The Chair-Bearers of the Pope
( Originally Published 1907 )
We are facing west. This Sala Ducale is a gorgeous chamber, where the chair-bearers await His Holiness. We can see what a splendid hall this is from the single decoration of the arch above the solemn gentlemen in red velvet who have the honor of serving the Pope in this capacity. Cherubs disport along that beautiful frieze with the abandon of life. The sunlight falls across the stone pavement from windows at our left that overlook the great square. In the olden time the Pope never moved from one place to another without using this chair, or something even more imposing. On great occasions of ceremony he is borne to the Sistine Chapel or to St. Peter's in a golden chair, carried by princes of the papal court, and two immense peacock fans rise be-hind him. Even Mrs. Humphry Ward, the English novelist, felt the overpowering emotion which accompanied the Pope's appearance at those times, as she admits in her story of Eleanor. A writer of former times thus de-scribed it: "At last the clock strikes. In the far balcony are seen the two great showy pea-cock fans, and between them a figure clad in white, that rises from a golden chair, and spreads his great sleeves like wings as he raises his arms in benediction. That is the Pope, Pius IX. All is dead silence, and a musical voice, sweet and penetrating, is heard chanting from the balcony; the people bend and kneel ; with a cold gray flash all the bayonets gleam as the soldiers drop to their knees, and rise to salute as the voice dies away, and the two white wings are again waved. Then thunder the cannon, the bells clash and peal joyously, a few white papers, like huge snowflakes, drop wavering from the balcony; these are indulgences, for which there is an eager struggle below. Then the Pope again rises, again gives his benediction, waving to and fro his right hand, three fingers open, and makes the sign of the cross; and the peacock fans retire and he between them is borne away—and Lent is over."
Many such picturesque ceremonials of the past have dropped away for various reasons. Pius X has the modern impatience of long ceremonial and splendid show. At his coronation, on the return to the palace, he declined to head the usual time-honored procession up the long stairways, but took instead the elevator to his own apartments, graciously waiting for the arrival of the winded prelates and dignitaries who stuck to tradition and climbed the stairs. He rarely uses his chair, preferring to walk about the palace.
Many current anecdotes of His Holiness indicate the same preference for simplicity and inconspicuous action. It is told of him that, when the voting in the Conclave of 1903 began to indicate his approaching election, he informed his supporters that he would not accept the tiara. He had bought his return ticket to Venice, and to Venice he would return. The Cardinals who favored his election had much to do before they persuaded him that the interests of the Church demanded this compliance ; and even when the stern Cardinal Oreglia stood before him with the announcement that he had been elected, and the question "Do you accept ?"—the Cardinal of Venice covered his pallid face with his hands and wept in anguish. The question had to be repeated before he could make up his mind to forego the freedom of his episcopal life for the burden of a crown.
This Sala Ducale is only a short distance from the court of San Damaso. A study of the map shows that the court lies between the building in which the Pope resides and the irregular group which contains the Sala Ducale. Our position for viewing the Court of San Damaso is marked by the figure 17, in a covered loggia or balcony at the west side of the court. We shall see the place at a most interesting moment, when Pius X is preaching to a host of visitors.