Monsignore Bisleti, Master of the Chamber
( Originally Published 1907 )
The title which he bears indicates his rank, that of a Roman prelate, a member of the papal household. His office is indicated by the second title, which indicates that he has charge of all audiences given by the Pope. The rank of domestic prelate to the Pope has become a mark of honor, conferred upon distinguished churchmen all over the world, although they have no official connection with the Vatican. When the position is conferred upon a church-man, it entitles him to wear the distinctive dress of a prelate: when he visits Rome it also entitles him to special privileges at the papal palace; and on ceremonious occasions he takes precedence of the other clergy. His state dress is of royal purple; his ordinary costume is such as we see now on Monsignore Bisleti. The Master of the Chamber is shorter in stature than Pope Pius; his pleasing Italian face displays cordial interest in the affair of the moment, though a thousand people may be on his lists for presentation to the Pope at the earliest possible date. His large silken hat is of the clerical shape, with cord and tassel of purple. The light cloak falling from his shoulders, visible only in its ribbons, is of purple silk. The figure makes an imposing sight against the simple background of the chamber. He has held his present office for many years, under two Popes. Some millions of people have entered and left the Vatican in that time under his supervision. All sorts of difficulties have sprung up in the matter of making their entrance easy, their stay agreeable, their exit pleasant. He has overcome all. Pius X appointed him to succeed himself. He has since become Majordomo of the Vatican. He will in time be made cardinal, if he lives.
They do many things by tradition in the Roman Court, and one of the traditions is that when a Pope is chosen in the Conclave the Majordomo of the late Pope presents to the newly-elected the white zuchetto, or skull-cap, which is to take the place of the red one worn by a cardinal ; then the new Pope takes off his red zuchetto and places it on the Majordomo as a hint of the honor which is soon to be his. When Leo XIII was elected in 1878 a singular scene is said to have occurred between him and the Majordomo of that day. As Cardinal the new Pope had not been popular with one section of the Court, and had been carefully kept in the background for years. The Majordomo was one of the busiest in keeping him out of sight. When he advanced to the new Pope with the white zuchetto, Leo XIII put it on his head and slipped his old red skull-cap into his own pocket. "The Pope for-gives, but he does not forget," he said coldly to the kneeling prelate, in presence of the Conclave. For many years the Majordomo did not get his promotion, and probably never would have gotten it, were not tradition in-exorable, and did not his friends finally induce the Pope to relent. He died a Cardinal.
Monsignore is traveling a lofty road, and the little and great of all nations are indebted to him for the smoothness with which their audiences with the Pope proceed. Just as we see him at this moment, pleasant, courteous, thoughtful of our interest, so he will be found at all times.
Our next position will be on the top floor of the Vatican, where are the apartments of Cardinal Merry del Val, the Pope's Secretary of State. Recall that position we took (position to), after the inspection of the interior of St. Peter's, near the fountain on the south side of the Piazza. As we looked to the north over the colonnade, we saw that part of the Vatican in which the Pope resides. The second story from the top was the papal apartments. The top floor is occupied in part by the Secretary of State. Find on the map the number 20 to know our exact position.