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In the great church, which contains the holy chapel, are confessionals, where the penitents from every country of Europe may be confessed in their own language, priests being always in waiting for that purpose; each of them has a long white rod in his hand, with which he touches the heads of those to whom he thinks it proper to give absolution. They place themselves on their knees, in groupes, around the confessional chair; and when the holy father has touched their heads with the expiatory rod, they retire, freed from the burden of their sins, and with renewed courage to begin a fresh account.
In the spacious area before this church, there is an elegant marble fountain, supplied with water from an adjoining hill, by an aqueduct. Few even of the most inconsiderable towns of Italy are without the useful ornament of a public fountain. The embellishments of sculp ture and architecture are employed, with great propriety, on such works, which are continually in the people's view; the air is refreshed, and the eye delighted, by the streams of water they pour forth; a sight peculiarly agreeable in a warm climate. In this area there is also a statue of Sixtus V in bronze. Over the portal of the church itself, is a statue of the Virgin; and above the middle gate is a Latin inscription, importing, that within is the house of the Mother of God, in which the Word was made flesh. The gates of the church are likewise of bronze, embellished with basso relievos, of admirable workmanship; the subjects taken partly from the Old, and partly from the New, Testament, and divided into different compartments. As the gates of this church are shut at noon, the pilgrims who arrive after that time can get no nearer the Santa Casa than these gates, which are, by this means, sometimes exposed to the first violence of that holy ardour which was designed for the chapel itself. All the sculpture upon the gates, which is within reach of the mouths of those zealots, is, in some degree, effaced by their kisses. The murder of Abel, by his brother, is upon a level with the lips of a person of an ordinary size, when kneeling. Poor
Abel has been always unfortunate; had he been placed a foot higher, or lower, on the gate, he might have remained there, in security, for ages; but in the unlucky place that the sculptor has put him, his whole body has been almost entirely kissed away by the pilgrims; while Cain stands untouched, in his original altitude, frowning and fierce as ever.
I have said nothing of the paintings to be seen here, though some are highly esteemed, particularly two in the treasury, The subject of one of these is, the Virgin's nativity, by Annibale Carracci; and of the other, a Holy Family, by Raphael. There are some others of considerable merit, which ornament the altars of the great church. These altars, or little chapels, of which this fabric contains a great number, are lined with marble, and embellished by sculpture; but nothing within this church interested me so much as the iron grates before those chapels, after I was informed that they were made of the fetters and chains of the Christian slaves, who were freed from bondage by the glorious victory of Lepanto. From that moment these iron grates commanded my attention more than all the golden lamps and candlesticks, and angels and jewels, of the holy chapel.
The ideas that rush into one's mind on hearing a circumstance of this kind, are affecting beyond expression. To think of four thousand of our fellow-creatures, torn from the service of their country and the arms of friendship, chained to oars, subjected continually to the revilings of enemies, and every kind of ignominious treatment, at once, when their souls were sinking under the weight of such accumulated calamity, and brought to the very verge of despair; at once, in one blessed moment, freed from slavery, restored to the embraces of their friends, and enjoying, with them, all the rapture of victory. Good God, what a scene! what a number of scenes! for the imagination, after glancing at the whole, distinguishes and separates objects, and forms a thousand groupes of the most pathetic kind; the fond recognition
of old companions, brothers flying into each other's arms, and the ecstacy of fathers on the recovery of their lost sons. Many such pictures did my fancy form, while I stood contemplating those grates so truly ornamental of a Christian church, and so perfectly congenial with a religion which requires men to relieve the oppressed, and set the captive free.
Happy if the followers of that religion had always observed this divine admonition. I speak not of those men who assume the name of Christians for the purposes of interest or ambition, but of a more absurd class of mankind; those who, believing in Christianity, endeavour to reconcile it to a conduct, and doctrines, entirely repugnant to its nature. This absurdity has appeared in the human character from the earliest ages of Christianity. Men have displayed unaffected zeal, and endeavoured to support and propagate the most benevolent and rational of all religions, by actions worthy of demons, and arguments which shock
The same persons who praised and admired the heavenly benevolence of this sentiment, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy; have thought it a duty to condemn their fellow-creatures to cruel deaths for speculative opinions. The same men who admired the founder of Christianity for going about, continually, doing good, have thought it a duty to spend their whole lives in cells, doing nothing.
And can any thing be more opposite to those dark and inexplicable doctrines, on the belief of which, according to the conviction of many, our salvation depends, than this plain rule, Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them? a rule so plain, as to be understood by the most simple and ignorant; and so just, complete, and comprehensive, as to be admired by the wisest and most learned.
If this equitable maxim is the law and the prophets, and we learn from the highest authority that it is, what becomes of all those mysterious webs, of various texture,
which, since the beginning of the Christian era, popes, priests, and many of the leaders of sectaries, have wove around it?
WE left Loretto after dinner, and proceeded through a beautiful country to Macerata, a small town, situated on a hill, as the towns in Italy generally are. We only stayed to change horses, and continued our journey to Tolentino; where, not thinking it expedient to begin to ascend the Apennines in the dark, we took up our quarters at an inn, the best in the place, but, by many degrees, the poorest we had seen in Italy. However, as it was not for good eating or convenient bedchambers we came to this country, that circumstance affected us very little. Indeed, the quantity of victuals presented us at supper, would have been as displeasing to a person of Sancho Pancho's way of thinking, on the subject of eating, as the manner they were dressed would have been to a nicer sensualist in that refined science. The latter circumstance prevented our regretting the former; and although we had felt some uneasiness when we were told how little provisions there were in the house, the moment they appeared on the table we were all convinced there was more than enough.
The poor people of this inn, however, shewed the utmost desire to please. They must have unfortunate tempers indeed, who, observing this, could have shocked them by fretfulness, or an air of dissatisfaction. Besides, if the entertainment had been still more homely, even those travellers who are accustomed to the greatest delicacies, might be induced to bear it with patience for one night, from this consideration, That the people of the place, who have just as good a natural right to the luxuries of life as themselves, are obliged to bear it always. Nothing is more apt to raise indignation, than to behold
men repining and fretting, on account of little inconveniences, in the hearing of those who are bearing much greater every day with cheerfulness. There is a want of sense, as well as a want of temper, in such behaviour. The only use of complaining of hardships to those who cannot relieve them, must be to obtain sympathy; but if those to whom they complain, are suffering the same hardships in a greater degree, what sympathy can those repiners expect? They certainly find none.
Next morning we encountered the Apennines. The fatigue of this day's journey was compensated by the beauty and variety of the views among those mountains. On the face of one of the highest, I remarked a small hut, with a garden near it. I was told this was inhabited by an old infirm hermit. I could not understand how a person in that condition could scramble up and down such a mountain to procure for himself the necessaries of life. I was informed, he had not quitted his hermitage for several years, the neighbouring peasants supplying him plentifully with all he requires. This man's reputation for sanctity is very great, and those who take the trouble of carrying him provisions, think themselves well repaid by his prayers.
I imagine I am acquainted with a country where provisions are in greater plenty than in the Apennines; and yet the greatest saint in the nation, who should take up his residence on one of its mountains, would be in great danger of starving, if he depended for his sustenance upon the provisions that should be carried up to him in exchange for his prayers.
There are mountains and precipices among the Apennines, which do not appear contemptible in the eyes even of those who have travelled among the Alps; while, on the other hand, those delightful plains, contained within the bosom of the former, are infinitely superior, in beauty and fertility, to the valleys among the latter. We now entered the rich province of Umbria, and soon after arrived at Foligno, a thriving town, in which there is more