Stately Throne of Pope Pius X
( Originally Published 1907 )
Although the Pope has lost his old domain, which embraced a large part of southwestern Italy, he is still considered a monarch by most European governments and so dealt with. In fact the Vatican region is a sovereignty in itself, and ambassadors and rulers visit it according to the rules of diplomacy and international etiquette. This apartment is simple in plan but beautifully furnished and decorated. At the far end we see the throne, placed on a dais before a panel of red velvet. Those doors at either side of the throne open into a corridor connecting with the Pope's study and bedroom. The throne is gilded and upholstered in red velvet. A red canopy hangs above. The stools at each side are gilt with red velvet tops, and are occupied by certain prelates during receptions. The walls of the chamber are hung with red damask part way to the ceiling; above the hangings are some beautiful frescoes; and the floor is composed of many-colored marbles. The table and the pillars at the right are worth a small fortune in them-selves, the gifts of kings; and the general effect is brilliant and strong.
One can picture for himself the assembly which sometimes gathers here for an audience. Usually it is a distinguished pilgrimage, or a group of remarkable people, introduced by a prelate. The members scatter about the room, chat or examine its treasures of art and decoration. Then a Monsignore enters at the back and with a wave of his hand signifies that the Pope is approaching. There is at once an in-tense silence, and soon the attendants of His Holiness enter the chamber followed by the white figure, which mounts the throne and smiles in kindly fashion at the group of reverent people before him. Perhaps an address is read, to which the Pope replies. Then introductions begin ; and the Pope speaks a pleas-ant word to each person, embraces the little children, chats a moment with a lucky one who excites his interest, and finally gives his blessing to the throng. It used to be a custom in the ancient days to kiss the jeweled cross on the toe of the Pope's slipper. Kings did their lord this homage in this chamber. Leo XIII kept it up for some time in deference to tradition. One day a boy of twelve, present at an audience, accepted the Pope's blessing but declined to kiss the jeweled cross. "An American," said Pope Leo humorously, as he patted the small boy's head.
These quaint ceremonies of ancient times are more or less a burden to modern people, and the present Pontiff has practically abolished the ceremony. Indeed Pope Pius X nearly fainted at the long ceremony of his coronation, which lasted for hours, owing to the necessity of carrying out all details of the ritual. It would not have been safe to dispense with any at that moment, because strict theologians might easily question the validity of the coronation rites, and cause trouble later for the Pontiff. To many the ancient rites have such a sanction of long usage as to appear like saving doctrines, to be defended against change or omission.
The throne before us now is known as the Throne of the Fisherman, because the first occupant of the See of Peter, as Rome is familiarly known, was once the humble fisherman of Galilee; and the seal of the reigning Pontiff's ring bears an inscription to the same effect. "Come and I will make you fishers of men," said Christ to the disciples whom He called from their nets in Galilee to follow Him. This is the proud boast of the Pope, that he is the one monarch of earth whose business it is to fish for the souls of men in the muddy stream of life, and land them safe in the living fountain of eternal life. It is a beautiful idea, and is certainly carried out in the easy entrance which the whole world has to the Vatican, also in the missionary band sent forth from this center to enlighten the savage parts of the world with the gospel.
As we are now to see the ante-room to the private chapel of the Pope, find on the map the figure 22. It is on the same floor with the throne-room and close by.