sprang to attention and formed a double row. There were many fine handsome lads among them, and but few faces of the criminally vicious type. We were among so-called ” political ” prisoners here, and you might note the young visionary proud of his martyrdom, and the poor dupe long repented of his subversive deeds. Many of them had been out in the May risings of 1898. How glad they seemed of this unlooked-for visit from the outside world, and how glad of a word from their kindly Director.

” How old are you, my lad? ” he would say to one of them.

” Twenty-four, sir.”

And how long have you got?”

” Twenty years, sir.”

” Try by good conduct to reduce your sentence.”

“God grant it, sir!”

“And you, my boy, how old are you?” addressing another.

” Twenty, sir.”

“And how long are you in for? ”

” Twenty-two years, sir.”

” Ah! Try, like a good lad, by good conduct, to reduce your sentence.”

” I will indeed, sir! ”

And so we walked down one melancholy line and up the other. It was a relief to be outside the grim donjon once more, and to look down into the bay where a flotilla of fishing-boats was bearing a freight of free Italian fishermen far out into the free and open sea.’

To folklorists:—I unearthed a curious custom at Port’Ercole, new to me. When a Port’Ercolese loses his mother-in-law, he lets his beard grow for forty days, but whether as a sign of mourning, or as evidence of newly acquired freedom, I could not well determine.

The traveller should likewise not fail to visit Porto Santo Stefano on the other side of the mountain. It is quite a busy place of some 4000 souls, and ever so picturesque. The deep marine blue of the fishermen’s blouses set against the tawny and russet tints of the town, gives a charming effect of colour. Of course there is a big Spanish fort here, now deserted and falling to ruins. Anchovies caught about Gorgona are cured here, and I even noticed a French sardine factory. From Porto Santo Stefano a little packet-boat runs daily to and from the Island of Giglio, and a Rubattino boat leaves weekly for Leghorn, taking two days upon the voyage and touching at all the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago. It is an enchanting and most varied sea-trip. The boat stays overnight at Portoferraio in the Island of Elba, and gives time for an evening drive to Napoleon’s country villa of San Martino.

Telamone, at the extreme northern end of the Stati dei Presidii, is scarcely worth a visit. It is crumbling away, and the malaria here is very deadly. There are no longer any fisherfolk: the men work as charcoal-burners in the Maremma, and the charcoal is sent out in barges from Telamone to the sailing-ships lying in the bay. The vasty Spanish keep has been turned into a comfortable coastguard barrack. Of Spanish memories I could trace but one small inscription, and a chalice in the sacristy of the Parish Church on the foot of which was engraven in Castilian, ” De la Capilla del cuerpo de guardia.” But the chalice put the presence of a Spanish occupation and a Spanish garrison beyond all doubt, and conjured up the daily devotions of the troops of his Catholic Majesty. The population of Telamone has shrunk away to about two hundred.

Orbetello has been subjected to many sieges, but to one at least that is of the first order and takes rank in history. You cannot be long in the town without hearing of it, and you will rise in the estimation of the Orbetellani by knowing something about it. I therefore spare space for the briefest description. France and Spain were at war in 1646. The wily Mazarin determined upon a secret descent on the Spanish strongholds in Tuscany. A large fleet was secretly fitted out at Marseilles, and a force of 9000 men, both horse and foot, were embarked upon it. The generalissimo of the expedition was a very notable warrior: Thomas of Savoy, Prince of Carignan, ancestor in the direct line of King Humbert, and so potent was his military valour that he has transmitted physical pluck to each and all of his descendants. This French fleet arrived in the Bay of Santo Stefano on the 8th May 1646, and anchored about the middle of it. Prince Thomas immediately organised three shore parties: the central party made for the Spanish fort of Le Saline (consult the map), and the Spanish garrison of thirty fled in affright before the invaders; Telamone surrendered after trifling bombardment; Santo Stefano yielded next day. Observe the consequence: the littoral from Telamone to the northern arm of the lake was free for a leisurely disembarkment of the French forces. But Thomas, if prudent, was never leisurely, and by the 10th of May he was marching along the Aurelian Way, and invading the narrow tongue of land on the tip of which Orbetello is placed. The Governor of Orbetello, Carlo della Gatta, was likewise a warrior whom history should not forget. He was no Spaniard, but a Neapolitan, though, of course, a subject of his Catholic Majesty. And note, en passant, an instructive situation which could have occurred nowhere else save in much-divided Italy: Thomas, an Italian Prince, commanding a French army, found himself op-posed to della Gatta, an Italian soldier commanding a Spanish garrison. Della Gatta had but three hundred troops in his stronghold, but the Orbetellani loved their Spanish masters who asked for next to no taxes, and who enrolled no soldiers that were not volunteers, and men, women, and children turned out to fight for the Spaniard. The resistance was heroic. Della Gatta worked miracles and organised marvels. Nothing daunted him. He lost his son, poor man, shot down on the walls beside him, and the boy’s epitaph is still very legible in the Church of San Francesco at Orbetello.’ The French closed right up to the town; they filled the lake on the other side with flat-bottomed boats armed with murderous little mortars; they got upon the very walls in fierce hand-to-hand encounters. All was in vain: della Gatta beat them back again and again. They could not spare men and ships to blocade Port’Ercole, and through this source the Spanish commander received aid from the Viceroy of Naples. At length the Spanish fleet appeared upon the scene, and on the 18th July 1646 Prince Thomas was obliged to raise the siege, having sustained the first and only severe check which he had ever known in his warlike career. ‘Twas an heroic episode, but it needs to be told with ample and ungrudging detail.

I have made no secret in this book of my liking for Religious and Religious Orders. I recommend every traveller, for his good, to cultivate a similar partiality, and to make for the nearest Convent, however remote the spot, however inaccessible the Conventual building. In a Convent he is sure to learn the local traditions, to improve his history, and to see interesting and curious things. And in a Convent he is also sure of a cheerful welcome, kindly entertainment, and the best hospitality that the place can afford. I confess that it was rather the fact that the Mother House of the Passionist Order is situated on one of the eminences of Monte Argentario, than any interest in Spanish fortifications, which first drew my foot steps into the States of the Praesidia.

The famous Passionist Order is of so recent institution, its saintly founder lived so near our own times, that we approach it with more than usual curiosity, for we see here the possibility of accurately following the genesis and growth of a Legend, of testing relics, and of verifying miracles. Paolo Francesco Danei, known to all the world as St. Paul of the Cross, was born on the 3rd January 1694 at Ovada, in the Republic of Genoa, and died at Rome on the 18th October 1775, only the other day, as it seems, when we are talking of a fully canonised Saint. In 1720 he had, in his native place, a vision—which he is careful to tell us was not a corporal vision, ” ma in Dio “— of the future Passionist habit, and he obtained the leave of his Bishop to wear this habit. In the same year he wrote the Rule of the future institution, almost by inspiration it would seem, for he was not even a priest at the time, and had not a single follower save his younger brother Giovan Battista humanly speaking such an Order seemed a dream of the impossible. In 1721 he set out by command of his Bishop for Rome, still with-out a follower, to submit his Rule to Innocent XIII., and on the sea voyage from Genoa to Civitavecchia his ship was becalmed for some days off Monte Argentario. He came ashore, and climbing up the rugged mountain to pray in secret, he was suddenly illuminated with the conviction that he was destined by Almighty God to found here and not elsewhere the new Religious Order of his dreams. Here he and his brother Giovan Battista lived some years in a tumble-down hermit’s cell, practising every austerity of the flesh, and cultivating every virtue of the spirit. It was not until ‘1727 that they were ordained priests: it was not until the following year that Paul had collected a few followers, all of whom fell away from him, discouraged by the severity of the life. And it was not until 1737 that the present Retreat was finished, the Saint working at it with his own hands like a common mason. Paolo Danei encountered all the hostility, both of clergy and laity, which was the lot of the legendary founders of Orders. And he had all the virtues, all the sanctity, sweetness, simplicity, patience, and steadfastness of the legendary Saint. He was beatified in 1852, and canonised in 1867. The eighteenth century has produced many holy persons, but as far as I know only three other canonised Saints: St. Leonard of Port Maurice, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and—greatest ” Saint ” of them all perhaps—the obscure mendicant St. Benedict Joseph Labre, in whose canonisation the Church has exalted the most abject poverty.

” Passionist ” is but a popular designation: the full style and title of the Order is: the Congregation of the Discalced Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion of Jesus Christ. They have the essentials of all other Orders, and yet differ from all others to an extent that makes it impossible to classify them. They are neither Monks, nor Friars, nor Clerks Regular, nor a Religious Congregation. Unlike Monks, but like most Friars, they are discalced; unlike both Monks and Friars, they are not tonsured; like Monks and Friars, they say their Office in Choir, and individually may hold no property; unlike Monks and Friars, they take simple and not solemn vows. Clerks Regular and Religious Congregations say their Office in private like secular priests; the former take solemn vows and may hold no property, the latter simple vows, or no vows at all, and may own property in a restricted sense.

Unlike any other Order, besides the usual three vows, the Passionist takes a fourth: to keep alive in the heart of man the Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ. St. Paul of the Cross has not only founded a new Religious Order; he has instituted a new order of Religious.

The life of the Passionists is very austere. They rise at midnight for Matins; go barefoot; fast three days a week and all Advent and Lent; make a free use of the discipline and the cilicium; and observe long silences. Their life is divided between action and contemplation; they go forth into the world to give missions and retreats, to serve in prisons and hospitals, and return home again to prepare themselves in silence for further action. The Passionist habit is of a coarse black stuff, and consists of a tunic (not cassock) taken in at the waist by a black leathern girdle, and a black cloak worn out of doors and on public occasions. In Choir their headgear is the modern biretta; out of doors the silk hat of a secular priest. But what distinguishes their habit from all others is the Passionist badge affixed to both tunic and mantle. It consists of a large heart cut out in white celluloid on a black ground, surmounted by a white Cross, and bearing in capital letters the words JESU XPI PASSIO, below which are three nails interlaced, the central nail in pale, the two others in saltire. This badge flashes and shines forth and stands out in quite a remarkable manner, giving instant distinction to a Passionist, and compelling one to identify him a mile away. The lay brothers are dressed exactly like the Fathers, save that they do not wear the biretta, and bear the badge on the tunic only, not on the cloak. The head of a Passionist house is a Rector, not a Prior, or a Superior, or a Guardian. The house itself is called a Retreat, not a Monastery, or a Convent, or a Friary. The Passionists usually build their Retreats on hills: most Londoners are familiar with the great dome of St. Joseph’s Retreat, the Passionist House on High-gate Hill.

Simplicity was one of Paul Danei’s chief characteristics, simplicity and the Faith that moves mountains. His simplicity was shown in nothing so much as in his love of the distant, nebulous, heretical realm of Great Britain. He had never set foot outside Italy; I doubt if he had ever spoken to an Englishman I doubt if reading or study or other definable circumstance had anything to do with it—but certain it is that his mind was full of England, and the desire for her conversion was the great desire of his life. ” Ah! I’Inghilterra, l’Inghilterra! preghiamo per l’Inghilterra!”

was an expression ever on his lips. He could not kneel down to pray without England getting into his thoughts. He remembered England every day in saying Mass; he stirred up others to pray for England. But his action was limited to prayer: lasciamo fare a Dio, he used always to say when his sons spoke to him of the conversion of England.

One day, after having celebrated Mass, he was unusually bright and happy. “Oh, what have I seen this morning! ” he said to the Fathers about him ” my Religious in England.” And it proved to be no lying vision. The thought of England had almost died out of his Order at the end of the century, but his love for England was revived in one of his spiritual descendants, Father Dominic of the Mother of God (1792-1849), humblest and simplest of men, the son of poor peasants of the Patrimony, who, after unheard-of difficulties and most pathetic struggles with the rebellious English tongue, came among us in 1841, founded a Passionist Retreat at Aston Hall, and by his sanctity and moving simplicity, attracted some of the great minds among the Tractarians, receiving into the Church such men as Newman I and Dalgairns, and clothing many more with the habit, as, for instance, George Ignatius Spencer of the noble house of Spencer, a future Provincial of the English Passionists. The Congregation has now four Retreats in England, two in Ireland, one in Scot-land, and six in the United States: to the Passionists themselves, who are familiarly acquainted with the loving sayings of their simple founder regarding the English, it may be easily imagined how deeply significant and touching is this fact. The Order can, moreover, boast of the latest Servant of God raised to the Altars of the Church. This was a young student of theirs, Gabriele dell’ Addolorata, who died so recently as 1862, and has already authoritatively been pro-claimed the Venerable. Of his life there is nothing to relate save that it was hid with Christ in God. That is the note of the modern sanctity. The bulk of the Christian world is becoming like the ancient Pagan world, pleasure-loving, unbelieving, frankly sinful; the modern with a high religious aim fears many of those who bear his name as much as the early Christians feared those of the household of Domitian. He has no convenient catacombs in which to hide his saintly aims: Christ is his all-sufficient Catacomb, and hence the very spiritual quality of modern saintliness. I possess the santino of the Venerable Gabriel now in use among the Faithful. If it is a fancy picture, it is a vera effigies. A veritable Passion Flower he seems with that sweet face and drooping form, and the whole picture eloquently preaches what I have here but faintly indicated concerning the peculiar characteristics of the modern Saint. Queen Margaret of Italy has a great devotion to the Venerable Gabriel, of whom she possesses some relics.

It is a steep climb to the Retreat on Monte Argentario (1100 ft.), and it is a long hot walk from Orbetello to the base of the mountain. But one can drive to the ascent, and arrange for mules and donkeys to do the rest. On the occasion of my first ascent—a day of premature heat in early June—I noticed that St. Paul had not done for his mountain what St. Patrick did for his island: a number of comfortable, sleepy, repellent—but quite harmless—snakes dragged their slow lengths up the banks and crashed into the underwood at my coming. ‘Tis a lovely walk, and ever such an aromatic mountain: drawn forth by the heat of the benignant sun, the sweet and pungent odours of myrtle, rosemary, wild thyme, and wormwood fill the whole air and refresh the jaded senses. But I was not sorry to reach my destination, and ere knocking at the door of the Retreat, I drank deep at the cool fountain which lies over against it. So keen was my thirst, so exquisite the refreshment, that I recalled without any wonder that this must be that very miraculous fountain of which I had read in the modern Legend, sprung from the earth at the prayer of Giovan Battista, the holy founder’s holy brother.

The door was opened to me by a lay brother. He started back in delight at the sight of a stranger: ” Passi, Bassi—venga, venga! ” he cried in a sort of rapture of pleasure, leading the way down the long corridor. I was shown into a bare little reception-room, lined with hard straw-bottomed chairs, its walls covered with a few rude prints and lithographs of Passionist Generals and Servants of God. A charming old Religious presently appeared, followed by the same lay brother bearing a decanter of wine and a caraffe of the miraculous water.

“Welcome!” cried the old man, “welcome to Monte Argentario! Welcome to our modest Retreat! You will rest and eat with us, I hope?”

I am an old hand in the exploration of convents, and had gone up before the dinner-hour in the calm assurance of receiving this invitation. “You are very good, Father,” I replied, ” I will most willingly rest with you.”

” But first you must refresh yourself,” he said, with his hand upon the decanter.

” I have already refreshed myself at the spring,” said I.

That was imprudent,” he answered with concern. ” It is dangerous to drink freely of water when one has made so great a perspiration (sudata) as you have.”

” But if ’tis miraculous—” I hazarded.

His eyes twinkled with no sort of annoyance or reproof, and immediately it rushed into my mind that I had somewhere read that a man has no firm faith in his religion until he is able to laugh about it.

” Modico vino utere propter stomachum tuum ” (” Use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake “), he rejoined good-naturedly, quoting another Paul much greater than the Paul of Monte Argentario.

I did as I was bid, and then he took me into the church and showed me letters and pictures and relics of the founder; he took me into the library and let me turn over the books; he took me out into the orchard and the woods and showed me different favourite spots where Paul Danei used to pray and meditate and chastise his flesh little more than a hundred years ago. And he took me all the way up to the Novitiate, quite a mile higher up the hill, where I could look down upon the russet town of Orbetello, shot forth upon its tongue of fertile land into the middle of the lake, and the two strange fantastic strips of sandy soil that embraced and circumscribed the vast expanse of smooth still water.

” You are no Italian, sir? ” he had asked of me dubiously.

” No, reverend father; I am an Englishman.” Englishman! Inglese! That is always an additional recommendation where a Passionist is concerned. ” I am heartily glad of it!” he exclaimed with fervour and some little admiration.

I begged that I might be allowed to eat with the Community in the Refectory, and I begged that they would make no difference on my account. My first request was granted, but as to the second—well, they laid a table-cover for me while they themselves ate off the bare boards; they gave me a tumbler to drink out of while they used mugs of commonest crockery; I was served with tasty dishes of which they tasted not; and with my dessert of cherries, medlars, raw peas, and strawberries tied up with their leaves in the shape of a nosegay, I was treated to a strong red wine which did not go the round of the long tables. There is strict silence in the Refectory save for the reading aloud; and in the observance of this silence, at least, I was allowed to imitate the Community. In other Refectories where I have eaten, a novice or a father reads aloud from a pulpit, and eats his own meal in peace after the rest have done. Not so with the Passionists. The student at the end of the table begins the reading of a book, and reads until the Father Rector rings a bell, when the book is passed on to the next in order, who will be in the middle of his plate of rice, and so it comes down the long line, interrupting the reader in his meal, nay often at the very moment of a contemplated mouthful. I remarked upon this after-wards in recreation, and said that it struck me as a much severer penance than with other Orders, where the reader ate at peace and leisure after the reading was over. “Nay, nay—ma no, ma no,” came the gentle answer, “for the poor wretch (ii poveretlo) probably gets his food cold.” So difficult it is to make Italian Religious under-stand the sublimities of their own life, or how great their sacrifice, or how humiliating to us worldlings their noble example; they themselves, for all their supernatural aims, are the most natural and simple beings in the universe. And yet I have read in the newspapers that they are engaged in a “plot “! The only “plot” of theirs, and all their “machinations,” consists in a holy scheme, ancient as the Church itself, to beguile men into those paths of morality which of themselves lead to the supreme and final Good.

I was admitted to their hour’s recreation after dinner, and we sat together in the common room, I talking about the Order and plying them with questions about the local traditions, they busily making Rosaries and, in turn, questioning me eagerly about ” Inghilterra” and “gl’Inglesi,” and the progress that the Faith was making in the former Isle of Saints.

A bell announced that recreation was over and that silence had come again upon the Community until eventide. I rose to go, and bid an affectionate farewell to my gentle, kindly, generous hosts. They had given me food for the body; and, unwittingly, much food for the mind, as I descended the steep slopes of the mountain side. The Etruscans had been here; the Romans; the Goths and the Vandals; feudal lords of the Empire, too, and Abbots in commendam. The Republic of Siena had been here; the Spanish Monarchy; the House of Hapsburg; the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies; the short-lived Kingdom of Etruria; the French Empire; the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. All these had been here; all these had faded away like the baseless fabric of a vision. But the strenuous work of a simple man of God, bent above all things upon alleviating the lot of his fellows, anxious in all things to make plain the mysterious ways of God with the children of men, that remained, that flourished, that was vigorous as when it first began, that would remain, in one form or another, while yet other States, yet other Governments, crumbled into dust by the side of it. For Faith was not dead, nor Sanctity—I had just seen that with my own eyes—and, together, Faith and Sanctity would continue to engender Love which makes possible the Life that is, and Hope which makes paramount the Life to come. Faith and Sanctity, together— But a truce to meditations. I had crossed the long causeway, and was already in the town. I was a traveller in a hurry to catch the express northwards, and in haste I made ready for the long night journey. But I vowed, then and there, God willing, that it should not he long ere I returned to study History in the old States of the Praesidia, and Religion in the quiet Retreat of the Discalced Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion of the Redeemer.