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there was a window, they curtained it with gaudy cloths; wherever there was a
statue, they bedizened it with artificial flowers; wherever there was a solemn
recess, they outraged its religious gloom with intruding light; until (arriving at the
period we write of) they succeeded so completely in changing the aspect of the
building, that it looked, within, more like a vast pagan toyshop than a Christian
church. Here and there, it is true, a pillar or an altar rose unencumbered as of old,
appearing as much at variance with the frippery that surrounded it as a text of
Scripture quoted in a sermon of the time. But as regarded the general aspect of the
basilica, the decent glories of its earlier days seemed irrevocably departed and
After what has been said of the edifice, the reader will have little difficulty in
imagining that the square in which it stood lost whatever elevation of character it
might once have possessed, with even greater rapidity than the church itself. If the
cathedral now looked like an immense toyshop, assuredly its attendant colonnades
had the appearance of the booths of an enormous fair.
The day, whose decline we have hinted at in the preceding chapter, was fast
verging towards its close, as the inhabitants of the streets on the western bank of
the Tiber prepared to join the crowds that they beheld passing by their windows in
the direction of the Basilica of St. Peter. The cause of this sudden confluence of
the popular current in once common direction was made sufficiently apparent to
all inquirers who happened to be near a church or a public building, by the
appearance in such situations of a large sheet of vellum elaborately illuminated,
raised on a high pole, and guarded from contact with the inquisitive rabble by two
armed soldiers. The announcements set forth in these strange placards were all of
the same nature and directed to the same end. In each of them the Bishop of Rome
informed his 'pious and honourable brethren', the inhabitants of the city, that, as
the next days was the anniversary of the Martyrdom of St. Luke, the vigil would
necessarily be held on that evening in the Basilica of St. Peter; and that, in
consideration of the importance of the occasion, there would be exhibited, before
the commencement of the ceremony, those precious relics connected with the
death of the saint, which had become the inestimable inheritance of the Church;
and which consisted of a branch of the olive-tree to which St. Luke was hung, a
piece of the noose-- including the knot--which had been passed round his neck,
and a picture of the Apotheosis of the Virgin painted by his own hand. After some
sentences expressive of lamentation for the sufferings of the saint, which nobody
read, and which it is unnecessary to reproduce here, the proclamation went on to
state that a sermon would be preached in the course of the vigil, and that at a later
hour the great chandelier, containing two thousand four hundred lamps, would be
lit to illuminate the church. Finally, the worthy bishop called upon all members of
his flock, in consideration of the solemnity of the day, to abstain from sensual
pleasures, in order that they might the more piously and worthily contemplate the
sacred objects submitted to their view, and digest the spiritual nourishment to be
offered to their understandings.
From the specimen we have already given of the character of the populace of
Rome, it will perhaps be unnecessary to say that the great attractions presented by
this theological bill of fare were the relics and the chandelier. Pulpit eloquence