Page images
PDF
EPUB

purpose; and a kind of sand, which, when mixed with lime, forms a composition as hard as any stone, is brought from the neighbourhood of Rome ; and no other is used for this building, which is above two thousand feet in length, one hundred in breadth, and about sixty in depth, from the surface of the sea ; a stupendous work, more analogous to the power and revenues of ancient, than of modern, Rome.

Near to this stands the triumphal arch, as it is called, of Trajan. This is an honorary monument, erected in gratitude to that emperor, for the improvements he made in this harbour at his own expense. Next to the Maison Quarrée at Nîmes, it is the most beautiful and the most entire monument of Roman taste and magnificence I have yet seen.

The fluted Corinthian pillars on the two sides are of the finest proportions; and the Parian marble of which they are composed, instead of having acquired a black colour, like the ducal palace of Venice, and other buildings of marble, is preserved, by the sea vapour, as white and shining as if it were fresh polished from the rock. I viewed this charming piece of antiquity with sentiments of pleasure and admiration, which sprang from a recollection of the elegant taste of the artist who planned this work, the humane amiable virtues of the great man to whose honour it was raised, and the grandeur and policy of the people who, by such rewards, prompted their princes to wibe and beneficent undertakings.

1

LETTER XXXI.

Loretto.

[ocr errors]

The road from Ancona to this place runs through a
fine country, composed of a number of beautiful hills and
intervening valleys. Loretto itself is a small town, situated
on an eminence, about three miles from the sea.
pected to have found it a more magnificent, at least a
more commodious, town for the entertainment of strangers.
The innkeepers do not disturb the devotion of the pil,

I ex.

grims by the luxuries of either bed or board. I have not seen worse accommodations since I entered Italy, than at the inn here. This seems surprising, considering the great resort of strangers. If any town in England were as much frequented, every third or fourth house would be a neat inn.

The holy chapel of Loretto, all the world knows, was originally a small house in Nazareth, inhabited by the Virgin Mary, in which she was saluted by the angel, and where she bred our Saviour. After their deaths, it was held in great veneration by all believers in Jesus, and at length consecrated into a chapel, and dedicated to the Virgin ; upon which occasion St. Luke made that identical image, which is still preserved here, and dignified with the name of our Lady of Loretto. This sanctified edifice was allowed to sojourn in Galilee as long as that district was inhabited by Christians; but when infidels got possession of the country, a band of angels, to save it from po. lution, took it in their arms, and conveyed it from Nazareth to a castle in Dalmatia. This fact might have been called in question by incredulous people, had it been performed in a secret manner; but, that it might be manifest to the most short-sighted spectator, and evident to all who were not perfectly deaf as well as blind, a blaze of celestial light, and a concert of divine music, accompanied it during the whole journey; besides, when the angels, to rest themselves, set it down in a little wood near the road, all the trees of the forest bowed their heads to the ground, and continued in that respectful posture as long as the sacred chapel remained among them. But, not having been entertained with suitable respect at the castle above mentioned, the same indefatigable angels carried it over the sea, and placed it in a field belonging to a noble lady, called Lauretta, from whom the chapel takes its name. This field happened unfortunately to be frequented at that time by highwaymen and murderers : a circumstance with which the angels undoubtedly were not acquainted when they placed it there. After they were better informed,

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

they removed it to the top of a hill belonging to two brothers, where they imagined it would be perfectly secure from the dangers of robbery or assassination ; but the two brothers, the proprietors of the ground, being equally enamoured of their new visitor, became jealous of each other, quarrelled, fought, and fell by mutual wounds. After this fatal catastrophe, the angels in waiting finally moved the holy chapel to the eminence where it now stands, and has stood these four hundred years, having lost all relish for travelling

To silence the captious objections of cavillers, and give full satisfaction to the candid inquirer, a deputation of respectable persons was sent from Loretto to the city of Nazareth, who, previous to their setting out, took the dimensions of the holy house with the most scrupulous exactness. On their arrival at Nazareth, they found the citizens scarcely recovered from their astonishment; for it may be easily supposed, that the sudden disappearance of a house from the middle of a town, would naturally occasion a considerable degree of surprise, even in the most pliilosophic minds. The landlords had been alarmed in a particular manner, and had made inquiries, and offered rewards, all over Galilee, without having been able to get any satisfactory account of the fugitive. They felt their interest much affected by this incident; for, as houses had never before been considered as moveables, their value fell immediately. This indeed might be partly owing to certain evil-minded persons, who, taking advantage of the public alarm, for selfish purposes, circulated a report, that several other houses were on the wing, and would most probably disappear in a few days. This affair being so much the object of attention at Nazareth, and the builders of that city declaring, they would as soon build upon quick-sand as on the vacant space which the chapel had left at its departure, the deputies from Loretto had no difficulty in discovering the foundation of that edifice, which they carefully compared with the dimensions they had brought from Loretto, and

found that they tallied exactly. Of this they made oath at their return; and in the mind of every rational person, it remains no longer a question, whether this is the real house which the Virgin Mary inhabited, or not. Many of those particulars are narrated with other circumstances in books which are sold here; but I have been informed of one circumstance, which has not hitherto been published in any book, and which, I dare swear, you will think ought to be made known for the benefit of future travellers. This morning, immediately before we left the inn, to visit the holy chapel, an Italian servant, whom the duke of Hamilton engaged at Venice, took me aside, and told me, in a very serious manner, that strangers were apt secretly to break off little pieces of the stone belonging to the Santa Casa, in the hopes that such precious relics might bring them good fortune; but he earnestly entreated me not to do any such thing: for he knew a man at Venice, who had broken off a small corner of one of the stones, and slipt it into his breeches pocket unperceived; but, so far from bringing him good fortune, it had burnt its way out, like aqua fortis, before he left the chapel, and scorched his thighs in such a miserable manner, that he was not able to sit on horseback for a month. I thanked Giovanni for his obliging hiņt, and assured him I should not attempt any theft of that nature.

LETTER XXXII.

Loretto.

The sacred chapel stands due east and west, at the farther end of a large church of the most durable stone of Istria, which has been built around it. This

may

be considered as the external covering, or as a kind of great coat to the Casa Santa, which has a smaller coat of more precious materials and workmanship nearer its body. This internal covering, or case, is of the choicest marble, after a plan of San Savino's, and ornamented with basso relievos, the workmanship of the best sculptors which Italy could furnish in the reign of Leo X. The subject of those basso relievos are, the history of the blessed Virgin, and other parts of the Bible. The whole case is about fifty feet long, thirty in breadth, and the same in height; but the real house itself is no more than thirtytwo feet in length, fourteen in breadth, and at the sides, about eighteen feet in height; the centre of the roof is four or five feet higher. The walls of this little holy chapel are composed of pieces of a reddish substance, of an oblong square shape, laid one upon another, in the manner of brick. At first sight, on a superficial view, these red-coloured oblong substances appear to be nothing else than comnion Italian bricks; and, which is still more extraordinary, on a second and third view, with all possible attention, they still have the same appearance. There is not, however, as we were assured, a single particle of brick in their whole composition, being entirely of a stone, which, though it cannot now be found in Palestine, was formerly very common, particularly in the neighbourhood of Nazareth. There is a small interval between the walls of the ancient house, and the marble case. The workmen, at first, intended them to be in contact, from an opinion, founded either upon gross ignorance or infidelity, that the former stood in need of support from the latter ; but the marble either started back of itself, from such impious familiarity, being conscious of its unworthiness'; or else was thrust back by the coyness of the virgin brick, it is not said which. But it has certainly kept at a proper distance ever since. While we examined the basso relievos of the marble case, we were not a little incommoded by the numbers of pilgrims who were constantly crawling around it on their knees, kissing the ground, and saying their prayers with great fervour. As they crept along, they discovered some degree

of eagerness to be nearest the wall; not, I am persuaded, with a view of saving their own labour, by contracting the circumference of their circuit; but from an

« PreviousContinue »