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St. John Lateran is surrounded by other structures, which contribute to its external grandeur. Near its western entrance, stands a beautiful Egyptian obelisk, ten feet in diameter at the base, and one hundred and twenty in height, richly sculptured with hieroglyphics. It was brought from the Temple of the Sun at Thebes, and erected by one of the Popes. The Baptistery belonging to the Cathedral claims peculiar sanctity and celebrity, in as much as the Emperor Constantine received the holy rite at its font. It is not a very large building, octagonal in shape, rich in marbles and precious stones. A profusion of porphyry, verde antique, and of alabaster has been lavished on its altars. The font is an ancient sarcophagus, to which you descend by several steps. One of the paintings upon the walls represents Constantine in the character of an iconoclast, in the act of demolishing idols, or in other words, the beautiful specimens of Grecian and Roman sculpture, which were probably converted into lime, as thousands have since been, to be used as mortar for constructing palaces.
The most curious edifice in the vicinity of St. John Lateran is the Scala Santa, or Holy Stairs, situated opposite the church, always open and always crowded with devotees. Here are to be seen twenty-five or thirty white marble steps, said to have belonged to the palace of Pontius Pilate at Jerusalem, and to have been hallowed by the footsteps of the Saviour. They are covered with thick plank, renewed at short intervals, to prevent them from being worn out by the knees and kisses of the devout. No person is allowed to ascend or descend this sacred way upon his feet. There are two lateral flights, by which the profane may go up or the pious walk down, after the fatigues of climbing the consecrated marble. I have visited the Scala Santa perhaps a dozen times, and never without seeing a multitude of both sexes, often well dressed ladies and gentlemen, engaged in the arduous pilgrimage of creeping from the bottom to the top. They commence by kneeling and kissing the lower step, and on each of the succeeding ones they pause to whisper a short prayer. The ascent occupies half or three quarters of an hour. It is at once painful and melancholy, to see delicate females struggling in the performance of this superstitious penance, imposed as a religious duty. In all my visits, I do not recollect to have seen one of the priesthood, reducing his corpulency, or soiling his sacerdotal robes, by such an act of humility. At the head of the stairs is a little chapel, denominated the sanctum sanctorum, from its peculiar holiness. It contains a precious crucifix, and two of the nails from the cross, brought from Jerusalem. We had an indistinct view of these relics, through a lattice and by the faint glimmer of a taper, kept forever burning in the sacred shrine. The picture of
superstition is here more gross and revolting, than I have found it in any other part of Italy, because it is accompanied with bodily pain. An effectual remedy would be found, in compelling the ecclesiastics, who inflict such penalties on the multitude, to take a few turns up the Scala Santa themselves.
In the same neighbourhood is the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, founded by St. Helen, mother of Constantine, who brought a piece of the cross from the Holy Land, and here planted it with her own hand, giving sanctity to a Roman Basilica, which stood upon the same site. The front and vestibule are peculiarly fine, facing the great square, and rich in pillared magnificence. On either side of the central door is a marble font, in which a sculptured fish is represented playing in the holy water. In the crypt is the tomb of St. Helen, and a fresco upon the ceiling portrays her miraculous labours in finding the fragment of the cross in Palestine.
But of all the churches at Rome or in Italy, so far as my observation has extended, none will sustain a comparison in elegance of form, richness of materials, and splendour of ornament, with Santa Maria Maggiore. It is situated upon the summit of the Esquiline Hill, and covers ground once occupied by a temple of Juno. The shrine of the Virgin Mother no doubt far surpasses in sumptuousness that of the Queen of Heaven. At all events, the brilliancy of its decorations is better suited to a theatre, a pavilion, or a ball-room, than to the character of that religion, which in its origin is associated with a manger, and the prevailing spirit of which is lowliness of heart. Yet here the holy babe is annually born, and rocked in a more splendid cradle, than ever lulled the slumbers of an earthly monarch. The form of this church is that of the ancient basilica, allowed to be the most perfect, so far as it respects symmetry and beauty. Nothing can exceed in richness and elegance the view from the front door, towards the high altar and the tribune. Forty beautiful antique pillars of the Ionic order line the nave, and support galleries, which are divided into compartments, filled with paintings. The glories of the ceiling vie with the mosaics of the pavement. Between the nave and the choir, rises a canopy supported by four porphyry pillars, wreathed with gold, and only surpassed in splendour by the profusion of lapis-lazuli, agate, and jasper, which glitter on the altars around. Two magnificent chapels open on either hand, and are filled with piles of monumental marble, of the most exquisite workmanship. Among these are the tombs of four Popes. In one of the chapels is a beautiful tabernacle supported by angels of bronze gilt. The outside of Santa Maria Maggiore does not fully correspond in magnificence with the interior. Its
roof is crowned with two domes and a misshapen steeple. On one side stands an Egyptian Obelisk, taken from the tomb of Augustus ; and on the other, a column from the temple of Peace, surmounted by a statue of the Madonna. It has a deep and noble portico in front, containing among other ornaments a full bronze statue of Philip IV. of Spain.
The church of St. Maria of the Angels possesses an interest entirely different from that of the one just described. It stands on the ruins of Diocletian's Baths, and in fact once formed a part of that imperial and luxurious establishment, which covered several acres. Michael Angelo converted that portion which was denominated the Xystum, or the arena for wrestlers and gladiators in unpleasant weather, into the present church, and made it one of the grandest in Rome. Its form is perfect, being a Greek Cross, from the intersection of which every object in the edifice may be distinctly seen. The nave is nearly two hundred feet in length, and upwards of one hundred in height, supported by antique columns of granite, sixteen feet in circumference. On the splendid mosaic pavement is a delineation of the Ecliptic, exhibiting the signs of the zodiac, the most remarkable stars within the limits of the solar path, and the feasts of the church, all finely executed. The line extends diagonally the length of the church. In the vestibule, which was one of the hot baths of Diocletian, are the tombs of Salvator Rosa and Carlo Maratta, two eminent artists. That of the former is of beautiful white marble, comprising a statue of himself, with two children at the base, and a very neat appropriate inscription. The altars of this sanctuary exhibit the usual quantity of precious materials and brilliant decorations, together with more than an ordinary share of good paintings. Among these are the Fall of Simon Magus, the Baptism of the Saviour, and above all the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, by Domenichino, in his most forcible and finished style. We wandered over the extensive ruins of the ancient baths, among which is now situated a modern convent of Carthusian monks; but after full examinations of the baths of Titus and Caracalla, little was here found worthy of particular notice. In a neighbouring garden once stood temples sacred to Apollo and to Esculapius.
I made two excursions to St. Paul's without the walls, several miles from the city, taking in my way several intermediate objects, among the most interesting of which are Monte Testaccio, the tomb of Caius Cestius, and the Protestant Cemetery. The Mons Testaceus, as it was called by the old Romans, situated near the left bank of the Tiber, is nearly two hundred feet in height, and five or six hundred feet in circumference. It is entirely artificial, composed of broken porcelain, thrown out as refuse ware by workmen in the potteries. It is now
covered with green sward, and on its summit an annual festival is celebrated, resembling the ancient Saturnalia. Not far from its base, rises to the height of about 120 feet the proud and substantial pyramid, in honour of Caius Cestius, the purveyor for the feasts of the gods, who seems to have possessed nothing beyond official dignity, to entitle him to such a distinction. A lateral door, kept under lock and key, opens into the spacious vault, arched at top, in which the sarcophagus was deposited, in the style of the Egyptian kings. A cicerone conducted us down a flight of steps into the vacant, murky, and gloomy sepulchre, pointing out the half obliterated frescos upon the roof. But it contains little that deserves the attention of the visitant. The name of the wealthy Roman is pompously displayed on one of the faces of the exterior.
The burying-ground for strangers is not less beautiful and interesting than the Protestant Cemetery at Leghorn, described in a former letter. It lies in the form of an exact square, enclosed by a moat ten feet in width and fifteen in depth, laying bare the pavement of the old Ostian Way. The sides of the entrenchment are neatly walled up with substantial masonry, and a draw-bridge, with a gate kept locked, forms the only entrance. Copses of pine, yew, elm, acacia, and other shrubs, together with a coat of rank grass enamelled with the red poppy and a variety of wild flowers, shade the grounds, half concealing the beautiful white marble monuments rising amidst the foliage. If a stranger could be reconciled to a grave in any foreign soil, the seclusion and quiet of this cemetery, lying on the banks of the Tiber, under the very walls of Rome and overshadowed by its venerable monuments, would present fewer repulsive ideas than any other spot, and have a strong tendency to overcome an attachment to the tombs of his ancestors. In our several visits, we entered the enclosure and examined, I believe, every stone it contains. Here, as at Leghorn and Naples, rest the remains of several of our countrymen. A handsome pillar of black marble, sculptured with urns, and inscribed with an appropriate epitaph, rises in memory of Mrs. M'Evers of New-York, who died at Velletri, in 1803, at the age of 18, while on a journey for the benefit of her health. Her tomb is beautifully shaded with shrubbery of various kinds, and the sod richly sprinkled with flowers. At the distance of a few rods, sleeps the dust of Lady Grenville Temple, the wife of an English Baronet. She was the daughter of George Watson, Esq. of Massachusetts. Her monument is conspicuous, ornamented with bass-relief, and overhung by the branches of a pine, through which the breeze sighed in melancholy whispers. In another part of the cemetery, a white marble slab, elegantly wrought, desig
nates the grave of Daniel Remsen, Esq. of New-York, who died in February, 1822, at the age of 37. Among the tombs of strangers, which most interested us, was that of the celebrated Doctor John Bell, of Edinburgh, whose book on Italy has lately been published. He died in 1820, at the age of 53. The classical inscription-"Haud minus scriptis quam eximia artis sapientia insignis"-does justice to a man eminent for his attainments in science as well as for his taste in the works of art. Two rose-bushes, hanging their full clusters over a horizontal slab, attracted our attention to the grave of the young daughter of a German ambassador to the Papal court. Near the gate rests an anonymous English poet, whose epitaph complains of persecution, and states that on his death-bed, "he requested his name to be writ in water." The tomb of Percy B. Shelley, another English poet, the friend of Lord Byron, who was drowned on the coast of Tuscany,* is among the most conspicuous in the new cemetery, contiguous to the old one. His epitaph is as eccentric as was the character of his muse. It consists of an odd quotation from the Tempest of Shakspeare:
In the same burying-ground is a monument in memory of an accomplished and interesting young lady, the niece of Lord Bathurst, who was thrown into the Tiber and drowned, while riding on horseback near the Milvian Bridge. It is singular that only two days before her death, she was in this very cemetery to pay a tribute of respect to the tombs of her countrymen. Her tragical fate excited universal sympathy at Rome. Another stone records the death of a tourist, who fell into the Anio at Tivoli, and was swept over the cataract. Such are a few of the mementos, which remind the traveller to how many dangers he is exposed, and call forth his gratitude for his own preservation.
By the side of the road, between the tomb of Caius Cestius and the Church of St. Paul, is a little shrine said to be erected on the spot, where the two Apostles parted just before their execution. A Latin inscription records the mournful event of the last meeting. The iden
* A citizen of Leghorn informed me, that he saw Shelley, when he embarked in his pleasure boat, with the management of which he was wholly unacquainted. Yet he persisted in launching forth, without a pilot, against the remonstrances of his friends. In an hour afterwards, his bark was capsized, and his body drifted upon the beach, where it was burnt on a funeral pile, in the Roman style, and his ashes inurned.-See the Conversations of Lord Byron.