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The Basilica Of St. Peter's Cathedral In Rome

( Originally Published 1920 )



"Hilda had not always been adequately impressed by the grandeur of this mighty cathedral. When she first lifted the heavy leathern curtains at one of the doors, a shadowy edifice in her imagination had been dazzled out of sight by the reality."-Hawthorne.

"The interior burst upon our astonished gaze, resplendent in light, magnificence, and beauty, beyond all that imagination can conceive. Its apparent smallness of size, however, mingled some degree of surprise, and even disappointment, with my admiration; but as I walked slowly up its long nave, empanelled with the rarest and richest marbles, and adorned with every art of sculpture and taste, and caught through the lofty arches opening views of chapels, and tombs, and altars of surpassing splendor, I felt that it was, indeed, unparalleled in beauty, in magnitude, and magnificence, and one of the noblest and most wonderful of the works of man."-Eaton's "Rome."

"St. Peter's, that glorious temple-the Iargest and most beautiful, it is said, in the world-produced upon me the impression rather of a Christian pantheon than of a Christian church. The aesthetic intellect is edified more than the God-loving or God-seeking soul. The exterior and interior of the building appear to me more like an apotheosis of the Popedom than a glorification of Christianity and its doctrine. Monuments to the popes occupy too much space. One sees all round the walls angels flying upwards with papal portraits, sometimes merely with papal tiaras."-Frederika Bremer.

"The building of St. Peter's surpasses all powers of description. It appears to me like some great work of nature, a forest, a mass of rocks, or something similar; for I never can realize the idea that it is the work of man. You strive to distinguish the ceiling as little as the canopy of heaven. You lose your way in St. Peter's; you take a walk in it, and ramble till you are quite tired; when divine service is performed and chanted there, you are not aware of it till you come quite close. The angels in the Baptistery are enormous giants-the doves, colossal birds of prey; you lose all sense of measurement with the eye, or proportion; and yet who does not feel his heart expand when standing under the dome and gazing up at it ?"-Mendelssohn's Letters.

"But thou; of temples old or altars new, Standest alone-with nothing like to thee-Worthiest of God, the holy and the true. Since Zion's desolation, when that He Forsook His former city, what could be Of earthly structures, in His Honor piled, Of a sublimer aspect? Majesty, Power, Glory, Strength, and Beauty-all are aisled In this eternal ark of worship undefiled.

"Enter : its grandeur overwhelms thee not; And why? it is not lessened; but thy mind, Expanded by the genius of the spot, Has grown colossal, and can only find A fit abode wherein appear enshrined Thy hopes of immortality; and thou Shalt one day, if found worthy, so defined, See thy God face to face, as thou dost now His Holy of Holies, nor be blasted by His brow."
-Byron, "Childe Harold."

"In this church one learns how art as well as nature can set aside every standard of measurement."-Goethe.

"The temperature of St. Peter's seems, like the happy islands, to experience no change. 1n the coldest weather, it is like summer to your feelings, and in the most oppressive heats it strikes you with a delightful sensation of cold-a luxury not to be estimated except in a climate such as this."-Eaton's "Rome."

On each side of the nave are four pillars with Corinthian capitals, and a rich entablature supporting the arches. The roof is vaulted, coffered, and richly gilded. The pavement is of colored marble, inlaid from designs of Giacomo della Porta and Bernini. In the centre of the floor, immediately within the chief entrance, is a round slab of porphyry, upon which the mediaeval Emperors were crowned.

The proportionate size of the statues and ornaments in St. Peter's does away with the impression of its vastness, and it is only by observing the living, moving figures that one can form any idea of its colossal proportions. A line in the pavement is marked with the comparative lengths of the other great Christian churches. According to this, the length of St. Peter's is 613 1-2 feet; of St. Paul's, London, 520 1-2 feet; Milan Cathedral, 443 feet; St. Sophia, Constantinople, 360 1-2 feet. The height of the dome in the interior is 405 feet; on the exterior, 448 feet. The height of the baldacchino is 94 1-2 feet.

The first impulse will be to go up to the shrine, at which a circle of eighty-six golden lamps is always burning around the tomb of the poor fisherman of Galilee, and to look down into the "Confession," where there is a beautiful kneeling statue of Pope Pius VI. (Braschi, 1785-1800) by Canova.' Hence one can gaze up into the dome and read its huge letters in purple-blue mosaic on a gold ground, each six feet long. "Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam, et tibi dabo claves regni coelorum." Above this occur four colossal mosaics of the Evangelists from designs of the Cav. d'Arpino; the pen in the hand of St. Luke is seven feet in length.

"The cupola is glorious, viewed in its design, its altitude, or even its decorations; viewed either as a whole or as a part, it enchants the eye, it satisfies the taste, it expands the soul. The very air seems to eat up all that is harsh or colossal, and leaves us nothing but the sublime to feast on-a sublime peculiar as the genius of the immortal architect, and comprehensible only on the spot."-Forsyth.

"But when, having traversed the length of the nave without uttering a word, he passed from under the gilded roofs, and the spacious dome, lofty as a firmament, expanded itself above him in the sky, covered with tracery of the celestial glories, and brilliant with mosaic and stars of gold; when, opening on all sides to the wide transepts, the limitless pavement stretched away beyond the reach of sense; when, beneath this vast work and finished effort of man's devotion, he saw the high altar, brilliant with lights, surmounted and enthroned by its panoply of clustering columns and towering cross : when all around him, he was conscious of the hush and calmness of worship, and felt in his inmost being the sense of vastness, of splendor, and of awe; he may be pardoned if, kneeling upon the polished floor, he conceived for a moment that this was the house of God, and that the gate of heaven was here,"-"John Inglesant."

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