The Vatican Palace of His Holiness
( Originally Published 1907 )
We are standing, as we expected, in front of the bronze doors, and we see, beyond the guard on duty, down the long corridor to an arch and a lighted space at the extreme end. There is an immense pillar just at our left, casting a broad shadow over the pavement. All around is a forest of pillars. Such a mass of stone should rather have a gloomy than a lightsome effect ; but the architect showed his cleverness by a plan that gives to the stone forest the delicate light and shade of the green-wood. The colonnade is so exposed to the sun at all times that the effects of light and shade are most charming. Their variations are as pleasant to the eye as musical notes to the ear. The bronze doors are half open. The Swiss guard evidently has a duty to perform and knows it. He is one of a very ancient troop that long ago acquired by their devotion the hereditary right to serve the Pope as his personal guard. This means that Swiss Catholics have, the preference over all others in the filling up of vacancies in the guard. The Swiss were famous mercenaries in past centuries, but in this case they served from love of the Holy Father. The uniform, designed by Michelangelo, is brilliant in itself, and in the half-gloom of the entrance its bright colors are emphatic. Those full breeches and blouses are striped with red, yellow and black; the stockings are yellow and black. When on parade they carry mediaeval halberds eight feet long.
The people around know those going to an audience with the Pope, because they wear the regulation costume demanded for such an occasion. They shrug their shoulders, and exchange the popular jests on this point:
"Where are you going, friend, looking so fine with your black dress and sword?" one Italian asks 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."
The stranger from abroad, coming properly recommended, does find it easier to get an audience, and similar favors, than the Romans themselves ; for the very good reason that residents have a lifetime to make arrangements while travelers must obtain the favor quickly, once in a decade or even a lifetime, and should therefore be generously treated. Moreover the public and private audiences have always been from time immemorial part of the Pope's duty. As the Head of the Church pilgrims de-sire to see and converse with him above all others. From his own point of view, as the Father of all baptized Christians, he must be accessible to inquirers. One need have no fear of a cold welcome at this palace entrance. The doors are open, especially to the stranger.
What a stream of human greatness has flowed over this threshold for centuries ! Most of it was great and important for the time only ; the few achieved everlasting distinction. Only a little while back the Kaiser passed through these doors on his way to visit the Pope, Leo XIII. When they met two ideas faced each other, and associations of the past rose up like ghosts about them. German Emperor and Catholic Pope had faced each other before, but not in the same fashion. Once it was the angry and humiliated Frederic Barbarossa, who had to kneel for his kingdom before the stern Gregory VII, the great defender of the people,—a great tyrant before a great ruler. On this occasion it was the polite, reserved, modern Kaiser, the Protestant, come as one gentleman to another to pay his respects to the spiritual father of millions of German Christians. Strangely enough no Catholic monarch actually ruling has crossed this en-trance since 187o, owing to the strained relations between the Pope and the Italian King. A ruling monarch of the Catholic faith cannot visit the King until he has first visited the Pope ; to follow that rule would be an insult to the King and might lead to complications; therefore the Catholic rulers have remained away from Rome altogether.
It is pleasant to remember that the house of Raphael stood on the spot where the north semicircle of this colonnade ends. Often the great painter, Raphael, passed this way in his time, for the Vatican is full of his glorious pictures. For many years Michelangelo himself, the greatest artist the world has even seen, the most wonderful personality, came and went on his duties of ornamenting the Sistine Chapel and other places. These two men are more a part of the place than the columns of the entrance. When Michelangelo was invited to decorate the Sistine Chapel he doubted the prudence of accepting the task, for he was over sixty, time and care were weighing him down, and the task promised to be a long one. To overcome his scruples the Pope and ten of the Cardinals went in state to visit him and to persuade him. No monarch ever had such honor done him, and very few monarchs ever de-served the honors worn by the great artist.
At the end of the corridor before us is a stairway called the Scala Regia. It leads to the Sala Regia, a grand hall of reception. At the far end of it a turn to the left brings one into the Sistine Chapel, the choicest and most noted building in the Vatican group. Not even St. Peter's itself surpasses in interest this scene of Michelangelo's labors. Our next position is to be in this chapel. The number 12 in its red circle on the map will give the position.