Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 66

The Jesuit church of St. George of Cappadocia was situate in one of the finest piazzas of Rome. It was surrounded with arcades, and in its centre the most beautiful fountain of the city spouted forth its streams to an amazing height, and in forms of graceful fancy. On Friday morning the arcades were festooned with tapestry and hangings of crimson velvet and gold. Every part was crowded, and all the rank and fashion and power of Rome seemed to be there assembling. There had been once some intention on the part of the Holy Father to be present, but a slight indisposition had rendered that not desirable. His holiness, however, had ordered a company of his halberdiers to attend, and the ground was kept by those wonderful guards in the dress of the middle ages — halberds and ruffs, and white plumes, and party-colored coats, a match for our beef-eaters. Carriages with scarlet umbrellas on the box, and each with three serving-men behind, denoted the presence of the cardinals in force. They were usually brilliant equipages, being sufficiently new, or sufficiently new purchases, Garibaldi and the late commanding officer of Lothair having burnt most of the ancient coaches in the time of the Roman republics twenty years before. From each carriage an eminence descended with his scarlet cap and his purple train borne by two attendants. The Princess Tarpeia–Cinque Cento was there, and most of the Roman princes and princesses, and dukes, and duchesses. It seemed that the whole court of Rome was there — monsignori and prelates without end. Some of their dresses, and those of the generals of the orders, appropriately varied the general effect, for the ladies were all in black, their heads covered only with black veils.

Monsignore Catesby had arranged with Lothair that they should enter the church by their usual private way, and Lothair therefore was not in any degree prepared for the sight which awaited him on his entrance into it. The church was crowded; not a chair nor a tribune vacant. There was a suppressed gossip going on as in a public place before a performance begins, much fluttering of fans, some snuff taken, and many sugar-plums.

“Where shall we find a place?” said Lothair.

“They expect us in the sacristy,” said the monsignore.

The sacristy of the Jesuit church of St. George of Cappadocia might have served for the ballroom of a palace. It was lofty, and proportionately spacious, with a grooved ceiling painted with all the court of heaven. Above the broad and richly-gilt cornice floated a company of seraphim that might have figured as the Cupids of Albano. The apartment was crowded, for there and in some adjoining chambers were assembled the cardinals and prelates, and all the distinguished or official characters, who, in a few minutes, were about to form a procession of almost unequal splendor and sanctity, and which was to parade the whole body of the church.

Lothair felt nervous; an indefinable depression came over him, as on the morning of a contest when a candidate enters his crowded committee-room. Considerable personages, bowing, approached to address him — the Cardinal Prefect of the Propaganda, the Cardinal Assessor of the Holy Office, the Cardinal Pro–Datario, and the Cardinal Vicar of Rome. Monsignori the Secretary of Briefs to Princes and the Master of the Apostolic Palace were presented to him. Had this been a conclave, and Lothair the future pope, it would have been impossible to have treated him with more consideration than he experienced. They assured him that they looked upon this day as one of the most interesting in their lives, and the importance of which to the Church could not be overrated. All this somewhat encouraged him, and he was more himself when a certain general stir, and the entrance of individuals from adjoining apartments, intimated that the proceedings were about to commence. It seemed difficult to marshal so considerable and so stately an assemblage, but those who had the management of affairs were experienced in such matters. The acolytes and the thurifers fell into their places; there seemed no end of banners and large golden crosses; great was the company of the prelates — a long purple line, some only in cassocks, some in robes, and mitred; then came a new banner of the Blessed Virgin, which excited intense interest, and every eye was strained to catch the pictured scene. After this banner, amid frequent incense, walked two of the most beautiful children in Rome, dressed as angels with golden wings; the boy bearing a rose of Jericho, the girl a lily. After these, as was understood, dressed in black and veiled, walked six ladies, who were said to be daughters of the noblest houses of England, and then a single form with a veil touching the ground.

“Here we must go,” said Monsignore Catesby to Lothair, and he gently but irresistibly pushed him into his place. “You know you promised to support her. You had better take this,” he said, thrusting a lighted taper into his hand; “it is usual, and one should never be singular.”

So they walked on, followed by the Roman princes, bearing a splendid baldachin. And then came the pomp of the cardinals, each with his train-bearers, exhibiting with the skill of artists the splendor of their violet robes.

As the head of the procession emerged from the sacristy into the church, three organs and a choir, to which all the Roman churches had lent their choicest voices, burst into the Te Deum. Round the church and to all the chapels, and then up the noble nave, the majestic procession moved, and then, the gates of the holy place opening, the cardinals entered and seated themselves, their train-bearers crouching at their knees, the prelates grouped themselves, and the banners and crosses were ranged in the distance, except the new banner of the Virgin, which seemed to hang over the altar. The Holy One seemed to be in what was recently a field of battle, and was addressing a beautiful maiden in the dress of a Sister of Mercy.

“This is your place,” said Monsignore Catesby, and he pushed Lothair into a prominent position.

The service was long, but, sustained by exquisite music, celestial perfumes, and the graceful movements of priests in resplendent dresses continually changing, it could not be said to be wearisome. When all was over, Monsignore Catesby said to Lothair, “I think we had better return by the public way; it seems expected.”

It was not easy to leave the church. Lothair was detained, and received the congratulations of the Princess Tarpeia–Cinque Cento and many others. The crowd, much excited by the carriages of the cardinals, had not diminished when they came forth, and they were obliged to linger some little time upon the steps, the monsignore making difficulties when Lothair more than once proposed to advance.

“I think we may go now,” said Catesby, and they descended into the piazza. Immediately many persons in this immediate neighborhood fell upon their knees, many asked a blessing from Lothair, and some rushed forward to kiss the hem of his garment.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19